Pack it in: How to Pack a Backpack

man backpacking

One of the most underrated, yet crucial tips for any trip is packing your backpack the right way.

Whether it’s for a simple overnighter or a long-term European journey, there are some things to keep in mind to limit the amount of gear you need to pack and minimize back pain too.

Step 1: Determine the Best Bag for You

Picking the right backpack is 80% of the battle. It takes some time and research to choose the best option.

Think about your needs: Do you really need 80 liters for that two-day backpacking trip? How often will I need to access gear while trekking? Could I get by with a carry-on for a week in Mexico? It’s highly personalized – what worked for your friend’s trip to Germany may not work for your trip to Santa Fe.

Having the correct backpack will make packing that much easier. Don’t be afraid to spend some time getting fitted for the right one (especially for backpacking trips), it’ll be worth it in the end.

Step 2: Buy Some Packing Cubes

For a long time, I’d just roll clothes as tightly as I could and stuff them into my bag only to find them unraveled or completely out of place by the time I opened the backpack again.

Eaglecreek Pack It Packing Cube for Backpacking

Packing Cube/Eagle Creek

It took some convincing, but I bought a set of packing cubes and haven’t looked back since. Now, I can pack a week’s worth of tops and underwear into two cubes and have one left over for my in-flight necessities. Nothing jumbles around and I haven’t been on a trip without them in more than a year. You’ll suddenly find you have much more space in your bag.

Step 3: Pack Based on Your Trip

Take a look at everything you’re about to pack and remove 10% (those who say remove 50% are insane). That usually means one shirt and one pair of pants. You’ll end up packing only what you really need and have room to pick up a couple things along the way. Maybe, a bottle of beer or wine. (We can show you how to pack that, too.)

As a general rule, you’ll want to put the heaviest items towards the middle of the bag (think shoes and toiletries) and your new packing cubes make a great cushion for more fragile items as a border around the sides of the bag.

Step 4: Tips Specific to Air Travel

For air travel, I’m a huge fan of Osprey’s Farpoint 55 because I can stuff my toiletry bag into the smaller daypack and easily access my liquids and laptop for security. I typically close and lock the larger pack and just send it through the x-ray. It makes the process a breeze. After I’m through security, I put my toiletry bag back in the larger pack and swap it out for anything I need for the flight.

Osprey's Farpoint 55 Blue Backpack for Backpacking

Farpoint 55/Osprey

Step 5: Tips Specific to Backpacking

Much of how you’ll pack depends on the length and intensity of your trip. Again, pack heavier items closest to your lower back to limit strain (this includes water). You can also pack items you won’t need until camp at the bottom of your bag, followed by levels of usefulness leading up to your necessities at the top (sunscreen, snacks etc.) Any good backpacking backpack will have clips you can utilize for longer items like sleeping pads or sleeping bags.