For those who regularly backpack, dialing in a specific system is highly beneficial for myriad reasons. Below are tricks and tips gleaned from my own experiences leading extended backpacking trips for entire summer seasons.
There is a lot more to packing a backpack than just shoving all your belongings inside and hitting the trail, as we’ve discussed in the “Do You Really Know How To Pack A Backpack” post. Past the basics of the ABC’s, here are some pro-level tips and tricks for ensuring your pack is a welcome tool for adventure and not a cumbersome burden.
These Top Tips and Tricks will ensure you backpack like a pro:
Choose a smaller backpack! My take on backpack size is this: would you rather be comfortable for eight hours of carrying your pack, or comfortable for 2 hours in camp thanks to all sorts of luxury items? Personally, I choose to be comfortable for the eight hours I’m actively moving and so I carry as little as possible in my backpack. If I can travel light and feel unburdened, then I can hike faster and more comfortably. This creates room for longer breaks at interesting places, and more time and energy for things like photography, fly-fishing, or alpine lake swimming. The gear stores will have you believe that all sorts of extra camp accessories are somehow necessary, but that’s not the case. A small backpack means you’ll be forced to cull your kit down to what is truly necessary and just one or two luxury items, leaving you free to enjoy what the wilderness has to offer. For instance, even when guiding I carry a the Deuter ACT Lite 50+ backpack.
Forget all the stuff sacks. How much organization do you really need inside a backpack? Since balance and compression are so important it is often best to pack soft items like clothing around other items like the kitchen kit and food bags (or bear can). Fill up all that extra space to keep the contents from shifting. If you are a die-hard stuff sack user, then keep them loose (not compressed) and try to mold them around other things.
Tents and sleeping bags are medium weight items that can live in the bottom of your pack because you do not need them during the day. I prefer no stuff sack for the tent, instead packing it around and on top of the sleeping back to take up extra space.
As a guide, I’ve seen way too many tent poles broken over the years by people who drop their packs onto poles that are strapped to the outside. Instead, place the poles upright in the pack, right against the corner of the frame for protection.
If my tent gets wet in the rain then I pack the fly on the outside of the pack so the rest of my gear doesn’t get damp or wet. Either stuff it in an external pocket or roll it up and place it under the lid. If the rain ceases, then you can readily dry out the fly while taking a rest or lunch break.
Filling a water bladder that lives in a larger backpack can be challenging and it often needs to come out because all the other gear inside the pack compresses it. In order to get the bladder back in, other gear then needs to be pulled out, which is annoying and inefficient. Personally, I just use water bottles with my larger packs to avoid this issue, and save the bladders for smaller day packs.
If you have an old-school external pack then items like your sleeping bag and tent go on the outside (ideally in waterproofs sacks). If you have an internal frame pack like most on the market today, then it is designed to carry best with most everything inside (especially the bulky tent and sleeping bag). If you’re pushing the limit of space available and your tent must go on the outside, then place it under the top lid; strapping it to the bottom will most likely cause the pack to rotate inward toward your hips, leading to lower back pain. Lightweight foam sleeping pads, on the other hand, do very well strapped to the outside of any pack.
Colby Brokvist is a professional guide who leads worldwide expeditions for some of the most acclaimed companies in adventure travel. When not working in far-flung destinations, he designs and facilitates guide training programs and is the Chair of the Polar Tourism Guides Association. His new book “The Professional Guide’s Handbook” is available through your favorite bookseller. You can follow him on social via @ColbyOutdoors.