This is How to Pack a Backpack for Overnight Hiking


By Vivian Chung

For outdoor adventurers thinking about conquering an overnight hike for the first time this summer, there’s no reason to be hesitant. Though it may sound daunting to leave the comforts of home on a multi-day journey into the depths of the forest, a well-packed backpack is the key to a successful overnight hike. Packed efficiently, your backpack can fit all the gear you need for a night (or several) outdoors. Then, you can explore the wilderness with ease and comfort—even with the added weight.

Rule 1: Essentials Only 

To reduce the load and move with ease on the trail, take only what you need. Research your trail and campsite ahead of time to see what facilities and amenities are available so you can determine which items are essential for your trip. For example, if your site has a picnic table, consider leaving behind camp chairs. Water is the heaviest thing you’ll carry, so research your trail for water sources and refill stations to determine how much you’ll need to carry with you and where you can replenish your supply.

Rule 2: Waterproof Everything

Nothing is worse than arriving at your campsite after a long trek in the rain only to discover that everything in your pack is soaked from the downpour. If you’re hiking in the mountains or the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, a seemingly harmless drizzle can quickly become an unforgiving storm. Waterproof your items so you’ll have a dry tent to set up and warm clothes to get into when you reach your campsite. Ziploc bags are an easy solution to keep electronics dry; garbage bags also do the trick. These tend to be more delicate and will rip, so bring a backup garbage bag. For a more sustainable and durable option, invest in a pack liner that fits inside your backpack before loading it up with gear.

Rule 3: Use All the Pockets

Outer loops, straps and pockets come in handy for oddly shaped gear that doesn’t have a place inside your backpack. Loops are convenient for transporting trekking poles; crampons and camp shoes (such as a pair of flip flops) can be strapped on with a carabiner. Fill the accessory pockets with small essentials that should be within reach: water, a compass/map, bear spray and lip balm. Make sure the items you strap on to the outside of your backpack won’t tear on sharp rocks or get snagged on branches as you’re hiking. While loops and straps are useful, minimize the number of items you carry outside of the pack so they don’t tip your load off balance.

Rule 4: Follow This Packing Method

Start from the bottom and work your way up, loading your pack in the order you’ll need your things. The bottom should hold lightweight and bulky items that aren’t needed until you reach your campsite, like a rolled up sleeping mat and your tent, which can also be stored in a zippered compartment. By outfitting the bottom of your pack with softer items, you create a shock-absorption system, which helps to make the pack feel lighter on your back. The middle of the backpack is reserved for dense and heavy items, like camp meals and your water reservoir. By placing heavier items in the middle section flush against your back, you keep a steady center of gravity that won’t have you teetering along on the trail. The top part of the pack should store quick access items like snacks, a first aid kit and toilet supplies. Be mindful about balancing the left and right side of your pack for a stable load that sits close to your body.

Now you’re ready for a fun, safe, life-changing overnight backpacking trip!

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