The best way to pack a hiking backpack

By Thomas Sorheim •  Updated: 05/06/20 •  5 min read
Hiking gear in the forest

When you’re first starting out with hiking, a natural progression path is to start out with hikes that are shorter and a little on the easier side. As you gain experience, you can progress into longer, more involved hikes that can take anywhere from eight hours to several days.

If you’re going to be going on a hike that will take longer than a few hours, then you’re going to want to pack a hiking backpack to bring along with you. If you’ve never packed one before, it can seem a little daunting at first glance.

You could certainly just Google for images that show how to pack a hiking backpack with diagrams. However, not all hiking backpacks are made the same.

With that in mind, we can provide you with a few general guidelines that will help you to properly pack your bag.

Determine Exactly What You Need

The first order of business will be to determine everything that you’ll need for your hike. The items you should bring will vary depending on the length of time your hike will take and the difficulty.

First aid and emergency supplies are always a priority, and they should be the first items you set aside. After that, you’ll want to gather any necessary items (think sleeping bags, warm clothing, food, etc.) and then finally the optional items that you’ll be likely to use. Things like cameras, sunglasses, and other similar items.

Take a moment to review all of the items that you’re planning on taking in order to determine if there’s anything that you can probably live without. Every single item you add to the bag will be adding even more weight, as well as increasing the amount of time that it will take you to get organized.

Also, keep in mind that the shorter your hike, the less you will need to pack compared to longer durations.

Once you have gathered all of the items that you will be taking, spend a few extra minutes sorting them by weight. Taking the time to do this now will help out immensely once you begin adding them to your bag.

What Size Is Your Backpack?

Grey colour big size hiking backpack and the shoes

With all of your gear assembled, you’re obviously going to need a hiking backpack that’s capable of carrying all of your essential equipment. Backpack capacities are usually measured in liters, which can be a little bit confusing if you aren’t used to it.

The average sized hiking backpack will generally fall somewhere between having a 25 to 45L capacity, although it’s possible to get bags that are smaller or larger.

Another consideration is what type of hiking backpack you have – internal or external. Internal bags are far more common, featuring internal frames to help you support more weight.

While these types of bags are more common, external backpacks are still used as well, and they are capable of carrying some fairly heavy loads. It’s recommended to only use them for trail hiking, however.

Packing the Bag

Various hiking gear

How you actually pack your hiking backpack will largely depend on what type of bag you’re using. In general, you’ll be fine to go with the following guidelines:

Internal backpack

The most important thing to keep in mind when packing an internal frame bag is that you are going to want to place the heaviest items so that they are located between your shoulder blades and close to your back. This will help to keep most of the weight on your hips, which will support most of the load. 

External backpack

If you’re using a bag with an external frame, then you’re going to want to ensure that the heaviest items are placed near the top of the bag instead. This will center the weight of the bag over your hips and help to keep you in a more upright, natural stance. 

Other Considerations

Beyond the two bag-specific pointers mentioned above, you should always place your lightest items at the bottom of your bag when packing. Any medium sized items should then be used to fill out any remaining available space.

Just be sure that you don’t overload your backpack or fill it with more weight than you will be able to manage hiking with.


The final pieces of advice that we can give you is to always check your pack before you leave for your hikes to see how it feels and if you will be comfortable with the load. Other than that, don’t forget about any external pockets and pouches to help pack those smaller items that won’t otherwise fit into the internal capacity.

By following these very basic guidelines, you’ll be packing your hiking backpack like a pro in no time at all. And of course, as you gain more and more hiking experience, you’ll be much more efficient when it comes to packing and preparing for your next adventure. 

Thomas Sorheim