The difference between a well packed and poorly packed backpack is no laughing matter. Well, it is if you’ve ever watched that guy on a hiking trip whose backpack looks like a family of angry beavers are trying to escape from it, bulging, shifting and catching on every branch he walks by. On the flip side, are the Mary Poppins of backpack packing who seems to fit an entire military base into a tiny canvas holdall.
Luckily, it only takes a few expert tips to make your backpack feel lighter, tighter and more resistance to water. Here’s how:
#1 Your Pack Should Tell a Story
I was told this tip by a former Paratrooper in the Australia army who led a group of us on a 7-day hike across the Tarkine rainforest in Tasmania. When planning the ‘layers’ of your backpack think about the storyline of you’re adventure. What’s the first thing you’ll do every morning? Get dressed and make breakfast, so put those things at the top. What’s the last thing you’ll do at the end of your expedition? Change into thongs or unlock your car? Pack those things in the ‘annoying awkward pocket to access’ (every backpack has one).
#2 Red Dot Your Equipment
I heard this advice from a friend who was trying to downside his camping kit. He stuck a red sticker to the bottom of all his adventure gear, from kitchen equipment to clothing and gadgets. Over the next six months, if he used the item he removed the sticker so that, at the end of the six months, he could see the objects that he’d lugged around unnecessarily. Side note: this strategy is best for creature comforts. There are some emergency items, such as medical supplies and beacons, that you should always carry with the hope you’ll never need them.
#3 Make a Good Compression
Never try to save money by buying cheap compression sacks or dry bags. Trust me, I’ve tried and it always ends in tears (both the ripping kind and the crying kind). My personal favourite are Sea to Summit dry bags followed closely by Osprey, which we put to the test when we blew four up, tied them into a raft and swum them across a rainforest river. I personally prefer three smaller compression bags to one big one so I can compartmentalise clothes, gadgets and miscellaneous but that’s up to you.
#4 Divide to Conquer
My husband has a rule when we’re hiking “If you can’t carry it, you can’t bring it”. Basically, I’m not allowed to add any item to his backpack but I am allowed to bargain with him. Generally, when we’re hiking I’ll carry the kitchen supplies – cooking utensils and food – whilst he carries our tent which is bulkier and more awkward for my five-foot tallness. Admittedly, now that I’m six months pregnant he also carries my water but then I am carrying his unborn daughter.
#5 Hows it Hanging?
The only item I have hanging from my backpack is an emergency whistle. It can be tempting to start stringing stuff to the exterior but think about your terrain. If you’re going to be climbing under trees or scrambling rocks those items are going to catch, tear and – if you’re unlucky – break free completely. My top tip for preventing this is a waterproof backpack cover, such as Ospreys ultralight option. I often use one, even when it’s not raining because it ‘condoms’ the outside of my pack and stops anything catching. It’s also great if you’re putting your backpack into an aircraft baggage hold.
#6 Perfect Packing Starts at Home
It’s 5pm on a Friday or 5am on a Saturday and you haven’t packed your bag yet. You throw everything in the back of your car and think, “I’ll just organise it when we get there”. And you always regret it! Take time to pack properly in your own home rather than trying to reorganise your life at the start of a trail when people are ‘patiently’ waiting for you. Oh, and please pass these tips on to any bad packers you know. Let’s take a weight off each other’s shoulders!