Packing a Backpacking Backpack

By Coach Mel

As Kimberly and I get closer to our backpacking trip and visions of compasses dance in our heads, it occurred to me that the one thing I hate the most about trips will have to happen soon… packing. Perhaps the only thing worse than packing is unpacking which means your fun trip is over, but for now, the sad reality is that, no matter how experienced an adventurer you are, when you backpack you end up packing and repacking roughly one million times. BUT if you don’t want to unpack and repack one million and one times then you must pack with some smarts.

With summer upon us, hopefully you are toying with the idea of getting out in the elements and getting away from the city for at least a weekend. When you are on a trip your time should be spent taking in the views and breathing the fresh air, not with your face in the bottom of your pack digging for that shirt you swore you brought but actually ditched last minute.  Here are some time-saving, space-gifting, weight-eliminating ways to pack a backpacking backpack:

Step one:

Gather everything you want to bring: 3 pairs of shades, a pair of shoes, another pair of shoes in case the first pair breaks, more clothes, toiletries, hair dryer, cooking supplies, spice kit, the kitchen sink. Now, plan to get rid of 80% of this stuff.

Before going out for a trip I like to think about the bare essentials I need just to be able to make it through. Example: For a day on the bike, I NEED a bike, a helmet, water, and shoes. Other things might be nice, but those are requirements, so those are the first things in the bag. Then you can go from there, you see?

For a backpacking trip (up to a week) my essentials would be: a backpack, a map, water containers and purifying drops, food, 1 pair of shoes, 1 night outfit, 1 day outfit, and a camera, although if it came to it, this might get ditched.

Step two:

Set those essentials aside and then begin to pick through all the other crap you think you want.

Here’s the deal - you are going to think you will wear a different pair of underwear and a fresh shirt each day... but you will not, nor should you. It will be the end of the day and you might even just sleep in what you wore and wear it again the next day. This is not gross. This is good smarts. You are carrying everything you need for a given period of time… your fresh, new shirt won't smell that good for long anyway.

Step three:

Start from the bottom up.

There should be a special compartment in the bottom of the pack. This is for your sleeping bag. Above it is a false bottom for your other stuff to sit on top of. If there are straps on the outside of the sleeping bag’s compartment, you can strap your sleeping pad to this on the outside of the pack. I typically shove all my “night stuff” all in this sleeping bag area. Bag, camping pillow if I bring one, headlamp, fresh socks. Bam! Everything you need right there when you get to camp; no digging required. If I sleep in different pants from what I’m walking in I just leave those bad boys in the bottom of my sleeping bag and then stuff it all in there together for the day. Then they are nice and warm for me before bed. Win-win!

Other clothes - I like the burrito-roll method. This way you can shove shirts and shorts rolled up burrito-style in the sides of your bag to fill empty air space around your tent, stove, filter, and whatever other non-essential crap you decided to bring. 

Step four:

Miscellaneous stuff.

Stuff you will need frequently throughout the day. Put this stuff in the front or top pouch if you have one. If not, put it on top of everything. Have day snacks available, your water purifying system nearby, and water bottles accessible while you are walking if possible. You don’t want to be the one that’s like “Hey, can I borrow that?” every two seconds.

Pack a trash bag. You can shove all your stuff in this for rainy days. Pack some Ziplocs because, no trash left behind. Pack toilet paper, even if there are supposedly toilets on your route. Just trust me.

Step five:

Make sure your pack closes and weighs something you are comfortable carrying for lots of days over lots of miles. It will get lighter because you will eat your food, but it will get heavier because you will eat your food, if you know what I mean. Just Google "blue bags."

Step six:

Check that essentials list twice! Don't forget any of these items.

Step seven:

Make sure you have your fav snack food on hand. Guys, for me, here it comes and I’m not proud of it. Snickers bars really keep me going on multi-day situations. I am not saying they are a smart/nutritious pick, I’m just saying…

We all have that one other non-essential thing we “need” to have with us. For me it’s a gross old REI coffee mug - the old school plastic kind that will probably give me cancer. It has a nice patina of hot chocolate, coffee, and maybe a little whiskey, but it gets me in the mood to be outside for a few nights. You are allowed to pack this one item. For some it’s a book… for some it is actual whiskey. You’re on vacation!

That’s all. Unless you count packing a good attitude. You can't control the weather or the bugs or the trail conditions, so suck it up with a smile; it's all part of the adventure! We can’t wait to post some pics from down in the big ditch. Grand Canyon, here we come!