The Principles of Packing a Backpack for any Occasion

It’s something that often doesn’t spring to mind until you have an hour to leave, but packing a backpack is a crucial part of any successful trip. Neglecting this practice and just throwing everything in at the last minute can lead to back pain, poor posture, damaged belongings, and so much more. Luckily, we’re here to help make all of that history.

In this article, we’ll cover a few of the basics of packing a backpack for even load and maximum comfort, keeping things guarded against the weather, and best practices when it comes to packing clothes. Then, we’ll go into a little more detail on some of the specific scenarios you might need to pack for. Without further adieu, let’s get into it!

What You Need to Know Before Packing Your Backpack

Figure out your priorities

Before beginning, make a list of everything you think you might need and order it by priority. Then split those items into ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ and slowly pick out the ‘non-essential’ items you think you can leave behind. A good rule of thumb is to try and end up packing only half of the non-essential items you initially started with.

Plan your outfits in advance

It can be easy to pack all your favourite clothes if you want to wear them on the day, but it’s much more efficient to plan your outfits in advance, so you only take what you need.

Where possible, double up on chargers and adapters.

By this, we mean don’t bring a charger for both your tablet and mobile phone if they both use the same type of cable. The same goes for things like wall adapters and other electronics. If you can get away with sharing something between devices, do it.

Keep the ‘just in cases’ to a minimum.

When planning for a trip, it’s easy to run through all the possible scenarios in your head and end up packing lots of unnecessary items just in case they happen. Try your best to avoid this, as nine times out of ten, you won’t end up using them, and they’ll end up taking up unnecessary space in your backpack.

Coordinate with travel companions

If you’re travelling with friends or family, be sure to coordinate with them about what potentially shareable items they might be bringing. Things like laptop chargers, toothpaste, sunscreen, etc. If you coordinate between yourselves to each bring an essential item you can all use, you could make way for considerable extra space in each of your backpacks for more important things.

How to Keep Your Backpack Safe from the Elements

Invest in a waterproof backpack

The easiest way to keep your backpack safe from the elements is by investing in a backpack that has built-in waterproofing. While many backpacks advertise things like ‘water resistance’ or ‘weather resistance’, in certain circumstances, this won’t be enough to protect your valuables and keep your clothes dry. Here’s some advice on which waterproof backpacks you should buy.

Consider using a waterproof backpack liner

If you’re not ready to invest in a new backpack or want to take some extra precautions against the rain, consider purchasing a waterproof backpack liner. These lightweight liners fit snugly inside your backpack to add an extra layer of protection to your valuables.

Get a rain cover for your backpack

Another extra layer of waterproofing you can use is rain covers. Some backpacks have these built-in, but they usually use an elastic band to encase your whole backpack in a waterproof material (this time from the outside) when you’re out in the elements.

Protect your electronics

You know those little sachets you get in the box every time you buy electronics? They’re called silica gel sachets, and they’re good at absorbing moisture. Rather than throwing them out, keep hold of them, and pack them with your electronics when you go travelling to protect them from water damage.

How to Arrange the Items in Your Backpack for Best Weight Distribution

One of the biggest mistakes people make when packing a backpack is that they don’t consider how they pack it will affect comfort. Of course, it’s important to have the essentials close to hand, but packing your backpack in the wrong way can lead to discomfort, back pain, and if done too infrequently, poor posture.

Before you begin, sort the items you intend to pack by weight, as it will make this whole process easier. By weight, we mean weight density, i.e. how heavy it is for its size.

When packing your backpack for weight distribution, the most important goal is to keep as much of the weight as close to the middle of your back as possible, as this will reduce the amount of strain against your normal centre of gravity. With this in mind, you want to keep the heaviest items in the middle of your bag and close to your shoulder blades.

The lightest items – for example, a sleeping bag or clothing items – should be at the bottom of your bag. This is because they can comfortably cushion your lower back, are less prone to damage from the pressure of items above them, and will also protect the more delicate items above them when resting your bag down. You’re also likely to find that these are the items you’re least likely to need throughout the day.

Everything else can be packed around the outside of the middle and upper edges of the bag. It’s also important to consider how readily available you might need some of these items, so it’s up to you what kind of trade-off you want to make between comfort and convenience. Some of the best travel backpacks utilize extra openings to make it easier to access items in the harder-to-reach areas of your bag, so this might be worth considering to make life easier.

How to Pack a Hiking Backpack

When packing a backpack for hiking, the most important factors to consider are comfort and support. Having a poorly packed backpack on your back – especially if you’re carrying a heavy load – is a recipe for back problems that could cut your hike unexpectedly short.

How to Pack a Hiking Backpack

The most important thing is to pack with consideration for weight distribution. We cover this in the section above in more detail, but the key takeaways are to put the lightest items at the bottom of your bag, the heaviest items in the middle and close to your back or shoulder blades, and everything else around it. This will keep your centre of gravity centred and reduce the strain on your spine, waist, and shoulders.

Regardless of how you pack your bag, a poor-quality and unsupportive backpack is still likely to cause pain and discomfort. The best hiking backpacks have lots of straps and maximum touch-points against the body to reduce the strain on any one part of your body. Be sure to invest in a supportive bag for the most comfortable hike.

You should also be conservative with what you bring with you. Keep unnecessary luxuries to a minimum and opt only for the essentials to keep your load down. Waterproofing measures (which we go into above) can also be a sound investment. You may also want to invest in a hydration system like a CamelBak. If you’re doing any camping on your hike, keep reading for our top tips on how to pack a hiking backpack for camping.

How to Pack a Backpack for Camping

Much like if you’re packing for a hike, if you’re planning on doing any extended foot travel on your camping trip, it’s worth considering the weight distribution tips we go into above. Keep your sleeping bag and any clothing at the bottom of your backpack, and if possible, your tent should go in the middle of your bag.

How to Pack a Backpack for Camping

No one likes to open their bag to find their belongings coated in stray toothpaste or shower gel. Be sure to invest in a sealed toiletry bag to keep your toiletries from tainting the other items in your backpack should any unplanned leaks or explosions occur.

If you’re planning on attaching your tent to the outside of your backpack, make sure you’ve connected it thoroughly with at least two connections to avoid losing it and disperse the strain on the fabric of your bag. This applies to anything you have attached to the outside of your backpack that you don’t want to lose. You’d be surprised how easy it is not to notice.

If you plan to keep your tent inside your bag (or even if you’re not, this still applies), make sure it’s dry before you pack it up. Leaving excess moisture on a sealed tent can lead to mould development and bad odours – that’s not something you want to have to sleep with at your next campsite.

How to Pack a Backpack for Travel

When packing a backpack for travelling, you’ll probably want to keep excess luggage to a minimum. Before you keep reading, be sure to check out the section above on overpacking to learn our top tips to keep things slight, and also the section on weight distribution to reduce the strain on your back and prevent any unwanted back pain – especially if you’re planning on doing a lot of foot-travel.

How to Pack a Backpack for Travel

A good rule to follow when packing a backpack for your travels is to plan your outfits in advance. This is perhaps a little easier if you’re travelling for a few days than if you’re planning on a month-long road trip around Europe, but the same principle still applies. Figure out what outfits you plan on wearing each day, and pack only the items you need (with perhaps a spare or two, just in case). You may also want to bring a ‘laundry bag’ so you can keep your dirty clothes and clean clothes separate. We use a super-efficient trick to pack clothes that we go into below, so make sure to read until the end.

Another great tip we’ve picked up over the years is to bring a roll of duct tape with you. Sometimes an unexpected tear in the fabric of your backpack can tear an even bigger hole in the very fabric of your trip (see what we did there?). Duct tape is an easy fix, so it’s always a handy thing to have on-hand (even if it might raise a few eyebrows).

How to Pack a Backpack for Air Travel

If you’re travelling by air or even just internationally, there are certain limitations you need to be aware of. Of course, this varies depending on which countries you’re travelling between and the airline you use, but here are a few key points to remember.

Know what you can and can’t take on the plane

Airlines nowadays have pretty strict guidelines on what can and can’t be taken on a plane – both in your hand luggage and hold bags. Before you pack your bag, familiarise yourself with the specific rules of the airline you’ve booked with (you should be able to find these on their website). Know what you need to delegate to your hold luggage and what needs to be left at home – this can include anything from lighters, batteries, and electronics, to liquids, blades, and even food and drink. If you’re not sure, check.

Know the rules with toiletries

Most airlines will have very specific rules on toiletries. You can usually bring most of the items you need with you if not in your hand-luggage then in your hold bags, but you will usually need to have them in clear, water-tight containers under a certain volume, and you’ll usually also need to separate them into designated plastic toiletry bags. This might mean you need to spend a little time decanting your toiletries into other containers. It’s a bit of a hassle but a small price to pay for peace of mind. You can always just leave them at home and buy something when you get there. Again, check the specific requirements of your trip to be sure.

Leave a gap for duty-free!

You might want to take advantage of the good value you can get on items in the gift shop at the airport’s duty-free section. If you’re that way inclined or are intending on bringing home some gifts for friends and family, make sure to leave a little space with that in mind.

How to Pack a Backpack for School

Check your schedule

For a streamlined backpack, be sure to check your or your child’s schedule for the day. Figure out what lessons they have and when and what they’ll need for each. Don’t pack items they won’t need that day unless it’s something they plan on keeping in their locker for later in the week.

How to Pack a Backpack for School

Check your schedule

For a streamlined backpack, be sure to check your or your child’s schedule for the day. Figure out what lessons they have and when and what they’ll need for each. Don’t pack items they won’t need that day unless it’s something they plan on keeping in their locker for later in the week.

Consider pencil cases and organizers

Inside most schoolbags, you’ll find at least one pencil case, but why stop at just one organizer? You might want to have a separate pencil case for different use cases (e.g. one for maths, one for art, and one for everything else). You may also want to use organizers to keep the other small bits and bobs from getting lost.

Put books at the back

Books are usually the heaviest item in a school bag, so it makes sense to keep these at the back of the bag against where your back would rest. This keeps the bulk of the load close to your centre of gravity and is better for the spine and posture. It also stops any sharp objects poking into your back.

Consider the weather

One thing many people fail to consider when packing a school bag is the weather. Sure, it might be sunny now, but what if an unexpected storm rears its head? If there’s space, be sure to add a compact raincoat and/or sweatshirt to keep them prepared – maybe even a hat and gloves too. You can never be too careful!

The Best Way to Pack Clothes in a Backpack

Roll, don’t fold!

Some of you may already know this trick, but it’s surprising how many people don’t know it. If you want to know how to pack a backpack with clothes (or even a suitcase for that matter), don’t fold them. Roll them up into logs. Not only does this make them easier to pack and easier to access, but when done correctly, it also reduces the creases and crinkles.

The Best Way to Pack Clothes in a Backpack

Use compression bags

Compression bags can be a great way to not only organize your clothes but also make the most of the available space in your backpack as they push out any unused air gaps. Beware, however, as compression bags can really crinkle up your clothes and aren’t always the most convenient way to access things in a bag.

Place clothes toward the bottom of your backpack

We’ve touched on this above a little, but be sure to place clothes at the bottom of your backpack when loading a large backpack up with luggage. This will help to cushion your lower back, protect the items above it, and also because you don’t need ready access to your clothes throughout the day, and that might as well be where they sit.

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