Backpacking is the ultimate example of traveling with one bag. How to pack for it is a real skill. With a few guidelines anyone can do it. Use these tips as a start. As you learn and gain experience you will build confidence and modify them to your requirements.
In general, pack a backpack with lighter weight items at the bottom. Heavier items at the top.
If you are going to be scrambling and hiking off-trail on rough terrain or snow, you might want to pack some of the heavier items a little lower to bring down your center of gravity. Experiment a bit before you leave home.
As for what to pack, start with the Checklist on the What To Take page. Once you have your basic items to pack add:
• pillow case and sheet for hostel stays
• first aid kit
• small flashlight
Buy a good quality, name brand backpack with a good warrantee. A backpack is going to get abused while traveling. All bags do. Backpacks get an extra dose of abuse. Get a good one and it will last for years.
Make sure you get a backpack with a frame. Internal (sewn into the fabric) or external (exposed) is more a personal choice, just make sure it has a frame.
It should have a padded, adjustable hip belt. Pay close attention to this feature: an inadequate belt can turn any backpack trip into a miserable experience because of a sore back or rub marks. Material should be ballistic nylon with reinforced stitching. An Added feature is that some packs have water proofed material.
If you are buying a backpack for the first time make sure you try it on. Go to the outfitters and put it on in the store. Narrow your choices to 3 brands, head to the store and try them on. Wear them around the store. Pay attention to how it sits in your back and waist. Ask the clerk to load it with some weight. Wear it around some more. The one pack that feels the best is the one to choose. Take your time. This is a major decision.
For help and the latest information on your backpack decision check out the expert equipment reviews at Camping Gear and Hiking Equipment Guides & Reviews. They offer help for you to make the best choice in equipment the first time so you save time, money, and frustration.
These are the packing basics for backpacking. Adjust them based on your destination but start here.
Sleeping bag first.
Most packs are designed with a compartment at the bottom for it; place it there. Some packs place it inside and they have internal dividers to keep the sleeping bag from the rest of your gear. Use them. To pack a sleeping bag roll it tight and hold the roll with straps. Avoid overly compressing down sleeping bags. They will lose their insular quality.
Clothes go in next.
If you’ re heading to cold climates keep your hat, gloves and scarf in an outer pocket. If you’re heading into extreme cold pack and extra insulating layer into an outer pocket as well.
Always keep it handy. Pack it in an outside pocket.
Tents and tarps.
Most packs have a separate compartment for these at the bottom near where the sleeping bag goes. If your pack has a compartment underneath stuff the tent under your sleeping bag. That way, you don’t have to unpack everything to get your tent out if it’s raining when you want to make camp. This really works for packing a wet tent – it won’t drip over everything. It also means both sleeping bag and tent should have waterproof sacks. Strap tent poles to the outside.
Food, fuel, and cooking utensils.
Store the fuel upright away from your food. Think about placing it in an outside compartment.
Toiletries and personal items.
Water filter, sunscreen, sunglasses, mosquito repellant, camera, snacks, toilet paper, etc. get stuffed in where ever you can.