Free Backpacking checklist and how to pack a backpack

Backpack with camping boots and thermos
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So, you are in possession of a suitable backpack for you, but you still need advice regarding what to take on a backpacking trip along with how to pack your gear in the backpack. This article will focus on solving this problem for you by giving you a backpacking checklist followed with key considerations to take into account when choosing your equipment. Afterwards, we’ll dive into the anatomy of a trekking backpack and introduce two simple steps to follow when packing your backpack. Lastly, we share some useful tips to apply when packing your backpack.

What to pack for a backpacking trip?

So, you have decided to take on backpacking for your next adventure trip. Perhaps this is your first time and you want to make sure that you are fully prepared for what’s coming. If not, then perhaps you already have experience with backpacking and are just wondering if you’ve been missing out on something essential that might come in handy next time. Either way, you are curious to know what to take with you on your next backpacking trip. To give a short answer to this question, here’s a backpacking checklist that covers the essentials and the extras. However, if you need help understanding which backpacking gear from the checklist will actually prove useful for your next trip then keep on reading.


From my experience with backpacking through Europe, Latin America and Asia, some backpacking gear are always useful while some depend on the circumstances. Thus, when planning for my next backpacking trip, there are a few considerations that I focus on when deciding which gear to take with me. These key considerations help me decide which gear to select from the backpacking checklist above and hopefully they will also help you do the same.

Type of backpacking


It should come as no surprise, but in order to reduce the weight that you are carrying around, you need to know or at least have an idea of what you’ll be doing.You see, the type and amount of backpack gear you need differs whether you’re planning a car camping trip or just taking a plane to backpack around Europe.

In the case of car camping, you load all your gear in your car for the trip, drive to your campsite and set up camp on a designated tent pad. This means less worrying about weight or purchasing backpacking kitchen utensils as the car/RV does the heavy lifting for you. Furthermore, these campsites usually have communal toilets, showers, dishwashing areas, washing machines, basically all the comfort from home. As a result, a simple daypack might suffice, which is a small backpack that has enough room to carry your water bottle, food and anything extra during your day hike. All other gear such as sleeping equipment, kitchen utensils, health & hygiene products and more can simply be left behind at the campsite.

Another alternative to ease yourself into backpacking is going from point A to point B with both points offering the same options as a campsite. An example of this is a hut tour in which you are going from one hut to another while experiencing different views along the way. In this case, the content of your backpack will depend on where you plan on eating like the nearby restaurant and sleeping once you arrive at your destination. 

Finally, the last option is when you truly rely on the gear you have with you to provide you with shelter, food and everything else for survival in the outdoors. Since you will be carrying around your backpack day in and day out, the most important part will be the weight of the backpack. To ensure that you have an ultralight backpack, it’s essential that you carry gear that is made of lightweight material such as titanium. Also, you should avoid carrying unnecessary gear as this will also reduce the space in your backpack.

Destination

Illustration of planning for a trip


During the preparation for your backpacking trip, make sure to check the conditions of where you’ll be backpacking. If it’s a popular area then there should be a site or forum that lists the current trail conditions. This way you know if the area is muddy or snowy so that you can bring the appropriate footwear and tent equipment. In addition, take into account any river crossings you might encounter during the trip. Walking barefoot over sharp rock edges under water can be quite uncomfortable, so consider bringing sandals or aqua shoes to make life much easier. 

Another thing to point out is the travel distance between water sources and waste containers. With regards to water sources, your water carrying capacity should depend on the frequency of refill options, especially if the chosen route is hot and exposed. Also know that the source of the water, such as clear and free flowing or murky and stagnant spots, heavily impact the filtration and purification system that you’ll need to bring. With regards to the waste containers, make sure you have enough trash bags with you for all your trash till you reach the next waste container.

Lastly, make sure you are well prepared against any animal you might encounter in the backcountry. If you are planning on spending any time in warm, humid areas without much wind, you’ll need to pack an insect repellent spray to help fend off mosquitoes and other types of bugs. Also, some areas are common for having bears so you may be required to carry a bear spray and pack your food in a bear canister to keep it safe and keep bears from wandering through your camp.

Duration

In general, a short 3 day backpacking trip requires less gear when compared to a 7 day backpacking trip. Depending on the duration of your trip, you might need to bring soap, extra clothing, a shaver and more. The soap will give you the option to wash your clothes so that you can reuse them again and reduce the amount of clothing you pack. Following up on the clothing, I usually pack a minimum of 3 shirts and 3 underwear so that one is being worn, one is hanging up to dry and one is in reserve. If you are packing any type of electronic such as a smartphone, speaker or smartwatch then consider packing a powerbank as well. Also, I advise packing ready-made meals for short backpacking trips so that you don’t need to carry kitchen utensils. 

Weather

When it comes to the weather, it’s really important that you are well dressed for the chosen season. A good practice is to pack reliable rain gear and assorted layers of clothing so that you are well prepared for any sudden weather change. During summer, it’s best to pack sunscreen, sun hat, sunglasses and polyester shirts, which have great moisture wicking technology for keeping sweat away. If you are expecting to be backpacking in the rain then it’s a good idea to spray your shoes with a water repellent spray and your tent with a waterproof spray. For a better understanding of the importance of wearing multiple layers along with what to wear for which season, check out the following videos:

How to pack a camping backpack

different parts of a backpack


The image above gives a quick overview of the different parts of a backpack for trekking and backpacking. This gives you an overall understanding regarding what’s what and what goes where. In addition to that, we’ll go in details over how to fill the different compartments of your camping backpack. For this, we’ll apply the following steps:

  1. Lay out your gear
  2. Organize your gear into your backpack

Lay out your gear


If you already had a look at our backpacking checklist, then you should know by now what gear to take with you on your upcoming adventure. The next step would be to lay out all of your chosen gear on a flat surface such as a table or floor and run through them with the backpacking checklist in the previous section. This gives you the advantage of visualizing all the equipment that you’ll be carrying around. It’s also a good method for making you aware of any additional gear that you might have forgotten.

Organize your gear into your backpack

It’s worth noting that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all method when it comes to packing your backpack. The main reason for this is that it depends on the design of your backpack and the type of gear you are packing. Below are two backpack diagrams that illustrate how to pack your backpack. This way, you can try out different packing options until you’ve found what works best for you.

Perhaps you have noticed that the backpack diagrams illustrated above take a somewhat similar approach regarding how to pack your backpack. That’s because there are some guiding principles that are valid regardless of the type of backpack or type of gear you plan on taking with you. 

The first principle is the accessibility of your backpacking gear. Generally, you’ll want to pack the gear that you don’t need till the evening or later on the trip towards the bottom of the backpack. These are items such as your tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad and kitchen utensils. With regards to packing a tent in your backpack, you can choose between packing the entire set at the bottom of your backpack or distribute the different parts throughout the backpack. The gear that you might need throughout the day such as clothing and food should go towards the top of the backpack. Lastly, the gear that you will regularly need throughout the day such as water bottle, snacks, sunscreen and camera will go in the exterior pockets.

The second principle is the distribution of the weight. The main objective here is to minimize the influence of the backpack weight on your center of gravity. If you remember your physics class then you might recall that the lower the center of gravity is, the more stable an object is. In our case, our center of gravity depends on our body composition but on average is located at the level of the navel. Thus, the lower and closer the weight of the backpack is towards your navel, the less chance your center of gravity will shift thereby maintaining your stability. This means packing the heaviest backpacking gear such as your tent and kitchen utensils in the center of your backpack and as close to your back as possible. 

Here’s a video that shows how to pack your backpack using these two principles:

Additional tips when packing your backpack

  • A general rule when packing your backpack is that the total weight doesn’t exceed 25% of your body mass. 
  • Avoid attaching heavy gear to the outside of the backpack since it heavily impacts your center of gravity. Also, this gear can get tangled up on branches when hiking.
  • When planning a hike on easy and flat terrain, you should raise the center of gravity towards the shoulders by packing heavy gear a little higher. By doing this, you get a better posture. 
  • When planning a hike on difficult terrain like high alpine routes, you should lower the center of gravity towards the hips by packing heavy gear at the bottom of the backpack. Although you have to lean the upper body more forward this way, it does provide however more balance.  
  • In order to avoid leakage in the backpack, pack all liquids like toiletries in resealable bags. 
  • To make maximum use of the limited space in your backpack, consider folding your clothes in a compact manner by applying the army roll. The following video shows how to apply the army roll on all types of clothing ranging from a jacket to socks.
  • If you plan on doing a hiking trail with your backpack, make sure you know how to fit your backpack as a good fit is essential to be comfortable on the trail. The following informative video shows how to fit your backpack properly.
Ally Mash
Ally Mash
Ally is an avid outdoor enthusiast who has spent most of his free time backpacking through South America, Iceland, Vietnam, and Europe. He loves sharing his experience through blogging. His mission is to get more people in the mindset of protecting our planet by sharing its beauty.

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