Gear-Loading Tips for Happier Backpacking

By Mike Boisvert.

A IS FOR ACCESSIBLE  Avoid standing in a downpour while digging for your Gore-tex by making sure vital items are easy to retrieve from your pack. Keep the things you need handy. You want to get at your raincoat, water, sunscreen, and snacks.

B IS FOR BALANCED  Have you ever struggled with a pack that keeps listing to one side while you hike? Keep it balanced right to left with the heavier stuff closer to your spine. If it’s not, you’ll be fighting gravity all day long. And fighting a backache even longer.

C IS FOR COMPACT  Don’t waste a centimeter of space in your pack. Before you start packing, loosen all the compression straps, then after you shove everything in (ignore your mother’s advice and stuff—don’t fold—your clothes), pull them as tight as you can—with the goal of avoiding pockets and voids. Don’t worry about keeping it neat—nothing will fit.

S IS FOR STREAMLINED  Keep stuff strapped outside your pack to a minimum. I'll usually clip my coffee mug on the outside with a carabiner and have my sleeping pad on the bottom. My sleeping pad does snag sometimes but that's the trade-off so I can find things easier inside my pack. But many guys fit everything in their pack and that is better. You’ll be better balanced and not snagging trees, you’ll move a lot more efficiently with your gear inside your pack.

Here are a few more specific recommendations learned along the way. Note that these tips are for internal-frame pack users.

NEED WHAT YOU HAVE Keep it light, but make sure you bring enough layers to stay warm. Don’t carry anything you’re not going to wear a lot. I'm not the lightweight disciple who drills holes in his toothbrush. But for a weekend, you don’t need a change of clothes each day. And be smart: you may soon regret the ounces you’ve shed by eliminating the headlamp or first-aid kit.

FOLLOW THE PACKING ORDER  Get the bulky stuff in first, stuffing the sleeping bag at the bottom, then filling in those holes with socks and smaller items—including your food: I’m not into being too gentle with food. It tastes the same if it’s mashed or whole.

MORE THOUGHTS FOR FOOD  Store your meals in plastic containers or durable Ziploc freezer bags to keep leaking to a minimum. Stash the current day’s food close to the top. Reassessing your food is the easiest way to reduce pack weight: Are you really going to eat that entire two-pound jar of peanut butter? My number one caveat is to keep food and fuel far from each other. (Always pack fuel near the bottom or in a side pocket.)

WALK ON WATER  Keep water bottles very accessible, or use a pack that can accommodate a hydration bladder and tube. While many hikers hook the bladder on the outside of their pack for ease, that can also lead to sloshing and puncturing.

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