How to Pack a Trekking Bag

Group on the Overland Track
Group on the Overland Track

It often surprises travellers when they realise if they organize and pack their backpack correctly, an amazing amount of gear and clothes can fit in it. Packing efficiently is an art that not many people have mastered. 

We all do it differently; some travellers randomly throw their gear into their bag with little strategy or organization (which can be a recipe for disaster), whereas others put careful thought and consideration to what they place in their bag, and where. The reason your packing style is so important is that efficient packing can give you comfort and stability during your trek. Ensuring the weight is distributed evenly, that the pack is not top-heavy, that items are placed in convenient reach, as well as being comfortable to carry, can take practice and drastically reduce the amount of time you spend looking for small items on the go such as sunscreen and lip balm. 

We’ve created a gear guide on how to pack your trekking bag for a multi day trek. Packing tricks including organization, placement, and stability will help ensure your bag is comfortable and that items are accessible, so that you can enjoy your trip. Read on to find out how to pack your camping gear, sleeping bag, food, clothes and personal items.

Step 1: Have a backpacking checklist

Just as underpacking can be detrimental to your trip, so can overpacking. While you’re at home, you may think there’s no harm in packing a couple extra pairs of lightweight pants, however on the track you’ll notice their weight getting heavier by the minute! With this in mind, we encourage travellers to use our comprehensive gear packing lists that include the recommended quantity (and quality!) of clothing and gear for each trip. Some travellers choose to include a couple of luxury items on top of this list, however keep in mind that on treks, every item feels heavier as the walk progresses. While you think you might use your ipad to watch movies in the evening, chances are you will be in deep slumber long before you reach half way into the movie. Remember that you cannot take everything with you. You will come back to your movies and other luxuries. Going on a multi-day trek is an opportunity to have a different routine, and detach from your everyday world. Crosscheck your items with the checklist provided to you, to ensure that you have everything that you need. If you feel like you still have too much gear, a simple trick is to eliminate just one thing from each pile. Have a minimum and a maximum number of each item (eg socks) that you think you’ll need and remove the rest.  


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Step 2: Spread out all your gear

The next step you should go through before you even begin packing your bag, is get an overview of what you are trying to put IN it! Put everything you think you will need for the trek in front of you; from your trekking shoes, camera, your clothes, toiletries, trekking poles etc. This will give you an overview of what you plan to carry along with you – as well as give you an idea of whether you are missing any vital items (like wet weather gear!). Arrange everything in categories according to their use or similarity. For instance, arrange socks and underwear together, pants and shorts together, toiletries etc in their own piles for easy retrieval during packing. Put together items that you can’t travel without, like travel documents, first aid kits, medication and sterilizing kit. Now have a look at everything you have taken out to carry. Is there anything missing?


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Step 3: Organizing the backpack

Bottom zone: Packing the bottom up

Packing can be broken down into three zones; the bottom zone, core zone and top zone. The bottom zone is where you put bulky items such as your sleeping bag, sleeping mat, camp shoes and items that you won’t need until evening or when you set up camp. Most backpacking bags have a separate compartment at the very bottom of the bag that can be accessed with a zip. This is a good place to put your sleeping bag, to ensure its easily accessible at the end of the day (without requiring you to unpack the entire bag). Pack other items that you won’t need to often, such as jumpers, around the sleeping bag at the bottom of your pack. This forms a firm base for your pack for everything to sit on top of. As you pack, ensure that you pack to the corners of the bag. Not only will this allow your items to be more compact and give you extra space at the top, but the soft gear packed at the bottom will create an internal shock absorption system for your back.

Packing the core zone/ middle part

The core is an important section as the way you pack it determines how comfortable your pack will be. Try to pack heavier items in the middle of the pack, as this shifts the weight onto your hips (such as cooking stoves, pots, pans if you’re on a self-guided trip) and extra water. If heavy items are placed too high, the pack may feel as though it will tip backwards. Packing items at the core directs the load downward, rather than backwards. Once you pack heavy items in the middle of the pack, pack clothes around to stop them from moving around in the pack. A handy tip is to pack in rows and not columns. This means that the weight is balanced equally on each side – something you’ll definitely notice if done correctly on the trek!

Packing the top zone

The top zone is ideal for less bulky essentials that you might require during the day on the trail, such as a rain jacket, toiletries, towel, first aid kit and an insulated jacket. A good idea to keep everything in place is to put a sarong or town over the items as a makeshift cover.

Extra tips

Packing clothes

1. Pack your clothes in layers so that it is easy to retrieve them. Clothes such as t-shirts and shorts are best rolled. Ever had a Swiss toll? That’s the type of roll you should be aiming for: long and thin. As you coil them in the bag, they should fit perfectly down the sides of your bag without leaving gaps. 2. Lay your pants and socks flat across the pack to create another layer. You can also use them to fill the cracks and empty gaps that have been left by other clothes or bulky items.

Packing the extras

Once you have packed your essential items such as clothing and trekking gear, it’s time to pack your extras. This can include items like head torches, medical kits, medication, etc. If it’s likely you will experience wet weather, put these extras in waterproof bags and place them in side compartments or accessory pockets so that they are easily accessible.

Kitchen and food items

On some of our multi day treks, you may be required to carry a portion of the groups meals, such as vegetables, rice or pasta. Try to keep fresh food at the top of your pack to avoid squashing vegetables.

Accessory pockets

The side pockets, front and hip belt pockets and other small inside pockets can be the perfect places to store smaller essentials such as sunglasses, map, lip balm, insect repellant, and pack rain covers that you may need to access anytime in a hurry. Some packs have special tool loops that you can use to strap trekking poles. However, be careful not to attach items to the outside of your pack that can snag on branches or scrape against rocks- the last thing you want is a hole in your expensive down jacket!

In a nutshell, other helpful tips

• Don’t put off packing to the last minute – the worst thing you can do before going on a multi day trek is to rush when packing and forget essential items. Start to pack a week or so before your trip departs to assemble the items you need together, giving you time to buy last minute items or cull non-essential items. 

• Use a checklist. All of our trips have a packing checklist sent to you with your final documents. We recommend you pay close attention to the quantity – and quality – of the recommended items. There’s nothing worse than being in the middle of the bush in the pouring rain and realizing that your rain cover isn’t waterproof. 

• Don’t over-pack. Extra kilos on the trail will wear you down, and you probably won’t end up using everything. Take your time to eliminate what you don’t need. With the help of the checklist, it’s less likely you’ll bring unnecessary items with you on the trail. An ideal loaded pack should not be more than 25-30% of your body weight. 

• For optimal stability, try to distribute the weight of the pack so that the lightest items (sleeping bags, for example) are packed at the bottom. Heavy items should be packed at the centre of your pack and close to your back – this ensures that the weight is placed on the hips which should hold most of our backpacking pack’s weight. Medium-heavy gear should be placed at the top of the pack. Once you load and pack the back, tighten all compression straps to prevent shifting of your loads during hiking. 

• Keep things that you may often need to access within your reach and anything that you will need later (after setting up camp) at the bottom of your bag. 

• Pull the compression straps tightly to minimize the volume of the backpack and prevent items from shifting within the pack.

Inspired and ready for a full pack adventure?

Browse our range of full pack multi-day trips here.

Got some tips of your own to share? Please leave a comment below.

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