How to Properly Load a PackMay 22, 2014 by Melanie Swick | 2 Comments
Properly loading a pack can mean the difference between a leisurely stroll or grueling hike. One piece of gear in the wrong spot will dig into your body, damage your gear, or even throw you off-balance and cause injuries.
A properly loaded pack offers several advantages, such as:
- Reduced fatigue
- Increased capacity
- Ease of access
- Reduced noise
I prefer a pack with several pockets, both inside and outside, but I always like to include a few extra bags to organize my gear inside my pack, including waterproof bags for clothing.
You should start by placing bulky, heavy items such as a tent or sleeping bag in the base of your pack. A lower center of gravity makes your pack easier and more comfortable to carry, but more importantly, it helps you maintain your balance. This is critical because a single fall can cause a debilitating injury.
Items that you may need to use infrequently should be loaded next. This could include a cookset, a waterproof bag of spare clothes, or extra ammunition; things that are heavy or bulky but you may only need a few times each day.
Next is equipment and supplies that you might need at any time, such as food, fire starting gear, or a flashlight. By the time you get to this, your pack will probably be nearly full. I pack my hygiene gear and first aid kit at this level as well.
Once your essentials are in your pack, you’ll likely have a fair amount of space consisting of small crevices. Gear like tarps, space blankets, or 550 cord fit nicely into these odd spaces and can help to stabilize your entire pack by reducing wiggle room between items.
The gear needed in your pack will vary based on geography; for example, folks in the north may need a heavy sleeping bag or snow boots while people in the south, like me, can get away with packing much lighter.
- Cookset and stove
- Hygiene gear
- First aid kit
- Fire starting kit
Nooks and crannies
- Mylar space blanket
- 40′ of 550 cord
- 3–liter CamelBak hydration system
- Extra ammo/magazines
- Fishing/trapping kit
Pouch in top flap
- Quick snacks (jerky, dried fruit, protein bars)
- Flashlight/LED headlamp
- Leatherman tool
- 2–32 oz Nalgene bottles
I’ve shared what has worked for me, both in the Marine Corps and the civilian world; look at this all as a starting point or a set of guidelines and not “rules” because you’ll have to tailor your exact packing plan to your needs and gear. In most cases, you should pack in order of weight/size, then in order of how often you’ll need a particular item. You’ll likely go through some trial and error—what seems logical while packing may turn out inefficient, cumbersome, or uncomfortable once you’re actually in the field with your pack on, so do a few test hikes before a real emergency comes up.