How to pack a backpack

2:03 a.m. on July 7, 2007 (EDT)

Alright so i have read alot about packing your pack but i still have no clue where everything should go. I have an external frame with two side pouches two big pounches and one little pouch. I have heard everthing from heavy at the bottom to heavy at the top. I have also heard tent at the top sleeping bag at the the bottom to sleeping bag at the top tent at the bottom. WHat do i do if both are very lightweight. Where should food go. Whats should go is side pouches.

12:43 p.m. on July 7, 2007 (EDT)
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I'm wondering if you have a Kelty or a jansport external - both are similar except the Kelty's top flap is a pull over which allows you to have a tent between your gear & the flap.

On externals, I've always put my sleeping bad on the bottom, and wrap my sleeping pad around my tent and thrown that one on top.

On the side pockets, i keep my fuel in one, water in the other. Everything else goes in the top pocket, and my cooking gear goes in the lower, along with my excess clothes and any other items I can't find a home for.

9:11 p.m. on August 22, 2007 (EDT)

I'm a Scoutmaster with over fifteen years experience with backpack camping. I always suggest to parents of a new Scout that they buy an external frame pack for their son's first pack. This makes it easy for the boys to attach big things directly to the frame. The lash tabs are okay, too, if the pack has any.

I teach my Scouts to place the heavy stuff low and the light stuff high. This helps to keep your center of gravity close to your natural CG.

So, I show them how to strap their rolled-up sleeping pad to the top set of lash tabs, put their vertically compressed sleeping bag in the pack's bottom compartment, and strap their part of a two-man tent to the pack's bottom set of lash tabs. Of course, the lack of lash tabs means that we strap our loads directly to the pack frame.

The main compartment is where we keep our water bladders, clothes, food bag, mess gear (bowl, spoon, mug), water filter (one per four people), backpack stove and gas canister (one stove per four people), and the cook pot with lid. We place our stove and canister inside the pot to save space. If it's going to be cold we place a reflective tarp (aka "space blanket") in here as well; this goes inside the tent first, foil side up. Oh yeah: we use large-sized zip-lock plastic bags to organize our stuff and to keep clothing dry. And we use the sleeping bag's stuff sack to make a pillow out of our spare clothing. In cold weather our coat goes into the stuff sack instead.

We put our poncho and first aid kit in the top-most pocket. If there's room we add a small tash of hard candy or trail mix for quick energy.

The side pockets (if any) are where they keep "handy things" like 25-feet of nylon line, a lock-blade knife, a simple personal hygeine kit (a folding toothbrush, a mini-tube of toothpaste, and a few "moist towelettes"), lip balm, non-skid mat (scatter rug non-skid material liberally cut to wrap generously around the width of a sleeping mat), head lamp, butane lighter, leather gloves (hot pots!), and a pack of spare lantern mantles.

If the pack doesn't have any side pockets we use smaller zip-lock bags to organize the little things. These bags go in last so that we can find them easily.

Speaking of finding things easily: get it in the habit of always putting things in the same place. That way you can find them in the dark without a flashlight.

12:26 a.m. on August 23, 2007 (EDT)
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I'm a fan of the "heavy stuff at the top" school of thought. I've found when I have heavier items packed low, I develop lower back strain after hiking for a while. Packing the heavier items near the top seems to alleviate this problem (for me anyway).

So far most of my backpacking is from years ago when I used a Kelty D4 external frame pack. I fastened the sleeping bag to the bottom, put the tent under the top flap as was suggested earlier, and the foam pad to the upper bar above that.

When I pack my day pack (Kelty Redwing 3100) I put the heaviest stuff (e.g. food, water) as close to the top as possible, and stuff light clothing underneath to hold it in place. The only real exception is in the summertime I stick the rain parka (which is kind of heavy) at the bottom, just so it will be out of the way, since I tend not to use it.

11:48 a.m. on August 23, 2007 (EDT)
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15 years as an SM? Hmmm... I've been training SMs and other adult leaders for 25 years, following time as SM (and CM and ASM and ... "I used to be an Owl, and a good old Owl, too").

Anyway, loading the pack is very much a function of what the carry is. The one thing in common to almost all carries is that the heavy stuff should go as close to the back as possible, with the lighter stuff farther away from the back. This was well known back when I bought my first Kelty from Dick Kelty himself, out of his garage in Glendale. The purpose is to keep the cg as close over your unladen cg as possible. If the cg of the pack gets farther out, you end up bending over more and more to keep the total cg lined up over your feet, which is increasingly harder on the back muscles. (Remember, the position is 3-dimensional, so close to the back and centered right to left in all cases - offcenter R-L makes for very sore back and leg muscles).

If the need is for maneuverability (off-trail, climbing and scrambling, skiing, especially backcountry), the cg of the pack should be kept low, around the hips if possible.

On maintained trails, even when steep, the cg should be high, preferably over the shoulders so you stay as nearly straight upright as possible. One of the best examples is to observe the hut re-supply people in the New Hampshire Presidential Range - they often have the bulky loads on an upper extension of their pack frames above head level. Or the use of a tump line (haven't seen that discussed here in a while), or in many 3rd world countries, where the loads are actually carried on the people's heads (even though packs are available to them. BH is right on with this, apparently having learned it the hard way.

There is a reason why the "sleeping bag compartment" is always on the bottom of the pack, whether an internal frame pack or for external frames, the space is left externally for attaching the sleeping bag to the bottom of the frame - on trails, the cg should be high, and the sleeping bag is one of the lightest items, so goes low.

Again, the positioning of the cg (determined by the heavy stuff) is contextual - always centered R-L, always as close to the back as possible, but whether on maintained trails (high) or off-trail with maneuverability a prime factor (low) is the final placement criterion.

1:36 p.m. on August 23, 2007 (EDT)
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> On maintained trails, even when steep, the cg should
> be high, preferably over the shoulders so you stay
> as nearly straight upright as possible. One of the
> best examples is to observe the hut re-supply people
> in the New Hampshire Presidential Range - they often
> have the bulky loads on an upper extension of their pack
> frames above head level. [...] BH is right on with this, apparently having learned it the hard way.

Yep,I learned it the hard way. But it's interesting that you mention the AMC hut crews. I also learned from their sister organization, the Trail Crew. I spent time during a couple of different sumemers, when I was younger, volunteering with the trail crew. On several occasions I
was tasked with carrying loads to shelter sites (believe it
or not, it was to carry heavy bags of mulch for the composting toilets). Anyway, I had the "pleasure" of carrying their wooden frame "packs", with the mulch loads tied up high for the carry in.

2:24 p.m. on August 23, 2007 (EDT)
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First off, let me say that I absolutely agree with the advice that everyone has posted here. Secondly, I subscribe to the Ryan Jordan way of backpacking - not neccessarily the ultralight part, but the analysis component. If you put together a sequence plan for how your trip will unfold, then you can pack accordingly.

Pack your sleeping bag on the frame below the packbag (assuming an external frame pack), and lash your sleeping pad between them. Put your extra clothes in the bottom of your pack and your tent on top of them (minus the poles). (Lash the poles vertically to the side of the pack in their own bag.) Put your cook kit and stove in next and your food bag (bear vault) in last. Since you have an external frame and no hydration system, carry the water low and close on the pack belt (canteens?).

If you have a liquid fuel stove, you'll want to take extra measures to make sure the fuel does not spill on your gear.

Use the pockets for the ten essentials - except the snacks - you don't want to leave a granola bar in your pack overnight!

If you don't have a pack cover - get one and keep it handy!

If you're not sure of what order to pack something - do a trial run in your back yard. Make sure you can fix a meal or set up camp without having to dump your pack out. Better yet, turn on the sprinkler and then set up camp.

After your backyard trial run, take everthing that you didn't use (except the emergency stuff) and leave it at home.

And yes, I was a Boy Scout 40 years ago and a leader when my boys were younger. I couldn't have been a scout master because we weren't allowed to run the boys 10 miles for an unbuttoned pocket.

3:38 p.m. on August 23, 2007 (EDT)
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Alright, alright. 15 years as a Scoutmaster; 25 years as a Scoutmaster; a scout 40 years ago...

I can't claim any of these things.

BUT, _I_ am the one who introduced the topic that currently has 62 posts (Selecting a Camping Stove), the most active one I see on here in the recent past. :-P

4:09 p.m. on August 23, 2007 (EDT)
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Sorry bh - I was just being sarcastic about the Boy Scout stuff. I guess I neeed to go back and comment on the stoves, but it seemed like everyone was just quoting the backpacking light article that I mentioned there - and I had already read it, and didn't need to hear it again. (Besides having a BS and MS in engineering where I took advanced chemistry.)

I do have this to say about my JetBoil PCS though - we all like to buy toys until we find the perfect one. I still haven't found the perfect tent, backpack, sleeping bag, or pad. But I believe my stove buying days are over. Now I just need to get all the accessories!

5:37 p.m. on August 23, 2007 (EDT)
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Sarge, do you mean Ray Jardine, rather than Ryan Jordan? Ray is the inventor of the "RayWay" approach to ultralight backpacking (as well as the Friend, the earliest of the camming devices so prevalent these days for climbing protection). Ray's major book on ultralight is "Beyond Backpacking", considered the bible of ultralight and through-hiking. I'm not sure who Ryan Jordan is (other than the one I know, and I'm sure he's not the one you are referring to).

5:43 p.m. on August 23, 2007 (EDT)
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BH -
Well, you should have known that stoves are probably the most controversial topic in backpacking. Everyone has her/his own favorite stove and will argue to the death to defend it (except for people like me and Jim S, who have one of almost every stove ever made for backpacking, including homebrew, and in that case we can tell you every flaw of every one of them, including a lot of stories of disasters we have witnessed - and in my courses for adult scout leaders who are supposedly experienced, I have seen more disasters than I care to count).

Just remember, you have to take every "Stove X is by far the greatest, most dependable stove ever made and it does EVERYTHING!" claim with a grain of salt (or maybe a gallon of ocean water). Most stoves work pretty well, once you learn to use them, but they do all have their flaws. And they all have flames and flammable/explosive substances near each other.

5:51 p.m. on August 23, 2007 (EDT)
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BS - Oh, I wasn't complaining! I thought the thread was great :).

I, for one, don't WANT one of every stove/tent/whatever. I'd like to make things simpler, not more complicated :).

10:26 p.m. on August 23, 2007 (EDT)
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Bill -
I did mean Ryan Jordan and his (edited by) book is "Lightweight Backpacking and Camping". (White book, orange jacket, blue pack..) From what I gather, he pioneered the ultralight (20 lb) backpacking phylosophy. I think the websight is a memorial to him.

Wasn't Ray Jardine one of the Beach Boys? ;-)

10:52 p.m. on August 23, 2007 (EDT)
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Sorry for the run on post..

Is Ray Jardine the one who advocates cutting laundry tags off of clothing, drilling holes in toothbrushes, and cutting the plastic tips off your shoelaces to save weight? If so, he was a Ryan Jordan apostle who took things a bit too far (in my opinion). I believe I read his book a couple years back. I personally don't like destroying gear to shave a couple pounds off my pack.

7:23 a.m. on August 24, 2007 (EDT)
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For an external frame pack, the mantra I've followed has been heavy stuff fairly high and close to your back (the close to your back is the part many people forget as they totter and fall) for hiking conditions. For bad footing or climbing conditions you want the heavy stuff lower (but still close to your back) to keep your center of gravity down.

Food - should go wherever it'll fit. I'm not trying to be sarcastic of funny, but it's one thing you're going to carry that'll actually decrease in both weight and volume on a daily basis.

Fuel - I like to keep my fuel bottle(s) in an outside pocket(s) - tends to limit damage to food/clothing/sleeping bag if there's an "oh no" moment.

Small outside pockets - I put anything I'm going to need frequently in them - so I don't need to dig through the main packbag.

Tent - if I'm carrying one the poles go into the ski-slots behind the side pockets on my pack, the rest of it get strapped on top (early in the trip) or crammed into the main bag (occupying the space the food I've eaten used to take up).

Sleeping bag - in a waterproof stuff sack - wrapped in my ensolite pad - strapped (not bungy corded!) under the pack bag.

I think that addressed most of your questions - with food I find it easiest to organize and pack by day. I know other folks who just pack "for the trip" and then figure out a daily menu on the fly - so whatever works for ya. Just don't forget a bear bag and enough line to hang it from a tree OR (if required or you feel you need it for safety) one of those plastic bear resistant food valuts (I say resistant because I really don't believe that anything you'd want to carry on your back could be "bear proof" if the bear had enough time and wanted the contents enough).

There's my twenty zimbabwe dollars (about two cents) on the topic.

11:04 a.m. on August 24, 2007 (EDT)
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Sarge -
Jardine does not advocate extremism in light packing. In fact he says to not waste your efforts on cutting down toothbrushes, removing labels, and such (I sometimes remove the "do not remove" labels, though, since they always seem to get in the way - like one on a sleeping bag I had that was in the hood where it flapped in your face all night). I have known Jardine casually for a number of years (not well, and I never climbed with him, though crossing paths with him in Yosemite during the period he was inventing the Friend). I last crossed paths with him in Antarctica last Dec-Jan.

Jardine's original discussions of lightpacking date back to the 1950s (his Sierra backpacking book and earlier articles in Summit magazine) that I am familiar with and derived from Walt Wheelock's and David Brower's books from the 1940s and early 1950s (Going light with backpack and burro). The Wikipedia article on Jordan says he coined the term "super-ultralight backpacking", and also refers to Jardine's "Beyond Backpacking" as "important, but more biased". Hmmmm, well, I am not sure about the "more biased" part, since pursuing the Jordan writings and website a bit, I think Jordan is rather more extreme than Jardine in a number of ways. But I haven't read enough yet to decide. However, it is clear that Jordan is well after Jardine. Wheelock and others (the dates in the Wikipedia article and copyright on Jordan's book are late 1990s and early 2000s). Even Colin Fletcher's weighty tome, The Compleat Walker, has a lot on lightpacking.

As to your comment about the backpackinglight website being a memorial to Jordan, since he is very much alive (and currently recovering from a serious ankle injury of last year), it could hardly be a memorial - that's for the deceased.

You said "From what I gather, he pioneered the ultralight (20 lb) backpacking phylosophy." Hardly. As I have mentioned several times on this site, I have a copy of the brochure that Dick Kelty included with all his packs (mine is from about 1960, when I bought my first Kelty from Dick from his garage in Glendale). His packing list, including the pack itself is 15 pounds, and that is without the modern lightweight tents and fabrics for clothing. The gear is more than adequate for even a week-long trip in the Sierra in the summer. You do have to add food (Kelty's estimate was 2 pounds/day/person in those pre-freezedry days) and fuel (campfires were acceptable at the time, but he recommended backpacking stoves, like the Svea 123 which was the standard of the time).

Jim S, who appears occasionally on this site, and I go on backpacks from time to time where we often throw in little luxuries, and still end up under 20-25 pounds including food and containers of "California grape juice" of the finest quality. I should say "used to go", since Jim has moved up to Bend OR, so we haven't gotten together in a couple of years. I think Tom D used to go with Jim on similar backpacks. Then again, Jim and I also used to go on "primitive" backpacks, where we used 19th century technology. You don't have to have the "latest greatest" to be quite comfortable.

By the way, on Jordan's site, there are some interesting comments about the Jetboil that match my experiences with it.

Last comment on the history of light/ultralight - it is always amusing to see the continual "discoveries" of lightweight backpacking, most of which just repeat what was known years ago and is quietly practiced by dozens, if not hundreds of long-time backpackers. Ya learn by getting out and doing, and by having good mentors from whom you can learn by example. I am grateful to the many excellent mentors I have had over the years.

Enough for now, since I have to finish packing and head for the Sierra for some climbing.

1:25 p.m. on August 25, 2007 (EDT)
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Ok - then I must be thinking about the wrong book. (I said it's been a couple years since I read the one that advocated fanatisism is reducing weight.) I believe it was written by a much younger man anyway.

On the JetBoil topic - obviously different stoves (strokes) for different folks. I wouldn't advocate taking a JetBoil into an extreme cold environment. I have a Coleman multi-fuel for that. But for three-season use, the JetBoil fits my needs.

12:49 p.m. on August 28, 2007 (EDT)
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For the record, Ryan Jordan is the 35-40ish publisher of and the editor of "Lightweight Backpacking and Camping". Both the book and the web site (and accompanying print magazine) are worth a look. As USMCSarge pointed out, Ryan and crew have brought a fairly thorough, scientific approach to the selection (and use) of ultralight gear. Some of the writing can be a bit dense and overly-technical for a general audience, but there's definitely some good stuff in there for us confirmed gearheads.

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