How to pack a backpack

by Stephanie 29/07/2009 17:27:00

The simple answer is light.

I learnt the hard way how not to pack a backpack when I was on a 22-day walking trek with a small group through parts of NSW and ACT national parks (some of the most beautiful mountain country in Australia) and carrying a backpack all of the way.

I think I lost two handfuls off both hips during the trek, and when we finally made it to the end and I weighed the backpack I understood why.  I was carrying just under half my weight on my back, and I was hurting.

Basic rule of thumb whether you are travelling off-terrain (bush trails etc) or just in the city, is put your heavy items in the pack level with your shoulder blades. This is the rule for both internal- and external-frame packs.

Internal- or external-frame backpack?

Internal-frame backpacks are generally more expensive, but of better quality and more comfortable to wear. A correctly fitted internal-frame backpack for example provides good back ventilation and will hold your stuff close to your natural centre of gravity.

But hey, it's also more expensive.

Pack it high, pack it low

Now this may seem confusing, but if you are travelling off-terrain with a internal-frame pack keep your heavy items on and below your shoulder blade level.   It will help keep your centre of gravity low, so you don't just topple off a mountain on a steep curve.

In the city or while on a trail with an internal-frame pack do the reverse and keep your heavy items above your shoulder blade. It means the majority of the weight will be over your hips, and that is the area that is vest equipped to carry a heavy load.

If you do choose to go with an external-frame pack (and these are recommended only for on-trail travel) load the weight high.

The best way of working out what works best weight-distribution wise is to pack your backpack a few times and walk around with it a bit.     

I personally prefer dual compartment backpacks, 'cause I got sick of pulling out my entire life every time I needed to get my socks packed in the bottom of my pack.

Some tips from my experience

Some other random tips I found from travelling:

  • After much resisting, I now roll my clothes and then stuff them.
  • Stuff every available space so you get a nice tight backpack.
  • Use clear zip-lock bags (like the kitchen bags) to keep small related items like sunscreen and mozzie repellent together.
  • Carrying a smaller day pack on your front (while you are carting your large backpack) is a good way to keep an eye on your wallet and avoid the frustrating search for money while encumbered.

Of course, you could just ditch the whole backpack thing and go with a roller suitcase (and I do know people who have done this!).


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