How To Pack A Backpack For Camping

For backpackers like you and me, the limitations of conventional camping don’t exactly apply. With the help of a quality camping backpack and a few essential camping supplies, adventurers can turn a single bag into a comfortable home for weeks at a time.

The problem with backpacking, though, is that it can be done wrong. If you pack your bag incorrectly or fail to bring the right items along, you could be in for some serious trouble miles away from the nearest cell phone signal or town outpost. 

Rather than leaving you to muck through a potentially sticky situation, we’re here to help with a definitive primer for backpacking success! We’ll show you how to pack your bag and give you a base list of supplies to add to your checklist before you trade paved roads for gravel and brush. 

11 Steps To Successfully Pack Your Backpack For A Camping Trip

camping backpack packed for a camping trip and hike
  1. Go Shopping For The Right Camping Backpack

It pays to be picky when buying a camping backpack. If you can head over to a few different outdoor stores before choosing a pack, do so. You can try on different options and get a tactile understanding of what works for you and what doesn’t. 

If you have preexisting back or neck issues, take those into account during the purchase process. While an unfilled backpack is unlikely to give you trouble in the store, you need to be mindful of what it’s going to feel like at full capacity several days into your trip.

  1. Gather Necessary Camping Supplies Before Your Trip

Create a checklist of supplies before heading out. From water and foodstuffs to specialty camping equipment, you need to be on your planning game in the lead-up to your backpacking trip. 

Be prepared to make multiple stops and always keep your particular camping pack in mind at the cash register. Buying unwieldy, large items is an okay strategy when you don’t have to carry them for hours at a time on your back. And frivolous items that take up a large amount of backpack space will decrease your pack’s capacity for true essentials and everyday items. 

  1. Come Up With A Suitable Game Plan For Your Camping Trip

How long is your camping trip? How much hiking, biking, and swimming will you be doing? Are you heading out alone or tag-teaming the journey with friends? The way you pack your camping backpack might differ depending on the answers to these questions.

If you’re backpacking with a friend, you might be able to split your respective loads and pack together for maximum efficacy and comfort. If you’re going it alone, be sure to have an emergency contact that knows where you’re at and where you’re going throughout your excursion. 

  1. Lay A Cushy Base At The Bottom Of Your Backpack

When packing your outdoor backpack, it’s best to place your softest and cushiest items at the bottom. This will provide shock absorption for the rest of your camping gear and ease impacts when dropping and shifting your pack during your trip.

The best option is to place your sleeping bag and least-essential clothing items at the base, creating a soft foundation for all your other items to nestle into. 

  1. Create A Balanced Middle To Ease Your Load

The middle of your camping backpack should be packed with your day-to-day comfort in mind. The way you displace the weight in your bag should always be executed in such a way as to minimize stress on your back, neck, and joints. 

A general rule of thumb is to pack heavier items at the back of the middle of your pack, going from heavy to light as you move towards the front of the bag. As you use items during your trip, be sure to make daily adjustments to make carrying easier as you go along. 

  1. Pack What You Need Most (And Most Often) At The Top 

Whatever items you use most or need right away during your backpacking trip should be stored at the top of your pack or in an easily accessible accessory pocket. If you can, color-code your items and bag them separately into easy-to-access pouches or bags. 

For example, you can separate needed inhalers and medications into one color-coded bag while general toiletry items can go in another. Map out your pack space while keeping your hourly and daily needs at the forefront of your mind. 

  1. Use Every Pouch And Pocket Of Your Camping Backpack 

While you should never over-stuff your camping backpack just to do so, don’t sacrifice items on your camping essential list just because the main compartment is filled to the brim. If you need to, use every single accessory pocket on your camping pack and use them wisely!

You can use these pockets to carry everything from snacks and water to handy tools such as a Swiss Army knife. Your accessory pouches are there for a reason, so use them to make your backpacking life easier!

  1.  Your Backpack’s Lash-On Points And Tool Loops Can Help!

Are you taking items along with you such as trekking poles or fold-up chairs that simply won’t fit in the main space of your camping backpack? If yes, be sure to look for a camping backpack with ample tool loops and lash-on points!

These handy add-ons allow you to carry items that would otherwise be a no-go in your camping pack. If you can, test out these loops at the store to gauge how it feels to lug a chair or other apparatus swinging at your side. 

  1. Test It Out! (Don’t Hurt Yourself!)

Before every backpacking trip, take a short walk with your backpack once you’re done with your packing process. You’re going to be lugging that thing around for days on end during your camping trip, so a short practice run shouldn’t be much trouble.

Testing out your camping backpack beforehand is a really smart play that might save your back and your mood in the middle of the wilderness. And if you just purchased your camping backpack and it’s not working for you, you can make the necessary last-minute exchange for a bag that works! 

  1. Don’t Be Afraid To Repack If You Need To

Either before or during your backpacking journey, repacking your bag is always an option. If your bag doesn’t feel right at home, it’s not going to feel right later on. So, don’t be afraid to scrap your original packing arrangement and try again. Your future self will thank you for it.

Also, during your camping trip, repacking and reorganizing your bag is a good habit to get into. Once you start using certain supplies or things that inevitably get lost or broken, you can adjust the bag’s configuration on the go for your comfort.

  1. Put Your Camping Backpack To Use And Pay Attention

Whether it’s your first backpacking trip or your hundredth, always pay close attention to how your bag feels on your bag as your trip goes along. If your camping backpack is wearing out or isn’t serving its intended function anymore, a replacement is definitely worth the money for a nature lover like you. 

And if the weight feels odd, be sure to adjust things midstream and see if that helps!

What Should You Pack Into Your Camping Backpack?

camping backpack with a hat neatly packed

While your list of camping trip essentials might differ from other campers, there are some basic must-haves to keep in mind before heading out onto the trails. 

Below is a list of camping items you should have handy on every backpacking trip you take:

  • Clothes and shoes
  • Required medications
  • Allergy medications
  • Sleeping apparatus (bag, pad)
  • Tent 
  • Kitchen utensils and equipment
  • First-aid supplies
  • GPS device or compass
  • Maps
  • Food items
  • Water
  • Headlamp 
  • Protective supplies such as bear spray or mace

Remember — the above list of camping supplies might need to be adjusted based on your own needs and wants. Be sure to create your checklist before packing your camping backpack. And highlight key items to ensure you are well-stocked and comfortable on your next sojourn into the Great Outdoors.