When packing your backpack, there are two main things you should keep in mind. One- keep the heaviest items close to your main center of gravity. For men, this is higher, and for women it tends to be lower – towards the small of the back. Two- keep the items you use frequently, or need to get to quickly, in a convenient, easily accessible spot.
Keep that gorp in a handy spot! It’s always best to start with your sleeping bag in the bottom for a solid foundation. Some packs have a compartment on the bottom of the pack, designed especially for sleeping bags. If your pack doesn’t, attach it to the bottom of the pack with sleeping bag straps or, if it fits inside your pack, stuff it all the way in the bottom. For packs with limited space, you can use a compression bag to reduce your sleeping bag to the smallest possible size.
Put the heaviest items like your food, cooking gear and clothing in the main compartment, keeping the weight close to your back. Using the back of the pack (the part that rests on you) as a reference point, it’s better to pack inward and up, rather than outward and down. Stuff hanging way out off the back of your pack will throw off your center of gravity, which is generally high and in, rather than low and out.
Ready to go! Adam did some rather interesting camping up in Rome last summer… An external frame pack generally has more compartments than an internal frame pack. You also have the frame itself, extending above and below the pack, for lashing on your larger items. A good spot for your sleeping pad in this case is on the top of your pack, lashed to the frame. You can also roll your tent and put it up there, or fold it down and put it under the top flap of the pack. Your outside pockets are a good spot for items you need to get to quickly. Items like rain gear, gaiters, pack cover, toilet kit, first aid kit, bug juice, flashlight, lip balm, emergency blanket, map, camera, binoculars, etc. Also put a bag of trail food on top for quick retrieval by your partner. If you’re alone, keep it someplace handier like in a hipbelt pouch. You can start browsing here thru the best hiking daypacks.
Your water bottle(s) also should be in an outside pocket for easy access. Those hydration bags (with the tube that clips to your shoulder strap) are the greatest invention ever. These fit easily into your pack top (sometimes side pocket) and give you instant hydration without stopping your trek.
Next to proper fit, the order and configuration in which you pack your internal frame pack are of utmost importance. The internals tend to have less outside pockets and don’t have that frame hanging out to lash things onto, so more of your gear is inside the pack. This certainly serves you well if you’re doing a lot of bushwacking, climbing, skiing, etc., because there’s less chance of getting caught on trees, etc.
Most internals have various lash points (daisy chains, compression straps, etc.) on the outside of the pack, which makes it easy to attach your large gear (sleeping bag, pad, tent, snowshoes, etc.) onto the outside of the pack. Also good for those small items (whistle, cup, camera, etc.) that you want at your fingertips. Mini-biners are a great accessory for attaching small items to your pack. But, whatever you hang from your pack should be securely fastened – you don’t want to reach your destination and realize that something left your pack somewhere back on the trail!
As with the external frame, you should start with your sleeping bag in (or on) the bottom of your pack. Many internals also have a sleeping bag compartment on the bottom. Smaller internals have sleeping bag straps on the bottom of the pack. If you’re lashing it onto the outside of the pack, make sure you have a waterproof stuff sack (especially for down bags!) to keep your bag in. Your sleeping pad and tent can usually be attached to the side compression straps. If your sleeping bag is lashed to the bottom, you may want to store your tent inside on the bottom of your pack, or vice-versa. Remember, keep that center of gravity (heavier items) close to your back.
Pack the items you need to get at quickly either in your pack cap, side pockets (if available) or near the side zipper. Many of the larger internals now have a special spot in the cap for your hydration system. Some of these caps are equipped with special straps, so that you can remove them and use them as a day pack for short hikes away from camp. Many also have a special attachment for your keys and/or pockets for your wallet or map. Be sure to check out all of the features of the packs when selecting one that’s just right for you.
Just remember, pack inward and up, with the heaviest gear closer to your back. It will make your trip much more enjoyable if your load is well balanced, with your center of gravity in mind. Don’t pack any emergency gear where you can’t get to it quickly, and always keep your water at your fingertips.