Besseggen Ridge, Lake Gjende, Jotunheimen NP, Norway

Video: How to Pack a Backpack

In Backpacking, Skills   |   Tagged , , , , , , ,   |   7 Comments

By Michael Lanza

Wonder why I’m smiling in the above photo? Well, sure, two friends and I were hiking the incredibly scenic Besseggen Ridge in Norway’s Jotunheimen National Park; that had something to do with it. But the other big factor was that I was comfortable—and how well my pack carried had a lot to do with that. And how I loaded it greatly affected how well it carried on my back. In this four-minute video, I’ll show you how to properly load a backpack to make your trail miles much more enjoyable.

There are two basic goals when loading a backpack:

1. Organize it so that the items you want to get to quickly while on the trail are readily accessible;

2. Balance and distribute the weight in the pack to maximize your comfort.

Click on the video below to see me demonstrate how to properly load a backpack.

Don’t miss the comments section below, where I have a good exchange of questions and answers with some readers, and type in your questions or suggestions.



See all of my reviews of backpacks and my reviews of backpacking gear that I like. See also my stories “5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpack,” which includes instructions on how to measure your torso and properly fit a backpack, as well as “The Simple Equation of Ultralight Backpacking: Less Weight = More Fun,” “Buying Gear? Read This First,” and “Ask Me: How Do We Begin Lightening Up Our Backpacking Gear?

And find all of my gear reviews organized by categories, plus numerous stories on how to buy gear, at my Gear Reviews page.

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7 Responses to Video: How to Pack a Backpack

  1. Darren Russinger   |  August 24, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    Good video & it seems as though I follow the same approach. I do have one question for you though. I stuff my sleeping bag and tent in the bottom but without their stuff sacks. To stuff sack or not…just a personal preference?

    • michaellanza   |  August 24, 2015 at 4:44 pm

      Hey Darren, thanks for that question. I’m getting good questions on this topic. I always stuff my bag inside a compression sack, and it’s usually a roll-top dry sack, for a few reasons. First, it’s the best way to really compress your bag. Second, if my pack gets soaked (drenching rain, falling in a river, hydration bladder leaking, all have happened to me), at least my bag will stay dry. Third, I think the sack gives your bag’s shell a little better protection from snagging and tearing when transferring it in and out of the backpack–a minor concern, but many bag shells are made with thin material, and good bags aren’t cheap.

  2. Rickard Godzkilla   |  August 23, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    When carrying a bear canister, where (and how)would you place it in the pack? Toward the bottom above the sleeping bag? More towards the top of the pack just below the shoulder blades? Would you store it vertically and stuff around it, or just store horizontally across the pack? This is my first year going places that require them, and I can’t find an answer.

    • michaellanza   |  August 23, 2015 at 8:59 pm

      Good question, Rickard. A large backpack (~60-liter and bigger) is usually wide enough to lower the bear canister inside horizontally, which is the most efficient way to pack it. Many smaller packs are not wide enough, and then your only option is to insert the canister vertically and stuff items around it as well as you can. The one advantage of inserting it vertically is that the top of it will be near the top of your pack, so you can easily access snack or lunch food that’s in the canister.

      If you pack the canister horizontally, place it roughly halfway down in the backpack, in the middle of your back; so probably atop your sleeping bag, tent, and clothing stuff sack. If it’s horizontal, you’re probably not taking it out until you’re in camp, so it should contain only food that you don’t need to access during the day. (You don’t have to keep all of your food in the canister when you’re hiking.) You’ll want to keep daytime/lunch/snack food outside the canister to have it handy, so keep in mind that food won’t actually fill the canister every day on the trail; there will be extra space inside it. Then I fill that canister space with other stuff, like my clothing stuff sack, rather than having a half-full canister.

  3. Carl Gandolfo   |  August 23, 2015 at 5:03 pm


    Again, thank you!! Appreciate the quick and detailed reply!


  4. Carl Gandolfo   |  August 23, 2015 at 4:42 pm


    Thanks for posting this – just what I needed to see. Was wondering if you happen to know the total weight of this particular pack-up? Also, would you be able to provide a list of all the items packed, please? I did not see things such as a poop trowel, t.p., clothing (other than jackets), water bottle (saw the filtration system), etc. Was this a setup for a single overnight trip? If so, how would this change for multiple nights but also keeping total carrying weight on the radar?


    • michaellanza   |  August 23, 2015 at 4:55 pm

      Hi Carl, good questions. I shot this video toward the end of a four-day, 34-mile backpacking trip with my family on the Rockwall Trail in Canada’s Kootenay National Park. While I had started out with about 50 pounds (carrying much of my family’s gear and food), a lot of the food had been consumed before I shot this video. But to answer your questions, see this tag, which links all stories I’ve posted that are related to gear I carry backpacking (including one that provides my suggested backpacking checklist):

      I do virtually always carry a water bottle for convenience in camp and for harvesting water from a calm pool, although the bottle is often empty on the trail because I’m also usually carrying a bladder. I don’t bother with a trowel; I can usually find a sharp rock to dig.

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