Military Gear & Army Surplus Gear Blog

Pack Packing | How To Pack A Backpack

Pack Packing | How To Pack A Backpack


Hi my name is Marco Johnson I’m the field
staffing director and a senior field instructor for the National Outdoor
Leadership School What we are here to do today is talk a little
bit about pack packing. What I’m going to do is demonstrate taking all of the
gear that I typically carry into the mountains with me and getting it into my backpack.
So I’m gonna go ahead and pack my pack using the three main principles that I follow to get all my gear in my backpack, but I
use the same principles when I’m packing my sea kayak. My friends who are
horsepackers use the same principles when they’re packing their horses and thats “A” for accessibility “B” for balance and “C” for compressed or condensed. You’ll hear other folks use longer acronyms other words, but the ABC:
the accessibility, the balance, being condensed and compressed, that works
really really well. So let’s go ahead and take all this gear and let’s get it in
my backpack. One of the first things I want to do is actually take the larger volume
items that I have, the biggest one being my sleeping bag and turn it into a small volume item.
The easiest way to do that is to use a compression stuff sack. I feel pretty
good about my compression stuff sack being water-resistant, pretty waterproof so I’m
not lining it with a trash compactor bag, although that does an excellent job of
making sure that you have a waterproof sleeping bag stuff sack.
So I packed my sleeping bag turned a large volume item into a really
small volume item just by the use of the compression stuff sack even though it’s on the lighter side
I’ll go ahead and take the sleeping bag and I’ll put it
at the bottom the backpack. Kinda fills out the bottom nicely just
lay it on its side at the bottom and then another item that I put right next to it for a
variety of reasons is my fuel bottle. 1: I don’t need it right away,
it doesn’t need to be accessible, it does help to balance my pack out.
By getting it inside I keep it from being banged up and possibly puncturing but also by putting at the bottom of the
pack I’m keeping it below my food. If you’ve ever had any white gas fumes
or actually gas itself get on your food, you know you don’t want it anywhere near your food. So I keep it below.
Another thing I will put down there is I’ll go ahead and take my sleeping
pad and I roll it up with a nice lightweight chair that I’ve got and I slide that right
down on the outside as well. That protects the fuel bottle a little bit
also takes the space up that’s right down there on the side of
my backpack. So now I’ve got my food left. I’ve got
pots. I’ve got my shelter. and I’ve got my layers. So I wanna
go ahead and now start filling out the bottom, but also wanna go ahead
and start adding weight, because the bottom
layers pretty light. Now I want weight in there because I want
those dense heavier items now to be lower in the pack to give me a
lower center of gravity, helps keep me balanced. Part of my group gear is to carry the pot. Because I got the fuel bottle
I also have the stove I’ll take my bowl and just put that inside the pot, put the stove inside my bowl. I’m
using up all the available space I have and then my part to the rations
I’ll go ahead and again fill as much of the dead space as possible so that I’m just
being efficient. I’ll go ahead and take my pot put it right down in my pack and I’m going to slide it right down next my back because I have a
padded back piece, I’m not gonna feel it
but I’m keeping the weight down low but also into my back.
By being down low and into my back it gives me a better balance, gives me a lower center of gravity which
works really well whether I’m on trail or off trail and I need my balance even more. I’ve got a few extra pounds of food here
that I did not get in my pot and now I’m gonna go ahead and start
filling out those areas of space in my pack with that food. The empty food bag I’ll go ahead
and use again as nice padding. Now I’ve got even more room down there.
Now given I’m in a tent group typically of three or four
folks I may not be carrying the shelter along with the fuel bottle,
the stove and the pot. For demonstration purposes I’ll
go ahead and show you that I can take the fly of the tent that I’m using for my shelter and that, out of its packing bag can be put in all those dead space’s, taking up the
room at the bottom of the pack. What I have also done is I’ve waterproofed all around my sleeping bag. I’ve kept out some trail food for the day. So now the bottom third / bottom half
of my pack is packed. Really light stuff or lighter stuff at
the bottom, but then that dense sort of heavier load right on top of
that in close to my back. Now I can think about some
other pieces of accessibility. As an instructor I want my first aid kit handy so I’m going to put that in the
outside portion of my pack. This makes it easy to get to should I need it.
If you’re out on a personal trip I would do the same thing, for the same reason.
I would want access to my first aid kit. Here’s my rain top and I’m going to want my rain top accessible,
but I also want one warm layer accessible. So what I can do to
waterproof this, even though I want it accessible
and I find stuffing it not in a stuff sack, to be a little bit
easier is I’ll actually wrap it in my raincoat to waterproof it and then
just go ahead and stuff that in my pack. In this warm layer I also have a lighter layer,
I have a warm hat, I have my gloves and I also have my headlamp because this
is typically the layer that I’m using at night as well so all that stuff is
readily accessible. Just go ahead and wrap it real quick like this and then again I can stuff it right here on the outside of the pack and it’s really accessible. A small pair of rain pants, and again right there accessible. Now go ahead and zip that of. Now I’ve got some extra clothing layers and these I’m probably not going to need during the day.
You saw how here is really accessible I’ve got that one layer, that warm layer along with my rain
layers. So my other layers, again I have nice, fairly
water resistant, waterproof stuff sack, but these can also be stuffed in plastic bags or one larger bag to line the
inside and that keeps them waterproof. So that was one bag of extra clothing. Here’s the second bag, right on top. You got that set. My toiletries bag can now go in
because again it doesn’t have to be real accessible. I won’t need my toiletries during the day. A small water bottle that I actually use as my mug, again that’s not necessary for being real real accessible. Then one piece that I do want
accessible here is my Camelback, which I use as a water bottles, as a water bladder. So
to protect this, I’ll up this right at the top. I’ll go ahead and close my pack up. I’ve got the hose coming out, so I’ll go ahead and close my pack all the way up and then
I’ve got the hose out and I’ll just run this down through one of my shoulder straps and I’ll be able to sip on water during the day. It’s accesible for me, easy to get to
which is really nice. A lot of backpacks actually have top lids or
what some people call brains. You can see that mine’s got these little zip side pockets on it. I like those
because I can put some of the things that I want really accessible, real close at hand.
So here’s my trail food for the day. On the other side I can put a
spare set of batteries, a small little pocket knife, compass,
another lighter and my sunscreen. I’ll get that in there and all those things are really close at hand, very easy to get to. One last piece that I’ll put on the outside:
this is the center pole to my shelter. It’s pretty beefy and
tough because it’s made out of aluminum. I’ll go ahead and take my last straps
after I’ve put it in my side pocket and make sure that the last straps are on nice and snug and this will keep the poles from
falling out, and from me loosing them. So here in the end, I’ve got a backpack where things that I need are accessible: Water, food, layers, first aid kit. Its balanced because I started with lighter
things at the bottom. A nice little layer there at the bottom. I went ahead and built on that with some
heavier items that were down low, but also into my back so they give me good balance and everything’s nice and condensed and
compressed so I’m not gonna lose things on the trail. Plus I don’t have things hanging out
that could be punctured, like my sleeping pad or ripped up like any
of my layers or punctured like that fuel bottle.
So now it’s just a matter of putting my backpack on and we’ll go ahead and head on down the trail, because actually we want to spend our time out there not in here dealing with all our gear. So thanks, I appreciate your attention.


Reader Comments

  1. Really informative and it's also great to see what goes inside your pack. Just wish NOLS was in the UK. Would jump at the chance to get involved.

  2. We're glad you enjoyed it! In this video, Marco is using a 50 Liter pack, which is quite a bit smaller than what you'd use on a NOLS Backpacking course. However, the principles he outlined hold true with any size overnight pack.

  3. I was really worried about how to pack my tent because I'm carrying a 3 person tent and putting the entire thin in my pack just wasn't practical and didn't feel smart. Thank you for the demonstration, now I know what to do.

  4. Fantastic video! Thanks for helping me figure out a good way to pack my tent. How much did this pack end up weighing? Thanks!

  5. I love the bladder just being put in the top.  I always thought you needed a dedicated sleeve, but that made so much sense and opens a whole new world of pack options.  Thanks and great video.

  6. how large is that bag ? 
    i have a osprey talon 44l and this is my first time using it this weekend.
    i was able to put my 3l bladder/tent/sleeping bag/thermorest/a rain jacket/camping pillow/a sweater/and extra shirt in the bag, and it is pretty much maxed out. and the brain i put a safety kit and snacks/knife/lighters. so to me i feel this could be a good over night or weekend bag. might you have any suggestions on how to maybe maximize more space in the bag given your experience? ( I'm pretty new to back country camping )

  7. I go on 1 week hikes and carry 42 pounds excluding water.Ive tried narrowing it down but no matter what I do I'm at the 40 pound mark.  However when I first started out It weighed a good 60 pounds. Now I'm going to lighter equipment. I pack stuff I feel I need and comfort. I'am learning as I go how to pack but It has to be trial and error for me. Thank you for the video, it helped a lot and I now have a refrence point.

  8. What is the sleeping pad he's carrying. I've got several and nothing I have or looked at is that flexible and compact.

  9. My concern with the fly being at the bottom of your bag is when you are setting up in the rain.  I want to have that ready so I can set up my tent and cover it as fast as possible.  You can always toss your backpack inside your fly-covered shelter and worry about everything else later.  I should also mention that I usually pack a waterproof pack cover for days when rain is a threat.

  10. what happens when it starts to rain and u take your rain coat out but your insulating layer is still in your pack… wouldn't it get wet then?

  11. does anyone know of a 60-70l pack that has molle webbing for attaching extras? The actually military pack I have isn't very comfortable for week long treks

  12. For how many days are you packing for? What brand of backpack is that? What kind of food are you packing? Is that beans or rice? I'm wanting to get into backpacking and I'm not sure where to start. Also if you are traveling to a location to backpack, how do you go about that? Airport security does not accept pocket knives or anything metal. Would you just drive to the location? What if you want to backpack internationally and need these items? Do you purchase them over seas? 

  13. well done. My sleeping bag doesn't even fit in my new pack. Guess I need a larger size or one of those compression sacks with the straps you have.

  14. Hmmm … The ABCDEF is great, but the demo is possibly only good for a warm / dry hike. Not sure for a wet hike or even a location with heavy dew/frost:
    * I wouldn't fancy putting my shelter away wet when it is just stuffed in like that.
    * I wouldn't like unloading clothes etc. in the rain to get out my shelter.
    * I like a warm cuppa or soup (or even Lunch) midway through a cold/wet day – which means fuel needs to be on the the outside for me and trangia near the top.

  15. What gear is a must have? I've taken a pack that is 40+ lbs. I'd rather have it and not need it than not have it and need it.

  16. Good to see you again Marco, even if only through video! I have fond memories of our OECW '09 trip together. Be well.

  17. Excellent, efficient, not wordy, brilliant. Im from NZ and am getting back into hiking. This is the best Vid ive seen on packing packs. Thanks

  18. What was the size of this pack in litres? Also, what was the approximate length of the trip this amount of gear would be appropriate for?

  19. Looks good for a very dry trip.  As noted by another here there is no way to keep your clothes dry should it rain or in wet weather.

  20. I have a 65ltr rucksack and a single sleeping bag. only one problem, no matter how much I condense it down, my sleeping back still take up a hell of a lot of space… Any tips?

  21. Hi there. I am a tutor on a Diploma in Outdoor Leadership in New Zealand. I want my students to do some study before they arrive on the course. Could I please use your video and refer to it for their course work (giving credit rights to you)? Thanks

  22. I genuinely loved your vid, What was your inspiration behind it? Please as well take a look at my travel broadcast, been to USA, Espana, Thailand and Commonwealth of Australia so far! all the best! Josh

  23. check out the IRIDIUM stove it's built for trips like this and never fails guaranteed for life and awesome…. bombproof American ingenuity …… no moving parts…. dual fire apps!!!

  24. Um first you always keep your gas on a external pouch so that is doesn't get to you food and I would never put lose food in a plastic bag that is just calling for disaster

  25. Awesome Vid…. I moved to VA a few years back, i am looking to get back to camping.
    What is the best way to plan a trip to ensure you can have a camp fire
    and a location for tents. I know many areas only allow you to camp in
    certain areas along the trail. I much more prefer back country stuff
    with seclusion. Anyone have any ideas or tips on planning trips like
    this?

  26. Nice packing job, but I'm glad i don't have to carry that heavy pack for a long distance. I looks awful heavy to me where do you find comfort in that?. Where do you put that rain fly when it's wet, when you wake up to heavy rain or snow? What happens if that bladder leaks? If you carried a compactor bag liner you could stuff all of your other stuff in it and close it up and put your rain fly on top if its wet also if your water bladder leaks your other things will also stay nice and dry. Keeping dry clothes and sleeping bag is a priority to me. Try a cuben fiber dry bag for your sleeping bag and camp clothes, the weight of your other things in your pack will compress it. Just my thoughts!

  27. Good stuff. Thanks for posting! One question, though – how come things like jackets, blankets, and other fabrics are shoved in the bag, rather than being folded or rolled tightly? Is it to fill tiny spaces that otherwise wouldn't be occupied? If so, makes sense. I can see a scenario where you're pulling out your jacket that isn't tightly rolled and it snags on something and tears. Thoughts?

  28. No bear canister or Ursack? How do you prevent mice, squirrels, etc. from getting to all those small food bags? Do you hang them individually?

  29. Subtract points for mixing food with clothing and for having zero way to keep your sleeping bag dry in a downpour. NOLS, you say?

  30. Food loosely thrown in pack followed by empty dedicated food bag, lol, no thanks…I like sleeping bag in a regular stuff sack so it can fill out corners when squished into bottom of pack. Compression sacks make your sleeping bag a stiff lump with less give. Personal preference I guess… 🙂

  31. Amazing video, .great concepts adaptable to any gear set. informative and educational and as yo mentioned in video and answer to some of the comments ———–> the principles of packing (which you demonstrate in video) will work for a smaller or larger pack as well!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *