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30 Days to Packing a Better Bag – Day 24: How to Pack a Backpack

Day 24: How to Pack a Backpack

Welcome to Day 24 of 30 Days to Packing a Better Bag.

When getting ready for your trips, set out everything you’re bringing after you’ve taken out anything you don’t need. Yes, we’re assuming you’ve read through all the month’s post up to this point!

Choosing a backpack can be an overwhelming task in itself, but once you’ve decided on the brand and size, the next job will be packing it well. Proper weight distribution in your backpack is what could make the difference between comfort and serious back pain. The most important thing to remember is that just because your backpack can hold a certain amount of liters doesn’t mean you should pack it full.

Compartmentalizing your gear will be a huge help when packing, and re-packing, your backpack.

Step by Step: How to Pack a Backpack

How to Pack a Backpack

Step 1: Set Out Items By Weight

Hold each of your packing cubes or compression sacks to see what weighs the most and how soon you will need them. Color code them to help you remember. If your backpack is front and top loading, place first item through the top. The rest of the items can be placed in the front loading section as it will be easier.

Step 2: Light Items in the Bottom

If you’re bringing a sleeping bag, a down jacket or other items like lightweight clothing, these should go into your bag first. They should also be the items you won’t need immediately. Lightweight and bulky shoes are also good for the bottom of your bag.

Step 3: Heaviest Items in the Middle

If you’re camping, this is where you would put your camp stove or tent. Electronics, if you aren’t carrying an extra messenger bag for them, should also be placed here. Surround these items with as much cushioning as possible to prevent breakage in transit. See our post on packing and protecting electronics for further assistance.

Step 4: Medium Weight Items in the Top

Place what you’ll need to access first on the top like a jacket, umbrella or a quick change of clothes for arrival.

Step 5: Outer Pockets

Smaller items like sunglasses, tissues, sunscreen and other essentials should be placed in your outer pockets for easy access. Make sure all items are secured as it’s easy for these smaller things to fall out or get broken. This is yet another reason to compartmentalize smaller gear into combined pouches.

Step 6: Adjust Straps and Belts

Make sure that the shoulder and waist straps are pulled tightly as the closer your pack is to your body, the more comfortable it will be. Clasp your hip belt and get ready for your trip!

Let’s See That Packing in Action

A lot of Her Packing List readers are probably packing a backpack for city travel (instead full-out camping and hiking excursions that require a stove, tent and sleeping bag), so let’s see these backpack packing tips in action for those types of packing lists.

In the following example, the heaviest item on the packing list is actually a tightly packed packing cube of clothes! That will go into the back-middle of the backpack, while lightweight shoes will go on the bottom, undergarments plus pack towel and sleep sheet in the front-middle, and toiletries and jackets on the top. Electronics, such as a laptop and camera will be placed in an external daypack, purse or messenger bag (the item that will be tied to you at all times).

step by step how to pack a backpack

We have all this gear packed up into a 26L Smart Alec backpack from Tom Bihn. This is the same amount of gear contained in our How to Pack a Suitcase post, plus a pack towel and silk sleep sheet.

Take Action: Pack Your Backpack
Find a backpack that will suit your needs and fits you well. Test out packing this backpack properly. Set out all the items you’ll be bringing and line them up in order of weight and how soon you will need them. Place lightest items in the bottom, heaviest in the middle and more light items on top. Place smaller items in your outer pockets for easy access. Adjust your straps to fit your pack closely to your body.

Let us know what backpack you are taking and how you’re packing it up!

*Big thanks to Tom Bihn for the Smart Alec bag for our packing photos.

Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Gear We Use

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Speakeasy Hidden Pocket Scarves


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Splice Reversible Jaisalmer Tunic


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Eagle Creek Compression Packing Cubes


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Tom Bihn 3D Organizer Cube


Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack - Fits in the palm of your hand!
Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack


Turkish Travel Towels


Travel Resources

HPL Learnables

HPL Packing Method – Learn to pack your lightest bag ever in this revolutionary packing course by HPL founder, Brooke.

Book Your Trip

Viator – Enhance your trip experience by booking from thousands of tours across the globe.

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions


  1. Jess says

    I am dying to know where these llama bags (and elephant bags, etc.) are coming from! Each time they make an appearance in this series, I try to find them online without success. Recommendations?

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