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backpack hiking

How to correctly fill your backpack for hiking?

Filling your backpack is (almost) already starting your hike or trek…

We imagine the landscapes crossed, the panoramas discovered, the nights spent listening to the sounds of nature…


You are still in your room gathering tent (or hammock?), mattress and sleeping bag, freeze-dried sachets, first aid kit, etc.

Phew! You have finally gathered your materials and everything you need.

And, inevitably, if you are a novice, the eternal question arises: how am I going to fit everything into my bag?

No need to call for help from your fellow Tetris champions… The solution is in your hands!

This does not prevent you from reading my advice to fill your backpack properly.

Why is it important to fill your backpack properly?

A concrete situation to put you in the bath: a storm that bursts, torrents of water that suddenly fall on you, and nothing on the horizon to shelter you… and your raincoat is at the bottom of the bag.

This situation, I am sure you have already experienced it! And you still remember…

Suffice to say that the filling and organization of your hiking backpack must be carried out with reflection and without haste.

Because all your equipment must be accessible and protected, and you must preserve yourself to go far, without “bobos”, and without hindrance.

A well-filled backpack for walking comfort

In order not to suffer physically, adjusting your backpack is essential.

Organizing and balancing it well is too.

Indeed, if your bag is heavier on one side, you will compensate for this imbalance by adapting your step. And it’s the door open to lumbar or back pain that can quickly become disabling.

In addition, you risk exhausting yourself by forcing more than necessary.

Especially if your hike has a lot of positive or negative elevation if the terrain is difficult.

Balancing your backpack for safety

Beyond the discomfort it causes, a poorly loaded backpack can also be dangerous.

Because it will simply unbalance you and solicit one side more than another.

And, in this situation, a fall, even a sprain or a strain, is (unfortunately) always possible.

I’m not even talking about cases where you are in the mountains and you have difficult passages to cross: a backpack whose weight pulls you back is to be absolutely avoided!

The practicality of properly filling a backpack

Admittedly, this is perhaps the least important argument, but it still has its (common) sense.

Think back to the storm breaking…

So you’re going to have to put your bag away so that you have what you need at any given time of the day.

It’s time saved, more security and less nervousness.

So, keep small items close at hand such as a map, sunglasses or a cap, a first aid kit, and energy bars to compensate for a little slack… and don’t bury your meal under your sleeping bag midday!

A very concrete example?

I always put the tarp at the bottom of my bag, because it will be the last thing I will set up in the bivouac.

And I always make sure that my hammock is accessible before my sleeping bag… which allows me to set up my hammock, then use it as a “shelf” to put all my bivouac gear on.

So, I don’t put anything on the ground: it avoids getting them wet (if the ground is damp), dirtying them, damaging them or losing them (in leafy ground, it happens quickly).

If I had to summarize the main rules for properly storing your backpack, I could simply tell you: Think about the weight of each piece of equipment and the use you will make of it during the day.

To put it simply, the ideal is to cut your backpack (virtually it goes without saying!) into four very distinct areas: the bottom of the bag at the bottom, along the back, the front part at the back of the bag and the top of the bag, that is to say, the top.

Each zone will accommodate this or that material, this or that object in relation to its weight (or rather its density) and its daily usefulness.

What to put in each area?

  1. At the bottom of the bag will go what you will not use during the day, that is to say, the sleeping bag, the mattress, the tent, the tarp, the hammock…
  2. Along the back, you will put what is the heaviest. Why will you tell me? Quite simply to put the centre of gravity of your bag closer to your back because that’s where the backpack is held, at hip level. These heavy objects such as the stove, cooking pot, gas, sachets of the day’s meals, pegs or hoops of your canvas… Remember to centre them in the middle of your back.
  3. The front part accommodates clothes and toiletries which will have the merit of wedging heavy objects.
  4. In the top of the bag and the external pockets, store the essentials: water (always as close as possible to your back, because it’s still heavy!), raincoat (or poncho), first aid kit, binoculars, mobile phone, knife, filter straw, headlamp, topo-guide, map or compass…
How To Correctly Fill Your Backpack For Hiking?

Equipment outside the bag?

Putting equipment outside the backpack may seem interesting to free up space within the bag or have certain essentials such as water close at hand.

However, there are still a few requirements to follow:

  • Balance the loads and don’t hang everything on the same side (I’ve already experienced the tossing of a poorly secured poncho… not a problem at first, but after a few kilometres it will drive you crazy!)
  • Do not put too much at the risk of looking like a Christmas tree (poorly decorated)
  • Only put on items that aren’t fragile or that aren’t afraid of tearing (avoid hanging up your micro-down jacket you’ve been saving up for months!)
  • Do not attach anything that is afraid of the rain, such as a sleeping bag or anything that can get caught in the branches and stop you dead in your tracks (especially if you are walking off the beaten track)

Also, don’t forget that some hardware can be (very) noisy.

If your goal is to surprise and observe wild animals in their daily lives, forget this idea…

The classics of gear outside the bag are obviously small solar panels, sticks, foam mattresses… or clothes, swimsuits and towels that dry.

Anecdote: we all have a friend with that we embarked on a hike and who was not equipped. The bag is too small, and gear is collected from right to left… The pleasure of sharing is immense but so is the potential back pain.

Preparing your backpack is therefore a purely strategic act, carefully considered, and never left to chance.

You may think I’m exaggerating a bit, but I’m not that far off the mark, especially for hike-bivouac lasting several days (or weeks, or months!)…

To avoid inconvenience, the little worries that rot your life, or the big evils, a few more tips:

  • Bring a waterproof cover, very practical to keep your bag and its contents sheltered from bad weather. Otherwise, what I do personally: I put my things in trash bags before putting them in the bag: economical and just as functional.
  • Change the location of certain cases depending on the weather or the time of day. And everything is decided in the morning: if the rain is announced, keep your poncho at hand, if it’s hot, it’s sunglasses and sunscreen that you will need the most…

In any case, remember to adopt a bag adapted to the volume of your belongings… and that the less space you have, the less you will take with you.

This translates into less stuff to pack, a lighter bag, a faster walking pace lower risk of back pain…

In short, I can only strongly advise you to adopt the MUL or ultra light step.



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