Summer School: How To Pack For Backpacking

Aug 3, 2015

The thought of setting off into the woods with only the gear on your back can be a bit daunting. There's the danger of over-packing, which can lead to sore shoulders, or of forgetting something and being unprepared for what nature throws at you.

In this installment of Summer School, Eben Coenen from Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington shares the art of packing a backpack for a weekend in the backcountry.

Coenen lists 10 essentials that everyone should pack when going into the woods, whether for a day trip or an overnight:

1. Sun protection
2. A map & compass
3. A knife
4. Matches and/or a lighter
5. Food
6. Water
7. A first aid kit
8. Extra layers
9. A whistle
10. A headlight or flashlight

"The best thing to do when packing a pack is to lay everything out that you want to take," says Coenen. "Actually go and grab every single little knick-knack, put them next to the pack and then decide what you need. Oftentimes that will narrow it down to be only specifics of what you want."

The first step to successfully packing for a backpacking trip is to lay all of your belongings out to decide what gear is actually needed.
Credit Erin Lucey VPR

Once you've narrowed your gear down, it comes time to pack it. When putting gear into a backpack, it's important to take into consideration both the weight of the item and the next time you will want to access it. Sleeping gear, water filtration systems and extras such as journals should be tucked away at the bottom of the pack. In the brain of the pack, the very top pocket, rain gear and head lamps can be easily accessed on the fly.

"You want all of your weight to be at your spine, at the center of your pack," says Coenen. A tent tends to be one of the heavier objects carried in the backcountry, so if possible, it should be place snug to the spine on the interior of the pack.

This ideal weight distribution should also deter backpackers from hanging gear off of their pack. "If you're ever going to add anything onto a pack, rather than adding it onto the back, you should add it to the top," says Coenen.

Waterproofing your pack can make the difference between an enjoyable trip and a miserable one. A rain cover can be purchased to slip over the backpack, or pack liners can work as waterproof stuff sacks for your gear within the pack. "You can pay for a higher end pack liner, or realistically, you can take a heavy duty garbage bag, put your stuff inside of it, twist it up, stuff it down inside and you're set," says Coenen.

Outdoor Gear Exchange employee Eben Coenen, all ready for a trip into the woods, shows off his packed backpack.
Credit Erin Lucey VPR

Coenen encourages backpackers to "plan your hike, and hike your plan" to increase safety in the backcountry. Leave an itinerary of your trip, including where you are going and when you return, with a family member or friend.