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Backpack packing correctly - Your complete guide to optimal weight distribution

Learn how to pack your backpack correctly to achieve optimal weight distribution. Follow these tips for a more pleasant hike.

from Martin Gebhardt | Hiking | no comment yet | reading time 8 Min
Updated on 17 April 2024 2.727 views 100% found this guide helpful
Backpack packing correctly - Your complete guide to optimal weight distribution

Martin Gebhardt

From Martin Gebhardt. Check out my “About me” page.

👉 The key facts from this guide

  • Pack heavy items close to your body to achieve optimal weight distribution and protect your back.
  • Use the pockets and compartments of your backpack to store items in an organized way and to access them quickly.
  • Adjust the straps and belts properly to ensure that the backpack sits securely and comfortably, distributing the weight effectively on your hips.
  • Pay attention to small packaging sizes to save space and weight. This will help you pack only the essentials.
  • Understand how the carrying system of your backpack works and place heavy items in the middle of your back for better balance.

Have you ever wondered why your back hurts after a hike?

Maybe it's all about how you pack your backpack.

Incorrect weight distribution can lead to unnecessary stress on your body.

I faced the same problem and quickly realized that not only the what, but also the how of packing is crucial.

An interesting fact is that already 20 percent more load than recommended can lead to back pain - a compelling reason to take backpacking seriously.

To avoid this mistake, I have thoroughly researched and found practical solutions. In this article, I share my knowledge about the basic rules of backpacking that will lighten your load and protect your back.

You will learn how to organize your backpack efficiently and distribute the weight optimally. Ready for a more enjoyable hike? Keep reading.

The Basic Rules for Packing Your Backpack Correctly

As an enthusiastic hiker and Bushcrafter, I have undertaken many tours and know how important good weight distribution in the backpack is.

At first, I often struggled with back pain until I learned the right techniques. Today, I want to share my experiences with you so that you can also hike pain-free.

I always pack my heavy luggage close to my body.
I always pack my heavy luggage close to my body.

1. Store heavy luggage close to the body

I always pack my heavy luggage close to my body. This helps me achieve the optimal weight distribution and protect my back. Tents, water bottles, and cooking equipment go right against the back.

So I feel the weight less and can hike longer without getting tired.

On a tour through the Thuringian Forest, I experienced the difference myself. One day, I had stored my water bottle at the very top of my backpack. I promptly got neck pain and felt uncomfortable. The next day, I packed it right against my back and voilà - everything was fine again.

Light items go towards the top and outside. This keeps the center of gravity close to my body and helps me maintain balance on challenging trails. For me, this packing method is crucial to avoid back pain and enjoy my multi-day hike.

rucksack tragen optimal packen gewicht verteilen im rucksack en

2. Pack light items on top

Light items should go on top of the backpack to balance the load. This improves weight distribution and makes the backpack more comfortable on the back.

This keeps the weight close to the body while I'm on the go.

The lighter items such as clothing or sleeping bag are better placed on top to stabilize the center of gravity. This makes carrying easier and ensures better balance while walking.

bushcrafter im wald mit rucksack

3. Using Pockets and Compartments

Pockets and Compartments are practical for organizing items and having them easily accessible. Small items like pocket knives (check out my top list), headlamps, and snacks should be packed in the outer pockets or lid compartments, while heavy items are better off in the main compartment.

This allows for balanced weight distribution and keeps the backpack well-organized and easily accessible.

rucksack tragekomfort

4. Adjusting Straps Correctly

Your adjustable straps should fit snugly and comfortably on your shoulders to distribute the weight evenly. The straps should be adjusted so that the backpack sits close to the body and does not pull backwards.

The correct adjustment of the straps helps to distribute the weight onto the hips and reduce pressure on the shoulders. This helps minimize back pain while carrying the backpack.

When adjusting the straps, make sure they are tight, but not constricting, to ensure a comfortable wearing experience.

Because what I want is for the weight to be on the hips. Therefore, my backpack must always have a hip belt.

rucksack tragen optimale gewichtsverteilung auf koerper en

5. Consider gender-specific differences when choosing a backpack

Did you know that there are differences between backpacks for men and women? Women often have curvier hips, which is why the hip belts on women's backpacks are shaped more conically to fit better.

Furthermore, the shoulder straps on women's models are often S-shaped to prevent them from pressing uncomfortably on the chest.

wandern natur

Ultimately, regardless of gender, you should always choose the backpack that best fits your body type. Especially tall, slim women often find that a men's model suits them better.

Try out different models and decide based on fit and comfort, not on gender. Either way - with a perfectly fitting backpack, your next hike is guaranteed to be twice as enjoyable.

Things to consider when packing your backpack correctly

Use small packaging sizes, pay attention to the weight, only pack the essentials, and avoid large supermarket packaging.

Optimal weight distribution in a backpack can reduce the perceived difficulty of a hike by up to 25% (Simpson et al., 2011).

Want to learn more about efficient backpack packing? Then keep reading.

Use Small Packaging Sizes

Small packaging sizes help you reduce the weight of your backpack and save space for other important things.

When hiking or camping, it is important to pack light and efficiently to avoid carrying unnecessary weight.

Through smaller packaging sizes, the backpack stays well-organized and I keep track of my equipment. Additionally, this way I can better ensure to only take the essentials and focus on the important things.

That means specifically:

  • I use small travel sizes for toiletries such as toothpaste, soap, and sunscreen.
  • I pack compact and lightweight gear items like a pocket knife, a headlamp, or a multi-tool.
  • I choose compressible clothing made of quick-drying materials that take up little space.
  • I use space-saving containers for food, such as resealable bags or lightweight boxes.
  • I avoid unnecessary packaging and disposable products to reduce waste and save space.

Ultimately, the small packing helps me achieve the optimal weight distribution in the backpack and have a pleasant hiking or backpacking experience.

mein outdoor hygiene set 1

Pay attention to the weight

When packing a backpack correctly, it is critical to pay attention to the weight to avoid back strain. By distributing heavy items close to the body, the load is evenly distributed on the shoulders and hips.

This is how to achieve a balanced weight in the backpack.

According to a study by Stanford University, an increase in backpack weight of just 10% can increase the load on the spine by up to 40% (Neuschwander et al., 2010).

Packing only the essentials helps to reduce the weight of the backpack and decrease the strain on long hikes. It is advisable to use small packaging sizes to save space and weight.

Read also

Your Bushcraft Backpack: What is the optimal weight? How much should a packed backpack weigh? - Find out what weight is ideal for a bushcraft backpack so you can comfortably carry the necessary equipment in nature.

3 Tips for Weight Distribution When Packing Your Backpack Correctly

I still remember my first multi-day hiking trip very well. Back then, I had packed my backpack completely wrong and hadn't adjusted the straps properly.

After a few hours, I was in so much pain that I would have preferred to turn back. Today, I know better and want to spare you the mistakes I made.

wanderer mit rucksack sitzen im gras

1. Understanding how the carrying system works

The backpack's carrying system is important to distribute the weight evenly on the hips and shoulders. The proper adjustment of straps and belts ensures optimal weight relief.

I once bought a backpack that simply didn't fit my body. No matter how I adjusted the straps - it was always uncomfortable.

Since then, I make sure that the carrying system fits my stature perfectly and that I can adjust everything perfectly. This is the basis for pain-free hiking.

The support of the back panel plays a crucial role in keeping the weight close to the body and thus reducing the strain on the back. By understanding the function of the carrying system, I can ensure that my backpack sits comfortably and securely while I am on the go.

drei bushcrafter mit rucksack

2. Place heavy objects in the middle of the back

I prefer to place heavy objects in the middle of my back to distribute the weight evenly.

Experts recommend placing heavy objects as close to the body and at the level of the shoulder blades (Alpenverein Munich Oberland, 2024).

This helps to avoid back pain and ensures a more pleasant hike.

The backpack's carrying system can function better and protect my back.

wanderer schwitzt

3. Distribution of Weight on Hips and Shoulders

The weight of the backpack should mainly rest on the hips, as they have the strongest muscles in the body. The shoulder straps are meant to keep the backpack close to the body and not to bear the weight.

Therefore, it is important to adjust the hip and shoulder straps correctly to achieve optimal weight distribution.

The hip belts should fit snugly and comfortably, transferring the weight of the backpack onto the hips.


Four More Tips for Packing Your Backpack Correctly

Have you ever wondered why your back hurts after a hike?

It used to be like that for me too. But since I optimized my packing technique, sore shoulders and a stiff neck are a thing of the past. With the right tricks, hiking is twice as much fun!

1. Choosing the Right Backpack

The proper backpack is important for an enjoyable hiking trip. Pay attention to the size, carrying comfort, and functionality. Also check the volume and adjustment options.

The backpack should suit the planned adventure, whether it's a day trip or a multi-day tour. Keep in mind that the backpack should fit properly and be perfectly padded. Before making a purchase, check the compartment layout and the ability to distribute weight evenly.

wanderrucksack klein

2. Always have important things at hand

Place essential items like a map, compass, water bottle, and snacks in the outer pockets. This way, I can access them quickly. Secure your smartphone and wallet in a small pouch on the shoulder strap for easy access.

The backpack should be organized in a way that I can easily find the most significant things. Essential items such as flashlight, first aid kit, and rain protection should be easily accessible.

3. Space-saving packing and weighing

When packing efficiently, it is important to organize clothing and gear in a way that minimizes wasted space in the backpack. Additionally, rolling clothes instead of folding them also helps save space.

When I compactly roll various pieces of clothing, I can efficiently utilize the available space and also have a better overview of my backpack contents.

When weighing the backpack, it is crucial to keep the total weight in mind and only pack the essentials to ensure optimal weight distribution.

My equipment for a winter overnight stay
My equipment for a winter overnight stay

4. Reduce to the Essentials

When packing your backpack correctly, it is significant to pay attention to the weight and only pack the essentials. By reducing unnecessary luggage, the backpack becomes lighter and the hike more enjoyable.

Take a look at the survey I conducted in 2024. Most people carry 10 to 15 kg.

umfrage wie schwer ist dein rucksack 2024

Consider with every item "Do I really need it?".

Over time, you will notice that some things are not being used, and you will leave them at home.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Topic

1. How to pack my backpack correctly for a hike?

To pack your backpack properly, distribute the weight optimally by placing heavy items close to your back and in the center. Light items go on top or on the outside.

2. What should I consider when adjusting my backpack?

When adjusting your backpack, make sure it fits perfectly and distributes the weight evenly on your shoulders and hips. The size of the backpack should match your body height.

mann im wald mit rucksack

3. Can I pack a backpack in a space-saving way and still bring everything I require?

Yes, you can pack your backpack in a space-saving way by rolling clothes, utilizing space in your tent, and only packing the essentials for your mountain tour or hike.

4. How do I pack my backpack for a multi-day hike?

For multi-day tours, pack the tent and sleeping gear at the bottom first. Food and heavy equipment go in the middle, while light items and things you need to access quickly go on top or in outer pockets.

5. What is important to keep order in my backpack?

To keep things organized, use packing cubes or small bags to group similar items together. This way, you can quickly find what you need without having to take everything out.

wanderer mit rucksack im wald

Pain-free hiking and enjoying nature - here's how!

Since improving my packing technique, I have been experiencing hikes like never before. No more annoying pulling in the shoulders, no more stabbing in the back - instead, I can fully immerse myself in the beauty of nature.

The most important tips for packing your backpack correctly:

  1. Choose the right backpack that suits your stature and planned adventure. Pay attention to size, carrying comfort, functionality, and adjustability.
  2. Store heavy items close to the body and in the middle of the back to achieve optimal weight distribution and avoid back pain.
  3. Use pockets and compartments to keep important items such as a map, compass, water bottle, and snacks within easy reach.
  4. Adjust the straps correctly, so the backpack sits comfortably, and the weight is mainly on the hips.
  5. Consider gender-specific differences in backpacks, but ultimately decide based on fit and comfort.
  6. Use small packing sizes and space-saving containers to reduce weight and volume.
  7. Only pack the essentials and reduce unnecessary luggage to keep the backpack light.

If you implement the tips from this guide, you will quickly notice how much more comfortable it is to carry your backpack.

With the optimized weight distribution and the proper use of the carrying system, you can also master longer tours painlessly and focus entirely on the beauty of nature.

Instead of dealing with back pain or uncomfortable carrying sensations, you can enjoy every moment of your hike to the fullest.

With a properly packed backpack, you will have more endurance and strength to tackle even more challenging trails.

So grab your equipment, pack everything carefully, and look forward to a completely successful tour in nature. Your back will thank you!

Take care, Martin
Martin Gebhardt

Author of the guide

Martin Gebhardt

Hey, I'm Martin. On my blog, you will learn the basics and numerous details about living in the wild. I think survival, bushcraft and the good life in nature are the keys to happiness. Find me here on Instagram or on YouTube. You can find more about my mission on the About Me page.

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Free 35 Survival Hacks you'll love!

You will get 35 easy-to-implement survival hacks so that you don't have to stand aimlessly in the forest from tomorrow when things get tough. Take your skills to the next level!