How to Pack a Rucksack for Hiking or Camping

Packing a rucksack for a hiking or camping trip always seems easy at first – until you realise how much stuff needs to get packed! This often comes as a sudden realisation after laying out everything you think you plan to take with you, which is normally enough gear to fill a room!

Obviously, it makes total sense to take the time to properly plan what will go into your rucksack and what can be left behind, otherwise you may end up bringing items that aren’t even necessary while forgetting something much more important!

To make your life easier and avoid any packing mishaps, there’s a few techniques that will be a massive help when packing a rucksack for your next outdoor excursion. Also, there are items that are far more necessary than others, so knowing what is needed should hopefully make the entire process that bit easier!

Stage One – The Planning Process

Everything will go much smoother if you plan your packing ahead of time, meaning the last thing you should do is leave everything to the last minute!

The Rucksack

One of the first things that should be planned is the type of bag you will be using. For those going on longer trips, a large waterproof rucksack will be needed, but those only camping or hiking for a couple of days will be able to get by with medium-sized rucksacks or a larger daypack (or daysack) style of bag.

Of course, if you would like to bring a fair amount of gear with you for a short trip, investing in a larger rucksack is a great idea.

Deciding what to take

Now it’s time to actually plan what will be getting packed. Start by listing all the essentials and camping gadgets you know you will need before creating a second list of items you would like to take but are not necessarily essential.

Once you have these lists ready, it’s time to lay everything out so you can take stock of size, weight, and what can be left behind. Organise each list of essentials and non-essentials according to size and weight, as this will help to make the packing process easier but also help you to decide what can be left.

Be as ruthless as you can when deciding. You want far more essentials than non-essentials, and even then, the idea is to always limit the total weight of your rucksack to around 15kg, as it makes packing and carrying much simpler.

Perform a practice pack

Think you have finally decided what’s coming and what’s staying? Then it’s time to for a practice pack. This should be done entirely naturally and without any packing tips, as it is mainly done to show how much room you have!

If there’s no way everything will fit even with some more shred packing techniques, it means you have cut down enough of the contents. We estimate that most people will have to cut back on a few more items even when they think they have finally decided on what to take!

Reorganising everything

Once you have made the final decision of what to leave behind, you can now reorganise everything for the actual packing process. By now, you should have greatly decreased all the contents of the rucksack, but that doesn’t mean the packing process is done – far from it in fact!

The next step to take is to organise your pack into subsections to allow for more efficient packing. Group together all similar types of items, such as toiletries, clothing, equipment, food and drink etc.

These will still be packed into your rucksack according to weight, so be sure to keep an eye on what the heaviest contents will be – this shouldn’t be too difficult as its rather clear what is the heaviest just by looking at it.

Practise pack round two

Yes, another practice pack (we told you it was far from over!), but this time you only need to take one item from each category. See how quickly the rucksack begins to fill, and if it is still looking to be too much, it is time to get ruthless with what to take.

That, or maybe you need to invest in a larger rucksack! Remember though, it will mean more weight to carry, and this is the one thing you want to keep down for a camping or hiking trip.

We recommend that you try to leave as much as a quarter of the rucksack empty. Not only because you might end up buying some supplies on the way to your destination, but the fact that when you attempt to repack your rucksack, you will really want to have some spare room to work with just in case.

You never want to leave for your camping trip with a rucksack that is bursting at the seams because you overpacked, as we guarantee it’s something you will come to regret.

Stage Two – The Packing Process

Now you have made it to the coveted packing process. You will finally have decided everything that is going into the bag, so it is now time to work on getting it efficiently packed for easy transportation.

Heavy items first

Now, depending on the nature of your trip, how many people are going, and how you plan on getting there, you may not need to pack all your heavy camping equipment into the rucksack.

However, many will require everything to fit inside their bag, particularly for longer hikes where you are constantly on the move. In this case, you should start by packing all the heaviest equipment first.

Things like tents, stoves, and water supplies are usually the heaviest items that will need to be packed, so start by placing these first, providing there isnt specific attachments for a tent. Be sure to avoid any points that stick out into your back, as this will be very uncomfortable when walking with the rucksack.

The aim is to pack all these items evenly for effective weight distribution that will make hiking with a rucksack that less strenuous.

Medium weight items next

Once all the heaviest items are packed away nicely, it is time to go for your pile of medium weighted items.

This will likely be items such as your sleeping bag (although your rucksack may have a specific compartment for this) and any heavier items of clothing you are bringing, such as a fleece, waterproof jacket, jumpers, and spare shoes.

Finish with the lightest items

Your rucksack should begin to take shape by now and now it is time to add the final essential items. These are all the lightest weighing items you are planning on taking with you.

T-shirts, underwear, shorts, gloves, hats, scarves, good waterproof trousers and any other lightweight clothing you will be bringing can now be placed into the rucksack, along with any toiletries you are taking.

However, before you start this be sure to tightly roll them to save space! T-shirts need this the most, so it’s a great idea to roll these as tight as possible – it may even allow you to bring a few extra items should you free up some space.

You should now be left with your lightweight equipment, such as maps, a compass, first aid kit, and snacks. If there’s room inside of the rucksack then squeeze them in, but you should have free compartments at the sides and top of the rucksack that can fit these more compact items if you are short on space inside.

Check the weight distribution

By packing things efficiently and according to their weight, your pack should have even weight distribution. If the weight feels off balance, it may be a case of slightly altering the location of some items.

For instance, if the weight feels off-centre, you can try to even this out by moving items to any side compartments available.


Most rucksacks, especially the larger sized options, have exterior attachments for common camping and hiking equipment. For instance, a sleeping mat and a tent can be rather cumbersome when trying to fit inside a rucksack, which is why it’s a good idea to take advantage of exterior attachments.

If your rucksack has these features be sure to utilise them as they can save plenty of space and make your pack feel much easier to carry. Vertical or horizontal straps are great for storing items such as the sleeping mat, while you will find a good selection of rucksacks offer an attachment for the sleeping bag as well.

Be careful however - do not store anything outside of the bag that you will not want to risk getting wet or damaged!

Stage Three – Tips, Tricks and Things to Consider

The good news is that you are almost there! In fact, depending how much you need to pack you may already be finished with packing for your camping trip, in which case it is time to congratulate yourself!

Let’s take a quick look at some useful tips worth remembering and anything else worth considering before you head out.

Watch your back

The area of the rucksack that will be in constant contact with your back can make your life miserable if packed incorrectly. You will always want to ensure that everything here is packed as flat as possible, otherwise your back is going to be in some serious agony.

Be sure your rucksack has sufficient padding to help in this regard, even if you have packed everything to be flat against your back. Put the bag on and turn in every direction and see if anything is digging into your back or sides to be certain it is packed correctly!

Waterproofing your rucksack

Now, most decent rucksacks will be waterproof but there is every chance that your backpack isn’t. This could be disastrous for anyone out camping or hiking in wet and windy conditions, as the last thing you will want is for all your belongings to be soaked through.

A quick solution for this problem is to invest in a rucksack liner. These are inexpensive and will protect the contents of your rucksack.

Likewise, if you are concerned about your clothing getting wet, consider rolling them up tightly and placing them in waterproof bags for added protection – the worst thing possible when hiking is for all your clothes to be soaking wet!

Know what to keep on top

One of the most overlooked aspects of packing a rucksack for camping and hiking is keeping the right items at the top of the pack. These are items you want to have quick and easy access to, because no one wants to have to unpack their entire rucksack just to get a quick snack or a dry pair of socks!

Keep the essential daily items here, such as your first aid kit, snacks and water, your torch and any other items you will might need to grab quickly. Pockets and compartments at the top of the rucksack are quite useful for this.

Cover all liquid containers

Leakages in your rucksack will be an utter nightmare to deal with. Any containers holding liquids (fuel for the stove, water, sunscreen etc.) should be wrapped in plastic bags or other waterproof material, as you never want to have to deal with this when in the middle of a hike or out camping in the wilderness.

Don’t forget a medical kit

Medical kits may seem unnecessary when taking a small camping trip but they are very important in case an emergency arises. This can be either a small selection of plasters, bandages, antiseptic wipes and creams, along with any painkillers and medication that may be worth bringing.

A sterilised needle might also a good idea, as you never know what type of injury could occur during a long hike.


As you can see, there is plenty to consider when packing a rucksack for camping or hiking trips. And while it may seem time consuming to put such a concentrated effort into your packing, it is something that you will be very grateful for once you head out on your journey with a perfectly packed rucksack that won’t be causing any problems.

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