One of my readers, a guy named Tim, is having problems getting all of his backpacking gear into his backpack. This is something I’ve wrestled with too. I had a few breakthroughs this year though, based on some advice from a more experienced mentor that I thought I’d share. Feel free to chime in with your own suggestions to help Tim out.
Right off the bat, there are some basic things you can do to make things fit better:
- Try to share gear with a partner and eliminate duplication
- Eliminate any gear or supplies you absolutely don’t need, like extra clean clothing or a tent footprint
- Attach some of your gear to the outside of your pack, such as a tent or sleeping pad. Strap the gear as close to your back as possible to prevent it pulling you backwards, like the guy above. Strapping it under your pack’s side compression straps is best.
- Carry your water on the outside of your pack, not inside in a reservoir pocket
- Replace large pieces of gear with smaller more compressible gear:
- Use a down sleeping bag instead of a synthetic one because they compress smaller
- Use a small pot instead of a big one
- Replace hard sided water bottles with a collapsible Platypus style reservoir
- Replace a pump water filter with a gravity water filter like the Sawyer Squeeze
- Switch to a wood stove instead of a white gas or canister stove – use fuel you find instead of fuel you carry
If none of these ideas work and you want to avoid buying a new pack or new gear, here are a few more suggestions for squeezing more stuff into your backpack.
I used to use a lot of stuff sacks to keep my gear organized and prevent moisture sensitive items from getting wet. The problem with stuff sacks is that they don’t fit flush together inside your pack and create ‘air gaps’ that end up wasting space in your pack. For example, I used to pack all of my extra puffy winter insulation including a down jacket, insulated pants, and base layers in stuff sacks for winter hiking. I stopped doing that this year and stuffed them directly into the main body of my pack: this resulted in more space in my pack because I could stuff these clothes into all the unused spaces between other packed items. It also helped keep the water bottles I store in my pack much warmer – even hot – well into the day.
When I winter backpack, I still compress my -25 sleeping bag in a compression sack because I think it shrinks the bag’s volume more (-25 degree down sleeping bags are huge!), but I now carry most of my other clothing, including extra socks, jackets, gloves, hats, and my various layers loose in the pack, organized by frequency of access with the most frequently used item near the top of my pack.
I line my backpack with a big see-through plastic bag to prevent water from leaking into my pack and getting my gear wet, but that’s the only waterproofing protection I use.
Minimizing Food Volume
Another way to maximize the existing space in your pack without replacing it or any of your gear is to minimize the amount of space your food takes up. Think about it this way – food is the biggest variable weight and variable volume item in your pack between different trips, and the only thing you can really change without spending extra money on new gear.
For example, Mountain House or other prepared backpacking meals take up a huge amount of space, much of which is air and excess packaging. You can shrink this by either repackaging them, or by packing your own calorically dense food including nuts, dried fruit, dehydrated quinoa, oatmeal, olive oil and so forth. If you aim for food that contains at least 100 calories per ounce and repackage it, you can usually make significantly more space in your pack.
If you need to use a bear canister where you backpack, try to use all of the space inside it instead of putting a partially empty canister in your pack. Don’t put clothing or anything in it that will be out at night and might pick up odors from your food. Instead put your pot and stove, toiletries, gear repair kit, first aid kit, stove fuel, insect repellent, map, gps, phone, etc. into it to make more space available in your pack. You won’t need any of these items at night and can keep them in the canister and away from your tent/shelter.
What other packing pointers can you suggest for Tim?