The first time I went on an overnight backpacking trip, I just threw my gear into a borrowed pack and headed out the door. The trail was in the Mark Twain National Forest; it was hardpacked, with lots of loose stones. My back and shoulders hurt after just an hour. It took me several years before I learned a good technique to packing the backpack. 

  In this article, I will share a few techniques that I have learned about loading a backpack Once you begin using these tips and tricks, you will notice that the pack seems to ride easier on your back. The miles will be noted not by how tired you are, but by the things you saw, smell and heard. You will also be able to find things quicker. 

Weight Distribution

  This is the first, and to me the most useful tip. Have you ever had a pack that felt like it wanted to pull you over backwards? Solve this issue by putting your heavier items higher in the pack and nestled closer to your back. This way the pack works with your center of gravity, instead of against it. It also more effectively puts the weight onto your skeletal system (through the frame and straps of the pack), saving you energy better used for enjoying the hike.

Put your bulky sleeping bag in the bottom, with your change of clothes for the evening. Your tent fabric will also be at the bottom, and/or away from the center  of gravity. 

Modular Packing

  Using a modular system allows you to keep track of what articles are where in your pack. When you get ready to stop for the night and set up camp, you can unload what you need quickly, and won't have to dig through everything just to find your warm beanie hat, for instance. I use colored stuff sacks to keep order over my pack. Food is in an orange sack, socks and underwear in white, etc. The sleeping bag is in a compression sack. Almost everything goes into a stuff sack. Once I have decided how I am distributing things into sacks, they get loaded into the pack with a few exceptions. 

My rain gear and a fleece jacket I leave out until everything else is loaded. I might need them at a moments notice, so they will be shoved into the empty spaces that the modular packing leaves. This way, I fill the unused space with packable items that are also in ready reach. 

If your pack has external pockets, it is nice to put toiletries, lighters, and other small things in these accessible pockets. Also, I recommend having your first aid kit accessible. I leave the top pocket for my backpack rain cover, map and compass and trail snacks. Strap your tent poles to the outside of your pack, unless you have room inside. 

I hope these simple tricks will help you enjoy your next few miles on the trail.