How to Pack a Comfortable Backpack

backpacking_humphreys_sierra

If you’re going to “backpack”, why not make carrying “the backpack” the least of your worries? Use the following tricks to tame your pack so it’s more comfortable and user-friendly while on the trail.

STOP LID FLOP

Pack lids are often heavy with small dense items, and can flop around annoyingly when your pack is nearly empty – such as when you’ve set up camp and are gamboling about with a few items in your full-size pack. The same flopping can happen when you’ve donned most of the extra clothing in your daypack, too. Even if you really cinch down the lid straps, the annoying movement often continues – and the lid can be pulled too low in the process.

Here’s a quick and easy solution:
Drop the lid down inside the pack and simply tighten the drawstring. This effectively prevents the lid from flopping around – and it’s even easier to get into the pack bag than when the straps must be undone.

FIGHTING GRAVITY’S DRAG

Murphy’s Law of the Inconvenient Migration of Stuff means that dense items (especially water bottles, hydration systems, large cameras, and fuel) tend to gravitate to the bottom of your pack, especially when the pack is not full and tightly packed. Those are precisely the items that often need to be handy and whose weight should be up high and close to your back between your shoulder blades for easy carrying.

Here’s a simple solution:
Suspend a stuff bag to form a pocket inside the pack at an appropriate height. Attach it with safety pins to the strong internal seam that encircles the top of most packs. That way the pins do not pass through to the outside skin of the pack, and it’s usually easy to push the pins through just the binding tape on the seam.
If you use a waterproof stuff sack, such as Outdoor Research Hydroseal bags, you have extra protection against a leaking bottle or hydration system wetting the pack contents. Just don’t put the camera in with the water bottle!

AVOIDING HIP PAIN

Button tabs on your pant waistband can convert even the best of pack hip belts into a torture instrument. The buttons are often at the place of greatest hip belt pressure and are ground into your flesh by the belt. Luckily you can eliminate most of the problem.

Here’s a simple solution:
Stitch the tabs down in the correct position and cut off the buttons. Or, consider purchasing one of the backpacking-specific trail pants now on the market, like Mountain Hardwear’s Pack Pants, which feature smooth, seam-free and button-free waistbands.

STOPPING “WET BACK” PROBLEMS

Sweaty backs are a slimy, smelly downside of backpacking, especially in the warm summer weather. Your back gets drenched with sweat, and when you take the pack off at the end of the day there’s an unpleasant chill and clamminess as all of that moisture in your clothes evaporates. Venting mesh back panels on the pack help, but when the pack suspension is lined only with plain fabric over smooth foam panels you just have to suffer.

Here’s are steps to a simple solution:
1. Wear a next-to-skin layer made of a synthetic fabric that doesn’t hold much moisture, and place a piece of cotton towel between it and your pack. The absorbent cotton pulls the sweat through the synthetic, which then stays relatively dry. You won’t be any cooler, but at least the sweaty feel will be diminished, and your skin will be healthier on a long trip.
2. Tie the towel to the pack as shown in the photo. Avoid having a lumpy hem across your back by choosing a piece of towel with a fuzzy edge – or just cut the hem off and put up with a bit of fraying.
3. The top edge should be high on the shoulder blades where there is less pressure anyway.
4. Replace the piece of towel when it becomes drenched, using the identical one you have hung elsewhere on your pack to dry. In the sun, dark colors dry fastest.

BAGGING-IT TO KEEP THINGS DRY

Lining a top-loading pack with a large plastic bag is an effective way to keep gear dry in wet weather. The bag repels rainwater seeping in via seams and zippers in the pack bag, and the one-big-bag method occupies less precious pack space than stuffing gear into lots of small bags, each of which will probably be somewhat inflated with air. Good as this method is, it can be made better with a few refinements.

Here’s are steps to a simple solution:
1. Use an orange bag rather than a dark green or black one – it’ll be easier to see what’s in the pack. Also, the high visibility of an orange bag can make it a very useful item in an emergency.
2. Seal by just twisting the top into a”rope,” and tucking the end down between bag and pack to stop it unwinding. This will suffice in rain.
For serious creek crossings, tie the top of the bag with a piece of cord or your spare boot lace to create a better seal. If the unthinkable happens, your pack will then float almost indefinitely, and your gear will stay dry.

 

“How to Pack a Comfortable Backpack” is a Guest Blog post contributed by “ERIC” at HighSierraTopix.com, October 2003