Packing & Organising Your Rucksack: The Essential Guide

Packing and Organising Your Rucksack Guide

If you’re going camping, heading out on a hike, expedition, DofE, or are off on a weekend break, then you’ll need a backpack in which to carry the majority of your gear.

For that, you'll need to get your pack in order to fit all of your essentials in - drinks, snacks, jackets, clothing and much more.

But you can’t just stuff it all in and be on your way - that’s a recipe for disaster. There’s actually a fine art to packing a rucksack so that you can squeeze more in and keep everything in there nice and safe.

Read on to find out how to pack a rucksack to fit all of your gear in easily without damaging your kit or injuring yourself...

Plan Ahead

If you just go throwing everything into your pack then it’s just going to be one big unorganised mess. As with all outdoor pursuits, planning is very important, so spread out everything you’re going to need on the bed or floor and group things together - clothes, toiletries, sleeping equipment, cooking gear, etc - so it’s all nice and neat in your bag.

Read more: Rucksack & Daysack Buying Guide

In terms of how much to take with you, there's a fine line between only packing the essentials and erring on the side of caution and taking more than you need. Obviously your essential kit is the first thing you need to make sure you have, but if there's space for other equipment you think you might need, then take it with you.

However, a selfie stick is not essential - always ensure you plan well wherever you're going.

Packing a backpack

Where to pack heavy items

Where you pack the items in your bag is incredibly important. Pack them in the wrong places and you could find it more difficult to carry it or could even end up hurting yourself.

Heavy and dense items should be placed as close to your back as possible. This means that it’s much easier to position the weight just above your hips by leaning forward slightly. If you put the heavy kit towards the outside of the backpack then you’ll have to lean much further forward to get it over your hips which won’t be comfortable.

Read more: Wilderness First Aid - Staying Safe Outdoors

From top to bottom and side to side, heavier items should be placed towards the centre. If you put them towards the bottom then you could feel like your pack is pulling you down, and if they’re at the top you might feel like you’re tipping backwards.

Likewise, if they’re packed to one side, your centre of gravity is less central, which could make you lean to one side, making it more difficult to hike for long periods of time.

Check out the following diagram for more information on where to pack certain items in your rucksack...


Fill in the empty space

You need to make every bit of space count, so fill in any gaps you can find in your bag, including right in the corners. Items such as socks and t-shirts are excellent for filling in the gaps, and will also help stop the heavier items from shifting around in your bag.

If your sleeping bag is taking up too much room then a compression bag or stuff sack could help you reduce its size when packed away.

Try to leave a little space

Whilst you want to fill in the gaps, it might pay to leave a little space at the top of your bag if possible. This way you can add in a couple of things at a later date, and if you can’t quite compact everything in for the return journey, you’ve got a little bit of space to play with.

If you pack some waterproofs towards the top of your bag, then leaving a bit of room at the top will ensure easy access in the event of a sudden downpour.

Packing a backpack

Put liquids in bags

If you’re taking any liquids with you, whether that’s suncream, drinks or anything else, make sure they are kept in sealed bags. This way, if they leak, they’re less likely to get everything in your bag soaking wet.

It’s also best not to store said liquids under heavy items that could cause them to burst or split - the same goes for storing any food that could get squashed or tear open in your bag.

Read more: Winfields’ Weekend Camping Checklist

An alternative to consider is a hydration bladder. These reservoirs are high on capacity - up to 2 litres - but low on space, allowing you to maximise the storage space in your rucksack.

Waterproof your bag

It’s always best to be prepared for any inclement weather, and while you will probably take precautions to waterproof yourself, don’t forget about your bag. You can buy external rain covers that just strap over the outside but the best bet is to buy a dry bag that slips inside your pack to keep everything dry.

However, if you do use an external rain cover then only use it when it's raining. They can catch the wind, turning your bag into a makeshift kite, which is why we'd recommend using dry bags instead.

Waterproofing your bag does not just mean the outside. You can have spillages and accidents inside your rucksack, so an inner waterproof liner can protect kit from internal leaks and prevent rain from penetrating your pack and soaking everything inside.

Utilise the outside of your bag

You can also use the outside of your bag to carry a few items. Some rucksacks have straps in which you can carry camping rolls, tents or sleeping bags, and you can also use pockets and other straps to hold walking poles.

Another great tip is to take the poles out of your tent and strap those to the outside of your bag, which will mean your tent takes up less room in your rucksack.

However, be careful with strapping too much to the outside of your bag, as not only could it make you unsteady on your feet, but the equipment could also get caught on fences, trees and the like.


Take a look at our full range of backpacks and our rucksack and bags collection including:

Rucksacks | Daysacks | Holdalls | Travel Bags & Backpacks

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1 Comment

  1. Severn
    Your diagram of a rucksack was just what i wanted for young scouts .thanks
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