How to Pack a Backpack

Three Methods:Sample Packing ListsPacking Efficiently for TravellingPacking a Backpack Efficiently for School

Backpacks are one of the most useful tools for both travelling and daily, more mundane activities. Packing a backpack, however, isn't nearly as obvious as using one is. If you want to increase your efficiency for packing for a trip or for school, try some of these methods. Packing your backpack the right way will increase your comfort, offer up more space, and make your bag more secure.

Sample Packing Lists

Packing Checklist for Hiking Trip

Packing Checklist for Beach Trip

One Bag Packing Checklist

Method 1
Packing Efficiently for Travelling

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    Choose your backpack. With dozens of backpacks on the market these days, it may be difficult to select the best one for your life and travel commitments. Backpack sizes are measured in the number of liters they can carry, and range from 20-80+ liters each. [1]Consider the length of your trip(s), your torso size, and the conditions under which you are backpacking. Whenever possible, choose a smaller and therefore lighter pack to make traveling more comfortable.
    • If you plan on being gone only a few days, select a backpack that is 50 liters (13.2 US gal) or lighter. This will help you to pack only things that are necessary, as well as limit the weight you have to carry.
    • Measure the length of your torso and find a backpack that matches. If your torso is 15–17 inches (38.1–43.2 cm) long, you’ll need a small backpack. If your torso is 17–18 inches (43.2–45.7 cm) long, a medium backpack will work fine. For a torso longer than 18 inches (45.7 cm), you will need a large or extra tall backpack.[2]
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    Get your clothes ready. The length of your trip and the weather you’re dealing with will determine the amount of clothes you need. Of course, keeping your back as light as possible is the goal to have in mind, so nix any clothing that isn’t absolutely necessary. Lay your clothes out flat and then roll them up for the most efficient use of space. Separate out clothes that you might need during the day (such as a jacket) from the rest of your clothes.
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    Organize smaller items. One of the most frustrating things about packing a backpack is losing track of small items near the bottom of your pack or under layers of other things. Separate out smaller items and place each category of items into different colored cloth or plastic bags. For example, place all your underwear in a red bag, all your socks in a blue bag, all your toiletries in a green bag, and miscellaneous items in a yellow bag. [3]
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    Separate out your food. If you’re backpacking through a city (like a trip through Europe) you might not need to pack so much food. If, however, you are taking a hiking trip and are camping in the woods, all your food stuffs will need to be packed with you. Keep these separate from the rest of your items, and place in a bag. If you are hiking you may also need to use bear canisters to keep bears and other animals away from your meals.
    • Keep snacks for hiking and walking around separate, as you will want to place these in easy reach.
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    Layer up your bag. The order in which you place things in your bag is very important: put the things you use the least near the bottom, and keep the heaviest things in the center of the bag. For example, put your sleeping bag or clothing at the bottom of your bag since they are light and you won’t need them right away. Your tent, food, and water are typically the heaviest, and should be kept in the middle of the bag near your back to maintain your center of gravity. Surround these heavy objects with other soft or light items to increase your comfort.
    • Any fragile items (like a camera) should be placed in the center of your bag and surrounded by other smaller, lighter, and softer items. You can choose to wrap them in clothing as well.
    • Things that you need easy access to (such as snacks or a jacket) should be placed on the very top of all your things.
    • Stiff items such as tent poles or water bottles can be slipped into side pockets and under the compression straps on the outside of your bag.
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    Fill all the empty spaces. To maximize your total space and fit everything you need into your bag, fill up all available empty spaces. Use all the pockets you are given instead of cramming everything into the central compartment. Anything concave in shape (such as cups or bowls) can be filled with other smaller items. Layer things so that there aren’t large gaps between items that would allow shifting in your bag.[4]

Method 2
Packing a Backpack Efficiently for School

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    Organize your large items. Hauling a backpack to and from class every day, whether you’re a kindergartner or a college student, can be painful and uncomfortable. Sort through your items and decide what you absolutely need to take to class, keeping in mind that the total weight of your backpack should not exceed 15% of your total body weight. Separate notebooks, textbooks, and pens and pencils into individual piles.[5]
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    Organize your smaller items. School backpacks always seem to have bits of ephemera floating around their pockets and main compartments. Instead of letting these miscellaneous items get out of control, organize them into individual bags. Keep pencils, pens, and markers together in a pencil pouch. Toiletry items such as hand sanitizer, tissues, or chapstick can placed in another separate bag to be tossed into the backpack.
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    Work from the back out. Order your items in “heaviest” to “least heavy” and place these in your backpack working from the back out. Typically the order will start with textbooks, then notebooks or binders, then smaller personal books, and pencil pouches last.
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    Add items to outer pockets. Keep anything that might need to be grabbed quickly in the outer pockets, such as pencils or a cell phone. Add liquids or items that might be wet, such as water bottles or a wet umbrella, to the outer pockets as well. Toss your sweatshirt or jacket in the top, and you’re set![6]
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    Clean out your bag often. Because your backpack is going into use on a daily basis, old papers and other useless bits pile up quickly. Once every 1-2 weeks, pull out and recycle any unnecessary papers from your bag. Doing this will keep your backpack light and organized.


  • Travel straps are a great security measure, or alternatively, chicken wire. They will both protect against bag-slashers and make it harder to get into your bag.
  • Do something to make your bag look different. Pins, patches or small flags are some examples. They help you distinguish your bag from others when in a situation such as a baggage carousel.
  • Know how to wear a backpack comfortably. The higher up the backpack, the further the weight is from your center of gravity, making the bag feel lighter.
  • Use a money belt for your really valuable items, things like your money, flight tickets, passport, etc. There will be times when you may be separated from your backpack such as placing it in the over head of an airplane or when shopping in a store many places require you leave your backpack at the front desk.


  • Whilst making your bag look different will make it easier to identify, don't make it stand out too much, as that can attract unwanted attention.
  • Keep your bag secure! Small padlocks to lock zippers together are handy however they should be removed before going through security checkpoints.

Article Info

Categories: School Backpacks and School Bags | Travel Packing