Labor Day weekend is approaching, one of the last summer breaks where you might get a chance to hit the road, load up your backpack and hit the trail. But if you’re doing some more serious backcountry stuff, those packs can get pretty big. And it’s imporant you know how to pack it right.
First things first: Bigger isn’t always better. And by bigger, I’m talking about weight. Don’t be that dude who has the monster pack loaded down like you’re in the Marine Corps. Those guys can slog it out with 90-pound packs because, well, they’re Marines. And the stuff they do is life or death. You don’t need all that gear, all that weight, all that bulk. Look for sleeping bags, tents, stoves and other gear specifically deisgned for backpackers. Skip the Dutch oven. I have a camp stove that weighs 3.5 ounces and cooks just fine. My tent uses aluminum poles, not graphite. No single thing in my pack weighs more than three pounds. And my pack, set for some backcountry action in the Colorado mountains, weighs just 31 pounds fully loaded. Other, more seasoned outdoorsmen go even lighter — much lighter. Bring what you need, skip the rest. Pack dehydrated meals. You get the idea.
Protect you back. There is an art to packing your backpack. It seems strange at first, but it makes all the difference in the world once the trek begins. Pack the lightest items toward the bottom of the pack and furthest from your body (stuff like clothing, sleeping bag, etc). Heavier items — cooking gear, water bladder, hatchet — should be higher on your pack and close to your back. It will make you feel top-heavy at first. But if you have a lot of weight away from your back or on the bottom, it will pull your upper body backward. To compensate, you’ll strain to remain upright and balanced. Eventually, this will wear you out. Definitely DON’T have a bunch of stufff dangling off the bottom or backside of your pack.
I’ve known this for awhile, but got a reminder a couple of years ago in New Mexico. My wife, her sister, two friends and myself had camped out on the flanks of Wheeler Peak, then summitted in the morning. When we got back to camp, all of us were tired. But we still had to pack up and trudge another five miles back to the trailhead. Too tired to care, I just started throwing stuff in my pack without regard to what should go where. I didn’t make it a quarter mile down the trail and I thought I was going to throw my back out. So I had to stop, repack it correctly, then continue on. Lesson learned.