"Warning, you are using an obsolete browser! You should update it immediately!"

How to organize your backpack for a long hike?

Walking a long-distance hiking trail like the GR®20 for several days on your own means carrying all the equipment you'll need. This includes a shelter, a sleeping system, your water and food at the very least. Additionally, it will be useful to bring clothes, a stove and a cooking pot, a hygiene kit, a suitable first aid kit, and more...

Transporting all this equipment will require optimizing the storage and organization of your backpack in a way that avoids the risk of back injury as you progress. The goal is to make carrying as comfortable and suited to your body type and skill level as possible to ensure that you do not become permanently discouraged from hiking, and to avoid the risk of serious injury. Here are some tips for organizing your backpack.

Weight distribution and common sense

A backpack suitable for long-distance hiking will have a capacity greater than a backpack used for day trips or weekends. It is therefore recommended to choose a model that includes, in addition to back straps, a hip belt. This belt helps distribute the weight between your shoulders and hips. The idea is to organize the weight inside the bag to best utilize the carrying straps. For this, the rule is simple: heavy items should not be at the bottom or top of the pack, but as close to the back as possible. This prevents pulling you down or backward, thus minimizing the impact on your balance. This is crucial for your comfort on standard hiking trails and even more so in the mountains where you will encounter daily uphill and downhill sections. Additionally, it reduces the risk of back pain. Care should also be taken not to place hard objects or objects with sharp edges directly against the back for obvious reasons.

An example of optimal packing

Start by placing your sleeping bag horizontally at the bottom of the backpack, in a compression sack, or without one if you are trying to minimize weight. Next, place your sleeping pad and your pillow. Although it may seem trivial, the pillow is an essential comfort item for me. Together, these items should at least reach the level of the hip belt.

If you are using a water bladder like Camelbak, Hydrapak, or others, now is the time to place it, filled, against your back. Many backpacks have a compartment specifically for this. Not all do. Since water is a significant weight, placing it against your back acts as a cushion. Personally, I use a 4L Sea to Summit Watercell reservoir. It is not a bladder with a tube, but just a reservoir. In addition to being a solid container, it can also be used as a shower and a faucet for washing, especially hands before cooking. This dual functionality is interesting.

Next, place your food. Generally, I store my freeze-dried meals in a storage bag, the most compact and lightest possible. Then, I pack my stove with integrated pot that contains my gas cartridge. If I just want to boil water, I use a Jetboil Flash. If I want to cook, I bring a Jetboil Minimo (and sometimes an ultra-light pan too!).

Once the cooking kit is packed, I will either place my hiking tent without the stakes and poles, which I prefer in the side pockets, or my tarp/hammock setup. I will also place some spare clothes to cushion everything and prevent movement during the hike. I make sure accessories do not clank together. It's not pleasant to hear a clanking sound with every step.

How to use the remaining space?

I then continue to pack, cushioned by my clothes, a first aid kit to handle minor injuries, a hygiene kit, and possibly an electronics kit (backup battery, cables, camera/video equipment). I may also have a stuff sack for evening clothes change (as a true Breton, I'm wary of rain). Finally, easily accessible at the top of the pack, is my waterproof jacket. Once all this gear is in place, I tighten the compression straps on the bag to gain compactness, and that's it.

What about external, top, and side pockets?

Here, the keyword is accessibility! In general, in the side pockets, I place a water filter. I switch between several models from different brands: Katadyn BeFree, Grayl UltraPress, and recently the Öko 1L. As mentioned above, these pockets also hold tent poles and possibly a bivouac chair. In the top pocket, I place a snack or two, sunglasses, a cap or hat, a headlamp, a spork, my compass, and an IGN map. Essentially, all my small gear. If the hip belt also has pockets, I place my phone and keys there.

In conclusion

To avoid being too noisy, I advise against adding carabiners to hang equipment that will continuously hit against the pack. The only thing I hang on my pack are my trekking poles. Of course, all this remains subjective, based on my experience and personal preferences. I encourage you to test the organization that suits you best and refine your choices based on your experiences. Do not hesitate to write a checklist of your gear. At the end of your hike, check off what has been useful or not to lighten your load for future outings.