Mistakes to Avoid while Packing your Backpack

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Mistakes to Avoid while Packing your Backpack

I don't know about you, but my first hike was brutal. I still remember it. An oversized backpack full of five times as many things as I actually needed, yet I was still missing key items that would have helped during the trip. When I look back at the old me, I laugh, as I'm able now to simply grab my bug-out kit and go. I think I spent an entire Saturday packing for that hike. The team at APE Survival got together over the weekend, and one of the things that came up around the campfire was the mistakes we've made when packing our kits. Here's what you need to avoid.

Picking a giant backpack

It's really tempting to continue packing your backpack until it's full. That means you often end up with far too many things, and a ridiculously heavy bag you struggle to even lift. In a disaster this not only slows you down, but it puts you in a situation where you may be forced to leave gear behind because you simply can't carry it any more. And to me that feels like a waste. After literally hundreds of hikes, I've got three bags that I use. I've also given away or resold far too many bags that just "weren't right," so don't feel bad if you don't get it right the first time.
  • 50L for a 2 day trip
  • 65L for a 5 day trip
  • 80L for a 10+ day trip

Packing too much weight

Now you'll come across plenty of guides online that'll say, your ideal backpack should be 30 percent of your body weight. That's rubbish. What actually matters is how fit you are, how big you are, how tough you are, and just how determined you are. I've seen 120 pound women hiking with just as much gear as their 200 pound partners. How much you can actually carry is something you need to figure out for yourself, and you're probably going to screw it up the first couple of hikes but you'll get there. That's what practice hikes are for.

You pack the wrong things

So far I've been guilty of everything on this list, and this point is no exception. I think of everything I took on my first hike, I probably used half. If that. And I still had some key items missing. Like fire-starters. You can't imagine how annoying it was spending 45 minutes trying to get a fire going in a cold and wet Autumn afternoon. What to take will of course differ for everyone, but make sure you've got the essential items you need to survive, and no more. One thing I wish I had on that first trip was our 15 in 1 survival kit, and I've never forgotten it since.

You've no idea how to pack your backpack

This one isn't rocket science, but it does require you think about it a little. In the core of your pack is where anything heavy should go, right in the middle of your back. If you pack heavy items high or too low you'll be off balance, which is risky as it can cause falls and sprains. Not something you want on a hike. You've also got to think about accessibility. Make sure your firestarter isn't buried in the bottom of your pack, otherwise you'll find yourself having to empty your entire kit every time you stop. That's no fun at all.

Nothing is waterproof

At the very least your backpack should be water resistant. If it's not, get some waterproofing spray and give it a few good coats before you head out. But honestly, I'd highly recommend getting a waterproof pack. If you get caught out in the rain you'll thank me when you've got dry clothes once you finally reach your destination. As a secondary layer of protection I always pack the items inside my bag into ziplock bags. It helps to keep everything organized, and in the event water does get into my backpack, my clothes, firestarting gear and my sleeping gear will stay dry.

Don't throw it onto your back

Even a well-packed backpack with a minimal amount of gear is heavy. If you lift it wrong you can throw your back out, which is nothing short of a disaster if you're unable to walk out and get medical help. Bend your knees and lift with your legs as you thread one arm into your backpack. Then lean forward a little and take the weight onto your waist as you threat the other arm through. Don't be afraid to ask one of your friends to help, and ensure it's all well adjusted before you set off on your hike. Set the belt so your hips are taking the weight, then tighten the shoulder straps so it feels snug on your back.

Pushing yourself too hard

We touched on this earlier, but if you're not physically fit, backpacking is going to be a challenging endeavour. Make sure you've got at least a basic level of fitness before setting off on any hike, because if you're not able to walk a mile on your own, you're certainly going to struggle with an extra 30 pounds on your back.

Failing to take good care of your backpack

Finally, remember that your backpack is also a tool, and you've got to treat it with respect. After a hike make sure you give it a good clean (by hand, never in the machine) and let it dry properly before storing it away, in a cool dry place. I also like to apply a new coat of waterproofing spray after each wash just to ensure it's ready to go for the next hike. Your backpack is one of the most valuable things you'll take on a hike, as it's what enables you to carry all the survival gear you need from place to place. You need to pack it right, and avoid making these basic mistakes if you want to have any hope for a successful hike.