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How to pack your rucksack

How to pack your rucksack


We’re all too familiar with the trials and tribulations of a backpacker: Neck, back and shoulder pain is all part of a long day of walking. But, it doesn’t don’t have to be! It’s high time you put a stop to all that pain so that you can have fun again on your outdoor adventure! And, you can do just that by adjusting your rucksack correctly and using the right packing strategy. In the following, we’re going to show you a few tricks on how to adjust and pack your rucksack properly so that the contents of your pack are balanced and you are comfortable on the trails!

The importance of properly packing your rucksack

In order for you to be comfortable and feel secure in difficult terrain, you need a well-balanced load. Hopping from stone to stone, crossing a river or climbing require a good sense of balance, and it is exactly that which can be very easily disrupted by a poorly-packed rucksack. It can force you to lean forward to keep your balance or even make you feel as though you were tipping over. A properly fitted and packed rucksack is easier for you to control. Keep in mind: if it’s poorly packed, it will control you! In other words, properly packing is not only a matter of comfort but also of safety.

The most important rules of packing

Packing systematically is the only way to go! Proper balance and control depend heavily on your ideal centre of gravity. If your centre of gravity is too high or too low, you’ll end up battling with your own pack and lose valuable energy as a result. Plus, it’s flat-out uncomfortable. If you pack too many heavy items toward the top of the rucksack, it will rock back and forth on your back. If they’re too far to the outside, you’ll run the risk of tipping over backwards, and if items that are too heavy are positioned too far back, this will put quite the strain on your body.

How to pack your rucksack
Favourable load distribution.

Thus, it is important to place the heaviest pieces of equipment close to your upper back, as this places the load’s centre of gravity closer to the body’s centre of gravity. Heavy pieces of equipment are things like your tent, camera or a heavy food bag.

Light, but bulkier items, such as your sleeping bag or back-up shoes, should be packed at the base of the rucksack. Medium-weight itemslike clothing should be stored in the middle away from your back and small items in the lid compartment or in the side pockets. It’s best to pack the light items around the heavier ones to stabilise them and prevent anything for shifting.

Daypacks and backpacks under 30 litres needn’t be packed as meticulously, as they’re not suitable for large loads, anyway. Loads that are that small don’t have such a negative effect on your body’s centre of gravity as heavier ones do.

Rucksack fitting

At the beginning of my “outdoor career”, I, too, had wondered what all the buckles and straps were for – a lot of pointless dangling?!, it seemed to me. In fact, I found them so pointless that I grabbed a pair of scissors and cut off the load adjuster straps, sternum strap and hip belt. Take that! But, not too long thereafter and with a bit more experience under my belt, I realised how beneficial it can be to have so many adjustment options, especially when it comes to comfort.

Shoulder straps

One such option that all packs have in common is the shoulder straps. Every rucksack, even the super lightweight models have adjustable shoulder straps so that you can prevent it from slipping off your back.

How to pack your rucksack
The load lifters can be adjusted on the go.

Hip belt

The hip belt can have a significant effect on how you carry the load. If the hip belt is fitted properly, it will reduce the load your shoulders are forced to bear, thereby literally taking the load off both your mind and body. After all, the hips are supposed to carry some of the load as well!

Sternum strap

Usually, the hip belt can be expanded or shortened using additional straps. The sternum strap, on the other hand, will come in especially useful when you have walking poles. It will not only give your arms added mobility but also stabilise the entire rucksack.

Load lift straps

The load lifter straps, which connect the top of the rucksack to the shoulder straps, may be often overlooked, but they play a significant role in stabilising the load and making you comfortable. When pulled, the rucksack is brought closer to your body, thereby reducing the angle of the load and stabilising the pack so that it doesn’t move around as much.

How to pack your rucksack
Here, the back length needs to be reduced.

The correct back length

However, even with the best adjustments, it’s all for naught without the correct back length. The beginnings of the shoulder straps should be positioned in between your shoulder blades, whilst the hip belt (which will be described in the following paragraph) should rest comfortably on your hip bones.

If the shoulder straps are hovering over your shoulder blades or if they’re too short, the back length needs to be adjusted, provided the pack has an adjustment system (e.g., the Bergans Spine System or the Lowe Alpine Axiom System).

Guide to fitting your rucksack

Now, it’s time to adjust the shoulder straps to your body so that you can comfortably stretch your arms out in front of you. Then you can check to see if the load is really resting around your hips.

After that, clip on and tighten the sternum strap so that the shoulder straps rest comfortably around your shoulders. You can put the finishing touches on the fit by adjusting the load lifter straps.

Keep in mind: since your posture tends to vary depending on whether you’re going uphill, downhill or straight ahead, rucksacks give you the option of experimenting with the load lifter straps, sternum straps and shoulder straps to determine the best fit for your current posture.

What should women keep in mind?

How to pack your rucksack
The height of the sternum strap can usually be adjusted.

Most outdoorsy women have surely already noticed that most rucksack brands have models for women, and for good reason: the anatomy of a woman is much different from that of a man. The most significant differences include the smaller back length and a women’s specific contoured hip belt to accommodate the female body type.

Ideally, you’d also have the option of positioning the sternum strap somewhat higher than you would on men’s models so that nothing gets squished. This option could also be an argument in favour of men using a women’s rucksack or vice-versa. Some are just more comfortable than others!


Use these tips and be ready for your next hill walk or trekking tour! Believe me, your back, neck and shoulders will thank you. Plus, you’ll have so much more fun out there on the trails!

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