How to Pack an Internal Backpack

This may seem like a simple process – or for those gear junkies out there, it may be a very complicated question! Over the years I’ve seen how many people pack, I’ve listened to presentations on the best way to pack and when I worked for a backpack manufacture – I’d recommend to others what the best method is.

I’ve finally settled on my own process and after using this method for 20 years, I believe it’s one of the better systems out there. On most trips I use an older Mountainsmith Mountainlight internal that is extremely lightweight. Part of that weight savings is from having a top-access only pack. I have the pack, a hood and a few straps on the outside for lashing (which I seldom use). A friend of mine has the exact same pack, with a full access zipper. I must confess, I’d take that option over a non-side-zippered pack as it would eliminate unpacking half my bag to get to something in the middle. However, ¬†my Mountainlight has a few good years left, so I”ll stick with this configuration a while longer.

Mountainsmith BackpackHere’s the stuffing method I use. I treat my pack as having three layers. On the bottom layer I put my sleeping bag (in a compression stuff sack), my tent, my Thermarest and my camp chair. I put my camp chair in first, folded in half. I put this against the outside of the pack in a half moon shape which conforms with the curvature of the pack. I then put my sleeping pad in to match the curvature of the chair. I then slide my bag and tent in. Both of these items are put into the pack in a vertical position. In the little nooks and cranies that are left, I stuff extra socks, shirts, etc. That’s my bottom layer.

The middle layer consists of heavier gear such as my stove, cookware and water bladder and first aid. I put the bladder in vertically directly against my back. I put the stove and cookware and first aid kit in directly next to it. Again, I stuff the open areas with additional clothing.

The final layer consists of bags of food and on top of that I put my jacket. That rounds off what goes inside my main pack. In the Hood, I put my possibles bag, hat, gloves and a couple trail bars. I also have a small belt pouch in which I’ll carry maps, compass and possibly an extra small bag of food. I have a small pouch that’s on my shoulder strap which holds my point and shoot camera. One one side of pack, using the compression straps I have a pouch hanging vertically which holds my water filter (for easy extraction). That rounds out loading my pack.

I have found this packing arrangement to be very sturdy allowing easy access to gear I need on the trail and at the end of the day, I pour it all out. The sleeping gear on the bottom I only need access to in the evenings so it’s placement works. The weight of my pack is on the bottom and rises vertically against my back, which I find to be very stable. I don’t have gear (other than my filter) lashed to the outside. This makes it easy to toss my pack, move through rough¬†terrain, etc.

If needed, I use the space between my hood and the main body of the pack to carry a rope. I have also packed half a rack and harness inside the pack. I have found this entire configuration (minus the climbing gear) weighs around 38 lbs fully loaded with food and water. I can get 8+ days out of it. Carrying the climbing gear is quite a bit of additional weight. If we go with our daughters, I use a larger pack as I have to carry much of their gear. However, for just me, this really seems like a great method for carrying everything I need.

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