Packing for a Bushwalk

How do you organise the contents of your pack? Do you compress your sleeping bag? What do you store in the top compartment of your backpack? Where and how do you keep your water? Do you place your sleeping bag in its own waterproof bag? Where does your tent go? Where should your heaviest items go?

How you organise the contents of your backpack depends on several factors:

  • how much room you have eg 60L, 85L etc
  • how many zipper compartments your pack has
  • how well you need to waterproof the contents
  • how you use the external pockets
  • whether you attach items to the outside of your pack

I once had a 60L Lowe pack which was ideal size for up to 5 days, but to cram all my gear into it for more than a 5 days was quite a task and required a lot of thought and a fair bit of compression. When I changed to the 85L pack, I no longer had to use compression bags for all my clothing and sleeping bag but my 85 L pack soon filled with those items I couldn’t afford to take previously. Compressing your sleeping bag may save a lot of space, but unless you loft it on removal then you will have lost a lot of warmth. As you can probably guess, I am not an ultra-lightweight walker, and take gear to cope with most predictable risks.

I have always owned a single compartment backpack, without a zippered lower compartment, because I never been happy with the concept of an extra zip to leak water and perhaps break. My sleeping gear has always been kept at the bottom, in its own waterproof stuff sack, and inside my pack liner. My heavy tent has always been one of the last things to go into my pack , where it can be retrieved easily if its raining and where it keeps close to my body. My food, organised by days, and each in their own labeled waterproof snap-lock bag, is kept towards the bottom in a dry sac. My first aid kit, in its own waterproof bag, is kept at the top along with my fleece jacket and perhaps gloves, also in its own waterproof stuff sac.

I have used stuff sacs to not only act as compression bags but also to waterproof the contents so that I can take one item from my pack in heavy rain and not get everything else wet. I am obsessive about waterproofing the contents of my pack, ever since I spent a very uncomfortable and cold few days sleeping in wet clothes and sleeping bag, after my pack filled with water many years ago, not due to rain, but due to a burst water container I had compressed too tightly in my pack.

Modern packs have many external pockets and these make items you will need regularly during the day more accessible. In heavy rain,they mean you don’t have to open the main compartment of your pack. Providing these are zippered, they are a good idea, but if simply mesh, cord lacing or an open pocket they should be avoided. On a multi-day trip you can’t afford to lose your waterproof jacket, your water container or mat. I use one of these zippered pockets to keep my sunscreen, lip balm, sunglasses, toilet paper and my hat.

Some packs have detachable day packs and these are a good idea.


The top compartment or lid of my pack is where I keep my day’s food supply and 2L of water, connected by hose to a mouth piece which in turn is attached to my sternum strap. I keep my water in the top compartment, so that the weight is as high as possible in my pack and just in case the bag leaks. Sometimes, I might keep a rope or harness here too and, if I know that I will need it during the day, my water filter. Underneath the lid of my pack, in the map pocket, I keep my torch , spare batteries, reading glasses, GPS, compass and map, pencil and notepad, all stored in my map case. In one of the side pockets I keep my trowel, attached by a cord and on the other side, my fuel bottle, also attached by cord and held firmly under a compression strap, as there is nothing worse than a leaking fuel bottle inside your pack.

I plead guilty to assessing a bushwalker’s experience by the shape of their pack and the number of items attached to the outside. The more symmetrical, tightly packed using the compression straps, and the fewer the items attached to the outside the better. Have you ever walked along a narrow bush track and seen little bits of blue foam very few metres? I have, and have often wondered whether their closed cell foam mat would make it to the next campsite. Even worse, will their waterproof jacket, stuffed under the outside mesh, get snagged on a branch and get pulled from the pack?

See also

How do You Organise Your Food for a Multi-day Hike?

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This article by Bush Walker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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