How to Pack a Backpack


Packing a bug out bag, or a get home bag seems to be relatively simple right? Gather all the necessary gear and shove it wherever you see fit, and call it a day. Packing is simple right? Nothing too complicated. Certainly you can take this method and make it work, but to be perfectly honest this is far from optimum.

Ask anyone who has ever served in the poorly named light infantry and they will tell you that the way you pack can make or break you.

When bugging out there is a real possibility you’ll be on foot. This can be due to a vehicle breaking down, a damaged road, or a lack of gasoline or basic other vehicular necessities.

Once you are on foot and tossing that pack on your pack you’ll learn a valuable lesson about packing a bug out bag. Packing a bug out bag is incredibly similar to packing a bag for a military operation. Both include food, water, shelter, clothing and a wide assortment of other goods that aid in living in an outdoors survival scenario.

There is no set in stone method to pack, but there is a certain wisdom passed down from senior soldier, or Senior Marine, to their junior guys. This knowledge can be directly applied to preppers and bug out bags as well, since often the objective of the pack is largely the same.

Lay it all out

The first thing we are going to do is take everything you have for your bug out bag and lay it out on the floor, or on a table. This gives you a complete idea of what you are packing. Here you can really visualize what you have, and what you may need to add, or you may see things you should remove.

Once everything is laid out you can separate the items into a few different categories. The first is immediate need items, or commonly used items. Next divide the items by weight, into light, medium and heavy.

Packing it Up

These items are things like ponchos or other waterproofing gear, this is something you’ll need pretty quickly and may not have time to dig around in your pack. Other items that may be important are a GPS or compass, flashlights, sunscreen, bug repellent, some water, and some food.

Other items that may be important is ammunition, and a weapon if you have a dedicated pack gun. The idea of a pack gun is one that stays in the pack at all times, so if you only have a few minutes to grab your pack and go, you’ll have a weapon in the pack and ready to go. If you have a handgun you may want to have a holster and extra ammunition in it.

The most important item will probably be a first aid kit; if you or someone else gets hurt you don’t want to waste time digging in your pack. I say some water and some food because you don’t need all of it at the top of the pack, just what you’ll drink and snack on throughout the day.

The next categories are all about weight. When you pack your bag weight consideration and placement is important.

First off you’ll want to bury the lightest items at the bottom of the pack. This includes stuff like clothes, sleeping bags, etc. Things that aren’t immediately important, and light and soft. These will form the base of your pack.

Your heaviest items, which include food, water, cooking pots and pans, a tent, extra magazines for a rifle, anything that has some real weight to it, should be pack in a specific manner.

You’ll want to press the items on the top and middle of the pack, and these items should be pressed against the back of the pack. You want these heavy items as close to your back as possible.

If you can, center these heavy items between your shoulders. You can also use different items like clothing, or a tarp to wrap your heavy goods up to keep them from moving or shifting too much.

The last category, medium weight items are going to be used to fill the gaps. Medium weight items can be anything from additional first aid goods, some lighter food stuffs, batteries, and fire making materials. Fill the gaps, around the heavy items, on top of it, and so on.

Being More Efficient

An optional method to be more efficient with your pack is the use of stuff sacks. Stuff sacks are bags you fill, and then shove in your main pack. The best stuff sacks are waterproof and have an air vent that will allow you to poor man’s vacuum seal your items.

Filling a stuff sack with clothes and being able to vacuum seal it is a great way to save space.

Stuff sacks also allow you to more assertively place your goods. This allows you to keep those heavy items between your shoulder blades a little easier.

Also, label your stuff sacks, and even add a list of what’s in it in case you store the bag for six months and forget what’s where.

This prevents you from having to unload all your stuff sacks to find a pair of different batteries.

A Note on Pack selection

A standard backpack, even a nice backpack, is not a great choice for a long range hike, or an extended survival scenario. A backpack works as a single day pack, but not for anything beyond 24 hours.

What you should seek in a pack, is either one designed for hiking or one designed for military use.

I suggest a model with an external frame. An external frame allows you to carry a heavy and irregular load with ease.

The old school Alice pack with a metal frame can be used quite effectively and can be had quite cheaply. The first necessary feature is definitely an external frame.

The next feature I suggest is an effective strap system. This includes comfortable and padded shoulder straps. These straps should provide a lot of comfort for the user wearing them throughout the day.

You should also have a center chest strap that connects both the shoulder straps. This sternum straps allow you to keep the pack balanced when crossing over rough terrain.

The last straps are for the waist. These padded straps helps displace the weight of the pack from your shoulders and pack, and places it more on your hips.

The last important feature is the ability to externally store goods. This could include an iso mat, a hydration pack, and anything else you want. This could be in the form of elastic pockets or tie down points and straps.


These are just a few essential features to a good bug out bag. There are other items out there and other features you may enjoy, but are more like comforts than necessities.

There is nothing wrong with having some comforts in your pack. There is something wrong with packing incorrectly. Packing is an art form, and effective packer is a comfortable one.


About Author

Travis Pike is a veteran Infantry Marine and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. He lives deep in the woods of North Florida, where he can shoot at his leisure. He has been hunting since he was 8 and has always enjoyed the outdoors. Travis is an NRA certified instructor and loves teaching others anything and everything about firearms. He splits time between writing, running a training course, and of course a 9 to 5 job. He is a vocal gun rights activist. When he’s not writing, shooting, or working he is often found sipping craft beer on his porch

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