I was interviewed for an article on packing for hiking and camping trips for a periodical in Hong Kong:
Pack Smart for Hiking and Camping Trips
Packing well is crucial because when you’re out on a trail, the contents of your backpack can be a lifesaver. Victoria Logue, author of Hiking and Backpacking: Essential Skills, Equipment, and Safety, shares ideas on how you can pack to get the most out of your backpack. By Erika Lim
The challenge with packing for hiking or camping trips is finding the balance between packing light and packing adequately. Since you’ll be carrying your backpack by yourself for much of the journey, the lighter your pack, the easier it will be on your body. Assess your packing list objectively and cut out those items that you can do without. But when you’ve shaved your list to the bare minimum, what else can you do to your luggage compact and comfortable to carry?
A simple rule of thumb is to carry no more than one-third of your body weight. For short trips, a quarter or less would suffice.
- Discard all unnecessary packaging. Even the cardboard tube in the centre of your toilet paper should be removed. Doing so not only reduces your pack weight, it will cut down the amount of trash you’ll need to carry along because most hiking trails don’t provide waste bins. If you need to pad sharp or delicate objects, wrap them with a towel or piece of clothing.
- Be versatile and find multiple uses for the items that you bring. Instead of packing both shampoo and body soap, purchase a biodegradable cleanser that works for your hair, skin and even apparel. Clothes can be piled up to make a cosy camp pillow and save you the trouble of bringing one along. For a luxuriously warm night when you’re camping during the cold season, fill your water bottle with hot water and tuck it into your sleeping bag before you sleep.
- For essential equipment such as tents or sleeping bags, consider lighter-weight options. The backpacking market has exploded in recent years and manufacturers constantly upgrade their merchandise, so consumers have a wide range to choose from. Minimalist backpacks, feather-light sleeping bags and so forth are readily available these days. That said, such light-weight alternatives usually come with a higher price tag. Research online through reputable sources like Backpacker magazine (backpacker.com) to find out what best fits your needs.
Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of packing really tight. Squeezing out all those little gaps and air pockets can save you a good deal of space.
- Rolling your clothes conserves more space than folding them and will help to keep them less wrinkled. Remember to place the opening of the roll at the bottom to prevent your clothes from unrolling.
- Ziplock plastic bags are wonderful for hiking and camping trips. Get good quality ones as these are durable and water-proof. They’re perfect for keeping your belongings dry (wet weather is always a possibility when you’re outdoors), compartmentalising assorted items (things often get “lost” in a pack) and squeezing the air out of bulky clothing. Use different sizes – big ziplocks for shirts or pants, medium sized ones for socks or underwear, and small ones for keys, cards, cell phones and other knick-knacks.
- Ziplocks are also ideal for repackaging foodstuff. Plan your meals and pack your food into meal-sized portions using ziplocks or other kinds of plastic bags. Squeeze out as much air as you can to save space and preserve the freshness of your food. These days, you can also purchase tuna and other meats in foil pouches, which is a great improvement over having to carry cans and a can opener.
Once you’ve gathered all your things and laid them out for packing, think about how you should arrange them for maximum convenience and comfort.
- Keep essential supplies (such as food, medication and rain gear) easily accessible by putting them near the opening of your pack or in the side pockets. You don’t want to be frantically searching for your first aid kit during an emergency. And since you’ll be drinking frequently during your hike, make sure you can reach for water without having to take your pack off. You can keep your bottle in a holster or outside pocket, or add a hydration system to your pack (if it doesn’t have one).
- Distribute the weight in your pack as evenly as possible. Foodstuff can be surprisingly heavy so don’t put all your food on one side and all your clothes on the other.
- Packing a pack actually varies as to whether you are male or female. Women have a lower centre of gravity, so packing the heaviest items toward the bottom and closer to the back of the pack will be more comfortable for them. Men should pack denser items higher and closer to their back.
- Most packs now have a compartment for the sleeping bag at the bottom. Above that, another compartment would hold, for women: shelter (tent or hammock or tarp), stove and cooking gear, then clothes and toiletries, with food at the top. Men might want to put clothes and toiletries at the bottom with the shelter, and their stove, cooking gear and food above that.
Victoria Logue is an avid traveller who has written extensively on hiking and outdoor travel. To learn more about her work, visit her website victorialogue.com.