Ultimate Guide: How to Pack a Rucksack for Camping and Hiking

Ultimate Guide: How to Pack a Rucksack for Camping and Hiking

People often wonder how to pack a rucksack for their next trip hiking and camping. Even those who are off on their Duke of Edinburgh treks need to know how to pack a backpack. After all, camping and hiking packs are rather large, and so it can be tricky to know where to start.

When I went on my first camping trip, I had no idea where to start, and the confusion I felt made me want to put this guide together. After all, things are so much simpler and quicker when you have a guide to follow. In this ultimate guide on how to packs a rucksack for your next trip, we take a look at what you’ll need, the step by step guide, and also a little section on packing for DofE.

What You Will Need

Here are the essential items that you will need to back in your rucksack:

  • Rain cover
  • Tent
  • Poncho
  • Towel
  • Food
  • Dry food
  • Stove fuel
  • Water
  • Rubbish bag
  • Stove
  • Cooking kit
  • Toilet paper
  • Sunglasses (especially if in snowy places)
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Trowel
  • Matches
  • First aid kit
  • Toiletries
  • Pocket knife
  • Plastic cup
  • Fork and spoon
  • Water tablets
  • Foam pad
  • Plastic tarp
  • Clothing
  • Nylon cord
  • Flashlight
  • Compass whistle
  • Map
  • Sleeping bag

Here are some of the non-essential items you might want to take with you:

  • Camera
  • Binoculars
  • Notepad and pen
  • Book
  • Field guides
  • Handheld GPS

The Step by Step

Step One: finding the right bag

This is one of the most important parts of preparing and packing. Before you pack anything into your rucksack, you need to make sure you ae sing one that is right for the amount of gear that you need to take with you. You also need to consider the length of time that your trip will take as well as the weather conditions that are expected at the location. These aspects may mean you need more food or clothing.

Step Two: deciding what to take

Next, you need to decide what you are bringing with you. The checklist in the section above should act as an excellent guide for the essentials (and non-essentials) that you will want to bring with you. The best thing to do during this step is to lay out all of you gear and organise it into categories according to weight. This often makes the packing process easier. Some people like to use compression bags for clothing; these can help them to take up less space in your backpack.

Step Thee: packing

Next, you can start packing your rucksack. However, there is quite a specific process that needs to be taken in order to do it correctly. You will find each stage of packing in the following steps, and it is important that you follow them closely – both for space efficiency as well as your back.

Step Four: packing the heavy items

These are the first things that should be packed. First of all, it should be noted that you should always try and distribute weight evenly. The heaviest items, such as your tent, stove, and water, should be placed towards the bottom of your bag against you back. Make sure the items placed against your back are not sticking out and are instead flat, or this will cause you discomfort while you are hiking.

Step Five: packing the medium weight items

Next, we have the medium weight items. These include things like sleeping bags and bulkier items of clothing - all of which can be placed towards the bottom of your bag. Larger rucksacks have a compartment at the bottom for storing your sleeping bag, which can be very handy. It can also be used for spare shoes.

Step Six: packing the light items

Now you can start packing the light items. Things like hats, gloves, and torches can be neatly placed towards the outside and top of the rucksack. Items that you need quick access to can also be stored here, or in the outside pockets. These items would include things like the first aid kit, waterproof jackets, and snacks for keeping your energy levels up.

Step Seven: packing the pockets

You should always be careful when you go to pack the pockets, and you must consider weight distribution. If you have too much weight on one side, it could throw you off, and balance is often very important while you are out hiking. Essential items that you need to reach quickly should be stored in the pockets, as well as a water bottle in one of the mesh compartments.

Step Eight: packing the outside items

Not everyone will need this, and it is advised that you try and ensure everything you are bringing fits neatly inside your rucksack. However, sometimes outside attachments are necessary. Things like sleeping mats don’t always fit, and if this is the case, then they should be vertically strapped to the outside of your rucksack. This minimises damage if your bag needs to be put down in a hurry. Make sure you avoid attaching items that could be damaged by the wet or in general, as well as those that you cannot afford to lose.


Q: How do you keep clothes in a rucksack?

A: Start by packing the lighter items are the bottom like t-shirts, this way the hevier items will help weigh it down and pack it smaller. If you are taking a spare pair of shoes its space saving to putt your socks and pants in the shoes. 

Here is a really handy YouTube video for packing your bag effectively.

How to Pack a Rucksack for DofE

Packing your rucksack for the Duke of Edinburgh follows the same principle as packing for a regular camping trip. You should make sure that the heaviest items are at the bottom of the bag, while still maintaining good weight distribution.

If you follow the step by step guide above, you’ll be packed in no time at all. However, DofE has a rather specific guide to what should be in your rucksack, and it is worth bearing this in mind when you are preparing to pack for your next expedition. Here is a little more information.

Things to pack in the top compartment of your bag:

  • Lunch and snacks for the day
  • First aid kit
  • Waterproof jacket/trousers
  • Hats and gloves
  • Survival bag
  • Wash kit

Things to pack in the main compartment of your bag:

  • Fuel canisters for the stove
  • Trangia (make sure it is cleaned and dried thoroughly)
  • Flask

Things to pack at the bottom of your bag:

  • Cooking kit
  • Sleeping bag
  • Clothes and socks
  • Tent
  • Sleeping roll/mat

Some key tips for your Duke of Edinburgh rucksack packing:

  • Use a rucksack liner if the rucksack is not already waterproof. This will keep all of your possessions dry and safe. It also provides an extra layer of general protection
  • When it comes to your waterproof clothing, try and get ones that can be rolled up into little waterproof bags so that they take up less space
  • Your top compartment should always have the most essential items for the day, such as your snacks and first aid kit
  • If there are any gaps in the bag, use them to keep everything stable so that it can be prevented from being shaken and muddled
  • Ensure that things like your wash kit and water containers etc. are all wrapped in plastic bags or some kind of waterproof covering so that if they leak during your hike, they won’t get anything else wet or cause damage. The same goes for things like your fuel containers, which should always be double bagged and stored vertically at all times

To Conclude

Hopefully, you have enjoyed this guide and found it useful for your next camping trip. It’s so important to have a rucksack that is packed well and efficiently so as to be well spaced but also leave you essential items accessible. So many people have gone hiking and camping with poorly packed bags, and it can lead to a lot of time being wasted trying to find a snack or the right bit of gear for the task at hand.

What did you think of our guide on how to pack your backpack? Is there anything you would have added? We love hearing from you, so feel free to leave a message in the comment section below.