Pack it Right, Pack it Tight: Gear Packing Tips

Packing your gear can be daunting if you’ve never done it for a weeklong adventure into the backcountry.  And though not all of our adventure film schools are in the backcountry, it’s still a good thing to know how to pack without breaking your back.  I like rhyming.

Finding the right pack for your trip is key.  You don’t want to kill yourself horking a 60-litre pack filled to the brim for a day shoot in the foothills with your car parked only 10 minutes away; although that might be preferable to horking the same pack for 10 miles into the backcountry.  The point is, certain packs are made for certain scenarios; some are made specifically to hold camera gear and some are not.  There are an infinite number of choices, but thus far, my preference has been to find a solid hiking bag without padded camera inserts and attach, pack or carry a separate carrying case/backpack for the camera gear.

For instance; using a GoLite Quest 65L pack, a F-stop Small ICU for extra, more delicate camera gear and lenses, then a Clik Elite Pro Body SLR Cest Carrier.  With a set-up like this, I have a camera ready to go at all times and a lighter pack with room for not only camera gear but also food, clothes, sleeping bag, etc.

Packing all this can be tedious, but basically what you need to know is the lower you place the heavier gear, the lower your center of gravity will be.  So, depending on the terrain, you may choose to pack heavy things lower.

In general you want heavier items centered and against your back.  This is why most backpacks have the water bladder pouch right against the back of the pack.  Another rhyme! If there’s no happy spot for a bladder or you don’t own a bladder, tuck two, 1-litre bottles on either side pockets.  This is a good image of balancing your load horizontally, keep this in mind with the rest of your gear.

After you have your hydration squared away, next you want to prioritize the rest of your items.  Obviously you won’t be sleeping until you hike to your destination, so that can go into the bottom…and your pillow, if you’re a pansy like me.  Next I put my extra camera gear and food that I can live without until we reach our destination.

On top of all that I put my cooking kit and spare clothing.  Ultimately you want to minimize clothing without sacrificing warmth; this means you will feel dirty, get over it.  All other small items that will need to be accessed can be placed in outer pockets.  I always carry a tripod with me as well and I try to center that in the middle of my pack on the outside or on the side and then counter balance it with a slider or some other vertical object.

Keep in mind that this is all personal preference.  But I guarantee that you will want to keep the bulk of your weight on your hips and lower back.  To do this, remember what I said above and keep the heavy stuff near your body and centered or lower in the pack.  The one exception to putting heavy stuff higher is on external frame packs, but no one really uses those unless they’re Preston Kanak.

Have fun packing!

Illustration from Erick “The Black” Asorson