How to pack properly
Packing is a bit of an art form, and there's a knack to getting it right. There's no single way to pack properly – but you'll never get the most out of your pack space if you just stuff everything in and hope for the best. Here are a few handy packing tips to help you get started.
Buy the right type of pack
First things first, buy the right type of pack. Travel packs emerged in response to travellers' frustrations with traditional top-loading trekking rucksacks, which focus on making the pack stable and easy to carry, whereas travel packs are all about ease of access. If you're not on a serious hiking or trekking trip, travel packs may be more suitable. Amongst other useful features, they have side (rather than top) opening, or they zip three quarters of the way around the bag, which is why it's so much easier for you to get to the contents of your pack.
Organise all the gear you'd like to take into two piles, one for the 'essential' items and another for the 'nice to have' items. Run a 'dummy pack' putting in all essentials, then gradually adding the 'nice to have' items in order of their usefulness (or your own preferences) – until the pack's about three quarters full. Don't worry about packing things neatly for this dummy run!
Never pack to full capacity
Anything you haven't fitted in at this point will have to stay at home. Don't squeeze your pack full until it's bursting at the seams – you will want to leave some space to pick up bits of memorabilia as you travel. Now it's time to unpack everything you're taking once again, keeping it all together in one pile - and move on to the real business of logical packing...
The real packing
Clothes take up a great deal of space in most people's packs, so consider organising them into packing cases, separating out underwear into one, tops into another, and so on – making it easier to find what you need. Lots of people roll up t-shirts and other clothes tightly rather than folding them, and this method is also handy if you want to use some items to stuff into any gaps or corners in your pack.
By keeping together items of the same type, such as your wash stuff in a proper wash bag, and an organised first aid kit, you will be able to put your hands on what you need quickly and easily.
Anything fragile should obviously be packed with as much protection around it as possible, as your pack is likely to get mishandled during your travels. Liquids need to be inside a ziplock or waterproof bag in case they leak, and and electronic goods also need to be protected in case your pack gets wet; you could even buy a larger drysack for waterproof storage of all your clothing and other accessories inside your pack.
If you're carrying heavy items like a camping stove, try to pack them in the middle of your pack, and close to your back, for maximum comfort and to help your posture.
Top-loading rucksacks require even more thought than travel packs because the items you need quick access to will need to be either in the top, in one of the side pockets, or (if your pack also opens at the base) right at the bottom.
Most backpackers run a few trial packs before they get it right – but once you have found a system that works, stick to it!
Making more space
Make sure you pack content right into the corners to make the best use of space. If you're really tight on space you could consider using vacuum compression packs, which can shrink your pack contents by up to 66% and have the added benefit of being waterproof. All you have to do is pack your clothes inside, slide across the seal, then roll up the bag from the other end - forcing air through a one way valve.
Re-packing along the way
Once you're on the road, stick to the system of packing you've come up with after your home trials. You're going to end up unpacking and repacking some of your kit whenever you stop, and things have a habit of 'expanding' as you travel. Remember to keep items in pretty much the same place each time you pack so that you know how they fit it, and where they are if you need them.
Before you draw up your final packing list, check out another of our blogs: “What not to take travelling”!