In just a few days I’ll be loading up my Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus pack for the first time since September to start backpacking. I was afraid I would be out of practice with packing the bag, so I wanted to make sure everything would fit and that I had all of my gear before I set out. While I was at it, I took some pictures to show to those of you who might be wondering what packing a frameless pack looks like.
So here’s a step by step guide to packing a frameless backpack. This is just how I do it, which seems to be a pretty standard way. There are plenty of variations, though.
Step 1: Roll your sleeping pad into a tube that is tight enough to fit into your pack with plenty of room to spare.
Step 2: Slide the tube into your pack, then work it around so it expands to roughly fill the pack.
Step 3: Line your pack with a trash compactor bag and get ready to stuff!
Step 4: Stuff your sleeping bag into the bottom of the compactor bag, either loose or in a stuff sack. Add other clothes that you don’t plan on using except when in camp, and stuff it all in there.
Step 5: Roll down the compactor bag so it’s essentially waterproof. Then put your food bag on top. The food bag should now be pretty much in the middle of your pack.
Step 6: Stuff your tent around the food bag. If your tent is in a stuff sack, take it out. Don’t be afraid to get way down in there and push the tent into the sides of the pack. It won’t rip. And the more you jam it in there, the less wasted space you have. This is important, because tents can take up a lot of space in a small pack. Using the flexible fabric of the tent to take up dead space that would otherwise just be bulky air will make your packing more efficient.
Step 7: I fill up the top of my pack with rain gear and insulation layers (loose), daytime snacks (in a small stuff sack), and miscellaneous gear (in a small dry bag or loose, depending on the size and packability). Pile that all on top and get it compacted as much as you need to.
Step 8: Pack last odds and ends on the outside of the pack. I keep my toilet paper, map, water bottles, and a sit pad in the outside pockets. My camera goes in a belt pocket, and I’m ready to rock!
My packing strategy assumes I keep things pretty simple. The sleeping bag and camp clothes in the compactor bag stay in there all day and are off-limits until camp is set up. The tent and food bag, right above that, are basically the same. They only come out at the end of the day when I really need them.
During the day while I hike, I’ve got the things I need in a real hurry or the most often on the outside of the pack (toilet paper, camera, map). Things I want less frequently or less urgently are very close to the top of my pack. Rain gear can come out in no time. A small stuff sack with my lunch and snacks for the day is right up top. And all the random stuff like my headlamp, journal, gadgets, and so on is in a small dry bag near the top of the pack just in case I need it at any point.
If it starts to rain unexpectedly, the camera, toilet paper, maps (if not waterproof) and the insulation layers go into the dry bag. The rain layers come out in a hurry, and everything that needs to stay dry is either in the dry bag or the compactor bag. No problem!