How to Organize Your Backpack 

 June 1, 2023

By  Keith Terrell

Don’t you love the flurry of excitement you go through before you are going to go on a trip? You plan your itinerary and make a list of all the things that you are going to carry on the trip. But the reality is, these look good on paper for most people. And then there is the dilemma of carrying the type of bag; too large and you will groan inwardly every time you have to carry the bag to places, too small and you can barely carry anything in it.

And then there is the question of organization.

On day 1, your backpack probably looks crisp and neat and well-organized. But you realize soon that all this organization was for nothing because you can only fit so much in that backpack. Also, transferring things in and out of it constantly does not help either. 

Also, one needs to consider what to take on a trip, and a lot of things depend upon it; weight limits (how are you traveling?), the weather and also the size of your luggage. When you have so many things to consider, it is very easy to under and overpack. So what to do? There are dozens of ways that make sure you keep your backpack organized on your trip, or wherever you go, regardless of the location.

Knowing how to organize your backpack is an art which usually comes with a lot of practice, but this article will eliminate that requirement. One of the steps that will take you closer to learning how to organize your backpack is by going through some of the backpack hacks we have put together, and you will be packing like a seasoned traveler in no time!

This is important. Even if there is an emergency and you have to pack your bag at the last minute, you should take a moment and lay out every item that you are going to be carrying. This will give you a clearer picture of what items you need and the ones you don’t. Do you really need those over-the-head headphones? Do you need so many shirts/ T-shirts? If you know what is going to be in your bag, you will see it in a more reasonable way.

Packing Cubes Are Your Friends

By themselves, packing cubes won’t offer much organization. But you can put large items that have a greater volume. These organizers were designed to keep clothes in one place, but work equally great for computer/charging cables, hard drives or any other gadgets that you may want to carry on your trip. The cubes are designed in such a way that they have handles along the edges, making them easier to pull out of your backpack. Try and have them in different colors, so you will know what item is in which bag.

These cubes will not only give your backpack some size (as opposed to a misshapen backpack strapped to your back), and stop loose items from rattling around when you walk. Another major advantage of packing your stuff in packing cubes is that your packing and unpacking can be cut down to a bare minimum.

Keep Travel Essentials Packed at All Times

To get better in learning how to organize your backpack in an efficient manner, you want to minimize the time you spend on packing. In order to do this, you don’t want to go looking for your toothbrush and conditioner at the last minute and then stuff it haphazardly in your backpack moments before you leave. 

To avoid this, you want to assign one of the packing cubes that would carry just your travel essentials. Pack your toothbrush, your toiletries in a packing cube and put this cube in your backpack on a more or less permanent basis. By doing this, you won’t have to ever spend time looking for them or remembering to pack them before travel. Besides, it also brings in a sense of relief that these items are already packed and accounted for.

Choose the Right Bag!

If you travel a lot then chances are that you already have more than one bag lying around at home. But it is also possible that you may have been choosing the wrong backpack for your travels all this while. Here are some things to consider before you start piling up your backpack.

  • Does the bag have enough pockets?
  • Is it equipped with chest and hip straps?
  • Does it have a padded area (for securing laptops and tablets)?
  • Does it have an extra pocket for water bottles?

If you find that your bags are outdated or are missing some of these compartments, see our backpack guide to find out what you can expect in modern backpacks that are available on the market today.

Choose your backpack carefully, and you will find that you don’t need to switch bags as often as you probably do right now.

Pack a Health Kit

Imagine yourself on a trip and falling sick. Or going on a backpacking adventure and falling prey to food poisoning or even issues like bed bugs, minor cuts, and bruises or any other ailment. On top of this, if you have to navigate to a chemist in unchartered territories (read unknown locales and foreign chemists), it will only add to your discomfort.

It is always a good idea to pack a toiletry bag with emergency medicine. This could contain many things; a small bottle of Tylenol, a few band-aids, cold medicine, antibiotics (which you should consult your doctor about), and any other ointments you may need. Great if you never have to use it, but all the better if you have them with you!

Footwear: Do You Really Need Those 3 Pairs?

While you are packing, you should keep in mind to keep items which can be used in more than one ways. You have probably thought of carrying formal attire and shoes (and maybe have often carried them too!) but more often than not, most travelers tend to fall back on t-shirts, shorts, and sandals, what we call comfort wear. 

When you are packing shoes, they fall in the very same category, because, think about it, they take up a lot of space. You may not want to carry those high heels that you thought you would wear to that fancy restaurant, but instead, you can opt for those easy sandals which can go with virtually every dress. Alternatively, pack in light, all-purpose sneakers that can be worn at any time and are appropriate for any occasion. 

Now that you have decided what to take on your trip, you should start on how to pack your backpack. This is the next step in how to organize your backpack.

Start at the Bottom

The way to pack a backpack, you guessed it, is to start from the bottom of the backpack and then work your way up. Keep in mind that when you start packing, the items that you don’t need immediately will go in first, and will remain at the bottom where you cannot get to easily in a hurry. Most of this would be camping gear, so you don’t have to worry too much about it.

Many enthusiasts will tell you that the first thing to go in the backpack should be the sleeping bag. We are not big fans of keeping the sleeping bag at the bottom because it is susceptible to becoming dirty or wet when you put your bag down and may damage it as well. For this purpose, your sleeping bag should be packed in a dry bag, because trust us, you don’t want to sleep in a wet sleeping bag, even in extraordinary circumstances.

Once the sleeping bag is secure at the bottom of your backpack, you now need to pack the rest of your camping gear such as a sleeping pad (if you are carrying one) and your pillowcases. Except for your flashlight or your headlamp, all the camping gear goes at the bottom of your backpack. 

The heaviest gear that you are carrying should be in the middle of the backpack, but we will get to it in a bit. Make sure all the lightweight gear is at the bottom.

Packing the Middle

Once the bottom of the backpack is packed, the next step is to move on to the middle. This is typically the cooking gear such as extra water, pots and pans, and food. All of this should be on top of your camping gear.

In case you are carrying cooking fuel and worried that it might spill, pack it under your food. Alternatively, if your backpack has side pockets, the fuel can go on in there. What you need to make sure here is that your backpack has a proper center of gravity, and to make sure that it fulfills this criterion, you should not hang the heavy stuff outside the bag (like you have seen some travelers do), at the bottom of the bag or at the top.

Once the heavy things are in place, you will be faced with odd gaps, which can be easily filled with other kits such as clothes, rain jacket, and the tent body. You can wrap your clothes in the tent body (if they are already rain protected you can avoid this step) to keep them safe from moisture.

Packing the Top

You have almost learned how to organize your backpack, so we shall move on to the top of the backpack. You should always keep this part of the backpack for things that you might need to access frequently or in a hurry, especially if it is a hike you are going on. This could be a number of things that may include snacks, a quick change of clothes (this includes socks, caps, mufflers and such items), first-aid kit, sunglasses and a compass (if you carry one).

If your backpack comes with zippered pockets or Velcro pockets near the hip belt or near your shoulders, most of this stuff can be redistributed there as well. They are ideal to keep all the other knick-knacks that are bound to get lost in the depths of your backpack.

You are almost ready! If you use other gear such as crampons and ice axes, these can be strapped to the outside of the backpack. Make sure you pack them vertically along the sides of your backpack and not horizontally (to avoid poking other people on the sides and getting stuck in narrow areas).


Hopefully, now you have a good idea about how to organize your backpack. Before you head out, put all the gear in the manner we described. See if all the items fit together and the center of gravity is balanced. Remember to keep the things that you need frequently within reach. The heavy things always go at the bottom of the backpack. Practice a few times and you can head out on your trip with confidence with a conveniently packed backpack.

About the author

Keith is a one bag traveler and the owner of Backpacks Global. His go to backpack is the Osprey FarPoint 40.

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