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A properly packed backpack will help you hike farther and longer.
A properly packed backpack will help you hike farther and longer. Field & Stream Online Editors

Photo by Jeff Wilson, Illustrations by Mike Sudal

Years ago, trying to hastily pack out a mule deer buck from Idaho’s backcountry in one trip, I carried a heavy, irregular pack too low and in the process damaged a spinal disc, pinched nerves in my hip, and lost feeling in my ham hocks for weeks. Here are a few tips to help you shoulder a heavy load comfortably and safely—and avoid the physical therapy and chiropractic sessions I had to go through.

From the bottom up
Stuff your sleeping bag, pad, and tent in the bottom of the pack.

Heavy load
Place the heavy freight—like a meat quarter—above the light cargo and against your back. It should sit above your hips and between your shoulder blades.

Cram Session
Surround the heavy stuff with lighter gear, such as clothing and food, followed by cooking gear, water filter, and the like. Pack the lightest gear like a hat and gloves in any remaining space at the top.

At the ready
Stash gear like a GPS, flashlight, or other items you might need to access quickly in the pack’s lid––like snacks.

It’s a cinch
Now that it’s packed right, here’s how to carry your pack:

Now that your pack is full, here's how to carry it properly.
Now that your pack is full, here’s how to carry it properly. Field & Stream Online Editors

1. Lift the backpack up onto your shoulders. Next, pull down on the shoulder adjustment tags to lift the pack and draw the load closer to your upper back.

Lift your pack correctly to prevent needless injury.
Lift your pack correctly to prevent needless injury. Field & Stream Online Editors

2. Secure the belt and cinch the slack so it cups the top of your hip bones. Fastening the belt too high constricts your stomach; too low limits leg movement.

Cinch the straps of your backpacks correctly to properly balance the load.
Cinch the straps of your backpacks correctly to properly balance the load. Field & Stream Online Editors

3. Pull down the load-lifters. Once you cinch these, the straps should be in contact with your shoulders—but with less weight on your shoulders and collarbone.

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