The Art of Packing

You cram, stuff, and force every available space full of gear. You've packed everything except the kitchen sink, or so you think.Space is always a problem for campers and backpackers, whether it's measured by the capacity of pack, car trunk, folding camping trailer, canoe or saddlebag. The key to being an organized packer is to start with checklists. Consider everything, then pack what you think you'll need--with an eye to space and weight. Faced with a half-mile-long canoe portage is not the time to realize you should have left the 20-pound cooking griddle home.
Some people are able to throw everything into a backpack and somehow find a way to zip shut the bulging contents. Others pile stuff into the car trunk, then heap what's left over onto the roof rack. I'm a mule packer--I fuss and fidget until I have a place for everything, and everything in its place. I have a general checklist of essentials (camera, first aid kit, compass, ear plugs, map, etc.) to be considered, regardless of the type of trip I'm planning. But I also keep specialized checklists for RV and Car Camping, Backpacking, Fishing and Camping and Hunting and Camping.

Years of experience have helped me build these checklists. You begin by writing down everything you think you'll need, then revise the list when you get home from that first trip. Cross out what you had no use for, and add what you forgot. Even with experience, though, there will be times when you'll pack more than you need, and you'll probably face days when you'll wish you had remembered other things. You can't get it perfect, but you can try. Careful packing of the gear you decide to take is a big help.

Here are suggestions when camping by car or truck:* Utilize the often-overlooked space under the car seats and the spare tire. A quality luggage rack will double space available. A small utility trailer will provide even more room.* Use duffel bags for clothes because the bags assume their own shape. Give each member of the family a different colored bag.* Make a fishing rod holder from four-inch PVC pipe, add caps to each end and attach to roof rack or ceiling of your pickup topper. * Give children a plastic tub for storing souvenirs. Limit them to a single container (to put more in, something has to go).* Use Rubbermaid-type containers. Not only are they waterproof, leak proof and stack neatly out of the way, when empty they double as washbasins.* Maximize space and ease loading in the bed of your pickup truck or sport utility vehicle by laying 1 x 12-inch shelving boards across the wheel wells.


Using a checklist, lay out everything you need for your backpacking trip. Separate into two piles -- one for daily convenience (sunglasses, camera, map, compass, trail snacks) and one for your destination camp (tent, sleeping bag and pad, cookware, utensils). Store nonessential gear down and deep; keep convenience items handy.

Color-coded stuff sacks (red for clothing, blue for food, etc.) help you to sort and store consistently. As a rule, internal-frame packs should carry most of their weight low. External-frame models can be loaded more top-heavy. Side-to-side weight distribution is important in both styles. Terrain type also figures: In rough country, keep the center of gravity low; in even topography, the load can ride higher.

Terrain type also figures: In rough country, keep the center of gravity low; in even topography, the load can ride higher.

Lay the stuff sacks side by side in horizontal layers so as to conform better to the spinal curve. Internal-frame packs, which more easily conform to body shape, usually come with inside straps for compressing gear. For maximum comfort with either type pack, store hardware (stove, flashlight, cookware) to the outside rather than along your back. Side pockets are handy for convenience items. Lash lengthy items, such as tent poles and fishing rods that don’t easily fit inside, vertically to the pack..

Think small and light, especially when the gear you bring will be toted on your shoulders:* Wash clothes on the trail rather than pack extra changes. Polypropylene socks and underwear, for example, are very light in weight and can be washed and air-dried in minutes.* Plan and prepare meals beforehand, bringing only what you need. Eliminate boxes, cans, jars etc. by carrying only the amounts needed in plastic bags.* For example, put prepared meals into individual Zip-loc bags (one meal per bag). The empty bags serve as refuse containers for packing out.* Empty 35 mm film canisters are perfect for spices and other condiments. A tiny bottle of Tabasco, soy or Worcestershire sauce or a single lemon can put pizzazz into an otherwise bland meal.* Pack extra candles instead of a heavy flashlight and batteries.* Worms, grasshoppers, crickets, crayfish and other natural bait gathered at campsite often out produce artificial fishing lures, which take up space and weight.*Likewise, a telescoping rod and ultra light reel are good choices.*The paperback novel you pack could be used to start a fire if necessary.Being an organized packer of gear adds to the fun of camping and backpacking. It also smoothes the experience