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How To Pack An External Frame Backpack


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Leonora Mcintyre



Welcome to our guide on how to pack an external frame backpack. Whether you’re embarking on a hiking trip, a camping adventure, or a backpacking excursion, an external frame backpack is a reliable and versatile option for carrying your essentials. An external frame backpack consists of a rigid frame and a spacious pack, offering excellent support and weight distribution.


Packing an external frame backpack efficiently is crucial for ensuring a comfortable and balanced load. It requires careful consideration of weight distribution, organization, and securing items. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you’ll be able to maximize the space, keep your belongings organized, and reduce the risk of discomfort or injury during your outdoor endeavors.


Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or new to the world of hiking, this guide is here to help you make the most of your external frame backpack. So, let’s dive in and learn how to pack your backpack like a pro!


Step 1: Gather Your Gear

Before you start packing your external frame backpack, it’s important to gather all the gear and essentials that you’ll be carrying with you on your trip. This includes clothing, sleeping gear, cooking utensils, personal care items, and any additional equipment specific to your activity.


To ensure you don’t forget anything important, it’s helpful to create a checklist beforehand. Take into account the duration of your trip, the weather conditions, and any specific requirements or restrictions of your destination. This will help you prioritize and organize your gear effectively.


Here are some essential items to consider packing:

  • Clothing: Include layers for different weather conditions, such as base layers, insulating layers, outerwear, and extra socks.
  • Sleeping Gear: Bring a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and possibly a lightweight tent or hammock.
  • Cooking Utensils: Pack a camping stove, pot, utensils, and any necessary fuel.
  • Food and Water: Carry enough food for your trip duration, as well as water bottles or a hydration system.
  • Personal Care Items: Don’t forget essentials like toiletries, sunscreen, bug repellent, and a first aid kit.
  • Navigation Tools: Bring a map, compass, GPS device, or smartphone with GPS capabilities.
  • Other Equipment: Depending on your activity, pack items such as trekking poles, climbing gear, or fishing gear.

By gathering all your gear beforehand, you’ll have a clear understanding of what needs to be packed and minimize the chances of forgetting anything vital. Once you have everything ready, you’re ready to move on to the next step: adjusting your backpack frame.


Step 2: Adjust the Backpack Frame

Once you have gathered all your gear, it’s time to adjust the backpack frame to ensure a comfortable fit. The proper fit of your backpack is essential for maintaining balance and reducing strain on your body during your outdoor adventure.


Here’s how to adjust the backpack frame:

  1. Start by loosening all the straps on the backpack.
  2. Put the backpack on, making sure the hip belt rests on your hip bones. The shoulder straps should be snug but not digging into your shoulders.
  3. Adjust the shoulder straps. They should follow the natural curve of your shoulders and distribute the weight evenly.
  4. Next, adjust the hip belt. It should wrap around your hips snugly, transferring the weight to your hips rather than your shoulders.
  5. Tighten the stabilizer straps on the shoulder straps and hip belt to keep the load steady and balanced.
  6. Check that the backpack’s frame is centered on your back and not leaning to one side.
  7. Walk around for a few minutes to make sure the backpack feels comfortable and stable. Make any necessary adjustments to the straps until it feels just right.

Remember, a properly adjusted backpack frame will help distribute the weight evenly and prevent strain on your body. Take the time to ensure the fit is right before moving on to the next step of packing your backpack.


Step 3: Pack Heavy and Dense Items First

When it comes to packing your external frame backpack, it’s important to prioritize heavy and dense items. By placing these items at the bottom of your backpack, closest to your back, you’ll achieve better balance and weight distribution.


Here are some tips for packing heavy and dense items:

  1. Start with your sleeping bag. Use a compression sack if necessary to reduce its size and make it easier to pack.
  2. Next, pack any other heavy gear you might have, such as cookware or camping equipment. Make sure to distribute the weight evenly on both sides of the backpack.
  3. If you have any bulky items, such as a tent or a sleeping pad, attach them to the outside of the backpack using the appropriate straps and loops. This will free up space inside the backpack for other essentials.
  4. As you pack heavy items, be mindful of the weight distribution. Aim for a balanced load, with slightly more weight towards the center of the backpack.

Packing heavy and dense items first ensures that the weight is properly centered, providing stability and preventing your backpack from becoming top-heavy.


By following this step, you’ll lay a solid foundation for the rest of your gear, making it easier to pack and organize your backpack effectively. Now that the heavy items are in place, you can move on to the next step: wrapping fragile items.


Step 4: Wrap Fragile Items

When packing your external frame backpack, it’s important to protect any fragile items from potential damage. This includes delicate electronics, glass containers, or any other items prone to breaking. Wrapping these items individually will provide an extra layer of protection and prevent them from shifting or bumping against other items during your trip.


Here’s how you can wrap fragile items:

  1. Use soft materials, such as clothing, towels, or bubble wrap, to wrap delicate items individually.
  2. Place the wrapped items in the center of your backpack, away from the edges.
  3. If you have multiple fragile items, try to distribute them evenly throughout the backpack to prevent concentrated pressure on a single area.
  4. Make sure the wrapped items are secured and won’t move around during your journey. You can use extra clothing or packing cubes to fill any gaps and prevent shifting.

By taking the time to wrap fragile items, you’ll minimize the risk of damage and ensure they arrive safely at your destination. It’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to protecting your valuable or delicate belongings.


Now that your fragile items are properly protected, let’s move on to the next step: organizing and grouping similar items.


Step 5: Organize and Group Similar Items

Keeping your external frame backpack organized is essential for easy access to your belongings and maximizing space efficiency. Grouping similar items together can also help you stay organized and find what you need quickly during your outdoor adventure.


Here’s how to organize and group similar items:

  1. Separate your gear into categories such as clothing, cooking supplies, personal care items, and electronics.
  2. Place each category of items in separate packing cubes or waterproof bags to keep them organized and prevent them from getting mixed up.
  3. If you have small items or accessories, consider using small pouches or ziplock bags to keep them organized and easily accessible.
  4. Pack heavier items closer to your back and towards the center of the backpack. This will help maintain balance and weight distribution.
  5. Keep frequently accessed items, such as a rain jacket or snacks, in external pockets or compartments for easy reach.
  6. Label or color code your packing cubes or bags to identify specific categories quickly.
  7. Consider using compression sacks for clothing to minimize space and maximize efficiency.

By organizing and grouping similar items, you’ll be able to locate your gear easily and optimize the space inside your backpack. This approach also allows for better weight distribution and balance, keeping your backpack more comfortable to carry.


With your items organized, it’s time to secure any loose straps and buckles before moving on to the next step: distributing weight properly.


Step 6: Secure Loose Straps and Buckles

Before hitting the trail with your external frame backpack, it’s crucial to secure any loose straps and buckles. Loose straps can dangle or get caught on branches, while loose buckles may accidentally come undone, causing discomfort or potential damage to your gear. Taking the time to properly secure these elements will ensure a comfortable and hassle-free journey.


Here’s what you should do to secure loose straps and buckles:

  1. Check all the straps on your backpack, including the shoulder straps, hip belt, and compression straps. Make sure they are properly adjusted and tightened.
  2. Tuck any excess straps into loops or use strap keepers to prevent them from hanging loose.
  3. Ensure that all buckles are securely fastened and double-check that they are locked in place.
  4. Test the tightness of the straps and buckles by gently tugging on them. If they feel secure, you’re good to go.

By securing loose straps and buckles, you’ll avoid any unnecessary inconveniences during your outdoor adventure. It’s a simple step that goes a long way in ensuring the durability and functionality of your backpack.


Now that your backpack is properly secured, let’s move on to the next step: distributing weight properly.


Step 7: Distribute Weight Properly

The way you distribute the weight inside your external frame backpack plays a crucial role in maintaining balance and minimizing strain on your body. Proper weight distribution ensures that the load is evenly distributed and doesn’t put unnecessary pressure on any specific area of your back or shoulders.


Here are some tips for distributing weight properly:

  1. Place heavier items closer to your back and near the center of the backpack. This helps maintain balance and prevents the backpack from feeling too top-heavy.
  2. Distribute weight evenly on both sides of the backpack. Aim for symmetry to avoid straining one side of your body more than the other.
  3. Avoid packing all heavy items at the bottom of the backpack. Instead, alternate heavy and lighter items to maintain balance throughout.
  4. Keep frequently needed items easily accessible. Place them in external pockets or compartments so you don’t have to unpack and repack your backpack every time you need something.
  5. Consider using the upper part of the backpack to store lighter items such as clothing or sleeping gear. This helps keep the center of gravity lower and maintains better stability.

By distributing weight properly, you’ll feel more comfortable and balanced while carrying your backpack on the trail. It also reduces the risk of strain or injuries during your outdoor adventure.


With the weight properly distributed, it’s time to pack the remaining items into your external frame backpack. Let’s move on to the next step.


Step 8: Pack the Remaining Items

Now that you’ve tackled the heavier items and properly distributed the weight in your external frame backpack, it’s time to pack the remaining essentials. These may include clothing, personal items, and any additional gear you’ll need for your outdoor adventure.


Here are some tips for packing the remaining items:

  1. Roll or fold your clothing tightly to save space and prevent wrinkles.
  2. Utilize the empty spaces and gaps between items by stuffing smaller items such as socks or gloves.
  3. Pack items that you won’t need until later at the bottom or the middle of the backpack.
  4. Consider using packing cubes or small bags to further organize smaller items or keep them separate from the rest of your gear.
  5. Keep lightweight and frequently-needed items, like rain gear or snacks, in accessible compartments or pockets for easy access.
  6. Avoid overpacking and resist the temptation to bring unnecessary items. Remember, the lighter your backpack, the more comfortable your journey will be.

As you pack the remaining items, be mindful of the weight distribution and maintain a balance between the two sides of your backpack. Avoid any lopsided or top-heavy packing arrangements.


By efficiently packing the remaining items, you’ll make the most of the available space in your external frame backpack without compromising your comfort or the stability of your load.


Now that your backpack is fully packed, it’s time to move on to the next step: adjusting the straps for optimal comfort.


Step 9: Adjust the Straps for Comfort

Once your external frame backpack is fully packed, it’s important to adjust the straps for optimal comfort. Properly adjusted straps will help distribute the weight evenly, reduce pressure points, and prevent discomfort or pain during your outdoor adventure.


Here’s how to adjust the straps for maximum comfort:

  1. Start with the shoulder straps. They should be snug but not too tight, with the weight of the backpack resting comfortably on your shoulders.
  2. Adjust the sternum strap across your chest to ensure the shoulder straps stay in place without digging into your shoulders.
  3. Tighten the hip belt to transfer the weight from your shoulders to your hips. The hip belt should rest comfortably on your hip bones.
  4. Adjust the load lifters, located on the top of the shoulder straps, to evenly distribute the weight and prevent the backpack from pulling backward.
  5. Experiment with the tension of the different straps to find the sweet spot that offers both stability and comfort.
  6. Take a short walk or hike to test the adjustments. If you feel any discomfort or strain, make further adjustments as needed.

Remember, everyone’s body is different, so take the time to find the most comfortable fit for you. Properly adjusted straps will make a significant difference in your overall comfort and enjoyment while wearing your backpack.


Now that your backpack straps are adjusted to your liking, it’s time for the final step: double-checking everything before you hit the trail!


Step 10: Double-Check Everything

Before you embark on your outdoor adventure, it’s essential to double-check everything in your external frame backpack to ensure you haven’t missed anything and that everything is secure. Taking the time for this final check will provide peace of mind and ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience.


Here’s what to do during your final double-check:

  1. Go through your gear checklist and ensure that you have packed all the necessary items.
  2. Inspect each pocket and compartment of your backpack to verify that nothing has been left behind.
  3. Make sure all zippers, buckles, and closures are securely fastened.
  4. Check the fit of your backpack once again to ensure that the adjustments are still comfortable and snug.
  5. Take a short walk or simulate movements to see if anything feels loose or unstable.
  6. Verify that the weight in your backpack is evenly distributed and well-balanced.
  7. Look over the outside of your backpack to ensure that no straps or loose ends are dangling.

By thoroughly double-checking everything, you’ll reduce the chances of encountering any surprises or difficulties once you’re on the trail. It’s a small but important step that can make a big difference in your overall experience.


With everything double-checked and good to go, you can now embark on your adventure with confidence, knowing that you’ve packed your external frame backpack efficiently and are ready for whatever the journey brings!


Safe travels and enjoy your time in the great outdoors!



Congratulations! You have successfully learned how to pack an external frame backpack like a pro. By following these steps, you can efficiently organize and distribute the weight of your gear to ensure a comfortable and balanced load.


Remember that packing an external frame backpack is not just about fitting everything in—it’s about strategic organization, weight distribution, and securing your gear properly. This will not only make your journey more comfortable but also protect your belongings from damage.


As you embark on your outdoor adventure, keep in mind that practice makes perfect. The more you pack and use your external frame backpack, the more you’ll develop your own system and preferences. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments and experiment with different techniques that work best for you.


Finally, always prioritize safety. Before setting off on any adventure, assess the weather conditions, inform someone about your plans, and carry the necessary equipment and knowledge for the terrain you’ll be encountering. Additionally, be mindful of any specific regulations or guidelines for the area you’ll be exploring.


Now that you’re equipped with the knowledge and skills to pack your external frame backpack efficiently, go out and enjoy the great outdoors with confidence! Embrace the beauty of nature and make lasting memories on your adventures.


Happy travels!