How to pack a rucksack for wild camping

Here’s how to pack a rucksack for wild camping like a pro.

Hikers with large backpacks

A rucksack is a hiker’s best friend, so a poorly fitted or overstuffed pack can easily ruin an entire trip. This problem only becomes more complicated when wild camping as you need to carry a whole load of extra gear.

Knowing how to pack a rucksack is something of an art. Many hikers learn through trial and error – gradually adjusting, trip after trip. Experience is essential for figuring out what works for you. 

However, there are some strategies you can follow for a head start on your camping trips. With that in mind, let’s look at how to pack a rucksack for wild camping.

Editor’s notes

Wild camping is an incredible way to explore a number of the UK’s national parks, but it’s important to check where you can (and can’t) pitch up before getting started!

What to pack for wild camping

Wild camping has no room for luxury unless you’re happy to carry the weight of it. Every item you want to take must be scrutinised – you will have to carry every gram of weight, so it better be something with taking. 

Truth is, your friends will be less than pleased if you need to divvy out the contents of your overpacked bag mid-hike.

Cooking in the wild

A good way to tackle this is to categorise the contents of your bag. On a standard kit list, you’re going to have clothing, camping gear, cooking equipment, and any other miscellaneous items. Let’s take a look at how this breaks down.

  • Clothing: Your clothing for wild camping should be the same as what you usually bring hiking. The only additional items might be warm layers for sleeping, and spare clothing to change into after your walk. It’s tempting to overpack here, but try to only include multi-purpose items and clothing that can be layered.
  • Tent: Your tent will be your heaviest gear item. You can get advanced carbon fibre tents, but the lighter the tent, the more it costs. Bring a quality sleeping bag suitable for the season, an insulated sleeping mat for comfort and warmth, and an inflatable pillow.
  • Cooking equipment: This should include a gas stove or Trangia, a pot, spork, and a mug. Those are the essentials, but you can add other items where you see fit – we recommend buying a Jetboil for simplicity. Food and water should be carefully considered – you need enough water for drinking and to rehydrate meals, while food should be calorie-dense, non-perishable, and easy to eat on the trail.
  • Other items: Miscellaneous items may include toiletries, a medical kit, electronics, a map and compass, and any other valuables such as cameras and chargers. You may want to consider purchasing waterproof stuff sacks to store these items. This also helps to compartmentalise the rest of your gear in your backpack, similar to how packing cubes work.

Best wild camping rucksack

Now you know how to pack your rucksack, it’s time to choose the right bag for you. Your packed rucksack shouldn’t weigh more than 20% of your body weight – meaning if you weigh 80kg, your backpack should be no more than 16kg. Ideally, it should be even lighter than that.

You only have to look at the nimble thru-hikers in North America for guidance – a new breed is taking to the trails of the Pacific Crest and Appalachian. Gone are the days of heavy, clunky backpacks. These hikers cover thousands of miles wearing backpacks that can weigh less than 5kg. Talk about minimalism! Clearly, they understand the value of having a light hiking backpack.

Backpacks are measured in litres. When you’re wild camping, a 40-50 litre backpack should more than suffice for your needs. In outdoor apparel stores, you may see backpacks with 80 litres of storage. Unless you’re embarking on a specialist expedition, it’s extremely unlikely you will need all this space and it will only cause you to overpack!

Backpack for camping

Frame size is important to make sure the backpack will fit you comfortably. You want the hip straps to rest on the top of your hip bone. When tightened, you should be able to fit a thumb under the hip strap and they shouldn’t pinch or feel overly tight. A bag that has load lifters and sternum straps is also important for balancing the weight.

Osprey is undoubtedly a leading brand in wild camping backpacks. The Osprey Exos 48 is one rucksack taking the hiking scene by storm – lightweight, comfortable, and stylish, this backpack offers a great deal for a good price. Read our full review of the Exos 48 to see if it sounds like the right choice for you.

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How to pack your gear

It’s important to pack your backpack with weight distribution in mind. Lugging a heavy backpack around that presses into your shoulders is sure to be painful. Similarly, it’s easy to strain your back muscles if you carry too much weight on one side of your body.

It’s best to keep most of the weight of your rucksack near your centre of gravity around your lower back. You should carry the bulk of the weight in your hips, which allows the burden to be transferred to your legs – the lower body is far more capable of taking excess weight than the shoulders.

Backpack contents - jacket, camera, map, boots

Follow our steps below to pack your wild camping rucksack:

  1. Pack your heaviest items at the bottom of your bag – this is likely to be your tent and cooking equipment. Alternatively, you can strap your tent horizontally to the outside of your bag if you wish to save space in the main compartment. Make sure you use your pack’s lower straps so your hips still carry most of the load.
  2. Compression straps and tags on the exterior of your backpack are valuable and should be used mindfully. Rolled mats, towels, rain jackets, and hiking poles can all be tied to the outside of the bag for easy access. 
  3. Order the rest of your bag by accessibility, and stuff in clothes to compress the bag, filling spaces to stop loose items from shaking about. Place items such as nightwear lower down in the bag as you won’t need to reach them until later in the evening. Try to keep the load balanced as you go.
  4. Snacks, sunglasses, and sun cream should all be in outer pouches so you can reach them easily. The top item in your backpack could be a fleece or a rain jacket so you can grab them in adverse weather.

Note: Be aware that water can also lead to poor distribution. If you have a 2-litre bottle on one side of your bag, this will cause a 2 kg uneven distribution once it’s finished. Try to split your water into multiple bottles, or use a hydration pack like a CamelBak Reservoir which can fit in a sleeve down your bag.

Final tips – how to pack for wild camping

Wild camping is all about trial and error – it will likely take a number of wild camping trips and hiking adventures to figure out what you like and what you don’t. Over time, you can change your backpacks and upgrade them to suit your personal taste.

One-person tent overlooking the mountains

Your gear items will most likely be bulky when you first start hiking. As you grow in experience, you can invest in newer items that are more compact and lightweight. 

It’s also likely you won’t need to take the same contents with you on every hike. Research route conditions, trail difficulty, and weather to gauge what items are essential and what can be left out. 

FAQ: How to pack a wild camping rucksack

Searching for the answer to a question about wild camping? You’re in the right place – check out our FAQ below and we’ll hopefully be able to help with any queries! 

 The best wild camping backpack is one that fits all your gear in the smallest space possible. Try the Osprey Exos 48, Berghaus Freeflow 35, or Lowe Alpine Alpine Ascent 40:50.

Only the essentials. A sleeping set-up, cooking equipment, clothing, and valuable gear items – you can read our full guide above for more information.

Your bag should weigh no more than 20% of your body weight. 40-50 litre backpacks are ideal.

Tighten your bag’s hip straps followed by shoulder straps, lifters, and finally the sternum strap

Order your rucksack by weight and accessibility. Heavy items should be in the central, lower half of the pack with lighter items stuffed in after. Frequently used items should be placed in easily accessible outer pockets.

If you’re still looking for the answer to a question – don’t hesitate to reach out! Adventure Pending is based in the Lake District and the team is always happy to answer any questions about the beautiful corner of the country.

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