How to Pack Your Backpack The Right Way (With Kids)

This post comes from guest contributor Jacob Tuwiner from thebrokebackpacker.com, who’s pulled together some great advice on packing both your own backpack and your kid’s one. Check out their guide to UK Backpacking.


The smell of a campfire, the sound of leaves blowing in the wind, and the taste of melted chocolate and marshmallows sandwiched between graham crackers come to mind when I remember camping as a kid. 

Backpacking is still one of my favourite activities to this day – there’s nothing like spending time in nature, away from the craziness of the world. 

But going backpacking with your kids is not the same as going by yourself or with people your age.

Kids can’t carry as much themselves, yet parents often pack extra things for them like coats, water bottles, snacks, and a picnic.

Packing these items can be challenging for parents and their kids, as it’s hard to bring enough gear without being too weighed down and, as a result, making the trip uncomfortable and cumbersome. 

In this post, you’re going to learn how to pack your backpack the right way when you’re going out with the kids.

Let’s jump in: 

How to Pack Your Backpack 

There are four areas of your backpack to keep in mind: 

  • Bottom 
  • Middle
  • Top 
  • Exterior pockets/accessory pockets 

Most beginner backpackers jam a bunch of stuff in their backpack without thinking about what they’re doing, which is a big mistake. Not only will you have trouble optimizing your space, but you’ll also run into issues with comfortability. 

Most beginner backpackers jam a bunch of stuff in their backpack without thinking about what they’re doing, which is a big mistake.

Lastly, if you put frequently used items at the bottom of your bag, you’re going to unpack and repack the bag a million times a day, which is not a good idea.  If you’ve made these mistakes before, check out this guide about backpacking for beginners or these tips from the British Mountaineering Club, so you can level up your backpacking game! 

Here are the four things to keep in mind when packing backpacks, according to Outside Online

  • Heavy gear close to your back in the centre of the pack
  • Light gear away from the back, on the top/bottom 
  • Frequently used items on top
  • Less used items on the bottom 

Knowing those different categories and weight distribution is important.

Keep your heaviest items at the lumbar of your back.

Backpacking TV

Here’s how I apply these principles when I pack my bag: 

01.

Pack your Sleeping Bag

The first thing to put in your hiking backpack is your sleeping bag because you always want your lightest gear at the bottom of your backpack. Unlike a grocery bag where the heaviest stuff goes on the bottom and lightest stuff goes on top, you don’t want to do that for your backpack. 

Doing so will hurt our back. Instead, you want the heaviest gear in the middle of the bag, close to your back. This way, you’ll create a good centre of mass. 

Your sleeping bag is a great item to place at the bottom because of the volume/weight ratio.

Outside Magazine

Your sleeping bag is a great item to place at the bottom because of the volume/weight ratio. You’re also not going to need it until the end of your day, so keeping it at the bottom for the entire hike is totally fine. 

02.

Pack other light camping items

like base layer clothing, a sleeping mat which is also lightweight

Outside Magazine

I also usually put other gear I won’t need until I set up camp like base layer clothing, a sleeping mat which is also lightweight, and my sleeping bag liner which isn’t needed until the end of the day. 

03.

Pack heaviest items

I usually put my food and water there, along with my backpacking tent, and stove system.

Outside Magazine

Next, the middle section is where you pack your heaviest items. You want the heaviest stuff in the middle and as close to your back as possible. I usually put my food and water there, along with my backpacking tent, and stove system. 

Tents are bulky, but do fit nicely along your spine.

Forester Bushcraft
04.

Pack lighter easy-access items

On top, you’ll want to put things that you’ll be using often throughout the day while hiking. This way you’ll have easy access to these items without having to unpack your entire bag. Typically I put things like a lightweight jacket and other clothing items around the bulkier items in the midsection for better padding.

Typically I put things like a lightweight jacket and other clothing items around the bulkier items in the midsection for better padding.

Outside Magazine

Lastly, I’ll place lightweight items that I’ll use most often throughout the day in the brain of the backpack and other exterior pockets, like my electronics, maps, compass, headphones, radio, toiletries, etc. 

like my electronics, maps, compass, headphones, radio, toiletries, etc.

Outside Magazine

Tip: Pack items in dry bags in case it is raining when you need to set-up camp. You can then unload your bag without the contents, like your sleeping bag, getting wet.

Forrester Bushcraft

Packing Up a Kid’s Backpack 

Now, you’re probably familiar with packing your own backpack, but what should you put in your kids’ bags? 

6 Year-Olds – No more than 5.5 kg of Gear  

A small backpack almost like a book bag for school. A backpack with plenty of padding is ideal for small children to protect their shoulders and back. An uncomfortable child is definitely not a happy child. 

An uncomfortable child is definitely not a happy child.

Adventure Widely

If you weigh your kid down with a ton of unnecessary, heavy gear, they’re going to be uncomfortable and won’t want to continue hiking. Conversely, a lightweight backpack that’s comfortable will keep your kids happy and they’ll want to continue hiking with you as much as possible. 

Following the 25% rule (most people say that 25-30% of your body weight should be the max weight for your pack) you won’t be able to fit much in the kid’s backpack anyway. A child of this age shouldn’t be carrying too much, which is why a small backpack is a good idea. 

A child of this age shouldn’t be carrying too much, which is why a small backpack is a good idea.

Adventure Widely

At the age of six, they’re probably going to weigh in at about 20 kg, which means their pack can have around 5 kg of gear. Typically, a 1L Camelbak for water will weigh roughly 1 kg. The only other thing they’ll be able to carry in a backpack of this size is their sleeping bag, and maybe a stuffed animal. Other than that, the burden is on you to carry the rest of the gear and food. 

Sure, you could probably carry everything yourself, but I think it’s best to include the kids and have them carry some gear as well, so they can feel like they’re a bigger part of the adventure. 

10 Year-Olds – 8 kg of Gear 

A ten-year-old will probably weigh around 32 kg, which means they can carry approximately 8 kg of gear with them.

Once again, they’ll carry their own sleeping bag and water, but their bag will have far more room for extra gear. Now, they can also carry things like rain gear, a headlamp, a sleeping mat, and a water filter for the group.

Now, they can also carry things like rain gear, a headlamp, a sleeping mat, and a water filter for the group.

Adventure Widely

Carrying a water filter for the group is definitely a morale booster because now the child is helping with gear that the whole group needs. It’s important they know they’re carrying it, so they feel like they’re really contributing to the group. 

All of this gear and a few changes of clothes will have the bag filled to the brim and ready for adventure. 


Finally, remember to wear your bag correctly

It’s important that after packing your backpack correctly that you also wear it correctly.

At the end of Forrester Bushcraft video above has some great instructions for this, or click here to go straight to that part of the video.

Demonstrating how to wear a backpack properly. Click to view video from Forrester Bushcraft.

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Jacob is an avid outdoors enthusiast from The Broke Backpacker who just returned home from a seven-month-long backpacking trip in Europe. He has fond memories of hiking and camping with his parents as a kid, and now wants to share his experiences with others!

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