How To Pack Your Backpack Like A Pro For Hassle-free Travel

Not many people know the importance of how to pack your backpack efficiently. That is until they struggle to get things out of it without making a mess. Or they can’t help noticing it doesn’t sit right on their shoulder. It will soon become a big headache, especially during a long trip. 

There’s one simple thing every experienced backpack fan knows by heart. It’s that smart packing saves. It saves time, saves space, and saves you from all the stress. With a nicely packed backpack, it doesn’t matter where you’re going - a trip across Europe or a sun-soaked holiday in the tropics, you’re good to go.

But don’t fret if you haven’t figured out the best ways to pack your backpack yet. Everybody starts somewhere. This backpack packing guide is here to help you.

 Packing a backpack is an art we should all learn to keep things hassle-free.

4 Common Backpack Packing Mistakes You’re Making

Some people dread wearing backpacks because they find it uncomfortable and hard to organise. But there’s a reason why experienced travellers swear over a backpack than a suitcase. 

So, in most cases, if you find packing and wearing backpacks frustrating, here are four common packing mistakes. Or as we like to call it, “The Four Horsemen Of A Bad Packing”.

You’re overpacking

You can’t stand having your backpack on your back for more than two hours. It drags your shoulders down, and the straps are tight. Even the whole bag feels wonky and bulky.

It’s a clear sign you’re overpacking your bag’s capacity. Then you wrap up your trip and find out the “extra” two sets of outfits you prepare are never really needed in the first place.

You’re poorly organising your backpack

At the airport, you’re asked to put your electronics on the tray for a security check. You reach in, and all you can feel are your clothes, toiletries bag and many other miscellaneous items. You need to dig all the way to the bottom to find your bag of chargers and camera, but then everything on top is already a mess. 

This is one of the many scenarios that can happen when you don’t know how to organise your backpack. 

You’re underpacking

It’s overpacking’s equally dreaded sibling. Your backpack feels suspiciously light. You tell yourself, “Well, I’m not going to need it, anyway.” Then, when you get to your destination, it turns out to be the thing you need the most.

This happens a lot for trips to various destinations with different climates. For example, you underestimate the rainy weather in London and don’t bother to bring a brolly or a rain cover for your backpack.

You’re using up space for non-essentials

By the time the last clothing item is placed inside your backpack, you’re left with no more space to put your shoes, toiletries and electronics. This happens when you use the wrong packing technique for clothes. 

Instead of folding them into something smaller, you’re just placing them, one on top of another, to make a giant stack of clothes. Does that shirt really have to be laid spread out like that, or can it be rolled up and tucked into a corner?

 Good packing is all about comfort, no matter where you are going. 

How To Pack Your Backpack Efficiently: Step-By-Step Guide

Stuffing everything into your backpack like a game of Tetris is one way to do it. Except, it’s a game of Tetris gone wrong.

It’s that heart-sinking feeling when you realise you’ve got no space left to put your essentials in. Or, you’ve put all the important stuff, like your travel documents, below a thick stack of clothes.

Here’s a simple breakdown of all the steps you need to know how to pack your backpack efficiently:

  1. Choose the right backpack for the trip
  2. Make a checklist of things you need
  3. Lay out and categorise everything
  4. Pack liquids in a separate pouch
  5. Pack bulky and non-essentials at the bottom
  6. Keep your essentials in easy-to-reach pockets
  7. Roll your clothes
  8. Accessorise your backpack with packing cubes and rain cover (if needed).
  9. Double-check everything
  10. Keep refining your packing after every trip.

After you’ve got the perfect backpack for your trip and a personalised packing checklist, it’s time to pack things up.

Choose The Right Backpack

How To Pack A Backpack - CabinZero

The right rucks make packing a breeze.

If you’re flying for your next trip, you absolutely have to think about this step. All airlines have their baggage rules that allow specific dimensions and weight

The majority of airlines allow a carry-on backpack of 56 x 36 x 23 cm. A 30L backpack can be an okay fit. A 28L is an even more comfortable choice as it can easily be stored in the overhead compartment and the space under the seat in front of you. 

CabinZero’s tip: Use cabin-size backpacks. They are already pre-measured to fit perfectly on the plane. You don’t have to waste time measuring your backpack before the flight because a good cabin-size backpack can fit comfortably in an airport baggage sizer.

Make A Packing Checklist

How To Pack A Backpack

A backpack packing checklist helps keep everything in check. Photo by Paico Oficial on Unsplash

We can’t stress this enough. A packing checklist should be the priority before you reach the actual packing step. It keeps the packing process quite linear. It means that you don’t have to go back and forth or run around the room to see if what you need is there. If Item A is packed in, just put a checkmark next to it on the list.

The cardinal rule of packing prep is to decide which of your belongings is essential. They are things you can’t live without on your trip. From a solo travelling checklist to a beach checklist, there are so many checklists available online if you don’t feel like making one yourself.

To know what stuff is important, consider asking yourself these questions:

    • What kind of travel are you going for? For example, if you’re travelling for a beach holiday, swimwear and skin protection products should be at the top of your list. Or, if you’re visiting the world’s best mountains, think about all the appropriate clothing first. 
    • What’s the weather over there? This helps you decide whether the beautiful turtleneck you bought is worth packing. 
    • How long will you be away? For long trips, think of essentials you can’t cycle through or may not last the whole trip. Also, think of things you know you won’t find at your destination, for example, your medication.
    • What’s your accommodation? A shared dormitory is cheap and ideal for backpackers, but the communal bathroom may not have everything you need. A camping site requires additional gear, such as a tent and sleeping bags.
    • Is there any restriction? Some countries prohibit certain products from entering their border.
    • Can I find alternatives at my destination? A beach towel is too thick to pack into your backpack? You can leave it at home because beach towels are sold everywhere.

Sort And Categorise Your Belongings

How To Pack A Backpack - CabinZero

The first step on how to pack a backpack smoothly. Credit: @amend_raditya

Start by gathering everything you think you might need and spread it out on the floor. Be ruthless! Eliminate anything you can live without or duplicate items that serve similar purposes.

Then, group your stuff into categories, such as clothes, toiletries and electronics. This can help you visualise how much stuff is in each category and whether you should downsize them.

As the experts at REI suggest, cut everything you want to bring in half. And then do it again, cutting the second load in half one more time. What’s left is all that you should bring and need for your trips.

Separate Liquids And Dry Items

How To Pack A Backpack - CabinZero

To keep things dry. Credit:: @amend_raditya

Putting all your liquids in a separate pouch or packing cube is the best way to avoid spillage while travelling. When you reach in to find an item, there are fewer risks of accidentally knocking over a bottle of shampoo or loosening the lid of your hair gel tub.

Apart from the obvious reason, keeping all your liquids in the same place is also a must-do at airports. Almost all airlines will require you to follow the 3-1-1 liquid rules for carry-on strictly. To avoid the hassle later on, it’s better to organise things in your backpack accordingly.

Packing Cubes Are Your Best Friends

Many times, things seem organised at first glance. But as soon as you swing your backpack on your back, they get shuffled up in it. The answer to a secret on how to pack a backpack effectively? We say it’s these magic cubes. They have a lot of benefits, even after you have packed everything.

Order To Pack Your Backpack

You might think packing essentials first so you won’t forget them later is a good idea. But if your essentials are not heavy or big enough, it will throw your backpack off-balance. Imagine a plant that leans to the side because its roots are too weak for the branches.

  • You should pack heavier items at the bottom or as close to your body as possible. This creates a strong foundation to lay smaller and lighter items on top. If the bottom of your backpack is loosely packed, things don’t shift around when you move.
  • Next, pack electronics such as laptops and mid-weight items in the middle. Clothes you might need for layering or unexpected weather changes should also be in this place. And, if possible, leave some room in the middle for any souvenirs or interesting items you pick up along the way.
  • For the top, pack clothes you'll need soon, like a change of underwear, pyjamas, or a T-shirt for the plane. It’s also a good idea to put your travel documents, medications, snacks, and a book you're reading here.
  • The outside pockets should be reserved for small, frequently used items: Sunglasses, sunscreen, water bottles, hand sanitiser, chargers, and anything that you need for easy grab-and-go.

Roll To Save Space

 Use space-saving techniques to optimise your packing.

For clothes, you can roll instead of fold. Rolling clothes is one of the best ways to save space while packing. Got that small gap between your toiletries and makeup bags? A rolled-up shirt or pair of shorts can probably be squeezed into it!

Folding creases the fabric. Rolling doesn’t. You might not have access to a clothes iron while travelling, so rolling is a good way to keep wrinkles at bay. Rolled-up clothes can be tightly packed together, so there are also fewer chances of them shifting around in your backpack. 

You can utilise pockets and empty spaces. The inside of your shoes is perfect for a pair of socks. Stuffing your undergarments inside the pockets of your pants is also a good space-saving trick.

Grab Your Backpack The Right Way

After all is said and done, all that’s left is just a few adjustments. First, snap those compression straps in place, so your pack will be less bulky. Put the pack on your back to see if it’s comfortable to carry around (at least 20 minutes if you don’t plan on walking too much or hiking).

Pack an additional personal item bag if you need to. For instance, essentials such as snacks, entertainment, and travel documents can be put in a shoulder bag or a hip pack for easy access during security and flying.

Last but not least, double-check everything. See if your travel documents are valid and included yet. 

Learn as You Go: Keep Refining

Rarely will anyone get it right the first time. You wish that you had brought a jacket or two amidst Mexico's chilly nights. Or you struggle with making your load comfortable to carry. It’s fine; everyone’s style is different.

Take a picture before embarking. After you arrive home at the end of your holiday, whip that photo out and compare, see if there’s anything you don’t use or anything you wish to bring along the second time.

Keep making the changes that are right for you. After a few rounds, you’ll get it: the ultimate packing list that is for you, designed by none other than yourself.

Efficient Backpack Packing Guide - FAQs 

 Packing a backpack should help you travel hassle-free, and not stressing you out.

Backpack packing should not stress you out before your trip. If you know all the basics and have the perfect backpack of choice, it’d be just like a breeze. But not all trips are the same, so backpack packing also changes a bit here and there.

To keep things hassle-free and easy-peasy for you, here are some answers to questions you may have.

How To Pack A Backpack For 3 Days?

It’s easy and difficult at the same time,  as all experienced travellers know. The packing list is not that long since it’s just 72 hours. But the actual task of narrowing down the packing list from the sea of items you’re debating to bring or not to bring can be a pain in the back.  

First, think of the essentials. What can and can’t you survive without for 3 days? For example, instead of packing a makeup bag with every shade of lipstick you own, just bring one or two that you love the most. 

Clothes tend to be the items people find challenging to pack the most. For a 3-day trip, aim for two sets of clothing. Pick clothes that are versatile in style. Then, pack an extra item or two to mix and match if needed. Unless you’re going to be doing specific activities, such as hiking and trekking, pack one pair of simple shoes. 

Depotting your items into smaller containers is also a great way to pack for a short trip. Instead of a full-sized bottle of lotion, squeeze some into a travel packet. 

How Do You Pack A Backpack For Day Hiking?

An adventure-friendly backpack is what you need. Adventure backpacks often have more compartments both inside and outside to store essentials. A good adventure backpack also has a high water-resistant rate to protect your belongings against the weather.

Once you’ve got the backpack that is perfect for your hike,  you can start by packing hike essentials. Arrange everything in order of use. The items you reach for the most - a water bottle, hike gear, camera - go on top.  Lesser used items go to the bottom. These can be your travel documents, which you don’t feel safe leaving at your hotel but don’t want to get in the way while hiking, and a clean t-shirt to change in case you get dirty. 

You can also get a sidekick bag to accompany your main backpack. It can be a hip bag or a crossbody bag to store small essentials such as your phone, hand sanitiser and money.

 Get a companion bag to go with your backpack for a hiking trip.

What’s The Best Way To Pack Clothes In A Backpack?

Roll instead of folding. Rolling helps save space and avoid wrinkles. Once you’ve rolled up your clothes, you can place them horizontally or vertically as you see fit. It’s a much more versatile way to pack than the regular fold and stack.

Use packing cubes. They keep clothes organised and stay put while travelling. This helps avoid clothes making contact with other things such as your shoes and your toiletries. You might not think it’s that serious until you unpack and see your favourite shirt soaked in spilt shampoo or have a dark shoe print on the front. 

Make use of the empty spaces. The pockets of your jeans? They’re perfect for storing your undergarments. The inside of your shoes or hats? Roll up your socks and shove them in there.

What’s A Good Backpack Size For Travelling?

Of course, it’s not necessary to use up all of the space since you’ve already paid for it. But this might become an issue if you’re flying and the airline hits you with, “Sorry, your bag exceeds our baggage size allowance” at the last minute. Meanwhile, you don’t even have that much stuff in it! It’s not that great either if your bag is too small.

To find the ideal backpack size, you can consider the following:

How long are you going to travel? The size of your backpack should depend on the length of your trip. Packing for a 3-day trip is very different from a 2-week trip. 

For shorter trips, you can pack more clothes than you need, as you might not have to worry about washing and cycling through them. But then you have to go easy on toiletries (for example, full-sized bottles, bath bombs, and cleaning supplies) or other things you can live a few days without. So, your backpack can be something compact and minimal.

For longer trips, let’s say something between 2 weeks and 1 month; it’s not that great of an idea to pack stuff you can cycle through, like clothes. You wear two outfits one day, then wash them the next, and such. So you don’t end up with a backpack full of clothes for every travel day. You can go for larger backpacks, especially ones that come with packing cubes and lots of compartments for different items.

How To Pack Your Backpack - CabinZero

Backpacks come in many sizes for flexible packing.

What Is Considered A Small (Or Big) Backpack?

Backpack sizing differs between producers, but not by much. The general sizes for backpacks are often 28L, 30L, 32L, 36L, 42L, and 44L. Before you ask, yes, their capacity is measured in litres. A 28L backpack can be considered small, and the medium is 32L. 44L might be considered large.

Here’s CabinZero’s backpack size guide for your reference:

CabinZero Backpack

Size (in Metric/cm)

Size (in Imperial/in)



39 x 29,5 x 20

15.4" x 11.6" x 7.9"

Good for daily use and short holidays


50 x 32 x 15

19.7" x 12.6" x 5.9"

Perfect for short outdoor adventures, like a beach trip or a mountain hike


46 x 31 x 18

18.1" x 12.2" x 7.1"

Perfect for short outdoor adventures, like a beach trip or a mountain hike


5 x 31 x 20

17.7" x 12.2" x 7.9"

Outdoor adventure-friendly

Perfectly sized as a trolley bag


55 x 35 x 20

21.7" x 13.8" x 7.9"

A made-for-long-adventure backpack


51 x 37 x 20

20.1" x 14.6" x 7.9"

The ultimate adventure backpack, perfect for all terrains

Also, you need to look into the type of trip you’re embarking on. Let’s put it simply: you can’t pack a flimsy work backpack for a trek. There are not enough compartments for all your items, such as equipment and an emergency medical kit.

For a beach trip where you’ll be spending all of your time on the sand and in water, you might want to look for a waterproof backpack or one with a wet compartment for your used swimsuits.

Get Ahead In How To Pack A Backpack Like A Pro Traveller

Learning how to pack a backpack is a much-needed skill. And we’re not just speaking solely for travel context. Backpacks are perfect for every occasion, from short to long trips and from daily wear to formal use. 

A great backpack packing should begin with picking the right backpack for the type of trip. Going on an outdoorsy adventure? Look for adventure backpacks. Classic backpacks, on the other hand, are great travel companions for a city getaway.

Now that your backpack is neatly packed and your trip is waiting, what’s left to do is to leave CabinZero a lovely comment or find us on social media for more hassle-free travel tips.

Nguyen Tran Gia Khanh

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