How to pack a backpack

So today I’m packing up all 20kg of my belongings and hitting the road again. I’ve had to pack and re-pack my backpack a hundred times by now, and I think I have perfected the method which many travellers find elusive. As I am a fairly nice person, I have decided to share this with you.

Tom’s step by step guide to becoming a tortoise;

1 – Lay out all of the things you want to get in your backpack. Remember to keep this as minimal as possible, because everybody looks down upon a heavy traveller, and also I guess for convenience reasons. I have these things which are dubbed “stuff sacks” which are essentially little bags which help me to organise things, so I have one bag for tops, one for bottoms, one for underpants and socks etc etc. I do find these very helpful when trying to find something and organise everything, so I highly recommend getting some, or just using some plastic carrier bags if you’re desperate. Once you have arranged all of these, you can move onto step two.

2 – Start with something soft and malleable at the bottom, like a big hoodie or a sleeping bag. This will help with the balance of the pack and will compress down as you pile more of your stuff on top of it. My pack has a seperate section at the bottom which I fill up with my hoodies so that I can access them quickly in the unlikely event that I feel cold and to distribute the balance of the bag well.

3 – If you have a tent, now is the time to think about it. Tents are heavy and bulky and a lot of people will strap these to the outside of their bags. The problem with this, is that it’s too far away from your centre of gravity and can cause discomfort during walking as it slowly pulls you over. Likewise, if you do manage to get it inside the bag, make sure it’s nice and central along with anything else heavy like cooking stoves and baby elephants. You can then insert your stuff sacks around the heavy items to fill up any remaining space while keeping care of your poor back.

4 – After fitting in three quarters of your stuff, realise it’s not all going to get inside the bag. Sigh dramatically, and start pulling everything back out again.

5 – Quietly remind yourself you have done this a thousand times before and you have not purchased anything new since the last attempt so that it is possible. Repack your tent, but maybe in a more horizontal position and relish in all that extra space you have on top, denying that it doesn’t actually make a difference. Place your stove in the middle again and start to surround it with stuff sacks.

6 – Get your finger stuck while trying to push a pair of shorts down the side of something. Curse loudly.

7 – Squeeze everything in, making sure the bag has a soft top so that when you put the top on and connect up the straps that you can pull down on them without breaking anything. Breathe a sigh of relief and feel accomplished, before you realise an unpacked travel towel in your peripheral vision.

8 – Curse again. Very loudly. This is very vital to the successful completion of step seven.

9 – Undo the straps and watch as the backpacker’s equivalent of the Mt St Helen’s eruption unfolds before your eyes, all for a dumb, slightly damp fucking travel towel. Tell yourself that you did a shitty packing job anyway and get to work again, realising you have wasted half your morning at this dumb and meaningless task. Start to question your life choices and wish you had a nice warm home to come back to at the end of the day instead of snoring Johnny and smelly Jennifer on the surrounding dorm room beds. Weep a single tear of despair.

10 – Quietly envy those with suitcases, even though you know they will never do a multi-day hike. Ponder very intensely how everybody else makes this look so fucking easy.

11 – Tell Frank you won’t burn down the hostel, because last time you took advice from a man in a rabbit costume you ended up crushed by a jet engine in your sleep.

12 – Create a pentagon out of sanitiser gel and residual coins of foreign currency and sacrifice your favourite novel to the bookswap to appease the backpacking gods.

13 – Miraculously you’ll find a way to fit everything in and to cram everything down once more (maybe thanks to the pentagon and that sleazy boy who’s currently ripping out the first page of your favourite book as paper to write down that girl’s number on). Put your bag on your back and start to head for the exit. Remember you’ve left your toothbrush on your pillow. Start to actually cry.

14 – Stuff the toothbrush in a side pocket as you just can’t be fucked to get to your fucking wash bag which has disappeared into a fucking alternate reality by now with that one fucking blue sock from Reykjavik. Maybe the baby elephant has eaten it, who fucking knows? Put the bag on your back and question why it’s not giving you twisting hernia and feels so god-damn fucking light. Turn to reveal your laptop left on a side table. Shout and wake everybody up.

15 – Shake smelly Jennifer awake and demand answers. Watch as she also starts to cry.

16 – Grab the pocket knife out of the side pocket of the bag. Count to three.

17 – Slit your wrists in turn and spend your last few minutes bleeding into that t-shirt you left on the hostel room floor.

18 – Arise once more in the comforting warmth of Hell, only to realise that your existence will now consist of nothing but packing and repacking fucking backpacks and faceless demon babies whipping your broken and bleeding back. Frank is laughing at you now, telling you that you should have just burned down the hostel as none of this would have happened if you had just listened to him.

So there you go folks. Happy tramping – Tom @ indie-road.

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