Carl’s Outdoor Addiction: Backpacks + How To Pack One

It had became evident I had a problem. I was wandering through REI a couple of years ago when my then 8-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son put their arms up in a mini human wall, with my daughter saying “nothing to see here.” This was a feeble and failed attempt to distract my attention from the columns of backpacks. They knew I’d want to scout them out, looking for the one I might need to add to my quiver of packs. I don’t need (mere technicality) another backpack. If you look in my garage I have my own wall of packs. A myriad of packs to select from depending on the outing ahead.

Early during the COVID-19 shutdown where normally not working would mean: climbing, running or back country skiing I was stuck at home. One task that actually happened twice was garage reorganization. Part of this, a big part of me is the “gear shed” including the backpacks. As I organized my beloved packs (picture 1 step down from Gollum with his precious) it dawned on me WHY I love backpacks so much.

Backpacks to me equate to adventure.

Being out in nature, away from the noise of cities, towns, cars and yes other people. I’ve always enjoyed nature and the outdoors but I got into hiking around 20 years ago. That lead to mountaineering, rock climbing, ice climbing, ultra-distance trail running, skiing, Telemark skiing, ski mountaineering and more. I’m not elite at any of these but try to do all in good form & style. You can’t always judge a book by its cover but with some degree you can minimally give an assessment to an outdoor athlete or enthusiast by their backpack.

Here’s a bit of how I see this and ways you might be able to step up your outdoor game – at least in appearance. Experience and coaching will help with the rest of your technical know how.

Some things to think about on the backpack front:

There’s a definite fun in packing. Prepping for a quick 1 hour hike verses a mulitiday outing is in direct ratio to how much prep time you should put in.

If you’re hiking up Little Si, prep time is a few minutes. If you’re doing the Wonderland Trail which can take over the course of 5-7 days, prep time will take many hours.

Try to be minimal and weight conscious. Lay out all options – clothes, food, creature comforts, etc. for you to get a visual on what you think you need. Make decisions based on THE BACKPACK. Will it all fit? Nope, you need to start carving things out or select a bigger pack. I always strive to do the former before making the decision to the latter.

On longer trips food is a big pack weight factor. Plan out your meals ahead of time, including your snacks. You want to make sure you don’t run out of food but also don’t want to pack a bunch of food home after the trip.

Some good questions to ask your self:

  • How heavy is it?
  • What don’t I need?
  • What do I most likely NOT need but it’d be dire if I didn’t have it and things went really poorly?
  • How comfortable do I need to be at every second?

PRO Tip: Do not pack a hammer to pound in tent stakes, I don’t care how small it is, nature has rocks for that.

Make tough choices before bumping up in backpack size. I do whatever I can to avoid using my biggest pack. Give someone a bigger pack, they’ll find a way to fill it. That bigger fuller pack means you’re working harder and likely enjoying the outing less.

I have a few outings coming up and first decision I’m thinking on is which pack should I take…with every return trip as I unpack I learn. Did I use everything I packed in a significant way? With the exception of emergency gear (first aid kit, extra insulating layer) what can I remember to leave out for a similar trip?

David Lee Roth famously said, “It’s not whether you win or lose it’s how good you looked…on the trail having a clean self-contained pack is a win.”


By Carl Swedberg Fitness Services Director at PRO Club

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