March 27, 2013
By Chris Meder
Packing is one of those unsung skills of all successful climbers. Do it well and you will save time, energy, hassle… and be ready to go before everyone else. Here are a few things to help you improve your packing game.
1. Pack only what you need, leave the rest behind.
Less gear means a lighter pack, which makes it far easier and more enjoyable to climb. We all know this intuitively, but it’s easy to lose sight of when thinking about creature comforts. Pare down your gear to only what is on the gear list, and you’ll be well on your way to a better climb. Most climbs are relatively short in the grand scheme of things, so it’s easy to go without some of those supposed “necessities” for three or four days. You will thank yourself every time you pick up your pack.
2. Be balanced and compact.
An ideal packing job should give you a compact and balanced pack that won’t be cumbersome while climbing. Here are some guidelines to help you get there:
- Heavy, dense items such as food, water and climbing gear should be centered in the pack, and go up against your back and generally from the small of your back up to your shoulders
- Lighter, less-dense items such as clothing should surround the heavy items, further from your back and on the bottom
- Use stuff-able items such as clothing to fill in around rigid items, such as food or climbing gear, filling all the empty spaces
- Fit everything possible inside the pack (crampons and ice axe are the usual exceptions). Attaching things to the outside of the pack can throw you off balance easily.
3. Big things in the big pocket, small things in the small pocket.
If you’re buying new, choose a simple pack with one large compartment, and a small pocket better known as the lid of the pack on top. That’s really all you need. This might sound limiting, especially when considering all the bells and whistles on most packs on the market these days. But, the more pockets available, the more places to lose things. Keep the pack simple; this helps keep the job of packing it simple.
4. Do a trial run.
Lay out your gear, clothing and food for the climb on the living room floor. Now divide the gear into two piles:
- Big items – think jackets, clothing, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, water bottles…
- Small items – sunglasses, hat, knife, sunscreen, camera, GPS, toothbrush
Now pack the pack from the two piles; big things go in the big pocket, small things go in the small pocket. Simple enough, right? Think about it – if I put my camera or sunscreen in the middle of the big compartment amongst a bunch of clothes and other bulky items, I’ll never find it when I need it. And thinking about an item being buried makes me less likely to actually look for it. Translation – sunburn and no photos.
5. Same item, same place, every time.
“Where are those batteries?” “I know I packed that shirt somewhere.” We hear things like this a lot, and it’s just due to a lack of routine. So here’s how to avoid this. Pack and unpack your gear a bunch of times before a trip. Develop a system that works for you so that everything fits, and you know where everything is located. Do this enough so that you put each item in the same general place every time. This helps a lot when you’re looking for something or scrambling to pack quickly in the mountains. Everything has its place, and you’ll always know where each item lives. Then you’ll have time for a drink or a photo while someone else is looking for their batteries.
So there it is. Only pack what you need, in a simple pack, in a balanced and well organized manner and you’ll be well ahead of those who haven’t yet mastered the packing game.