Mindful Packing for Hiking Trips

Written by Steve Beattie, Founder of Breathing in Nature

I’ve spent many years taking people, young and old, out on wilderness trips.  On canoe trips, if there aren’t any LONG portages you can get away with packing everything, including the kitchen sink - literally.  I pack chairs, cooler, hammock, camera with all my lenses, charcoal grill, and indeed a wash basin (the kitchen sink). It all fits nicely into a couple of BIG bags that sit in the canoe. Not much carrying is involved.  Backpacking, on the other hand, requires a bit more planning and scaling down of gear.

I see so many people at the trailhead with enormous, unbalanced bags, with equipment crudely hanging from the straps.  They sound like an old wagon train clanging along the trail. They have, indeed, packed the kitchen sink. Not only is this noisy, it is a massive drain on your energy. You can’t stand up straight, and the swaying of gear is sucking your forward momentum away. If the weight is too low, you will need to lean way too far forward and you will hurt your back.  If the weight is too high you will be too unbalanced as you go up and down hills, climb over and under trees and crossing rivers, which could be life threatening.

This is balanced.

This is balanced.

So how do we pack for a hiking trip? Let’s start with the bag within the bag. Your compressible dry sac. This holds your large bulky soft items that needs to stay dry: sleeping bag and clothes.  At the bottom of this bag will go your emergency base layer, and dry clothes you don’t expect to wear. They will likely never come out of the dry bag and will act as a pillow. Next will go your sleeping bag and then the clothes you will need to change into after your day of hiking as the evening cools off and the bugs come out - clean, dry socks, pants, long sleeve shirt, jacket. Squeeze all the air out of your waterproof dry sac and place at the bottom of your backpack.

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Next comes your heavy items - fuel, food, stove.  These items you want close to your back between your shoulder blades. This will keep them centred over your hips as you hike..  To hold them in place you will stuff your tent (without poles), spare shoes, light food items, etc around them.

At the top of your bag you will pack the stuff you might need - warm seater, rain gear, first aid kit, water filter, lunch.

The lid to your backpack, sometimes called the brain, is where the essentials go. Snacks, sunscreen, lip balm, map and compass, camera, knife, medicine, sunglasses.


Exceptions to the Rules

As a guide i need to measure the moral of my group at every step of the journey.  On days that i know will be tough, i like to plan a cooked lunch of soup. It brings the group together, we relax, share our personal stories of our struggles with the hike and wait for the soup.  But this means i need to have the stove, pot, fuel, and soup accessible. Likewise, on a day of scattered rain showers or a very cold day, you may want your rain gear or sweater more accessible. Many backpacks - like mine - have extra zippered compartment to stash this kind of stuff.

Finally - your tent or hiking poles. They get strapped to the side of your bag where they can’t poke holes in your gear.

Wait a second, I’m not hiking the West Coast Trail.  I just want to do a day hike in the Greenbelt of Ontario.  How do I pack for that?

All the principals are the same.  Pack the heavy items, in this case your water, as close to your spine as possible.  Most Daypacks have a compartment for a water bladder, but you can also slide a water bottle in here too if you are sharing.  Jackets and sweaters go at the bottom. Lunch, sunscreen, bug spray, and first aid kit is easy to reach at the top. The ‘brain’ holds your wallet, car keys, and snacks.

I hope to see you on the trail.

Steve Beattie founder of Breathing in Nature

Steve Beattie founder of Breathing in Nature

Steve Beattie focuses on helping people with mindfulness, fascial stretch therapy, and the Wim Hof method. Steves hosts workshops, retreats and play time workshops outdoors! Fun fact! 

He has a daily practice of the WHM and meditation - usually first thing in the morning. Sometime mid-morning he NEEDS his physical workout.  This consists of primal pattern movements, KB work, running, biking - ANYTHING.Our bodies need to move all the time.  Every Sunday at 10am Steve can be found at Sunnyside Beach or High Park in Toronto. If you have a little experience with the WHM feel free to join him.  It's not an instructional session but you will likely learn lots. Often he has someone share their unique skills with movement, breathing, or meditation. 

Sessions are 30-120 minutes.  FREE! Playing, like breathing, is free.