Correct way to pack a backpack? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

This may sound a strange question, but which is the "correct" way to pack gear in a backpack - heaviest at the base or at the top? The reason I ask is that my newly acquired Super Trekker gives me enough room to put my gear anywhere! I plan to carry my tripod in a bag over my shoulder rather than attach it to the pack. Many thanks Paul

-- paul owen (, November 25, 2001


Typically, the weight should go closer to the top, but not so much so that it makes you close to tipping over with every step.

-- Todd Caudle (, November 25, 2001.

The heaviest items should be placed in the middle of the pack.

-- Mark Windom (, November 25, 2001.

I used to pack my heaviest item at the middle, but on the outside of the pack in a separate compartment that attached to the pack. This wasn't very efficient. This is my 7 lbs view camera, and surveying the pack one day, I decided to move it to the bottom on the inside of the pack.

This was altogether an improvement. The camera is supported by that portion of the pack best able to provide support, its base. Also, my hips versus my back supports the camera, which makes the pack feel a lot lighter. When fully loaded, the pack weighs upwards of 30 lbs, so the weight is probably pretty evenly spread.

-- neil poulsen (, November 25, 2001.


After long experience carrying fairly heavy backpacks long distances over high, steep mountain trails, I have concluded that the heaviest items are most efficiently carried at the top of the pack. I would place the very lighest object by volume, say a down sleeping-bag, at the bottom strapped to the frame below the pack proper (or, with a pack of "expedition" design, stuffed at the bottom). This way, by leaning slightly forward, the greater part of the weight is brought over the hiker's center of gravity. Placed lower on the frame, heavy objects will pull your entire body backwards. At the same time, a belly band will help to transfer weight from shoulders to hips or, better yet, on long hikes to allow you to alternately switch the burden back and forth between shoulders and hips. Correct distribution of weight and the proper (usually alternating) shifting of the load between straps and band can mean the difference between pleasure and agony.

I haven't hiked yet with my 8x10 field and heavy tripod, but if and when I do I'll start by putting both as high up as I possibly can. But everyone has to experiment and find out what works best for them as an individual. Good light, Nick.

-- Nick Jones (, November 25, 2001.


I have found over the years that a pack with the majority of the weight centered seems to be the best plan. I pack my camera and film holders in the center, my lenses at the top and a Tupperware container across the bottom for odds and ends like me meter and filters. The Tupperware keeps all the fine things dry even if there is a bit of a sprinkle going on. My backpack goes a bit above my shoulders and well down onto my hips with a hip belt. I also have had sewn two long (30 inches), round (10 inches) bags to each side. These serve to carry my tripod, trail mix, water, and survival kit. I like to have my hands free for my hiking pole and other things when I am out traveling. All told I'm carrying about 39 lbs. The reason I do not like to have my heavy pieces at the top is for balance. I'm a bit older and when climbing over obstacles I don't like the weight shift giving me an added boost. :>) I'm quite capable of tumbling around on my own without setting myself up by an additional high point of gravity.

For those that are curious I bought a wonderful Outbound backpack that completely opens (not just the top) for $65.00 Canadian. The added side bags I got for $4.95. (bags that sell for those little 2 wheel scooters the kids fold up nowadays). I then spent about $30.00 on a seamstress having the modifications made. The pack also has a padded zippered face where I can put my rain jacket, pad and pen etc. This is a wonderful pack with an abundance of room, well made and fully padded straps. It also has an inner strapping feature that permits me to secure my precious 4x5 inside so that it does not shift around. If anyone is interested I could take a couple of pictures and share the idea.


-- GreyWolf (, November 25, 2001.

The weight should definitely not be as low as the lumbar region of the spine, unless you like back problems. There have recently been several reports in the medical press of an alarming increase in back problems among high-school aged girls from carrying heavy loads of books in backpacks fitted low on their backs.

Exact position of the weight depends on your own stature, and the positioning of the pack, but a good starting point is to place the weight about even with your shoulder blades. In a resonably health human, that is where the weight (excluding legs) is centered.

-- Glenn C. Kroeger (, November 26, 2001.

Thanks to everyone for the replies. One thing I've noticed already is that despite being enormous and weighing a ton when empty, the Super Trekker feels much lighter when loaded up and on my back!! The harness/hip belt system certainly appears to do the job. Regards Paul

-- paul owen (, November 26, 2001.

The big issue in the varied answers is the center of gravity - the line from your feet through your spine. Whether at center or top of bag, the heaviest weight (camera) should be inside/nearest the spine. Center inside increases stability if you are on rough ground. Here is the kicker: tying your heavy tripod center back on the outside of the pack is the worst thing you can do because it further from the center of gravity. Same for add-on pockets with your water or accessories. All this goes on the side of the pack to move it closer to the center of gravity. Easy access is the other problem. Top access means camera in the top, with film holders beside, then vest and dark cloth. "Flap" access with opening back means that camera goes upper center near the spine, holder bag on the side next to it, then lighter accessories like your equipment vest (with meter and all your filters, exposure record notebook), etc. to the outside with the dark cloth. See the picture, drop the pack, set the tripod, unzip, put on the vest, mount the camera, compose, grab the holders, "click." Back in in the same order and back on the trail.

Long trail hiking puts sleeping bag and cloths not needed for the day on the bottom, then tent, stove, food layer, then camera. Again, heaviest items to the inside regardless of bottom or top.

-- David Meriwether (, November 29, 2001.

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