Adventure racers are notorious for scrabbling in their backpacks as they pull everything out to locate a single item of gear – and commenting, “I’m sure it is in here somewhere!

What they haven’t realised is that their backpack is not a haystack and equipment need not be a needle. By organising and packing gear logically and methodically, you’ll be able to retrieve your waterproof jacket, thermal clothing, knife or headlamp from your backpack, in the dark of night, by touch.

Drybags no-brainer A waterproof inner liner on the inside of your backpack is absolutely essential. This is Adventure Racing… You WILL get wet!” cautions Nicholas Mulder (Team Uge.Cyanosis), whose local and international experience has taught him the importance of waterproofing gear. “I pack my clothing and other equipment into smaller bags in the dry bag, especially important stuff like medical kit and emergency clothing,” he adds.

Divide and conquer
There are options. Many line their backpacks with 25-litre drybags.

Although you can toss everything into this one big drybag, you’ll do better to separate gear into smaller plastic/drybags. Use a number of 5-litre drybags (I love the ones with the air valve to vacuum pack the contents) or freezer zip-seal plastic bags. Nicholas favours thick, clear plastic bags, with a Velcro fold-over closing, available from most outdoor shops.

Deciding what goes where
My little sleeping bag has its own drybag; my thermal top and tights share with my waterproof jacket, beanie and extra socks; my headlamp, emergency light, extra batteries, emergency blanket and first aid kit take another; rope equipment (slings, carabiners, harness, Prussiks) gets another; and a final bag is handy for miscellaneous things like an extra Buff, food, shades and other odds that are accessed more often.
Items like snacks, knife, whistle, sunblock, lip balm reside in my backpack’s outer pouches for immediate access.

Pack it in
It goes without saying that bags containing less frequently used items should be packed out of the way at the bottom of your backpack (sleeping bag, emergency thermal clothing, rope equipment).

Equipment that you are more likely to use goes on top, closest to your backpack’s zip opening. For comfort, Nicholas recommends that you “ensure that no bulky or sharp items are placed on the side of the backpack that lies against your back”.

If you’re rifling in your pack in the dead of night you’ll be able to locate an item according to its placement in your backpack (top, middle or bottom) and the texture of the contents (softer clothing vs chunky headlamps and batteries).

Packing your backpack efficiently and effectively takes a little planning. Stock up on drybags, pack only what you need (you don’t need that extra tshirt, fleece or deodorant) and you’ll benefit from less weight and better gear management.

Author: Lisa de Speville | Originally published in Go Multi Magazine, June/July 2008