How to pack the perfect pack?

If you’ve ever eyed the pack of a mountain guide and felt a pang of envy, you’re not alone. Guides’ packs are generally small, streamlined, elegant, and appear to be light. How to do it ?

Aside from aesthetics, there are some very good reasons to have a well-packed backpack. A well-packed pack is smaller, less cumbersome, and functional in all circumstances. It is also more compact, with the weight evenly distributed, making it more comfortable to carry. 

A lot of guides manage to fit all their kit into a 26-litre pack, while the rest of us would need a 35-litre pack to carry the same amount of gear. This isn’t an accident…

Tomas Mueller and his Whartog 26l

The guide’s pack isn’t necessarily as light as it looks, because all the essential equipment is neatly sandwiched inside it, including technical gear, extra clothing (lightweight down jacket, for example), food, drinks, and also emergency equipment (two-way radio and first aid kit) and small spare gear (gloves, skins) in case a group member forgets something.

So which pack should you choose and how should you fill it to get the same result?

Here is some advice that may be helpful

1) Don’t choose a pack that is too big, thinking that bigger is always better. This is sometimes true, but in this case the pack itself will be heavier and the compression straps won’t be enough to give it a streamlined shape. When used for a one-day outing, a 55-litre pack will get hung up on things and be cumbersome and unbalanced. The wide waist belt typically found on big packs like these will be useless and annoying. You’ll have a hard time quickly locating items.

2) Spread the load: light items in the bottom of the pack (emergency down jacket and extra clothing), heavy items just above (repair kit, crampons, climbing gear, thermos), and light but voluminous items above and around the rest, and against the back panel (clothing, gloves, extra skins).

3) Organise your gear:

You should be able to locate items in your pack with your eyes closed, and you should also be able to quickly explain to someone else how to find something.

In general, avoid using multiple pockets. This often leads to lengthy searches for essential items.

Don’t attach accessories to the outside of the pack, with the exception of carrying systems designed specifically for certain items. Nothing is worse than a water bottle or a helmet that constantly swings around.

4) Use all the available space. By packing things down and nestling various items, you can fit in a lot more stuff. Keep comfort in mind and avoid packing hard objects (thermos, crampons) directly against the back of the pack.

5) Eliminate the unnecessary: avoid carrying the packaging for energy bars, or an entire family-sized bottle of sunblock, for example.

Helias Millerioux with a White Tiger 28 in Les Courtes North Face ©Alex Pittin

A practical example for a one-day ski tour / White Tiger 28L pack

At the bottom:

A super-lightweight down jacket for emergencies or cold conditions (my personal favorite: the Triple Zero Azal jacket), and two energy bars in case someone gets hungry. These items are packed in a large plastic bag (a garbage bag).

Just above:

The rope stacked in a small bag for this purpose, and a pair of crampons if the route requires them. If there is a good chance that you’ll be using the rope and crampons, they should be packed in the top of the pack.

In the middle:

Food and drinks (thermos).

Against the back panel:

First aid kit and two-way radio.

At the top:

Skins and ski crampons, so they are easily accessible.

In the emergency gear pocket:

Shovel and probe only.

In a separate pocket (front flap pocket):

Repair kit, extra batteries, headlamp.


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