How to Pack a Small Backpack for Camping

Last Updated on August 17, 2020

Do you believe in the latest backpacking philosophy that less is more?  Earlier than the 1990s, backpackers believed that carrying up to 70lbs is what could guarantee a safe and comfortable camping trip. Today, a new mindset and modern materials provide newer ways of ensuring all the essential items for a camping trip fit into small, ultra-light backpacks.

How to Pack a Small Backpack for Camping

However, it is not an easy thing to fit all the essential items necessary for a camping trip. Experienced backpackers know that the art and science of small packing is a time-dependent skill that requires a lot of experience and takes a lot of mistakes.

Does this mean you cannot learn how to pack a small backpack for camping? No, it does not.  You can rely on a few tips you will find here to show you where to begin. It requires some little research and planning to pull this off.

These tips can shave several pounds off your back. You must learn how to rely less on camping gear and depend more on your judgment on how to stay comfortable, healthy, and safe.

Tip 1: Target Areas for Load Lightening

The easiest and most effective way to reduce the size of your backpack for camping is to target or replace one or more of four essential items usually carried by backpackers. The four items include the pack itself, tent/shelter, sleeping bag, and pad. Here are a few tips on how to reduce or replace each of these four items.

The Backpack

It was not common to have a 70ltr backpack in a 3 to 4-pound range a few years ago. Today, there are ways to go around that. It is possible to find ultra-lightweight packs that feature only minimal padding and frame-less design of 45 to 55 liters. They are so small; they can weigh as little as 1.5 to 2 pounds.

In case you want to pack a small backpack for camping, it would be logical to go along with the modern frame-less packs. You will be able to pack many of the essential items yet keep the pack small and lightweight. Also, read Direct Action Ghost backpack click here.

The Shelter

The shelter is vital on a camping trip. It offers the only place for you to rest your back and enjoy a safe and comfortable sleep. But a shelter is one of the bulkiest yet essential items you pack on your camping trip.

Tents offer the coziest feel. However, traditional models are often very bulky. A good way to pack small for your camping trip is to choose a modern mesh tent featuring rain fly to keep insects out. In case you will be alone on your trip, then you can choose an ultra-light single-person tent that weighs 1 to 1.5 pounds.

Even better is to do away with a bulky tent altogether. Instead, create a good rain shelter out of an ultra-lightweight tarp. The rest of the materials you need to create a tarp shelter apart from guylines are readily available in the wilderness. Other lightweight alternatives that can provide decent shelter are Bivvy sack and lightweight hammock.

Sleeping Bag And Sleeping Pad

Other targets for packing the small backpack for camping are sleeping bag and sleeping pad. Concerning sleeping bags, you can reduce the weight of your backpack by choosing one with down fill. This is because the synthetic fill is bulkier and less compressible. You can actually find a down sleeping bag that weighs a paltry 1 to 2 pounds.

There are other tips to lower the weight of your sleeping bag. First, select a bag that is not warmer than you need. Second, choose a mummy sleeping bag without a hood. Instead, wear a warm knit hat or a balaclava if you will be facing colder nights.

Even better is that you can do away with sleeping bag altogether and pack a down trekking quilt.

When it comes to sleeping pads, modern backpackers prefer air pads instead. A full-length air can be extremely light weighing under a pound. Yet, it can still provide a lot of comforts and cushioning even with minimal insulation.

Tip 2: Lightweight for Packing Food and Water

The aforementioned four are the heaviest. However, water, food, and fuel are the second in line. Making better decisions can help you cut more backpack weight. At the bottom line, learn the art of packing only as much as you will need for the entire period you will be camping.


There are ways to reduce the amount of water you carry. Conduct some research on your prospective camping site. Are there any water sources around? If so, do the sources contain clean water or murky water?

The presence of a water source means you can carry only the amount of water necessary for the first day. You can then pack a mini-filter and some backup water purification tablets. A mini-filter can weigh as little as 2 ounces.

A piece of good advice to get rid of excess weight brought by water is to use collapsible water bottles. In fact, the soft water bottles are as much as 80 percent lighter than the traditional hard plastic water bottles. Collapsible water bottles are 1 to 2 liters in capacity.


Like water, food is basic yet can be very heavy. The amount of food you pack should be commensurate with your intended activity when you go camping. Aim to carry food that will provide you with between 3000 and 4000 calories per day.

A few tips can help you reduce the weight and bulk of food you pack in your backpack. First, you can go instant. For example, choose instant coffee or oatmeal because they are calorie laden and barely weigh a few grams. Second, choose calorie-rich snacks and fat-rich foods.

The third tip is to dehydrate foods before packing them. This will save a lot in terms of packaging and money. You can then do your own packaging. Once at the camping site, re-hydrate some of these foods as you like.

Tip 3: Ultra-light packing for Cookware, Stove, and Fuel

The camping site is not a restaurant or your home kitchen. Therefore, you cannot carry everything you need for restaurant-grade foods. A good way to pack a small backpack for camping is to choose wisely on how you will prepare your food.

A wise plan would be to boil water and add to dehydrated foods instead of having to cook an actual mean from scratch.  This will save a lot of weight on fuel and food.

In terms of cookware, bring a multipurpose utensil such as a titanium mug. It will serve as a pot at the same time. Instead of a spoon and a fork, pack a spork. When it comes to the stove, there are several lighter alternatives to the traditional stoves. Pack a tablet fuel stove, an alcohol stove, or a canister stove.

If you are going to camp with one or more people, an integrated canister stove system is a lighter alternative. Each of these stove alternatives weighs just a few ounces yet are efficient burners.

Final Words

The information here is doubtlessly helpful but not as comprehensive as it should be. Following the basic tips on how to pack a small backpack for camping can greatly reduce the weight you will have to bear.

True ultra-light backpacking requires experience and wisdom. Always strive to go for lighter and smaller yet efficient alternatives to the essential items. Also, pack multi-purpose items such as multi-tool instead of special tools.


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