1. Roll with it
For fewer creases and more space, roll, don’t fold. But first, confusingly, you must fold your items using the ‘Gap’ method (as a shop assistant would for display), then roll them up tightly. Using this method means many tube-style, top-access packs must be unpacked fully at destination, unless you’ve compartmentalised (see below).
2. When to stuff it
Backpacks are basically big sacks, so you can stuff your clothes into them — the preferred method of the hung-over gap-yearer — but it makes locating things or looking even mildly presentable something of an issue. However, stuffing certain things (socks, belts, wash bag, etc.) in the hard-to-fill gaps between your rolled items will give you more space and mean your bag’s contents are less likely to shift around.
To make items in the main body of the backpack easier to locate, pack like-coloured or themed things together and use distinctive packing pods (shoe bags or canvas shopping bags work pretty well). Put things you need instant access to or that might leak (rain jackets, toiletries, travel documents) in outer pockets. Pack lesser-used items closer to the bottom or inaccessible core of the bag.
4. Feel the pressure
If you really want to organise your chaos, buy some compression sacks. These will shrink puffy things (sleeping bags, fleeces) to half their size and offer bonus waterproofing.
Top-heavy bags topple over; very bottom-heavy ones will give you backache. You and your bag will have better balance if you spread the load, keeping heavy items nearer the middle/bottom of your pack, towards your spine. Clothes will crease less, too. If you don’t mind looking like a one-man-band, fix lighter or awkwardly shaped items to the front of your pack, with carabiners or preexisting loops.
6. Weigh it up
The smartest (and priciest) backpacks are designed for specific uses — to make trekking, sailing, or bike-packing as pain free as possible. Many now also convert into wheelie bags and/or meet air cabin size requirements, meaning you don’t always have to shoulder your burden.
7. The world is a great big onion…
… and so are you. Pack clothing that can be layered for different climates, made from materials that dry easily. Put all your layers in a big pile next to your bag, then purge. Less is more — unless you’re a light packer, you’ll want to remove at least a third of that teetering stack of items before you start putting them in your bag.
Sarah Barrell is co-author of new book, How to Pack For Any Trip. RRP: £7.99 (Lonely Planet)
Published in the September 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)