Bag packing is an art form. It doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to fill a weekend bag or squeeze all you can into a backpack, it’s usually a rushed disaster that involves zero skill or planning. But that’s exactly what this part of any trip is - a skill that requires planning. And do you know who the most skilful packers are? The military, that’s who.
Soldiers, marines, special forces operatives, they’re all trained in the high art of packing. It’s what makes them so efficient at covering mile after mile of unpredictable terrain with everything they might need strapped to their backs. They have been specifically taught how to pack a tighter, smaller, more organised and better-balanced backpack than everyone else at your airport gate -- and we’ve been speaking to a former member of the SBS to discover the military’s best packing tips (spoiler alert: none of them involve sitting on your bag battling with the zip).
Military Tip #1: Practise Makes Perfect
To get great at anything you need to practise, practise, practise - and that’s exactly what military members do. They set up a staging zones and then pack, unpack and repack their bag, rehearsing this process until it becomes habit. “Not only does this packing and repacking process make us better at filling a bag, it allows us to think through what we’ll need and memorise where we’ve packed everything so that we can access it quickly should we need to.”
Military Tip #2: Pack In Reverse
The simplest way to pack a functional bag is to pack in reverse, and the reason is simple: what goes in first comes out last. “When you have everything laid out on your staging area, consider what you’ll need to access first and then pack those items last so that they’re at the top. The opposite goes for those maybe items you’re packing. Because you might not need to use them, they should go in first, at the bottom of your bag.”
Military Tip #3: Pack For Your Body
A skilful traveller always packs with his body in mind. “If you’re carrying a backpack, make sure you pack the heaviest items in the centre, close to your spine. This will make your backpack easier to carry because the weight will be centred on your body instead of pulling back on you.” And this rule of physics can be applied to your bigger holdall bags too. According to our ex-special forces soldier, the secret is to split your bag into thirds, reserving the top third for your more lightweight items, packing your heaviest bits in the middle and anything that falls between at the bottom.
Military Tip #4: The Fold & Roll Technique
Considering the shape of your items is as important as packing with weight in mind. “Imagine you’re playing a game of Tetris by folding everything into uniform sizes and shapes. This will allow you to create stacks of clothing that fit better side-by-side and on top of one another.” As for your bigger, more cumbersome items - your jackets, sleeping bags, coats etc - the most effective technique is the “roll and tie”. “Instead of folding your bulkier items, roll them up as tightly as you can and then keep them in place with cable ties.”
Military Tip #5: Pack Bags Inside Your Bag
The difference between a “packed bag” and “a bag packed well” is the way it’s organised inside. That’s where smaller bags come in handy. “Electronics and wires, toiletries, hats and gloves, packing them into their own zippered cloth bags is an easy way to keep your main bag organised.” Our ex-SBS soldier also swears by a Go Bag. “Exactly what you fill this with depends on the trip, but it should float at the top of your bag and contain anything you might want to access quickly: travel documents, phone charger, headphones, energy bars, toothbrush, insect repellent, a change of clothes, anything considered important.”
Military Trip #6: Pack On A Need To Bring Basis
“The aim is to pack a bag that’s high speed and low drag.” Says our ex-SBS Commando. “It’s about being ruthless; packing everything you need to be prepared, but without skimping or adding bulk.” That’s where practising comes in. When you’ve got your staging area setup, separate everything you’re considering for the trip into two piles: essentials and maybes. “This technique will ensure you pack the fundamental items first, and allow you to fill any leftover space with items from your maybe pile.”
Military Tip #7: Know Which Bag Is Best
Military members are absolutely devoted to their gear -- they have to be, which explains why our ex-SBS serviceman advocates getting a bag you could not imagine travelling without. “The ultimate goal is to feel strong, move fast and stay small, and to accomplish this you need a bag that will allow you to save weight, time and space.”
Thankfully, this was the inspiration behind each of our bags: The Backpack, The Everyday Bag and The Weekender. We wanted to create a series of bags that are fit for every trip while making organisation easier to achieve.
Stubble & Co #forthosewhotravel