How to Pack a Rucksack in the Military: A Guide

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As a military member or veteran, you know all too well the importance of packing efficiently for any mission or deployment. A properly packed rucksack can mean the difference between success and failure in the field. But with so many items and limited space, it can be overwhelming to pack everything you need while still keeping your ruck at a manageable weight.

An old adage says, “Travel light, freeze at night.” But there is no need to be uncomfortable in the field and you can avoid freezing or other discomfort with a little planning. In this guide, we'll share some tried and true tips on how to pack a rucksack like a pro, drawing from our own experiences in the military. So, grab your trusty ruck and let's dive into the ultimate guide on efficient packing for any military endeavor.

Do We Really Need a Guide on How to Pack a Rucksack

Short answer is, yes. So, let's talk about how to pack a rucksack in the military. Now, you might be thinking, "Just throw everything in there and call it a day." But there's definitely a method to the madness. As every seasoned soldier knows, a properly packed rucksack can make all the difference in the world when you're out in the field.

It can mean the difference between being comfortable and being miserable, between being prepared for anything and getting caught with your pants down, so to speak. The best thing to start with is a packing list. Sure, every deployment to the field will vary (i.e. you won’t bring cold weather gear to the field in the summer), but if you develop a core packing list, and then a seasonal add on list, it will take some pressure off and you won’t have to remember everything you will need. First things first; make a list.

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How to Pack a Rucksack with Essentials

Alright, so you're heading to the field and you've got your trusty rucksack ready to go. But what should you pack? Make sure you've got a sturdy water bottle or a hydration bladder along with plenty of pogey bait (snacks) to keep you fueled up. You'll also want a good first aid kit just in case. A reliable headlamp or flashlight is also a must have.

Your sleep system, parachute cord, e-tool, and 100 mph tape are all great things to pack too.

How to Pack a Rucksack with Clothing

First up, we've got uniforms. How many uniforms you bring depends on how long you will be out in the field. For a short field exercise of two weeks or less, some people bring just two uniforms, one for each week. Most will say three uniforms is a good rule. For longer excursions think about how much you will need.

Of course, think about whether or not you will need under garments and cold or wet weather gear. Many soldiers prefer to leave the underwear at home during time in the field and that saves a little bit of space in the ruck. But do not skimp on socks and spare boots, especially if you’re going to be some place very wet.

How to Pack a Rucksack with Hygiene items

You don’t need to overdo it when packing hygiene items. Sure, it is important to bring along soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, shaving kit, feminine products, and other items you might need, but don’t get carried away packing things like conditioner, blow dryers, and other comfort items that might not have a place in the field.

A critical component of any hygiene list are baby wipes. These are fantastic for quick clean-ups or if you might not have access to showers. And of course, don't forget any medications or first aid supplies you may need. Consider bringing sunscreen, lip balm and bug spray if your location requires it.

These items are great to pack in pockets so they are readily available (along with snacks and water).

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How to Pack a Rucksack by Maximizing Space

Rolling your clothes instead of folding them saves space. Even better, consider investing in compression sacks. These little wonders allow you to squeeze out all the air from your clothes and keep your pack compact. They can also keep clean clothes dry.

Put clothes and things you will need at the top of your ruck that way they are easily accessed when they are needed. Also, consider packing soft clothing items along the spine of your pack so hard items aren’t digging into your back. When placing the rolled clothes in your rucksack ensure you fill any gaps with smaller items like socks or t-shirts. Remember to distribute the weight evenly for a comfortable carry.

Tricks for Carrying Heavier Items

If you're carrying heavier items into the field, it can be tough to fit everything in without your rucksack becoming too heavy or uncomfortable to carry. Luckily, there are a few tricks you can use to make sure you can carry those heavier items without any issues.

One trick is to pack your heaviest items closest to your back, which can help distribute the weight evenly. How to pack a rucksack with the weight distributed doesn’t have to be hard and the last thing you want is for your pack to be lopsided and throwing off your balance.

That's why it's important to know how to pack a rucksack with weight distribution in mind. Start by placing the heaviest items at the bottom of your pack and closer to your back. This will help keep your center of gravity stable. Then, fill in empty spaces with lighter items and make sure to distribute weight evenly between the left and right sides.

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Adjusting Straps for Comfort

Before you head out, make sure those shoulder straps are adjusted for maximum comfort and balance. A poorly adjusted rucksack can lead to some serious discomfort and even back pain, even long-term injuries.

Remember to adjust the shoulder straps so they fit snugly and comfortably, but not so tight that they're cutting off circulation. Next, adjust the waist and chest straps to evenly distribute the weight of the pack across your body. And don't forget to adjust the load lifters, those little straps on the top of the shoulder straps, to lift the weight off your back and onto your shoulders.


Hopefully you’re still not asking how to pack a rucksack in the military. As discussed in this blog post, there are key essentials that should always be included, and while it may seem overwhelming at first, hopefully these tips and tricks that can help you maximize space and organize your rucksack for optimal efficiency. Of course, if you have other tips or suggestions on packing a rucksack in the military, please share them in the comments below.

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