Most hikers will tell you that there is no one right way to load up your backpack, instead advising you to find what works for you personally. And that's good advice, but there are still some guidelines you should follow to make sure the load is balanced, which will help you hike longer and farther with less back pain. Here's my breakdown, bottom to top, of which gear should go where in your pack.
Bottom: Sleeping Bag First
Down here, you’ll want to store your compressed sleeping bag along with other non-essentials—things you don't need while out on the trail. Think base layers, camp booties, and extra clothes. If you’re really trying to save space, pack these non-essentials in your compression sack with your sleeping bag and compress them together.
Middle: Heavy Items Closest to Your Back
On top of your sleeping bag, pack your heaviest camping items like your cook set, stove, food, and hydration reservoir. You’ll want these closest to your back—your center of gravity—to give you the best balance on trail. For me, the heaviest stuff ends up up being my food stash most of the time. Be careful to not smash any goodies!
Top: Gear You Need on Hand
Up here, you’ll want to pack what you need access to on-trail, like your water purifier, an emergency rain shell, trail snacks, and toilet necessities. I prefer to pack my tent horizontally up top, so I can have quick access in case I need to deploy it quickly in bad weather. I like how the weight of the tent carries on my shoulders as well.
Accessory Pockets: Sundries
Accessory pockets—like the lid, side pockets, and hip pockets—are there to help you organize your gear. I like storing my toiletries, sunscreen, headlamp, and GPS tracker in my lid so I can access them any time of the day. Depending on how big the hip pockets on your pack are, you may be able to fit a small camera, or you can stash small essentials like lip balm or a paper map.