1) Long pieces can be your best friend or your worst enemy
Nothing beats getting a long piece in Tetris when you have the perfect spot for it. However, the long pieces seem to show up when you really don't want them. I like to compare the long piece in Tetris to my tent poles on a backpacking trip. I always have my tent poles with me and they never seem to fit with the other pieces in my backpack. However, moving tent poles to the outside of your backpack (after removing them from the tent stuff sack first) helps them fit perfectly and they don't interfere with the other pieces. This allows the rest of the tent to compress a lot smaller and fit more comfortably in the backpack.
2) The goal is to completely fill up the bottom row
When you get a solid row in Tetris, the row disappears. This concept is similar to packing a backpack in two ways.
- When you put gear in the bottom of your pack it disappears until you arrive at camp. In other words, gear in the bottom of your pack is harder to access, so it's likely you wont want to take the time to pull it out until you're done hiking. Put the gear that you won't need to access in the bottom and gear that you'll need quick access to (like your rain jacket) in the top of your pack.
- The items that you won't need until you reach camp are often the heaviest. Your sleep system (consisting of your sleeping pad and sleeping bag), your tent, and cookware are very heavy compared to other gear. Pack all of it together at the bottom of your pack. The weight in the bottom of your backpack will help you keep a lower center of gravity when you're wearing your pack and you'll be more comfortable on the trail. *The weight with practically disappear.
*It might not actually disappear...but it will be better than if you place all of the weight high in your pack.
3) Eliminate all of the gaps
Points are scored in Tetris when you have a solid row with no gaps. The same idea applies to packing a backpack, especially when it comes to packing food. How do I look at it? Reduce the space your food takes up and then you can take more food. That's a huge win. If you're bringing store bought dehydrated meals, get several bags of the same meal. Before heading out on your trip, combine all of the meals in one gallon-sized resealable bag. Leave all but one of the original bags at home. I throw one of the original bags in and eat each of my meals out of it. This eliminates extra packaging, get's rid of extra trapped air in the packaging, keeps any mess inside of the one resealable bag I use (I wash it out with boiling water after each use), and significantly reduces the amount of space needed for the food.
Another way to eliminate gaps is to use soft items like clothing to fill in the little gaps. Rolling the extra items helps too.
After spending a week on the Colorado trail I know that everything you need for a week can fit in 35 liter pack. I'm sure you can pack a week of gear into something even smaller, but that's up to you. Start with a bigger pack and then make notes during your trip of what do and don't use. Refine your packing lists as you get more experience and you'll eventually learn what you actually need and how little space it all takes up.
4) Use compression sacks if needed
Okay, you got me. There's no such thing as a "compression sack" in Tetris. Wouldn't it be great if you could make the pieces fit wherever you wanted them to, though? That's a big advantage that you have when you're packing a backpack, and you should use it if you need it. You can throw your biggest items into a compression sack, crank down on it, and the compression sack will help you free up a lot of space.
5) You can always start a new game
If at first you don't succeed....unpack and repack. Just like when you run out of space in Tetris, you can always start over. Keep making small adjustments until you get it "right." No matter how long you've been hiking or backpacking for, there's always room for improvement. That's all part of the fun. Keep trying new things.
What are your favorite packing tips? Let us know in a comment below.