Packing your dive bag correctly can make your diving more enjoyable and easier. There are three philosophies or combinations thereof. First, pack for easy unpacking at the dive site. Second, pack for maximum protection of the gear. And finally, pack for organization—a place for everything and everything in its place. I recommend that combination of one, two, and three, which just makes sense.
Pack with what you put on last at the bottom of the bag. This is usually the fins. This is also a good choice to give added protection to the gear packed in on top. If there are side pockets for fins, by all means use these. They will make the main compartment less crowded and protect the sides of the bag with the semi-hard fin blades. Because you will be putting on your gloves last, shove them into the fin foot pockets.
A good choice for the bottom of the bag is the wetsuit jacket. While there are things you may put on before after this the jacket will provide padding for delicate items such as a mask. Wedge the mask (preferably in a protective box) in between the wetsuit jacket and boots to the sides and wetsuit pants on top, not just because you will be accessing that before your jacket but also because it provides padding for the mask below and regulator assembly above.
The regulator assembly and BCD are on top (BCD atop the regulator) because this is usually what divers touch first, setting up their tank assembly before ever putting anything else on. The BCD protects the more delicate regulator below. Of course, if you have a padded regulator bag, use it, but you still may want to put it under your BCD for extra protection.
A BCD note: If you regularly carry miscellaneous items in you BCD pockets (rescue sausage, small light, etc.) pack them in the BCD pockets ahead of time as this will make it less likely for you to forget them when you go in the water.
Odds and ends can also have specific places based on when you put them on or other factors. A dive knife can go into a dive boot. Ankle weight or other loose weights should always go at the bottom (wheel end) of the bag and should never exceed 10 pounds. If your loose weights will be more, carry a separate “weight bag.” And of course if you use a weight belt, that will not be stowed in the dive bag but rather carried separate.
Small items such as spare parts should go into a small to medium-sized box that will fit in the bag, preferably in one of the outside pockets. I just recently switched over to a small “tackle box” so as to better organize my small parts and items.
To review: When you UNPACK your gear, if it is packed properly, will give you access to your BCD and regulator assembly first, then your wetsuit bottoms. Right under that is your boots with knife. Pull your mask out and defog. Put on your jacket. Your fins and gloves, in the side pockets or bottom of the bag, are the last thing you need to get at.
I have found this to be an excellent strategy for protecting gear, making the process of unpacking and dressing in go smooth and quick, and the gear stays organized. Make modifications as you see fit, but remember to pad your gear with other, less vulnerable gear stay organized. You will not have to be riffling through your bag looking for your regulator.