and packing daysacks, rucksacks and travel luggage
In 1988 I went to the Himalaya for the first
time. One of my strongest memories remains the sight of porters
carrying enormous rucksacks. But instead of taking advantage of the
high-tech back systems, the boys simply threw a broad strap around
two packs at a time. The same strap then went around their
foreheads. Taking all the weight on their skulls, the porters walked
further and faster than any trekker on the trail.
Iíve travelled with Zangskaris who pull their loads on sledges, and
Chagga people who balance gear on their heads. Iíve learnt that
whilst there are many ways of carrying a load, the rucksack concept
that weíre familiar with suits me just fine. It isnít always a
perfect solution, but the packs available today cater for almost
every outdoor activity.
This booklet is designed as precursor
to buying your rucksack, but Cotswold staff are in the best position
to advise you on individual models. Happy packing!
Paul is the author of the
award-winning ĎThe Mountain Travellerís Handbookí, published by the
British Mountaineering Council and available from Cotswold.
||day trips||organised treks|
People who are heading onto the hills for the day
can now choose from classic daysacks with side pockets (the more
advanced models come with mesh backs for maximum ventilation), to
specialised ice climbing, rock climbing and cross-country skiing
packs. On the other hand, if your thing is adventure racing, then
dedicated rucksacks built around hydration systems abound. These
designs are also popular with mountain bikers and trail
The majority of daysacks fall into the 10 to 40
litre size range. (All rucksacks in the UK have their volume
advertised in litres. Some other countries use different systems.
For example in the United States, packs are measured in cubic
The lightest daysacks can be folded up and popped
into the bottom of larger rucksacks so that you can have a small bag
to use either when exploring cities en route to your trekking
destination, or as an assault sack on summit day.
increasing number of workers prefer to take their paperwork and
laptops to work in rucksack-style soft luggage rather than a
traditional briefcase. With this in mind, certain designs of packs
incorporate padded inserts to protect expensive technology during
the daily commute.
On an organised trek, such as along Peruís famous
Inca Trail, porters or pack animals will carry most of your
belongings. As I described in my introduction, many people around
the world have very different ideas about load carrying than we do,
and therefore it is quite possible that your rucksack will end up
being carried upside down in a wicker basket! Also, rucksack straps
which are left to flap around can easily become snagged and torn
off. Of course, two weeks spent on the back of a mule is enough to
make any rucksack look extremely dirty and tatty. For these reasons,
it might be a better bet to pack your expensive rucksack inside a
lockable rucksack cover, or leave the rucksack at home and just take
a holdall instead.
A large number of duffle bags are
available, ranging in all sizes up to and over 100 litres. The full
length zip makes them quicker to pack than a rucksack, and faster to
locate items in too. Some duffles have internal compartments which
can be handy for dividing clean and dirty clothes and footwear.
However, most people simply arrange their kit inside differently
coloured stuff bags for easy identification.
On an organised
trek, the trick is to ensure that you carry anything fragile or
breakable in your daysack. That way, if something is lost youíll
have no-one to blame but yourself! Also, try to avoid having to
access your holdall during rest stops. This is because porters and
pack animals tend to move semi-independently of trekking groups
during the day. Bear in mind that your gear may arrive several hours
after you arrive in camp, so it is always worth carrying a spare
fleece or duvet jacket and a warm hat in your daysack so that you
donít get cold whilst waiting for your stuff to turn up.
you are carrying essential medicines, it is a good idea to carry one
complete set in your daysack and a second course in the holdall.
That way, if one is mislaid or damaged youíll have another to fall
An increasing number of clients on commercial treks
are quizzing their operators before booking a holiday to ensure that
minimum standards of porter welfare, as suggested by the
International Porter Protection Group (www.ippg.net), are being
adhered too. A porter who is properly paid, clothed, fed and insured
is a happy porter. And happy porters are better able to assist
clients in achieving their goals.
Once you move into the 60-70 litre rucksack
category, your choice of rucksack widens considerably.
worth taking a moment to consider whether side pockets on a rucksack
of this size are a good idea. If you jump on and off buses on a
regular basis, side pockets might become a pain as they can snag in
doorways. By contrast, a slim sack will be no wider than you, making
jostling with the crowd at the railway station a slightly less
traumatic affair. Some rucksacks boast collapsible side pockets,
which fold flat when not required and offer the best of both worlds
with few disadvantages.
You may also have a choice between
one and two compartments in the main part of the rucksack. If you
like the idea of being able to keep your sleeping bag or wet
clothing in a separate section, or want to be able to access the
gear in the bottom of your pack easily, then a divider two-thirds of
the way down the rucksack might appeal to you. Some dividers can be
zipped out when not required.
The size of the top pocket (or
pockets) becomes quite important in large backpacking rucksacks. A
voluminous pocket allows you to carry additional bits and bobs at
the very top of the pack for easy access during the
||adventure travel||getting the right
Adventure travellers often require something of a
hybrid rucksack when it comes to choosing a load-carrying device. In
towns and cities, a smart piece of soft luggage often looks less
incongruous than a fully-fledged rucksack. Soft luggage is also
easier to pack, and helps clothes to remain uncrumpled. But get
off-the-beaten path and the advantages of a rucksack become clear;
you donít want to toil around carrying 15 kilos on a single shoulder
The best adventure travel luggage sports twin shoulder
straps and a hip belt hidden behind a fabric panel. This allows the
bag to be carried like a rucksack as and when required. Some back
systems are very similar to the ones found on top-line backpacking
rucksacks. However, bear in mind that because of the shape of travel
luggage, it is harder to pack heavy and bulky loads in this type of
pack. So if you plan to spend more than 50% of your time using the
luggage as a dedicated rucksack, you might be better off with a more
Several models of travel rucksack come
equipped with an integral day sack. This can be zipped off the front
of the main pack when you want to leave most of your luggage behind
in the hostel. This day sack can also be worn across the chest in
cities, allowing you to keep a closer eye on your
Ensuring that your rucksack fits your back
correctly is of crucial importance. A badly-fitting rucksack can
increase fatigue and create soreness around the shoulders. Extended
use of a poorly-fitted, overloaded rucksack can lead to long-term
problems with your spine.
If at all possible, it is better to
buy a rucksack from a shop rather than by mail order. That way you
will be able to put some weight in several models and walk around
with them on. Thereís no point in trying on an empty rucksack
because all empty packs feel comfortable! The amount of weight you
place inside will depend on the carrying capacity of the rucksack
and what you intend to carry. But as a rough guide, five kilos in a
30 litre sack, eight kilos in a 50 litre pack, and around 12 kilos
in a 65-plus litre rucksack should be sufficient to give you a good
idea as to whether the design is going to be comfortable. Try to
ensure that this weight is evenly distributed throughout the
rucksack, and not just in the base.
Rucksack back systems
generally fall into one of two broad categories: adjustable and
fixed. Fixed back lengths either fit you or they donít, and so many
manufacturers make their fixed length rucksacks in a number of
sizes. By contrast, adjustable back systems can be customised to fit
your back. This is ideal if you fall mid-way between fixed back
lengths, or if more than one person is going to use the rucksack.
Some people claim that fixed-back rucksacks have less to go wrong
with them and so are more durable, but Iíve never had an adjustable
system fail on me (yet!).
The crucial part of the actual
fitting process, especially on larger rucksacks, is to ensure that
the hip belt sits on your hips and not around your waist. This way,
more of the rucksackís weight will be transferred from the
relatively weak shoulders to the stronger pelvic girdle. Just how
much weight can be transferred is the subject of much debate,
although it is fair to say that most people find that a
well-fitting, padded hip belt removes at least some of the weight
from the shoulders. It is also important that the shoulder straps
curve snugly over the shoulders. However, take care not to tighten
these straps until the hip belt is correctly sited.
are happy with the general fit of the rucksack, you can adjust the
top and side stabiliser straps. Stabiliser straps help to draw the
load in towards the body in order to prevent the rucksack swaying
around. By loosening and tightening these straps you will soon
discover for yourself the tremendous difference they can make to the
overall fit of your pack.
Rucksacks for these activities are very popular
and so deserve a special mention. Expedition rucksacks are often
categorised as being especially cavernous: 70 to 90 litres is not
unusual. However, before purchasing a rucksack of this size, it
might be worth thinking about whether there are ways of reducing
your load in order to avoid having to carry around such a huge pack.
That said, people heading into remote regions without support often
have no choice but to pack a gargantuan amount of food and
equipment. In these situations, the fit of the rucksack becomes
Rucksacks for alpine climbing are
usually smaller than expedition rucksacks. They typically hold 45-60
litres. One of the things that makes cutting-edge alpine packs
different from other rucksacks is the type of material that they are
made from. Expensive, featherweight fabrics that possess a high
resistance to wear and tear are the order of the day in this sector
of the market. Hip belts are often unpadded and quite narrow on
alpine packs. This is so that they do not interfere with a climbing
harness. But some kind of belt is always welcome during walk-ins, so
you might not want to discount this feature entirely. An alpine sack
with a long fabric extension allows legs to be slipped inside should
a ledge be the only available accommodation for the evening. And if
the back pad can be removed, then a sit mat can be created for no
additional weight penalty.
||socks and gaiters|
Packing a rucksack is something of an art and a
science, and no two people pack their bags in precisely the same
way. Nevertheless, for the first-time packer here are some general
guidelines that might be of some help.
drawing up a kit list. Many outdoor books include such lists, and if
you are travelling with a trekking company or tour operator they
should be able to supply you with one. Using a kit list means that
youíll be less likely to forget something.
Secondly, try to
collect the gear you need several weeks in advance of your
departure. That way, if you need to buy something and the store is
temporarily out-of-stock, youíll be able to allow extra time for the
item to be ordered and delivered to your door before
Many explorers adhere to the maxim, ĎIf in doubt,
leave it out.í By only taking items along that you know you will
use, your load should be considerably reduced. Fewer items mean
fewer things to lose and a lot less time spent packing and
unpacking. That said, if you have to take something along that is
absolutely vital to the success and safety of the trip, consider
taking a spare. For example, if you are going climbing in the high
Himalaya, a pair of sunglasses is essential to prevent
snowblindness. Therefore, taking one spare pair between two or three
people makes a lot of sense.
Over time, youíre sure to
develop your own packing order, but to help get you started the
diagrams on the adjoining page may help you to get
If you are climbing or walking on uneven terrain,
try to keep the weight close to the spine. By contrast, walkers
following well-maintained paths sometimes prefer to get the weight
higher up in the rucksack. Slipping something soft down the rear of
the rucksack reduces the chance of a sharp object digging into your
Donít be afraid to take a moment to re-pack your load
during a break: walking for several hours with an uncomfortable
rucksack is something to be avoided at all costs.
rucksacks are made with waterproof fabrics, it is simply too
expensive to seal all the seams. Investing in an inexpensive,
seam-sealed, waterproof liner or rucksack cover in order to keep all
your equipment dry during extended downpours is a wise move.
activities are potentially hazardous. The information provided on this
site offers guidelines only, and is no substitute for personal instruction
from a qualified person. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the
accuracy of the information, no responsibility can be accepted by the
author or Cotswold Outdoor Ltd. for any errors or omissions. By choosing
to follow any of the advice contained in this leaflet, the reader accepts
personal responsibility for a) learning any techniques required, b) any
risks involved, and c) any damages or injuries of any kind - including
death - howsoever caused. Cover shot: Checking the way ahead on the
Trekker's Haute Route, between Chamonix and Zermatt. |
© Paul Deegan
& Flirt Design under license to Cotswold Outdoor Ltd.