Choosing a rucksack


Choosing the correct rucksack will depend on what its main use is for. The size is important but so is volume adjustability; an overloaded small pack is as uncomfortable and unstable as a partly full one, especially if you have to hang gear outside.



For day-long, summer walking a 30 litre sack should suffice, but 50 litres is more versatile for multi-day walking between hostels and huts, or winter walking. If you are camping, then a 60-70 litre may be needed.

Multiple compartments are not necessary if you learn to pack your rucksack.


If the rucksack has a large lid pocket, side pockets are unnecessary; they get in the way and usually prevent compression straps being used to adjust volume and items being attached to the side. Bellowed or removable side pockets are a good compromise if you are a side pocket fan.

Extending lids


This is a good feature for extending the amount you can carry but sometimes makes the lid pocket difficult to use and it can flop around when the sack is not full. If this is the case tuck the lid inside the sack and tuck the connecting straps away.

Comfort and fit


For small sacks and light loads a simple padded back is enough. Most larger sacks have a flat internal frame preventing the rucksack losing its shape and transferring the weight more effectively to the top of your buttocks and your hips. Remove the wands from inside your new rucksack and get a friend to bend the struts to the shape of your back. This is a good reason for not sitting on your rucksack; you may bend the frame.Most adjustable harness systems allow the shoulder straps to move up and down the frame – if the back length is too long it will transfer the load to the collarbone. On A correctly adjusted or sized rucksack the shoulder strap will curve neatly over the shoulder. Tensioning straps link the top of the rucksack to the top of the shoulder straps and pull the rucksack closer to your back to improve stability. They can be released when going downhill to keep the rucksack upright.

Compression straps


These reduce the rucksack’s volume and hold the load close to the wearer’s back for stability. They are also very useful for carrying walking poles, tent poles, sleeping mats etc. Wand pockets at the base are also useful to attach poles.

Hips and waist belts


A padded hip-belt will help distribute a heavy load from your shoulders to your hips. It is important that the top of your hip sits in the middle of the padded belt to transfer the load to the top of the buttocks.

Chest and shoulder strap


A chest strap that links the shoulder straps will help locate them correctly over your shoulders.


Choose a lightweight rucksack, but make sure it supports the load comfortably.



Rucksacks with zips instead of a top opening can give better access to your gear and are ideal for trekking where unpacking and packing is a regular occurrence. However zips do break so buy one with compression straps to take the strain off the zips.

Head clearance


If you regularly wear a helmet make sure the rucksack does not get in the way when you look up.

Packing a rucksack


A rucksack can never be totally waterproof so you should always store gear in watertight bags. On rough terrain a top-heavy rucksack will throw you off balance, so keep the load below your shoulders, close to your back and centred between your shoulder blades (fig.1). For skiing the weight should be even lower and closer to your back to minimise twisting of the shoulders.


  • Stuff your sleeping bag into the bottom and squeeze in any additional lightweight items you won't need until bedtime.
  • Don't waste empty space. Put a small item of clothing inside your pots, for example. Smaller items, such as food, pack more efficiently in individual units rather then when stored loosely inside a stuff sack.
  • Keep often-used items such as sunscreen, snacks, map and compass where you can get to them easily.
  • Tighten all compression straps to limit any load-shifting.
  • Carry tent poles etc vertically, secured on one side of the pack with the ends tucked into a wand pocket at the pack's bottom.
  • Do not carry an insulating mat across the top or bottom of the rucksack; it will eventually be caught by the wind or get torn, wet and muddy.




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