How to Pack a Rucksack – Beginners Series, Part 2

How to start Hillwalking – Beginners Series

Ok so if you are coming here directly, you need to go back and read my previous post on the things to consider when planning a hill day. You can click here to access that post. There we talked about the planning that goes into a hill day to ensure everyone in your group is as safe and enjoys the day as much as possible.

In this post, we will look at one of those points raised previously, how to pack a rucksack. It is important to pack your equipment, clothing and food for your hill day appropriately, to not only avoid potential injury, but also make it easy to find and grab the item you need when you need it. Having one side heavier than the other or the weight too high/low on your back is a quick way to hurt yourself. You could be carrying the bag for 12 hours+, so it’s worth getting it right. There is also nothing worse than beautifully packing a balanced bag, and then dragging everything out of it when you realise your waterproof jacket is at the bottom (trust me!).

A poorly packed rucksack starts with the rucksack itself. It’s about selecting the right bag for the day you anticipate. I have a range of packs which I choose from depending on what I am doing. I have three main packs that I use relatively regularly. First off, I have an old military patrol pack that I picked up when I was at university. It’s a rough, tough pack that has an internal capacity of 30 litres. The main body of the pack is one piece with 2 zipped pockets in the lid. There are also two zipped side pouches offering easier access to those urgently needed items (reference waterproof jacket above…). I use this pack when I am out for anything from an hour to about 6 hours, usually with the dog and I know the conditions mean I am going to get muddy. It’s great for slinging about and since the design hasn’t changed much from the 1980’s, it really is tried and tested. I love it.

30L Patrol Pack
30L Patrol Pack

It does have its downsides though. It’s not the most comfortable pack I own, and the low number of pockets offers little by way of flexibility in packing. You can pick up a similar pack here: link
The second bag that I use is a lighter weight day pack. It has an internal and external lid pocket, 2 side zipped pockets (not pouches like the patrol pack) drinks bottle holders, an internal drinks bladder sleeve, ice axe loops and padded straps. It’s a 25L pack. I’ve used this pack extensively on low and high level day walks in all weathers and seasons.

25L Day Pack
25L Day Pack

Things I like about this pack are it’s size, it’s perfect for me for anything up to a full day and I know I can carry it for that long, fully packed. I also like it’s fit, the padded straps and waist belt.
It does have its short comings too though, it is only 25L which in the dead of winter can be a squeeze. I also find that the lid zips have a tendency to lean meaning that whatever I put in the outer lid pocket needs to be separately waterproofed. You can buy a similar pack to mine here: link

Lastly, my largest pack. I have had this for years. It’s older than my oldest child and we have had many an adventure together. It’s a 55+5L pack, which enables me to do multi day or overnight trips. It’s set up quite similarly to the 25L pack, but bigger (obviously) and has the added separation of a 5L compartment at the bottom. I couldn’t find a good picture of this pack, so here’s one of me wearing it on the top of Ben Lawers:

Top of Ben Lawers
Top of Ben Lawers

That was a good day out that. Here is a link to where you can purchase a similar pack: link

Anyway, select the right type and size of bag for your planned trip. that way you won’t end up taking too much equipment or run out of space leaving vital items behind. Once you have done that, you can pack the relevant equipment into it. As a minimum I will always carry the following. In the depths of winter and the height of summer:


Water bottles


Waterproof Jacket

Fleece – here is a link to a review of the one that I use most regularly

Spare Socks

First Aid Kit

Head Torch (here is a link to my new Head Torch Review)

Spare batteries for Headtorch

Phone, Keys, Wallet, Cash (All bundled as one)

Woolly Hat

Thin gloves

I will then add specific items depending on my planned route, likely weather, terrain/conditions underfoot etc. This is things like gaitors, over trousers, ice axe, goggles, ski gloves etc. The list could potentially be endless.

There are thousands of resources online as to how you then go about putting the chosen equipment into the rucksack. Here are some of my favourites.

Winfields Outdoors

Much Better Adventures

The British Mountaineering Council

Once you have selected the bag, the right kit and packed the kit into the bag, you’re ready to rock. In the next in this series, I will be looking specifically at the kit I take with me on my mountain days and why I think you should consider them too. As always, comment below on the things you think I should have in my bag or missed from the article.



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