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How to pack your rucksack properly for the outdoors

15:23 1st August 2013 By Jacob Thrall

Packing your rucksack for a trip into the outdoors is often overlooked in the last minute scramble to get out of the door. But, a badly packed rucksack can be a right pain in the arse – literally, in some cases. Getting things right isn’t rocket science but does take a little bit of forethought. 

Everything but the kitchen sink. Photo: Jason Hollinger, Wikimedia Commons

Everything but the kitchen sink.
Photo: Jason Hollinger, Wikimedia Commons

Don’t forget! Probably the most fundamental of reasons for taking care with packing is to make sure you’ve got everything you need. When you think it through methodically, you’re less likely to forget something. If you’re rolling your eyes at the thought of making a check list, chances are you’ll need one.

Don’t overdo it though: armfuls of “just in case” stuff will be unnecessary extra weight.

Think of your back

Making sure the load is well distributed makes masses of difference to how easy it is to carry. The key is keeping the load balanced, with the heavy stuff close in to your back: the further away or off to one side it is, the more leverage it has to pull you over. Even if it doesn’t topple you, it puts strain on your neck, shoulders, spine, pelvis, knees…

Everybody will come up with something which works for them – we’re all different shapes – but having the weight close and well balanced is pretty much universal.


You’re carrying stuff you need, of course, so you need to think about how urgently you might need something. If it starts to chuck it down, you’ll not be too impressed if you have to shift your tent, sleeping bag, stove and pans before you can dig out your waterproofs; when you come to set up camp, you probably won’t mind having move your jacket to get at your tent.

Remember: small things will get buried if you put them in the main compartment. Whether it’s something fairly important (like spare torch batteries) or utterly vital (like your chocolate) make sensible use of whatever pockets and pouches you have on your bag.

Osprey_AetherProtect it

Rucksacks are almost never waterproof. There are two solutions to this: covers and liners. Covers do offer an extra line of defence but have been known to suffer from flapping around in the wind, and you have to remember to put them on: if you’re out in the drizzle, you might not get round to it for a while, and then you notice your bag’s drenched.

Liners don’t suffer from either of these drawbacks, though they can make packing marginally more fiddly. You could use a bin bag (or similar) or a made-for-the-purpose roll-top drybag. Both work, but drybags are usually more durable. If you use a series of smaller ones, they can be a great help in keeping your kit organised too.

So, there you go: put a bit of thought into packing and you’ll have all the right stuff, where you can get at it, in a bag you’ll be able to carry, and not have to worry too much about the weather.


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