Get out… and stay out. Whether across summits or via a long distance path, multi-day trips in the outdoors can make for the most memorable of experiences.
This might seem unduly geeky and pernickety: surely you don’t need a list of the gear you need to take, you just need to throw all the necessary items in a pile and then pack them, right? I used to think this way. But certainly in the past three years, which coincidentally is the amount of time I’ve been a parent and thus have variously been stripped of a functioning short-to-mid-term memory, I’ve been capable of some truly stunning omissions. Heading for a recent job in Snowdonia without my camera was a good one, going for a night’s wild camp without a sleeping bag was perhaps the most impressive. So, to avoid any embarrassments along these lines just write up a list of the key items you might need for a single night or a week’s trip. You only need to do it once and it’ll serve you perfectly for all future adventures. If this isn’t middle-aged enough for you, then you can always laminate the list too. Mmmm… nice.
2 Get the right capacity
Again, this sounds obvious - but rucksack capacity is really important. Taking an overseas expedition-grade 90-litre monster for a single night out is going to be an ungainly and weighty frustration. A good 1-2 person tent or bivvy, a
lightweight sleeping bag and roll mat
plus a stove and food should fit comfortably into a mid-capacity bag in the 30-40 litre region. This means that a standard 32-litre day pack will be fine for the most lean-minded amongst us. This has the added benefit of meaning you don’t have to buy a new rucksack just to enjoy wild camping or multi-day walks. The right capacity of rucksack will change with every adventure, but between 30-40 litres makes a great option for lightweight nights out.
3 Less is best
The standard wisdom goes along the lines of: “make two piles. Put all your essentials in pile A and all the items you could feasibly do without in pile B. Then get rid of pile B and half of pile A”. This might sound brutal (and it is), but you’ll be amazed what you don’t need to take on a multi-day trip, and this comes gradually in time the more you do it and realise the things you’ve never used. For example: I used to take a beautiful
Leatherman Juice CS4 (a thoughtful birthday present from my Dad) with me on every outdoor trip I ever did. Until one day I realised I’d never once used it for anything. Ever. Granted I’ve never been faced with an 127 Hours-style self-amputation scenario… but I believe they’re quite rare.
Alpine adventures, particularly, demand a lightweight attitude - and if it’s not essential it’s definitely not going to find space in your pack.
Unless your rucksack is specifically of a waterproof, roll-top design then it’s not going to keep out the rain. The fabrics are built for durability and weather
resistance but a consistent downpour will get through in a matter of minutes. This is vital to remember when you’re using down-based sleeping bags and other such sleeping kit, which will not keep you warm once it’s been given a soaking. Bear in mind too that the storage bags provided with many sleeping bags and roll mats may look waterproof, but are in fact most definitely not. The colourful removable “rain covers” that come with many rucksacks are also not something that I’d trust to, particularly in windy conditions. The best solution is to purchase a variety of colourful dry bags and store everything in your rucksack within them. Anything not in a dry bag should be considered waterproof in its own right.
Heading towards a Snowdonian summit with a tent stored on the outside of the rucksack - a logical sacrifice when rucksack space is limited.
5 The time has come to… compartmentalise
The serendipitous beauty of dry bags is that they also neatly divide your gear into separate groups: warm gear, waterproof gear, food, sleeping kit etc. This means that, once you’ve squeezed the air out and sealed them securely, stacking and packing them in your rucksack is a swift and space efficient job. Much more pleasing than putting items into a single big cavern of storage and having to root through a mess of kit when it’s truly not convenient. One tip I’d like to pass on is that the storage bag for your tent or bivvy might not actually be the best choice for packing it in your ‘sack. Removing the poles and placing them vertically against your back, then storing the fabric of the tent in an easily-compressible dry bag can prove a much wiser use of space.
A good dry bag is fully submersible and - once rolled up and clipped - should keep out any hint of moisture in the harshest of conditions.
Dry bag capacity is important too - they range from around 2 litres (suitable for a down jacket) up to a mammoth 100 litres for lining your entire pack.
6 Quick access… slow access
The order in which you store kit is clearly of great importance. Each of us knows which items we need to access more than others, and each of us will be using different rucksacks with different set-ups for storage. However, the logical choice would be to store sleeping gear at the bottom of your bag, with cooking gear then extra layers above, followed by food and tools (compass, map, torch etc.) spread into the hip belt, top pocket and other quick access areas of your bag. There’s no more smug feeling than having everything you might need on the trail immediately to hand while your sleeping gear is snug and protected deep within your pack.
7 Comfort is king
You’re going to be spending a lot of time with this ‘sack. So once all of the above are done it’s important that you feel utterly unencumbered when you’re on the move. Make sure you use every point of adjustment available (including the straps located just behind your shoulders), tighten the hip belt to carry the majority of the weight through your waist and legs, pull the compression straps to keep your gear nicely cinched together and ensure that you’re not carrying heavy items too high or too low in your bag - roughly close to the middle of your back is the ideal place to focus them.
The wild and distant summit of Suilven - a superb place to enjoy a multi-day adventure.
Make sure to visit the
Lifesystems Facebook page and Twitter feed to share your own packing tips, and to tell us about the gear you can and can’t live without on overnight adventures.
And here’s to some superb late-summer trips!
Dan Aspel is a journalist and Mountain Leader. You can find him at www.danaspel.com
Visit www.lifesystems.co.uk to find a host of kit and equipment for your next overnight adventure.