For wilderness backpacking the size of the rucksack is likely to be between 70 and 90 litres and may have a single or double main compartment. I find that rucksacks with side pockets can be very restrictive when in heavily wooded areas or when moving through areas with large boulders; they are also slightly less stable laterally.
I favor the narrower climbing type rucksacks that offer a little more lateral stability but the downside is that they are a little higher, making them restrictive in woodland but not as restrictive as one with side pockets. It has to be said that the side pockets can be extremely useful so this choice is a personal one.
We can now take a look at what goes where.
The Main Compartment
This is based on personal experience and you may feel that you need to deviate somewhat to better suit your own needs. Firstly, put an 80 litre dry-bag in the rucksack. This is important; if you fall into water the contents will be kept dry and in addition to this you will be able to induce air into the dry-bag so that you can use the rucksack as a flotation aid during a river or lake crossing.
Next in goes the sleeping bag. This should be in its compression stuff sack (if it’s a down bag it would be wise to pack it in its own individual dry-bag).
Next in is the tent or hooped bivi, this goes upright.
Next in is your sleep mat (go for a Therm-a-Rest type mat as they pack down quite small).
Next in is your spare set of clothes in their compression stuff sack, this fits down the side of the tent or bivi along with the sleep mat.
Next in is your personal kit (washing, toothbrush, toothpaste, foot powder etc.).
Last in is the food. If it’s dried food a normal stuff sack is fine, but if it contains any fluid at all it needs to be in its own dry-bag. The main dry-bag can now be sealed.
On top of the main dry-bag goes your cooking equipment, spare fuel, axe and water bottles. Lastly is the first-aid kit. This should be in its own plastic waterproof sandwich-type box (the ones with four clips on) and should be the first thing that you put your hand on when undoing the main compartment. The main compartment can now be closed.
The Pull-Over Top Flap Inner Zipped Compartment
In many rucksacks the pull-over top flap has two zipped compartments, one on the outside and one on the inside. Put your paracord, waste bags, zinc oxide tape etc. in the inside compartment. Your waterproofs go between the main sealed compartment and the pull-over top flap. The reason for this is so that you can put your waterproofs on in double quick time without opening the main dry-bag and when you take them off wet, the water can’t get at anything important when you put them back.
The Pull-Over Top Flap Outer Zipped Compartment
The outer zipped compartment in the pull-over flap is where you keep the things that you may need during the day. These items may include midge cream, sunglasses, G.P.S., headtorch, spare batteries and water purification kit along with some other small items.
Personal survival kit should be on your person along with your map and compass, watch, multi-tool and laminated route card. The reason for this is that in the unlikely event that you get separated from your rucksack you still have enough equipment to aid your survival.
On the Outside of the Rucksack
It is only a personal view but other than ice axes, crampons and a shovel, nothing should be on the outside of the rucksack. It is untidy, often unbalancing and in the event of a fall the equipment is open to damage.
The Final Test
This involves putting on the rucksack and adjusting it properly. Now jump around and shake it about; if you have packed it correctly it should be comfortable and completely silent.
Once you have a packing system that suits you, don’t change it. You will get used to where everything is and will be able to make and break camp in all but total darkness with ease.
The information here is a guide only and is based on my own experience; of course some things will change with extreme conditions and certain areas.
As the gear photos show, it doesn’t have to be big but it all adds up!
Good luck with your packing.