No matter how long you are heading out there for, you will need to carry some kit with you. From a picnic on the beach to setting a new ice route to jetting off around the world the chances are there is a rucsac designed specifically for your needs. Modern rucsacs are not only lighter and tougher than their predecessors; they are engineered to help you to carry your kit as comfortably as possible. The following is designed to help you select the perfect pack for your adventures.
- Have a good think about the design of rucsac you want - What size will suit you best? Too small a sac will be a problem on colder days when you have more gear to carry and with a big sac there is always the temptation to carry too much! Most walkers who venture out regularly throughout the year will ultimately end up with more than one rucsac to suit different activities and conditions.
- Make sure the rucsac fits your size and shape. Many are available in different back sizes, gender specific sizes or with adjustable backs. Ensure the pack is fitted and adjusted correctly as this will mean you get the best comfort when carrying your load.
- If you plan to carry poles or an ice axe it might be worth picking a rucsac designed to hold them securely externally when they are not in use.
- Most rucsacs are made from proofed fabrics but very few even claim to be waterproof - a rucsac liner made of plastic or waterproof material can be used to keep essentials dry.
Which type is for you?
In this guide, the rucsacs are split into four main categories although there is always a considerable amount of crossover between groups. Generally the intended use will dictate the size and style of rucsac required.
Generally sized from 15-35 litres, these bags will normally be fairly lightweight, designed (as the name suggests) principally for single day use. Many daysacs have no real internal support and the weight is suspended from the shoulders and supported with either a basic waist and chest strap or none at all. This is rarely a problem as the sacs are intended for light load carrying. The only major considerations when buying a Daysac is to ensure that it provides the features you require (side pockets, padded back etc.) and that it sits comfortably on your back.
- Alpine / Climbing Packs (generally 35 - 55L)
These medium-sized packs usually have some internal support and often a more substantial hipbelt and chest strap that helps you to carry weight more comfortably. These sacs are generally tall and narrow (to aid dynamic body movement and stability) and constructed with one main compartment and one lid or front pocket. They often include side compression straps to adjust the shape and volume of the rucsacs throughout your trip. Some models include detachable hip belts.
- Backpacking Packs (55 - 80L)
This type of rucsac is principally designed for multi-day trips and for carrying heavier, more substantial loads. They have an internal frame that gives structural rigidity and distributes the load between your back, shoulders and hips. Many models are available with adjustable back systems to ensure a precise and comfortable fit. Most rucsacs of this size have a number of pockets (including a very useful zipped access to the bottom section of the pack) to help store and organise your gear.
- Travel Packs (50 Litres plus)
The main advantage of these rucsacs is the main zip panel access which opens like a suitcase and allows easier packing and access to your gear. These specialist travel packs also feature concealable back systems to make the pack much more airport-friendly. The zipped entrance not only allows easy access but also allows you to lock the zippers with a padlock; a great benefit when travelling. Most travel packs also feature a small daysac which attaches to the front of the main bag and can be detached for day trips or used as hand luggage when flying. This feature means that you only have one item of luggage to keep track of when travelling.
Once you have identified the type and size of rucsac you need the next stage is to get the correct fit. This is the single most important thing about any rucsac and will make all the difference between a fantastic trip and a painful one!
It is very important to test out the rucsac yourself before you take it out into the hills. What works for one person is by no means guaranteed to work for another. However most of the larger packs are easily adjusted to fit your shape and back length.
You will get a better picture of how the pack will carry if you actually load it up with some weight; this ensures you will notice if there are any trouble areas. A heavy pack will obviously weigh you down but definitely shouldn’t make you feel as though you are being bent double. The vast majority of the weight should be on your hips rather than your shoulders so the first important area to look at is the hipbelt.
The hipbelt should sit directly on your hips with the padding centred over your hipbones so there are no sore spots. The fastening should also be easy to use and adjust as needed. Many larger rucsacs also have a lumbar pad, which should sit snugly in the small of your back to keep your posture correct. Once this feels comfy it is time to move on to the back length and shoulder straps.
The length of the back should be adjusted so that the shoulder straps curve snugly around your shoulders without pinching. The length of the back is very important so it is worth taking the time to make sure that this is correct and the hipbelt isn’t being pulled up off your hips by a too-short back length. You should also watch out for shoulder straps being worn too tight as this can cause chafing under the arms and restriction of movement, although most contoured shoulder straps help to reduce this.
You should try walking around with the weighted pack to see how it feels moving and play with all the adjustments until the pack feels stable and comfortable on your back. Just remember that if it isn’t right now, it will just get worse out on the trail!
Women’s Fit Rucsacs
There are now many models available in specific women’s fit and they vary in many important ways from standard unisex versions. Generally the main differences are the back length, narrower and closer shoulder straps and a more shaped hipbelt. These differences can be very subtle but are very noticeable in terms of comfort levels for female users!
The fitting of a ladies rucsac is slightly different to the men’s range, it should sit slightly higher on the hips but not so high you cannot breathe.
How you pack your rucsacs will affect the comfort you experience. As a general rule, pack the heaviest items closest to the spine and for active use closer to the base of the rucsacs too.