Wild Camping Rucksacks
Adverts give the impression that the design of Wild Camping Rucksacks was honed over decades. That they have undergone field tests and wind tunnel tests, and are as ergonomic as an lyrca vest. The reality is, it’s all about size.
What’s important in choosing Wild Camping Rucksacks?
Here’s a list of things to think about when choosing your rucksack:
- How long are you going to be away? If its a day hike or a short wild camp, I would always suggest going light. In that case you can use a daypack which has a lot of the features of a bigger rucksack, but is just smaller. For a long hike the benefits of a hiking rucksack start to kick in. They’re more comfortable and can hoof more stuff. But that usually also means you’re tempted to take more stuff. And for the adventurous, getting some altitude, you’ll need a climbing rucksack.
- What will the conditions be? This has impact on the waterproofing inside and outside of the rucksack, as well as how you pack it.
- How big are you? Some rucksacks can be adjusted, and should be adjusted. If not you’re stuck, and for longer distances that could be a problem.
Functions you can look for in a Daypack include:
1. Hydration Compatible. This is the wee whole that allows you to put a bendy straw through it. Don’t use this myself but hear that many swear by it.
2. Integral Rain Cover
This is usually packed away in the base and needs to be deployed when raining. It also implies that the rucksack itself isn’t waterproof.
3. Wand pockets
These are quite useful long, thin pockets into which you can stuff things without taking your pack off.
4. Walking pole attachment
These are the loops on the front or top. You can lash anything to these, but they’re meant for walking poles.
5. Compression straps
These are straps at the side which you can tighten to reduce the overall size. Only use it after you’ve packed it, and be wary of squashing something, as they can put on a lot of pressure.
6. Padded hip belt
Absolutely essential, as most of the weight should be through your hips.
7. Air flow back system
This is a piece of mesh on the back that lets air in and out. Useful if you’re planning on sweating…
These are altogether more serious backpacks. They’re also more expensive, so make sure they have the following useful bits:
1. Bellows side pockets
Side pockets that are adjustable in volume. Useful when you’re shoving metal tins or a stove in there.
2. Padded hip belt
Again, absolutely essential. And it should feel comfortable for you.
3. Expansion section
An extra section of material around the opening of the rucksack allows the top of the bag to be ‘overfilled’ increasing your storage capacity.
4. Base opening & Additional fixing points
More common on larger packs these zipped openings allow easy access to the bottom of the rucksack. Extra points of attachment allow the fixing of all kinds of equipment to the outside of your pack.
1. Removable waist belt
For some serious hikes, the waist belt can actually be a hindrance. With these rucksacks there’s the option to take it off.
2. Gear loops
Unique to climbing/mountaineering rucksacks these heavy duty loops on the hip belt or shoulder straps allow climbing gear to be secured for easy access.
3. Ice axe attachment
Loop/s at the base of the bag and fastening higher up that allow ice axes to be securely fixed.
4. Crampon pouch
Some kind of toughened flap or pouch located on the front of the rucksack that allows crampons to be secured without damaging your rucksack.
5. Rope compressor
A simple loop with quick release clip located under the rucksack lid allows a rope to be securely fixed and yet remain easily accessible.
6. Haul loops
Similar to the carry handle on the back of you pack a haul loop is located on the front. These two loops used in conjunction allow a rucksack to be easily pulled up a climb where it would be too heavy to carry.
7. Adjustable Lid Height
Allows the rucksack to be filled maximally but with more protection for the contents from the elements.
How to get the right size of Rucksack for you
The length is important as well, especially if the rucksack is bigger than around 50L.
To fit a rucksack properly you need to look at the distance between the waist strap and the shoulder straps. Ideally, most of the weight is carried by a good fit at the waist. If you get this, then the weight is carried as close to your own centre of gravity as possible, and won’t swing about and pull you off balance.
Once you’ve got this, then the shoulder straps can be used just to pull in the top of the rucksack close to your centre line. There really shouldn’t be that much weight going through those straps. It’s difficult to judge because your legs are so much stronger than your shoulders, but you should be looking at carrying about 80% of the weight through them, and only 20% through the straps.
If you can get this waist to shoulder distance fitted properly, you’ll be able to heft weights you thought unimaginable, with disturbing ease. As everyone’s trunk size is personal and not really a function of height (tall people can have long or short legs), then this is a piece of kit that you really do want to try on before buying.
Some rucksacks have an adjustable waist-shoulder length. These can be pretty expensive, though, so if you can find one that fits without having to be adjusted, then great.
The next measurement to look for is head-neck swing clearance. When the pack is on, you should be able to roll your head around a full loop, shrug your shoulders and otherwise have complete freedom of movement. If it touches your pack at any point, it’s took high or too close (strapped in.)
Adjusting your Rucksack to fit your gear
Another adjustment you want to look for are the webbing straps that hang from the body of the rucksack. These are the dangly bits you see when you’re walking behind someone.
Depending on their position these can shorten the height of the rucksack, or make it thinner round the middle. This is a useful thing to be able to do. If you don’t happen to have exactly the right amount of kit to fill the rucksack you’re likely to have empty space in there. Empty space lets your stuff move about, which can put your centre of gravity out and lead to back pain. So if you can tighten the whole thing up until it’s straight and packed, then great.
It’s also much easier to have a larger pack that you reduce in size with these straps than a smaller pack you try to stuff everything in to. Bear in mind that kit, when wet, usually expands in size. Even camping stoves and cameras seem to take up more space when everything’s sodden. So a pack that was nice and tight when you started can easily end up way too small when you’re out and about.
Non-Essential Stuff Some Rucksacks Offer
So when you get through trying out the rucksacks available and find the ones that fit you, have webbing adjustment, allow for head movement, and have a good, comfortable waistband, then you’re probably down to the last two in the shop. That’s the point where you can start to look at the other bits and pieces.
Quick Access Pockets
For example a top zipped section is useful to keep must-get-at-quickly stuff. Separate side pockets are useful for keeping nasty stuff away from nice stuff. For example, one side pocket stuffed with old smelly clothes keeps them away from your sleeping bag. They can also be used to store food away from camping stoves/parafin, and putting water bottles in.
Some rucksacks have neat little pockets for camel backs. These are flexible waterbags with a long drinking tube, which you put on your back and constantly sip from. They can taste disgusting, but are great for keeping you hidrated. So if you like these, having a rucksack that has a separate wee pocket for them is great. Even having a little hole to poke the drinking tube through can be useful.
Some rucksacks come with mesh back-pieces that let air whip round your back. This can be quite nice. Others also come with flexible back-plates that can be pulled out, moulded, then stuck back in. I’ve heard of instructors claiming you can use these as emergency splints, but the ones I’ve seen would be rubbish at that.
D-Rings and Hardpoints
Then finally come with little loops, hard points, lanyards and webbing straps. Many Wild Camping Rucksacks have these for hanging stuff from, stuffing stuff down, tucking stuff in. They can be quite useful, but I’d use them sparingly. Swing too much from them and you may as well walk along yodelling or singing the wild rover. And never, never consider them an appropriate place to dry your pants on.
How to Put on a Rucksack
May sound odd but once it’s packed it really matters how you put a rucksack on your back. It’s just gone from something loose and flappy to something that may weight over 25kg. At that point it’s not like your daypack that you take to work; you can’t just sling it over a shoulder. You’ll hurt your back.
Ideally there will be someone there to help. If that’s not a person, then a rock also works. Perch it up there and carry out the following routine:
- Get both shoulders into the straps loosely.
- Tighten the waist belt so it sits comfortably on your pelvis. Tighten it up.
- Tighten the shoulder straps, making sure that you don’t over-pull and end up exerting a force down through them.
- Check for comfort and gaps. Adjust your clothing underneath.
- Click on and adjust the chest strap. This last part weirdly really helps take the strain. What you’re looking for is it to be tight enough to pull the shoulder straps forward and stop them slipping, but not too tight that it’s uncomfortable. Especially for women.
If you want a bit more on how to fit and adjust your rucksack, here’s a full checklist.
What I’ve Learned Choosing Wild Camping Rucksacks
I’ve gone through maybe 7 rucksacks in my time.
When I first made short overnight camps I used to keep it light – 25l daypacks which had enough D-rings on the outside to strap my tent. That did well for some summer camping, and let me feel a bit ‘Alpinist’ (Alpinist is a terms used for camping with minimum kit.)
When the trips started to get longer, and needed bigger – around 45l. This was mostly for extra food and clothes. Likewise, when I started to do any trips in the winter, the kit burden went up again. Sometimes I’d get away with a 45l, sometimes I needed a 60l.
The thing to bear in mind is that you want to be focusing on taking just the kit you need. So generally, smaller is leaner and better.