How to Pack a Rucksack in Winter
Packing a rucksack for use in the winter mountains requires much more care, thought and organisation than it does in summer. Rain, sleet and snow will always find a way inside and strong winds won’t give you a second chance if you lay something light down on the ground. Hopefully these tips will help you get it right and make your winter days out more comfortable and less stressful. You can learn more about this on one of our winter skills courses.
- Don’t rely on the rucksack being waterproof because in a practical sense it isn’t. Even the excellent models made from waterproof fabrics with a sealed top will never be waterproof – as soon as you open the lid there is a huge hole for rain and snow to enter; and putting wet items (such as crampons with snow on) inside will quickly result in other items becoming soaked.
- Don’t bother with the pull-over rain covers either, which work about as well as a chocolate tea-pot. The wind will drive rain and snow underneath the cover and into the rucksack. That’s even assuming that the wind hasn’t taken the rain-cover and turned it into an instant kite.
- It’s essential that your kit is packed inside the rucksack in sealed ‘dry-bags‘. However, if you opt for a single, large rucksack liner bag, then there are two disadvantages. First, re-read Point 1 above. Second, as you try to pack the rucksack liner you will almost certainly find that it restricts the packing and means you can’t utilise all the internal space in the rucksack – so you have effectively reduced the capacity of your rucksack.
- The only effective solution is to pack individual items, or small groups of items, in their own separate dry-bags that you can stuff down into every nook and cranny. There is no single right way to group items, but try to think in terms of only opening a dry-bag when you are going to use the entire contents, so there is no way that opening a bag will result in unused items becoming significantly wet. For example, individual dry-bags might contain: a first aid kit; emergency jacket; spare gloves; goggles; first additional clothing layer; second additional clothing layer; and so on.
Finally, consider carefully the sequence in which you pack the rucksack in winter. The aim is to have items accessible in the sequence that you expect to use them. The items that you don’t expect to use at all should be right at the bottom of the sack. Depending on what I am doing, I may very well load the rucksack in the following order (from bottom to top):-
- Right at the bottom, hopefully unused, will be an emergency shelter, emergency jacket and first aid kit.
- Next will be climbing hardware (if that’s what I’m doing), which I won’t need until my harness is on, over all my additional layers of clothing.
- Then (depending on the conditions and the route I am doing), might come my crampons, which I don’t expect to put on until after my harness. (If I think I will need them much earlier in the day, then I will pack them higher up).
- Second, and third, pairs of gloves might come next.
- Goggles, in their own separate dry-bag, might be somewhere around here. Not often used, but when they are required they need to be handy and, above all, dry.
- Then the harness, which I will probably be putting on before the crampons.
- Above this will be my second additional layer of clothing, which will be put on before the harness.
- At the top will be my first additional layer of clothing, so that as the day progresses I can add successive layers in order as required.
There is no absolute right or wrong to do this. This is just a method that works well for me. The only ‘wrong way’ is if you get your kit wet, lost or blown away in strong wind.
You can read more in our article on beginners’ tips for winter mountain walking.