Packing a Rucksack

Packing a Rucksack is indeed a very important aspect of any trip or trek. On the Himalayas it is mandatory that a backpacker/trekker must have essential and mandatory items, yet light enough to move comfortably.

The treks on the different parts on the Himalayas stretch from short and medium to extended long duration. Shorter duration trek backpacking is easier but medium to long duration are need to be packed carefully. Higher the duration of the trek, higher the importance.

For serious trekkers, there is no way other than to pack his/her Rucksack with attention to ensure own safety. The catch is to pack light with all the necessary and safety items with you.

Every gram on the mountain matters. Quality light weight products are often expensive.  These are designed to meet standards on harsh climate. I would personally assert to acquire/buy such clothing/equipment one by one, if not all together.

Following items are absolutely mandatory for any trekking trip.

1)      A Rucksack

2)      A trekking shoe

3)      Warm Jacket

4)      A Windproof

5)      Sleeping Bag

Here we would focus on how to pack everything in one single Rucksack/Backpack with high safety. There are treks where one gets an option to offload some weight, leaving a luggage at the base camp. While returning you can pick the left luggage. In certain popular and safer routes trekker has the opportunity to offload the Rucksack on a mule or even to a porter. But crossing a pass or most of the longer duration trek will require packing everything in one Rucksack and carry it all through. A medium duration trek can involve 4-7 trekking days and longer duration ranges between 8 to 12 trekking days.

A mid to long duration trekking Rucksack should weigh between 8 to 12 Kg. Trekkers should grow the habit to carry it comfortably. This is to ensure higher safety of the trekkers as well as leaving lesser footprint and thus sustainable.

I have seen various articles on internet about what are the things to carry in a trek. The extended generic list of article amazes me every time. The paraphernalia goes on and on. To follow, one has to carry sometimes more than 20 Kg!

Essentially a trekking Rucksack/Backpack on the Himalayas will contain.

(1) Clothing (2) Windproof/Waterproof/Rain gear (3) Sleeping Bag (4) Accessories (5) First-Aid/Medical Kit (6) Dry food to sustain a day in emergency condition

For own safety in a difficult/hard trek, a trekker should always carry the following items with him/her in the rucksack

 1) Warm Jacket 2) Waterproof plus Windproof gear 3) Sleeping bag + carry mattress 4) Emergency dry food items

The first step is to select a proper Rucksack as per your requirements. From my experience of trekking almost 50 mid to long duration treks, we buy unutilized bigger or too small backpacks.  Keeping in mind the medium to long duration treks, it is sufficient to use a Rucksack/Backpack between 35 to 50 Litre.  A 50 L one has enough space inside to pack everything including your sleeping bag for a trek up to 2 weeks. One such bag should weigh within 1.5Kg.

Clothing: Always use synthetic quick dry t-shirts. Cotton tees are heavy and take time to get dried. 4/5 t-shirts are good enough for a home to home round trip. For lower use again the synthetic light weight/quick dry trousers.  2/3 such trousers are good. Don’t use comfortable jeans unless there is an option to leave luggage at base camp. A Cargo/Six-pocket can be used instead. Together upper and lower wear should not weigh more than 2Kg.

Innerwear, socks, cap, balaclava, gloves are lighter items and should be within 500g.

For a high altitude trek an upper thermal base layer (Woolycot) is essential.  The lower one is optional. Normally protection is vital for upper portion of the body. Adds another 500g to your back.

Warm jackets are of different types and varying weight.  Normally a Fleece/Synthetic Fill/Down jacket is light and provides adequate warmth.  The weight should be within a Kilogram for such a jacket.

A windproof upper with hood is also a must item. Normally these will have water repellent property. A typical Raincoat/Poncho is not recommended as these are heavy and not breathable, unless you are trekking in monsoon.

Sleeping Bag: For a Himalayan trek Sleeping bags are rated with a temperature rating between -10 Deg C to 0 Deg C.  For lower temperatures you can use one additional base layer inside while sleeping. Synthetic/Down filled sleeping bags weigh up to 2Kg.

Accessories: You have to be careful to select what to take and what to discard. My approach is being minimalist to choose from a wide range of items. A tooth paste (Small tube of Rs 10), toothbrush, tissue roll, a Boroline/chapstick, a scissor, (or a light weight multi tool), a torch, soap strip and a small container of cold cream are good for the purpose. Maybe a small deo-spray  on top of these. No need for a shaving or any beautification kit. Should not weigh more than 500g.

First-Aid/Medical Kit: A crepe bandage, cotton, Dettol/Savlon, antiseptic creme, a course for each including headache, vomiting, anti-inflammatory, pain killer, and stomach upset, Volini spray. Together all these weigh again maximum of 500g.

Keep some dry instant edible food items for emergency. A pack of candy, few chocolate bars/energy bars, dry fruit mix and a small pack of Glucon C/D/Gatorade.  Another 500g.

Wait, we are not done yet! A bottle of water is must. Ask the guide clearly whether you will be able to refill the bottle on the trail. For a long trekking day and scarce water, you may need to carry 1.5L of water.  Weighs additional 1.5Kg.

Adding up the items, total weight remains around 11Kg (including the sleeping bag and the Rucksack)

We will provide the details of our packed Rucksack for an example and measure the weight.

Rucksack: Camp M4 – 40L – 1Kg

T-Shirts, trek pants, innerwear, socks, caps, gloves etc.:  ~ 2Kg

Warm Jacket:  Mountain Hardware Windstopper Tech Fleece ~ 650g

Windproof/Waterproof:  Marmot Precip Jacket ~ 370g

Sleeping Bag: Mountain Hardware Ultralamina 15 Deg F ~ 1.3Kg

Accessories and Medical Kit: ~ 1Kg

Water: Hydration pack of 1L ~ 1Kg

Miscellaneous:  Notebook, pen, GPS, Binocular etc ~ 1Kg

Camera:  Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ200 with additional batteries ~ 1Kg

Now you believe that I am able to pack everything within the limit of 10Kg.

Once you know what to pack, order of packing different items need to be considered. Things you may need while walking should be kept on top. Sleeping bag should go in the bottom, as you don’t need it before campsite. This gives stability to the Rucksack. A well packed Rucksack would stand straight on the ground without a support.   Pack similar items together. Its easier to carry a backpack when the load is evenly distributed.

 A rain or drizzle is common on the mountain. Use a waterproof Rucksack cover/Rain fly. Your jacket and sleeping bag must not get wet in any condition. For double protection use an inner liner of polythene sheet. Even if your Rucksack is wet from outside, the inner will make sure that items are dry and toasty.

I hope that now you are confident about what and how to pack for a trekking trip to the Himalayas.

To finish, we would say that backpacking is an art and pack rationally.



Selection Of Equipment

This is perhaps a very important aspect while you are on mountain, but often neglected. The importance is felt during any demanding trek on the Himalayas and should not be compromised at any reason.

In any trek, for beginners or experienced ranging from easy to difficult, selection of the following personal gears need attention and some guidelines are given below:

1) Footwear: 

These can be broadly classified as

  1. A) Trekking/Backpacking Boots &
  2. B) Trekking/Hiking Shoes

Generally the boots are heavier and durable and at the same time costlier than that of the shoes.  In general boots are meant for walking on the adverse trekking trail with hauling load where as the shoes perform fine on the trails when the total load exerted remains relatively less.

While buying a Trekking Shoe/Boot the following qualities should be checked.

  1. i) Weight: Weight is one of the most important considerations when purchasing a shoe that you’ll be using for hiking or backpacking. 1 Kg on your feet is equal to 5 Kg on your back, so it is crucial to find light footwear to give you the most time on the trail without fatigue.
  2. ii) Traction/Sole: You must buy one with a rubber sole. Choice of a Vibram rubber sole is better than the regular rubber as it provides a better grip and stuck efficiently on different terrains.

iii) Support:  Mid or High Ankle shoes provide much needed support, especially on loose boulders, scree and while descending.  It is essential for protecting your feet from an ankle twist. Also do check the heel support of your shoe.

  1. iv) Water proofing/resistance & Breathability:  The shoes made of mesh will have less water proofing/resistance property. Breathability of a shoe is nice to have which keeps the ventilation while keeping your feet dry from inside. A Gore-Tex lining inside is the best choice though there are other available technologies too which are much cheaper.

Unfortunately there is almost no choice of Backpacking Boots in India which are readily and consistently available. Few world renowned trekking and backpacking footwear companies are La Sportiva, Lowa, Scarpa, The Northface, Asolo, Salomon, Merrell, etc. Considering availability in India, Quechua Forclaz 500 is a decent choice for a Trekking Shoe.


2) Clothing: 

On mountain quality clothing is highly recommended. Proper clothing consists of a base layer, a mid layer and an outer layer. In some occasions the later two are combined with a thick and heavy jacket. Keep in mind of the following type of products while buying.

  1. A) Base layer:Mostly in the lower altitudes a backpacker uses only a base layer which is essentially a full or a half sleeve t-shirt. This should be carefully chosen in aim to comfort, breath ability and some warmth.  Synthetic materials with moist wicking capability should be the prime focus. A full sleeve dry fit t-shirt can keep you dry and comfortable while protecting from the scorching sun.-shirt
  2. B)Down Jacket: A good down jacket is the best option and is typically expensive.  A jacket made of goose down is extremely pack able and incredibly warm for its weight. It is also the most comfortable among the jackets.  The only disadvantage may surface in case of rain or wet conditions.  Down jackets are specified with the “Fill” power of the feathers and a Fill Power of 700 and above are recommended for buying.
  3. C)Insulated Jacket:These are made of synthetic insulation and air is trapped between layers of insulation. A well chosen insulated jacket can give you the desired warmth and to an extent the protection against wind. These kinds of jackets are cheaper with a wide range of variety.  These kinds of jackets are normally the heaviest and may not be suitable when you need to backpack in a lightest way.
  4. D)Fleece Jacket:This is a very effective mid layer made of synthetic materials and best when underneath a wind or water resistant shell. Modern day fleeces are pretty warm for their weight, highly compressible and comfortable. Fleece jackets are stretchable and provide more flexibility while on the go. You have to use a windproof jacket or shell on top of a fleece for cold conditions.
  5. E)Windproof & Waterproof Shell/Jacket:Often on the mountain the wind chill factor is responsible for cold conditions.  Some windproof products are coated with water resistant synthetic coating and are most useful. These jackets used as an outer layer will block the wind, protect you from drizzle or light rain while on the walk and are breathable. Apart from the high products, complete rainproof jacket may give protection from heavy rain but mostly are not breathable and not comfortable.
  6. F) Trek Pant/Lower:It is important to be wearing pants that are both comfortable and fit your body well enough to perform the activity in which you are engaged.  Quality Hiking and trekking pants are made of nylon with added spandex or polyurethane to add stretch ability. Hiking pant should be comfort driven, durable, weather resistance and quick drying. Ideally pants offer water resistance from light rain, breath-ability in hot climates, insulation in cooler conditions, protection from strong winds, and UV protection from the sun. Sometimes convertible pants are useful for varying weather conditions. For cold conditions or walking on continuous snow a thermal base layer can be used under the trek pant.

Some world famous and quality clothing companies are Mountain Hardwear, Patagonia, Arcteryx, Mammut, The North Face, Marmot etc. In India choices are limited. Decathlon stores sell varieties of clothing which are decent in quality and serve our purpose.


3) Rucksack/Backpack:

This is a critical item especially for them who don’t want to give their packs to the horse or porter. Carrying a rucksack on a difficult trek becomes a necessity. We feel that a trekker should be able to carry his or her rucksack in most of the cases. Life saving things like heavy jacket and sleeping bag should always be carried in the rucksack to avoid unwanted situation or if benighted. Backpacking is really an art and doing it more and more people learn to pack. Assuming decent quality clothing and sleeping bag which are appropriate for the mountain, a backpack should not weigh more than 12 Kg, even for a long trek of 9/10 days. The following things are to be considered before buying a suitable rucksack.Rucksack

  1. A) Size: Depending upon the duration of the trek the size of the backpack varies.  Considering the treks on the Himalayas ranging from 5 to 10 days a backpack of 40 to 60 L is sufficient. Don’t buy unnecessarily large backpacks which are heavy by its own weight.
  2. B) Internal Frame: Always buy a rucksack supported by an internal frame made of metal or alloys. This frame is a must in a backpack as it prevents the bag to sag and keeping the balance. A well designed frame will transfer the load to the waist belt and shoulder strap and distribute the load evenly on the torso.
  3. C) Shoulder strap and Hip belt:  Always buy a rucksack with adjustable shoulder strap and hip/waist belt. These should be well padded with comfortable and quality foams. The strap and padding  are better if covered with seat wicking ventilation mesh.
  4. D) Ease of packing: Most of the backpacks have top and front panel access. Some larger packs are designed with a separate sleeping bag compartment. Occasionally some do have a backdoor also for quick access to the main compartment. All of these will have multiple pockets, sleeves and lids for different purposes.
  5. E) Rain fly/ Dust cover: It is wise to buy a backpack which comes with a rain cover. A water proof rain fly will protect your clothes and sleeping bag from rain. Also it helps to keep away the dust.

Osprey, Gregory, Camp, Mountain Hardwear, The Northface, Deuter etc are few leading world class manufacturers of backpacks. In India the choices are mostly limited to Quechua and Wildcraft.

There are few local manufacturers around Kolkata who make decent rucksacks at a very competitive price. Both of them have a wide range of products including budget quality Wind Proof, Warm Jacket, Sleeping Bags, Day pack/knapsack etc.


One thought on “Packing a Rucksack

  • April 11, 2018 at 4:10 pm

    Very informative. Thank you for this!


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