When winter's through,
the lightening days bring the season of the lightened rucksack - gradually
the need to be armed to the teeth with crampons, ice axes, snow shovels
and spare woolly hats to decorate your snowman are giving way to the
warmer days when the heaviest item you're carrying might be a bottle
of chilled wine to enjoy during a lazy hour or two by a felltop tarn
in the sun.
Less weight means smaller rucksack capacity. You'll probably only be
lugging 5kg of gear, so we're talking 20 to 30 litres sacks, perhaps
35 if you insist on hauling bulky waterproofs everywhere. A simple rucksack,
barely more than a bag with shoulder straps, will easily carry such
Trouble is, these days such sacks are hard to find. Today's bells and
whistle models look like miniature backpacking sacks, with frames, padded
hipbelts and a plethora of webbing and buckles. These extra features
add weight and complexity and don't make carrying small loads any more
comfortable. Indeed, unless they fit properly they are less comfortable,
especially those with curved frames and an air gap between your back
and the sack, a design which transfers the weight to the base of the
pack where pressure points can occur at either side of the small of
the back. If they're a precise fit there's no problem, but as they usually
only come in one size a precise fit is rare. The air gap is designed
to keep your back dry but while it might disperse a little dampness
it won't stop you sweating - you'll still have a wet back when you're
working hard. The wind can whip through these gaps too, upsetting balance.
Some modern design features are worth having. Padded backs are comfortable
and make packing rucksacks easier. Rucksacks shaped to follow the curves
of your back are comfortable and, more importantly, very stable as they
move with you rather than against you. You'll get a sweatier back than
with a sack that is held away from you but I'd rather have comfort and
stability. Hipbelts or waist straps stop the pack bouncing when moving
fast and increase the stability without the need for excessive strap
The variety of back systems means it's important to try on rucksacks
loaded, to check they are comfortable; if you feel pressure points or
rubbing try another model.
You're going out for the day - you don't need
to carry much, so it doesn't matter if your packed lunch ends up in
a carrier bag, right? Wrong. That might be the extent of your kit requirements
for a half-hour stroll from the car park, but there's a bit more to
it than that if you want to enjoy a full day out in wild country.
You need something with space enough, not just for sarnies and a bottle
or flask of drink, but your waterproofs, a spare jumper, hat and gloves,
as well as a survival bag if you're heading into wild country. That
takes up a bit more space than a carrier bag, so your ideal daysack
will probably be in the 20 to 30 litre range - 35 max.
Smaller daysacks will have a soft back, in other words, no frame or
stiffening. As you get up to the 30 litre end, you'll see sacks either
with alloy staves or rigid plastic inserts to keep the back stiff. The
bit that makes contact with your back wants enough padding to give you
a comfortable fit, and protect you from any hard lumps you might have
packed in the sack. Better quality sacks will have back panels allowing
a degree of ventilation, either by channels between separate pads, or
by open cell foam covered with a breathable mesh fabric.
Ideally, the back of the ruksack and underside of the shoulder straps
need to be covered with a fabric which is reasonably soft. You may not
be going shirtless, but other outdoors clothing won't necessarily take
kindly to abrasion.
Not absolutely essential at this capacity, but the means to compartmentalise
some of your kit, particularly smaller items, is not a bad thing. The
variations are enormous, but pockets may be on the sides, front or lid.
Invariably zip fastened, small side pockets are most efficient with
curved zipped openings which run in a vertical plane - in other words,
opening a panel in the side of the pocket rather than a lid at the top.
Smaller daysacks may not be provided with a waist strap - but they're
a lot more common now on the larger models. They contribute a great
deal to stability, particularly if you're picking your way over rough
ground, or doing something daft like running! Also useful for attaching
small belt loop items like a camera or binoculars in a pouch.
These are the straps which hold the lid down, usually secured with quick
release buckles. Handy also for holding down items you might not have
room for in the main body of the sack, or something you want quick access
to, like a waterproof jacket.
Common to all rucksacks without zip fastened main compartments.
A lid with one or two straps and buckles - these days invariably
using quick release fasteners - is the norm. Access from the top of
the sack is what most walkers look for, because it's easy to stand the
sack on its base and rummage around for your lunch box. The alternative
is a daysack with zip fastened front panel opening, often popular as
well for more general use - shopping, school, etc.