TAG News

16 May

How to pack your Pack – Part 1

There’s a perennial issue of how best to pack your pack (or rucksack for our US friends). Straight up, how you pack will very much depend on what you are doing – what’s the nature of your trek or expedition – and where you’re going – is it cold, wet, dusty, etc.

Anyone who has experienced torrential rain in a tropical jungle or a dust storm in the desert that lasts for days without shelter knows that water and dust get everywhere! Which is not good for your equipment. Mountaineering in a rock and ice environment requires a different set of gear and different considerations to a trek through the tropical rain-forests of South East Asia.

Therefore, when you are packing your pack you need to consider some basics:

  • Convenience vs protection
  • Frequency of item use
  • Weather and environmental factors
  • Pests and animals
  • Security
  • Redundancy and replacement

Ignoring these basic considerations is likely to result in inconvenience or wet gear at best. At worst you might experience loss or damage of vital bits. Clearly understanding and getting the basics right is

Let’s explore each consideration in more detail:

Convenience vs Protection

When I say protection, I primarily mean protection from the elements – particularly moisture, dust and mud. Protection against the elements will invariably lead to a loss of convenience – a loss of ease of access; things will become harder to get to because of the protective measures. For example, the use of an inner weather resistant liner to help keep clothing and gear dry and relatively dust free will impede ease of access. The use of smaller weather resistant liners and/or zip lock plastic bags will make it even less convenient and impede access.

However, in the tropics during the wet season, moisture will get pretty much everywhere if precautions are not taken. Likewise, in arid areas, dust will penetrate everywhere (and I mean everywhere!) if you do not guard against it. Therefore, you have a choice – convenience vs protection.

Do your homework on the environment before beginning your trip – know the season, local conditions and weather patterns (it buckets down at 4.00pm every afternoon), local resources (take what you need to protect your gear or source it locally). Once you have all the information available you can then make an informed decision and manage the risks.

Frequency of use

Following hot on the heels of convenience, and closely related, is the frequency with which you will use an item or need to access it. Clearly, the more often you need something the more conveniently located it should be – i.e. it should be easy to get to. Common sense right?! Sure, but time and again you see people in all kinds of locations and situations digging through their packs, contents spread all over the place, looking for a key item or bit of kit. Therefore, pack regularly used items near an opening or in a location that can be easily reached by bypassing other (larger) items.

It’s important to note that the frequency of use will vary throughout a trip. What is important or frequently used during the transit to the trek or expedition start point – and on the way home too – may not be needed as often during the trek.

The ability to think and plan ahead for these changes and requirements is important.

Weather and Environmental Conditions

As mentioned above in ‘Convenience vs Protection’, weather and environmental factors will influence how and what you pack into your pack. Not only is it important to consider weather and environmental conditions from a weather proofing and protection perspective but also from the personal care and wellbeing side of the shop. You need to think about where you put your wet and cold weather gear. Staying warm and dry is massively preferable to being soaking wet and freezing. Been there, done that too many times. It’s not fun, believe me!

So, there’s the ‘tough guy’ way of doing things and there’s the ‘smart guy’ way of doing things -sometimes they’re the same, often they are not. Once you’re wet, you can’t get un-wet!

My Son once wisely said at the tender age of 16 while trekking on Mt Kilimanjaro – ‘body heat is like your virginity, once you lose it you can’t get it back!’

The Army has a saying; the 7 P’s – Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance! Or in this instance freezing your nuts off! Time spent in planning and preparation is seldom wasted.

Pests and Animals

I use the line ‘pests and animals’ deliberately. Humans have this really annoying habit of asking to use, borrow or just ‘liberate’ (‘borrow’ without prior permission) ‘Gucci’ bits of kit and gear. Sometimes it boomerangs back, sometimes not – possession is 10/10 th ’s of the law in some societies! This is where personal and gear security, situational awareness and choosing your trekking/expedition partners wisely comes in.

As for the rest of the animal kingdom you need to be aware that animals will get into your gear, sometimes for no other reason than curiosity. I remember my first military exercise in the Jungle (I use a capital ‘J’ because the Jungle deserves respect, and lots of it!). Being the new guy to the Platoon I had some hard lessons to learn in the Jungle.

One of them was where I put my food, shaving stick and boot polish in my pack – all of which, apparently, rats and ants love to eat! Ants can penetrate just about anywhere! Remembering this is pre-zip lock bag days. They work their way through the folds and crevasses to get to their target. Rats are less subtle. They just chew through your pack to get at what they’re after!

My point is this – food, fragrant or scented items and anything remotely digestible needs to be protected and packed thoughtfully (i.e. if in the jungle keep non-tinned food away from the outside of your pack or risk a ‘ratraid’!).


In this day and age security is a critical consideration and should always form part of your planning process and daily routine. There are many basic precautions and steps that can be taken that will increase your level of security and decrease your chances of becoming a victim of crime. This includes the security of your pack (ruck). You pack should be in arms reach or at the very least, in visual distance at all times, or kept in a secure location.

We talk more about travel security in a future blog.

Redundancy and Replacement

It is always a good idea to have a level of redundancy for the vital bits of kit and gear you are carrying. Weight and available room, as well as your ability to carry it all (over the terrain to be covered), will also be a determining factor. Therefore, criticality and availability need to be considered – is the item a ‘must’, a ‘need’ or a ‘want’, and can you get a replacement locally?

If the item falls under the ‘must’ heading then you need to determine if suitable (same, similar, or adequate quality) replacements can be sourced locally during your trip. If this is not the case or you doubt you can replace the item, then a level of redundancy is required and you need to carry a spare.

Medication, inhalers, prescription glasses or contact lenses fall into this category – always carry a Doctors letter for your prescription medication, as this will get you out of the poo in some countries.

Lastly, what type of pack or rucksack you chose will also very much depend on what you’re doing and where you’re going! But that’s another story… or at least another blog! So, next time we’ll talk about selection of the right pack (ruck) for the job.

Leave a Reply