Rucksacks & Handbags… The Horrible Truth

Never have things hanging off the rucksack

Never have things hanging off the rucksack

Relaxing with a mug of tea and a Garibaldi recently after a run, my mind wandered for no apparent reason to handbags; more specifically, females and handbags. I reasoned that the average ratio between the female and the number of handbags that she owned would probably be in the order of 1:10. I started smirking to myself thinking how fortunate I was being a man and as such immune from these bazaar compulsions. It was shortly afterwards while putting my 30 liter training rucksack away that I realized I had acquired 9 rucksacks! As you can imagine, the initial shock stopped me in my tracks; I stumbled back wondering if I had been struck down by some kind of hormone imbalance. As I had none of the other female symptoms like plucking my eyebrows out, shaving my legs or running around asking ‘does my bum look big in these shorts’, I decided to try and deal with the problem logically rather than medically. After a short while I determined that through some hideous freak of nature men too have been saddled with these strange cravings and compulsions… My world was in tatters.

The logic

On further inspection it would appear that the accompanying logic concerning rucksacks and handbags is also strangely similar in that we all pick one that is too big and then find all sorts of rubbish with which to fill it, little of which turns out to be of any actual use.

So, how big is big enough?

Of course, as any man will tell you, it’s pointless asking a female to answer this question as the standard and entirely predictable retort of ‘it’s never big enough’ has started to wear a bit thin over the years, so on this occasion I will endeavor to answer the question myself. The easy answer is ‘it’s big enough when you can just get in what you need to take’; the solution, however, is somewhat more complex. If you are traveling around populated areas the rucksack will contain different items to one that you will pack for a short wilderness backpacking trip; the thing that you will notice about both is that generally, about a third of the stuff taken never gets used. The result is that you have dragged all that stuff around needlessly, making you tired, sweaty and grumpy. So, how can we rectify the situation? Let’s take a look.


Whether wilderness backpacking or city traveling with a rucksack, weight is your enemy; it reduces agility, balance, speed and distance, not to mention enjoyment . It increases sweating making hydration control more difficult and also increases the chance of injuries to ankles, knees and back.  So, what do we actually need? Let’s start off with the essentials assuming a 3 day/2 night backpacking trip.

    • A small First-Aid kit for your needs.
    • Personal hygiene kit. This should be in a similar size waterproof container as is the First-Aid kit (about 350ml) and should contain: A toothbrush (try a children’s toothbrush as these are generally smaller and lighter).
    • Top Tip: Avoid ‘Nellie the Elephant’ ones if you are concerned about maintaining your street-cred. Toothpaste (most companies make travel size tubes that are very small). A quick-dry travel towel. Liquid anti-bacterial soap. A small compact mirror to assist in seeing out of the way places (personal not geographical) along with getting stuff out of your eyes; it also doubles as a signalling device in a survival situation.
    • An 80 litre ‘drybag’ to line the rucksack. This will keep everything dry if it rains and serve as a buoyancy aid if you have to do a river or lake crossing. Go for an 80 liter drybag  because if you have to do a river or lake crossing all your clothes and the rucksack will have to go inside. Fit 10m of paracord to the bottom so that you can fasten it to yourself during the crossing (this can be removed for other purposes in a survival situation). When hiking don’t put your waterproofs in the drybag… Put them on the top just under the rucksack’s top flap so that you don’t have to open the drybag when it’s raining to get them out.
    • A Gore-Tex double hooped bivi (a Terra Nova Saturn will protect you anywhere) and a  good down sleeping bag (they are light and warm but you do have to know how to use them).
    • A good fixed blade knife (an Eka Nordic W11 is ideal) and a sparking tool.
    • A headtorch (and spare batteries). A map and compass. A stainless steel mug to cook in (a Brithish Army 1 litre Mug is ideal for this) and a stainless steel spork (not Lexan).
    • A good analogue watch (A diving watch that is rated at 200 metres is a hardy beast and will take some knocking about) that will double as a navigation tool.
    • A 1 litre water container (Nalgene Tritan Wide Mouth are good). All that comes to less than 4.5 Kgs. We have now covered the essentials (even some of these could be termed ‘luxury items’).
    • Clothes, food  and 1 liter of water are all that remain. The clothes you will have on, apart from your waterproofs which go in the rucksack. The reason you only have one set of clothes is that you are using a bivi and if you are in the bivi you are in your sleeping bag with no clothes on. Food is whatever you want to take but plan your meals out; If water is plentiful take dried food as it’s lighter to carry. So, the water weighs 1 Kg and the food and waterproofs perhaps 4 Kg (remember you can find food along the way). Well, all that makes a total of around 9.5 Kgs; much of the stuff is bulky as opposed to heavy but you should get it in a 35 liter rucksack O.K.

Try all this out on a 3 day/2 night backpacking trip in a relatively safe area to see how you manage, once you get into it you will find that you have everything you need to make yourself comfortable. The more knowledgeable and organized you become the less you will need to take, and remember, knowledge weighs nothing at all. Anyway, I have to go now… I’ve seen this sexy little 30 liter number in pink with twin ice axe loops and a kinky hydration slot in the sale, thought it might go with my new shorts! Take care.

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