There is only one way to get fit to carry a back pack outdoors, and that is to do it. The gym is a great place to train for sports but there is no substitute for carrying a pack in all weathers over a variety of terrain. Obviously the better condition you are in the quicker you will adjust to the burden of load carrying. Speed and power can be honed in the gym but stamina which is required for back packing can only be achieved by putting in the time. It should become second nature to put on the pack and forget its there, much the same as putting on a pair of boots. If you are aware of any discomfort there is something that needs adjusting. A forty pound pack should be comfortable for most people, but as the weight increases so does the chance of injuries. Shoulder straps cut in, and the frame can cause bergan sores. One occupational hazard in the regiment was piles, or haemorrhoids in the case of officers, caused by carrying heavy loads.
Try to keep the weight down to less than 40 lbs. Look at what you are carrying and ask yourself is it really necessary, be weight conscious. My motto is ‘If I cant eat it, I don’t carry it’. Think of it as a formula one car, lightness is the key, and as stream lined as possible. You must carry the basics like, sleeping bag, bivy bag, poncho, spare clothing, stove and food, but look carefully at each item and see if you can improve on it. Make sure your weight doesn’t increase by accident. If the contents get wet they will double in weight. Wrap everything in a water proof bag. There is no point in carrying dry kit if it doesn’t remain dry. If the pack is too large the wind will play havoc with balance and progress. Sleeping mats tied to the top of a pack are a prime example of this. Keep everything within the confines of your body. Don’t tie on water bottles, boots, or cooking utensils, stow them away inside.
Take time to adjust the pack. It may help if you put extra padding on the shoulder straps, or on the bottom rail of the frame. Its best to have the pack fitting snugly at the top and not pulling away from the body. An air space between the pack and back is essential. This is a high sweat area where painful rashes can occur. A poncho draped over the lower rail helps provide this ventilation and is invaluable when you stop for a break. It can easily be removed and replaced, to give protection and something dry to sit on. Never sit on your pack.
There is nothing worse than following a companion who has a rattle in their pack. Clanking cooking pots or a loose tin opener can sound as if you’re following a calypso band. After a few miles your patience will run out especially as you tire. You may even wish to inflict physical violence on the perpetrator. Like wise any leaking fluids with a strong smell is very off putting. In the Far East we were issued a rum ration that some opted to carry in a water bottle, which was strapped to the outside of the pack. At the end of the day the followers wondered why they felt dizzy and nauseous. Ensure your fuel bottles don’t leak as this too can cause headaches. Always stop after ten minutes and adjust your pack as necessary. Don’t go blindly on hoping the discomfort will go away, it will only get worse. It’s too late when the skin is broken, as it is now open to infection. On selection for the Regiment the wounds I witnessed were horrendous, and all avoidable. Just like blisters on the feet, you must take care. Remember PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE.
Learn to live out of the pack. Know where everything is located and easily accessible. Only take from the pack what you immediately need and replace when finished with. Make sure you secure all pockets and flaps. You don’t want any unwelcome visitors. When you stop for the night keep the pack done up and off the ground. You should never have to empty the pack to get to something. Think logically and ask yourself what I will need first. For a short break it’s ideal to have a brew so have the stove, mess tin, and brew kit in a side pocket, which is easily accessable. When you stop for the night you need shelter, so have the poncho or tent on top. Once this is erected you can think about changing your clothing now you have protection from the elements.
A pack should be V shaped. Lighter items like a sleeping bag can be stored at the bottom ,and heavier items at the top. Always carry the heaviest item highest on the shoulders. If you trip try to fall backwards where the pack will help to absorb the shock. In the Regiment we carried an A frame canvas bergan, that had a nasty habit of coming over the head and pushing your face into the ground when you fell. The canvas soaked up water like a sponge, allowing everything inside to get soaked if not protected. Rucksacks have come a long way since then, made from materials that are light, strong and waterproof. Internal frames are comfortable and the hip belt helps take the load from the shoulders.
Pack all delicate objects in clothing but take care that anything liquid or creamy will stain your kit if squashed. This is one of the reasons we never sit on our packs. The most precious thing we carried was a radio and we treated this like a new born baby as it was our life line. If you throw your pack around or sit on it, the contents will look like the bottom of a baby’s pram Never get separated from your pack, always keep it with you. Because packs can all look alike have an identification mark so you can recognise it instantly. A correctly packed Bergan is a good floatation aid, and four lashed together can get a non swimmer across a river. Don’t try to sit on the bergan but just rest the arms on it and kick with the legs to propel yourself. Map, compass, and survival tin, must be carried on the body not inside the pack. In the rare instance where you may get separated from your pack, you will at least be able to reach safety.
Probably the only time you would consider jettison your pack is if in immediate danger from a fire, avalanche, or wild animal. Its surprising how faster you can run un-hampered. It’s a good practice to wear a belt having a water bottle and small pouch on. The pouch can contain a small medical pack, food, and torch. This comes into its own when you want to check out the route in light, and can leave your pack at base. When buying a pack don’t make the mistake of buying one that is too small. You don’t have to fill up a large pack but the extra room is always useful. Buy the best that you can afford. Its false economy to buy an cheap pack it will always let you down and want replacing.
Enjoy your walks and carry the correct kit.