5 Tips for Packing Your Mountaineering Backpack
Words by Andy Cave
The hillsides and mountains of Scotland are at their most beautiful during the winter months, making it one of the best destinations for mountaineering. However, changeable conditions and reduced daylight means that you and your mountaineering backpack need to be prepared to face the elements.
Pack and organise your gear well, and you and your backpack will be friends all day on the mountain. Read my top packing tips for mountaineering to ensure your winter climb runs smoothly.
Scottish winter days are short, especially early in the season, and time here becomes a very precious commodity. By packing the evening before you will be forced to think through the flow of the day and also avoid wasting time faffing about in the morning. If the following day you suddenly change your itinerary, due to updated mountain conditions, sure you can swap your kit around, but ensure the bulk of the packing is done before you sleep.
Imagine yourself late in the day: tired, in bad weather on the summit. What will you need to get to very quickly? Head torch, map and compass? Phone? Spare gloves? Energy bars? I use the lid for storing some of these items. Brightly coloured stuff sacs can be useful for grouping essential items in the main pack compartment.
Not an exact science, but it’s useful to think of the space in your pack as zones:
- Bottom: Things you might need but not necessarily, like a shelter and first aid kit.
- Middle: Climbing harness, spare clothes, juice/flask.
- Top: Crampons and ice screws (best in their own bag protecting shell jacket/pants from damage). Rope secured under the lid.
- Outside of pack: Ice axes secured properly, along with your helmet if it won’t fit inside.
Before starting the more technical part of your ascent you will have less kit in the pack – the rope is out being used. Tighten the side compression straps and cinch down the lid to make the pack feel more stable. If not using your ski-poles, fix them securely on the outside of your pack. The Halcyon mountaineering backpack has a climbing mode with a lighter webbing hip belt – this might be the time to switch to that if you need easier access to your climbing harness for ice screws and carabiners. Put your pack on before taking any rope coils.
If the weather is bad on the summit – which is often in Scotland! – I will leave on my harness, crampons and helmet. It saves time and effort. Anyhow, I quite like having my helmet on, even if the descent is relatively easy, just in case. Once definitely below any technical ground and out of the worst weather, I tend to de-kit a bit and pack for the walk out. Always attach your kit securely and don’t clip random items on the pack that will swing around, annoy you and possibly vanish into the heather. Look after your pack and it will look after you. Simple.
Finally, know exactly where in your pack your money is.
A well-earned drink in the pub is an essential part of any great Scottish Winter day out!
Mountaineer & Lowe Alpine Ambassador
Andy is one of a handful of pioneers exploring new routes in remote mountain ranges. He has led expeditions around the world. In the Himalayas, he made the first ascent of one of the 20th Century’s greatest climbs, and in the Alps he summited on ‘Divine Providence’, considered to be the hardest climb.
In 2000, he traveled to Alaska to tackle Mount Kennedy’s North Face; his team succeeding where many others had failed. His story has been read by tens of thousands in his two award-winning books, Learning to Breathe and Thin White Line. He has appeared on radio and TV, as both presenter and subject, and has inspired many with his journey of an ordinary boy growing up to achieve remarkable things.