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Practice packing an expedition rucksack

Learn how to pack your rucksack properly to keep you prepared, safe and comfortable.

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You’ll need

  • Rucksack (one per person or group)
  • Expedition equipment (one per person or group) including, but not limited to: roll mat, water bottle, clothes, food, tent, cooking utensils, washing up equipment, sleeping bag, stove, plates, cutlery, camping kit, wash kit and toiletries, liquid fuel, lunch, waterproofs, hat, gloves, first aid kit, sun cream, toilet roll, headtorch, hand sanitiser and snacks
Dofe Packing A Rucksack
PDF – 406.9KB

Before you begin

  • Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Additional help to carry out your risk assessment, including examples can be found here. Don’t forget to make sure all young people and adults involved in the activity know how to take part safely.
  • Make sure you’ll have enough adult helpers. You may need some parents and carers to help if you’re short on helpers.

Getting ready for the meeting

  • Plan and ask everyone to bring in the equipment they will be using for their expedition to be used in this activity. You could use the attached guide from DofE as a kit list.
  • Let everyone know that they’ll be unpacking everything from their bags in the session, so they shouldn’t bring anything they don’t want to be seen by the group, such as underwear.
  • To plan and pack the rucksacks any sensitive items, such as underwear, could be put inside plastic bags to keep them out of sight effectively.

Pack your bags

Learning to pack your expedition rucksack properly might sound easy, but there are some simple tips to help keep you safe and comfortable on your trip.

  1. Tell everyone spread out, find a space and unpack their bags, so all their expedition equipment is on the floor alongside their bags.
  2. You could use the equipment list or attached rucksack packing guide from DofE to make sure everyone has everything they need. Items may vary slightly, so it’s OK if people have packed extra items.
  3. Discuss each of these items individually. Talk about why they’re important to bring and why they’re placed where they are inside the bag.
  4. Pack everything into the rucksacks following the attached guide and make sure everything fits securely.
  5. Now, make sure everyone can fit and adjust their rucksack properly. This step’s extremely important in keep everyone safe and comfortable.

You’ll probably want a rucksack between 50 and 75 litres. The packed rucksack should weigh as little as possible, and you shouldn’t carry anything you don’t really need. Consideration needs to be made for the age, fitness and physiology of the young person taking part. There are differing opinions but typically a maximum load ranges between 10 kg and 14 kg for those aged from 14 to 18 years old. Don’t forget to include your tent, food and cooking equipment in this, but it could be shared out fairly between your expedition group.

Rucksack top tips

There’s some great information from DofE on packing your expedition rucksack.

  • Pack sooner rather than later. This way if you’re missing something you still have time to get it.
  • Use different coloured plastic bags to group similar items together.
  • Use the rucksack compression straps to tighten your load and hold everything firmly in place.
  • Carry a couple of extra straps, buckles and safety pins for emergency repairs in case a strap breaks or a zip gives way.
  • A paracord bracelet is a great solution for extra shoelaces, too.
  • If the weather could be wet, consider taking a cover to put over your rucksack. Many modern rucksacks have these built into a pocket at the bottom.
  • Keep your compass and map in a plastic bag tied to your shoulder strap, so they’re always easy to get to.
  • Line each compartment with a waterproof bag or bin bag to keep things dry.
  • Keep items you’ll need regularly and in an emergency near the top or in easy to access pockets.
  • Keep things you’ll need to get out last, such as your sleeping bag and pyjamas, at the bottom.
  • Use extra plastic bags to keep important items dry, such as electronics and your sleeping bag.
  • You may want to take an extra bin bag for wet or muddy clothing to go into.
  • You could wrap your pyjamas in your sleeping bag to keep them easily accessible, warm and dry.
  • Wrap any delicate items in soft clothing to keep them safe.
  • Light, bulky items should be placed near the bottom and heavier items nearer the top – this will make the rucksack easier to carry, especially over longer distances, as it distributes the weight on your hips.
  • Spread the weight evenly on each side to make sure the bag helps to keep you upright while walking.
  • Try to avoid tying loose items onto your back, as they’ll unbalance you and use more energy to keep you walking.
  • If you’re taking a towel, try to take one that’s a travel towel and quick drying. Towels and tea towels can help dry your tent off, too.
  • Use nearly empty toiletries and toothpaste tubes instead of carrying full ones.
  • Consider carrying just a spoon instead of a whole cutlery set.
  • Remove any bulky packaging from food items and put them into Ziploc bags if needed.
  • Make sure you only carry things you really need, so you could leave items you want more than need, such as books, at home.
  • Once you have your rucksack fully packed, practise lifting it off and onto your shoulders a few times. You ideally want to be able to do it yourself, but having a friend help is OK, too.
  • To put the bag on, make sure the shoulder straps are loosened. Bend one knee slightly and grip the shoulder straps to hoist the pack, so that its weight rests on your knee. Slide one arm through a shoulder strap and swing the pack onto your back, slipping your other arm into the other shoulder strap at the same time.
  • When your bag is on your back, lean forward a little and adjust the rucksack, so that it sits comfortably on your back. Once comfy, do up the hip belt and tighten the shoulder straps. When you stand up straight, the main weight of the pack should sit against your back and rest on your hips.
  • Walking with a loaded rucksack changes your sense of balance and puts extra strain on your feet and knees.
  • If anything inside the pack presses uncomfortably on your back as you walk, stop and rearrange it. Try to put something soft on the side closest to your back, such as your sleeping bag.
  • If you’re walking a long distance and the straps start to rub, adjust them to change the way the pack sits on your back, or use a folded towel or spare bits of clothing as padding.
  • Take particular care when walking up or down slopes.
  • Always do a few stretches to warm up your muscles before putting a heavy pack on your back, and don’t expect to walk as far or as fast as you would without it.


How did everyone find packing their bags? Did anyone learn anything new that they’ll use on the expedition? Did people help each other and work as a team?

What may you need to do on the trip? How can you prepare your backpack for all weathers? And is there anything you need to prioritise on the trip, both in where it goes in your bag, and what to take on the trip and what to leave at home?


All activities must be safely managed. You must complete a thorough risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Always get approval for the activity, and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.

To start with people could try to pack their bags themselves, without looking at the packing guide or hearing the tips, then get their back checked. For each item that’s in the right place, according to the DofE rucksack image (attached), they could get a point. The person with the most points could win, or they could have to try again and the first person to get everything in the right place wins. They could have as many tries as possible for the latter race, and to make it harder you could prevent telling which items they’ve got in the wrong place.

People could work in pairs or small teams to help each other pack their bags. If anyone may struggle to carry more weight, they could share out the group items, such as part of the tent, with other members of their expedition team.

All Scout activities should be inclusive and accessible.