What to pack in your rucksack: essentials for a day on the mountain

Having the right gear for a day in the mountains doesn’t mean you pack the kitchen sink, but a little planning means you bring all the essentials without being weighed down.

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​In the mountains you’ll see people lugging multi-storey backpacks and sometimes bowed under the weight. Having the right gear for a day in the mountains doesn’t mean you need to bring the kitchen sink, but a little forward-planning means you can have all the essentials with you without being hampered by your own gear.

As a minimum, we recommend that you pack the items below:

First Aid Kit

Often the least-considered item should be first on your list! You don’t need an A&E department but a few items stand out – plasters, blister plasters, antiseptic cream or spray and, yes, suncream. If winged beasties like to nibble your skin, bring insect repellant as rain and/or sweat can wash it off during a long day in the hills.

Outdoor shops sell compact kits, such as the range from Lifesystems, with items most relevant to hillwalkers included in compact forms.

Mac or lightweight rain jacket

We’ve covered the concept of layering clothes previously. One essential layer is the lightweight rain jacket, and if it isn’t raining when you set off and you’re not already wearing it, this is another essential item for your pack.

A lightweight “pack-a-mac” or technical rain-jacket is ideal for sliding over the top of your fleece or T-shirt, depending on the weather and time of year.

Spare clothing layer…and socks

Even with a raincoat, clothes can still get wet (or sweaty). Packing a spare base layer or lightweight fleece means you can switch if you get damp. If you’ve ever walked in wet clothing, you’ll know what a relief it can be to pull on something dry!

Remember, too, that temperatures are lower at the summit and often drop during rain, so the extra layer could provide some extra warmth. A lightweight beanie hat takes up little space, so bunch one of those in there as well. Finally, bring a spare pair of socks! Walking with wet feet is a quick-fire way to getting blisters.

Backpack rain cover

Backpacks might claim to be waterproof, but don’t believe it – anything with zips and pockets is prone to getting wet. Grab yourself a rain cover and keep it handy (stuff it in a pocket) in case you need to cover your pack and keep the essentials dry.

Water bottle (or hydration pack)

Even if blazing sunshine has not been forecast, bring water. Don’t rely on replenishing from streams – it’s amazing how when you run out and need a drink, you can never find one. Most backpacks will allow you to attach a water bottle on the outside, via a clip.

The alternative is a “hydration pack” which essentially is a water pouch and tube that typically sits in a dedicated compartment in a compatible backpack. These are great if you need to keep moving but they need to be kept clean, which can be fiddly, and once filled they can be pretty heavy on your back. Camelbak are one of the best known makers of hydration packs.

Portable phone charger

If you’re going to be relying on your phone for posting photos to Facebook, chatting to people and using a GPS device, you’re going to drain the battery pretty fast. So bring a portable charger with you – and pre-charge it, so you don’t need to worry about running out of juice. Anker make a range of pocket-sized chargers that tend to get good reviews.

High energy food

Seeds, nuts, dark chocolate and apples are great, high-energy foods that should be in your rucksack. Bananas are great too, of course, if you have the room. Energy bars typically pack these ingredients into a concentrated block, so they’re great space-savers. Avoid the temptation to take crisps – they make you more thirsty!


You might have no intention of being out on the hills after dark, but an accident that slows you down, or simply taking the wrong path, can mean you’re still out long after the sun has gone down. Torches come in small, powerful LED-bright forms, and having one with you (with charged batteries) will take up little room.

And finally – map and compass!

If you know how to use them, bring them. Your phone could die, you could lose signal, or you might drop and break it. Have a back up, then you can’t get lost. Ordnance Survey sell ‘weatherproof’ variants of maps covering popular walking areas, including Snowdonia, or simply invest in a map cover.