Richard Gear runs through the features to look out for if you're in the market for a winter walking or mountaineering sac
Hi there, Gear here, Richard Gear, escaped from the little box on
the righthand side where they normally keep me.
Today I shall be writing mostly about winter day packs - what to
look for when buying one and then what to put in them when you've
done the deed.
You'll probably be carrying a little more in winter -
spare clothes, a flask, possibly ice axe and crampons - so
generally you'll need a slightly larger pack. I'd suggest
somewhere between 35 and 45 litres as about right, though if
you go lightweight, you may be able to manage with less.
Systems If you're going to be climbing, the weight soon piles up
so you'll need some sort of rudimentary support, if only closed-cell
foam to stop hard things from sticking into your back and, possibly,
a supportive hip belt.
Ditch the Mesh Watch out for back systems featuring a
lot of mesh, snow, particularly wet snow, can stick to this
annoyingly, so a smooth fabric is better.
For pure walking use a hip-belt should transfer
weight onto your hips, but if you're climbing you need to think about
where you're going to rack your hardware. If you still want to use
the gear loops on your harness, a full hip-belt may cover them, so
you may be better off with a more rudimentary belt like the one on
Lowe Alpine's Attack 40 sac. Alternatively look for gear loops on the
pack belt itself - Karrimor and others - or use a bandolier.
A sternum strap will keep everything snug across your chest and
shoulders and prevent the shoulder straps from slipping over your
shoulder at awkward moments. A degree of elasticity will help you to
Compression Straps In winter you may well be taking
things in and out a lot, so the contents of your sac can
change - for example you may walk in in just pants and a
baselayer top then don shell clothing and a fleece at the
bottom of a climb - so a decent compression system to keep
everything snug when the pack is half full or empty is a
There's a whole debate about how to carry ice tools. Most
winter packs come with twin loops on the back of the pack, but this
puts two chunks of metal far out from your centre of gravity and
makes them slow to unpack. If you do use loops like these, we prefer
the shockcorded fastenings used by Mountain Equipment and Karrimor.
They don't ice up and are easy to use with gloved hands.
Alternatively, shove your tools down under your compression straps
or, if you're walking, between your back and the rucksac for quick
and easy access. If you do use the latter technique, be careful not
to drop the axe if you remove your pack for any reason.
Crampon Patches Crampons strapped on top of sac lids
always seem to flop around alarmingly. I prefer to carry
mine in a tough, purpose-built crampon bag and put them in
the main body of the sac. Alternatively, I'll stick them
under the lid, but outside the actual body of the pack.
Whatever you do, don't put naked crampons on the outside of
your sac. Not only is it rude, but they'll become encrusted
with snow and difficult to put on when you need them.
I prefer to keep things simple with just a single, big, easily
accessible lid pocket. That way I know which pocket things are in
because there is only one... Keep the small stuff you need easy
access to in there including a head torch.
Snowlock Closure The main compartment of most winter
sacs has a double drawstring arrangement to keep spindrift
out of the pack. Definitely a good thing, but remember to
Winter sacs can have a tough time. Look for
either a double layer of fabric at the base of the sac, or better, a
thicker, tougher fabric like cordura, that will resist the sort of
abrasion forces winter sacs are lumbered with.
Want to know more?
For user and site reviews of day sacs, check out the pack
section of the OUTDOORSmagic product review system. It's yum.