Impossible, miserable, and uncomfortable do not need to be the words that come to mind. How about…liberating, relaxing, and satisfying? What to pack for a mountain adventure always requires thought.
One week in the mountains in winter and I am carrying everything I need in a rucksack. Personally I cannot think of anything better than discovering that you can survive with the contents of a 40 litre rucksack.
We are often asked about packing for our point-to-point off-track ski trips where being able to carry all your kit on your back is vital. I have taken our standard Kit List for our Hardangervidda Classic Crossing, an off-track Nordic ski trip, and embellished it with tips and advice on how I survive.
Do not leave packing till the evening before you travel. For a trip like this you will be sure to have missed something vital to your safety and enjoyment, and left yourself no time to acquire it. I usually start one week before leaving by laying everything out and ticking my way through our Kit List. Equipment should be checked well in advance to allow time to re-think any kit.
On many occasions we have guests using new kit for the first time on day one of the trip. However, if you then discover it doesn’t work or fit it can ruin your holiday! Check all kit well in advance.
With our off-track trips you will travel to the group meeting point, usually somewhere reasonably remote, with what you need to ski the route, and leave any other items in a central location to be collected upon return, usually Oslo, Norway’s capital city.
1.If you want to avoid dealing with luggage then travel in your ski boots, with your skis wrapped in cardboard which can be disposed off at the airport - into the recycle bin of course! You then literally get off the train or plane ready for action. For the return journey this means picking up something to wrap your skis with, but easily done with heavy duty bin bags from a supermarket and a roll of tape.
2. Arrive a day early or leave a day later than the trip dates and spend a night in Oslo, either the city centre, or at the airport. You can then usually leave any luggage/ski bags at the hotel where you have your reservation. Always check with the hotel before booking.
3. You can leave any extra luggage/ski bags in Oslo in the left luggage lockers at the airport or at the city centre railway station. For rates and information refer to here.
You do not need an enormous rucksack to carry the correct kit for a winter adventure on skis. I have a 40 litre Millet UBIC and find it is perfect. The bigger the sack the more you will take. Aim for a maximum of 10 kgs when fully loaded, including fluids, lunch, etc.
Millet Ubic 40L Rucksack
Keep in mind that there is kit to be shared amongst the group such as group shelters, snow shovel and other items and you will need some spare room for when it is your turn to share the load.
When fully loaded check the straps and settle the rucksack onto your hips. Make sure it is going to be comfortable for a day of journeying on skis.
Get into the habit of packing your rucksack in a way that gives you fast access to items you are most likely to need. In winter conditions, the quicker you can sort yourself and get moving again the better. Although you might feel cosy and warm while skiing, you will quickly chill when sorting kit and it can take a long time to warm up again.
So, organise your rucksack with items you might need during your ski day, such as a thicker pair of gloves, a hat, goggles, and snacks, into zip pockets or side panels where you can get at them swiftly.
Make sure that items for your accommodation are packed away at the bottom of your rucksack in a separate bag or liner that is waterproof. This way you know you have a dry change of clothes on arrival and the items you don't need during the day are 'out of the way'.
The same with electrical or battery operated items, make sure they are kept dry. Head torches often go flat because the button has been accidentally pressed in your rucksack, so I always turn one of the batteries the wrong way round so that it cannot be switched on.
I also have little duvet pouches (50aks Thermo Phone Case) for battery items such as my GPS, Power Bank, and Phone so that the cold does not drain them. This is vital in terms of having emergency communication if required.
Base layers and warm items for head, toes and fingers - I prefer 3 pairs of gloves - light, medium and extra warm gauntlet gloves. They all get used!
Try to avoid having items hanging off your rucksack. For a start the mountain fashion police will fine you and secondly, you will most likely finish the trip with items lost or broken. It’s a good habit to ensure everything can be packed ‘inside’ the rucksack, or securely, and we mean ‘very’ securely, attached to the outside.
One exception to the ‘nothing on the outside’ is your rolled up mat, in fact it’s really the only place that you can store one. Mats can be purchased very cheaply and used for a multitude of situations.
Something to sit on when eating, insulation from the ground if you ever had to sit out bad weather, an emergency stretcher, a splint for a broken bone? I prefer to carry a full rolled-up mat, it weighs 21 grammes, and tied across the top of my rucksack it does not get in the way, many people also secure them to the bottom of their rucksack.
If you tie them to the side of your pack then the arm motion when skiing can sometime be restricted as you brush against the mat, and we wouldn’t recommend this.
Having sat in a group shelter in bad weather I know how vital my mat has been in keeping me insulated from the cold and retaining my body’s core temperature.
We like the Decathlon Forclaz mat which is very cheap, light and weighs 0.21 kg. It can easily be cut down if you want it shorter
This is where I try not to cut corners in terms of buying quality kit that is made for purpose and will last. My mantra is that each item of clothing should serve more than one purpose, and if possible several.
Essential items are;
1. Waterproof jacket - this must keep you dry during a day of continuous snowfall or at least as dry as any waterproof jacket ever keeps you. My gortex jacket is a good brand, Arc'teryx which was bought in a sale at half price and it has been worth every penny.
2. Waterproof trousers - my over trousers are extremely lightweight and are a soft fabric. Importantly they have a full length zip and even with bulky ski boots I can put them on with out taking the boots off. This is vital in a snowy winter environment. You often don’t have time to spend taking boots off and then fiddlying around to get your over trousers on. Usually, you are doing this in bad weather, or with bad weather approaching.
3. Trousers - my ski trousers are Karpos Grand Mont trouser, are made of a stretchy fabric that is showerproof, and allows free movement. They do not have a waist belt as such but a soft elasticated band that is comfortable even with a rucksack strap fastened on top of it. Crucially for me they have a pocket on the right thigh where I keep my mobile phone which also is my camera and my mapping assistance. I even bought a second pair just because of this pocket. It’s the ‘detail’ that makes the difference.
4. Thermal leggings - a thin pair of leggings that fit comfortable under my ski trousers. I then work on the basis that if I am cold, I can wear my thermal leggings, my ski trousers, and my over trousers, so 3 layers.
5. Thermal top - always merino wool for week long trips as it doesn’t smell and can be worn for several weeks if necessary without washing.
6. Thin fleece - a wind proof thin jacket made of breathable material. I use an Ortovox shell with merino wool which is very snug.
7. Waistcoat - again a merino wool waistcoat which is great for keeping my core warm. Ortovox.
8. Gloves - never skimp on gloves. Cold hands are a nightmare and can ruin your day. I always carry 3 pairs, a very thin pair, a warm medium pair, and finally a very warm pair of mits with a gauntlet which stops any snow going into the gloves should you fall, or if it is simply snowing heavily. All my gloves are Hestra - if it is good enough for the Norwegian army it is good enough for me.
Good quality clothing items are an investment that should last years
With regard to the ‘bits’ and ‘pieces’ that we all take on a trip like this I prefer to sort them into small bright coloured bags such as those from Mont Bell so they are easily found in my rucksack.
1. Comfort items such as tissues, snack bars, and sunglasses.
2. Electrical items such as phone charge cable, GPS charger, Power Bank, electrical adaptor if required.
3. Wash kit - small toothpaste, tiny folding toothbrush, earplugs, face moisturiser, soap - there are now various ‘dry’ soaps that can be bought in small packets that are great for this kind of trip. Deodorant - you can also now buy ‘hard’ deodorant and I often take this on a trip where weight and size are important.
4. First Aid - always taken your own preferred blister kit, any personal medication required, painkillers and anti-inflammatory. For blisters I use Strappal (along with most guides I know) in preference to Compeed. The secret is to apply the tape as soon as you feel it rubbing, and before the skin is broken. Leave it on and live with it for the trip. Compeed has an unfortunate habit of peeling off with your sock and taking chunks of your skin with it. Your guide will carry a first aid kit but this can easily be used up on the group, and we do ask that you take your own blister kit and personal medication.
5. Documents - my final bag is a waterproof one for my documents - passport, cash, credit card, and insurance details.
When in the mountains we rely on team work to complete a journey successfully. For this reason we also ask you to carry an item of group kit. This is spread between the group and you might only carry it for one day in a whole week.
Group items to be shared between group members - snow shovel, waxes, ground shelters, etc
We are referring to a snow shovel, perhaps 2 or 3 group shelters, grip waxes for skis, a repair kit (spare basket for ski pole, cable ties, duct tape etc) and a spare ski pole. Your guide has a lot of responsibility and demands being made on them during any point -to-point trip and they simply cannot carry all the group kit. They will already be carrying first aid, maps, compass, GPS, emergency communication device, and other items.
It is better your guide has the energy to ‘get you there’, and the group shares the task of carrying a few items.
Guide items - your guide is also carrying maps, GPS, emergency comms, cork, scraper and thermometer for ski wax
The images above which show collections of kit represent the contents of my rucksack. Everything fits into 40 litres and weights no more than 10 kgs, with fluid and food. You really need to keep your rucksack light. If you are carrying a heavy pack you are more likely to lose balance and fall, falling is tiring and affects the group ability to keep a good steady pace. Obviously, it is all subjective as 10 kgs to a small light person is very heavy, and to a large strong individual it may not feel too bad. Use your own judgement.
In summary, try and work towards buying kit that is good quality. We know this can be expensive, but if you are at the stage of signing up for our Nordic ski touring trips then you will have been skiing for a number of years and hopefully have bought wisely. As suggested, items in your rucksack that have several functions can save a lot of space and weight. I also work on the basis that in a situation that requires us to be static for a time that I can put on multiple layers from my rucksack and deal with the cold.
There is a saying 'light is right, until it's wrong' in essence go as light as possible, but without compromising safety.
Be happy to experience life without clutter and enjoy the freedom of travelling with 'your life in your rucksack'. Personally I love this kind of journey!