What's the best way to pack a rucksack... and other questions.

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The Great Walks Gear Guru answers five readers' question concerning hiking gear.

Q: What's the best way to pack a rucksack for a multi-day walk?

Richard Williams, Concorde, NSW

A: The simple answer here is to pack your gear as much above your centre of gravity as possible. OK, so how do you do that? Well, your centre of gravity runs through your pelvis at the base of your spine. Ideally this would mean carrying your gear on your head (the preferred option for millions in the developing world) but packs are more practical. So you pack denser and heavier items as close to your shoulder blades as possible, and the further down and outwards from your back, the lighter and less dense things should become.

From this basic principle there are a myriad of theories and packing options, for example should water bladders be packed vertically or horizontally? What combination of stuff bags best consolidates a load? And the perennial what should go on the outside of a pack? Trial and error are the best way to find your own perfect system!

Q: I'm having trouble cleaning the bladder in my hydration pack. What's your advice?
Amy Millington, Ulladulla, NSW

A: Most bladder manufacturers have developed their own cleaning kit, normally a couple of different sized brushes and maybe a plastic clip to hold the walls of the bladder apart while it dries. These are great for regular cleaning jobs, and I like to use the sort of detergent you’d clean a baby bottle with. However, there are times when bladders need something more serious than a brush, and that’s when you need effervescent cleaning tablets. Please check that your bladder brand is compatible with these tablets. Also check out the review on hydration packs in this issue.

Q: When buying boots, is there a big difference in the type of soles available?
Pip Green, Northgate, Qld

A: There is a huge difference between boot soles, but first let’s define what we’re talking about. A boot sole is normally a combination of a mid-sole (for underfoot support), some form of cushioning element and the outer sole ‘grip’. Normally, we think of the grip section as the sole, but you need to be aware that the mid-sole and cushioning play important parts in the performance of different grips. OK, there are two broad categories of grip:
• Harder rubber compounds designed for durability but can be slippery on wet surfaces (especially polished stone).
• Softer rubber compounds designed for traction but wear out relatively quickly (beware that these soles can easily mark floors).
Well known grip brands like Vibram and Skywalk produce both harder and softer grip compounds, so I’m afraid you’ll need to research thoroughly before you buy.

Q: I have leather walking boots, is dubbin still the best way to waterproof them?
Zak Caprice, St Kilda, Vic

Q: I’ve not recommended dubbin for at least a dozen years! The issue here is the stitching thread holding the boots together – many manufacturers use a thread which contains cotton and dubbin will gradually eat it away. There are a number of silicon and beeswax based products on the market and usually a boot manufacturer will recommend one of them, or even go to the trouble of having their own products. Check with the store from which you purchased the boots, my guess is that if you’ve used dubbin on them you’ll probably find beeswax products easier to use.

Q: I find when I add water purifying tablets to river water if affects the taste. Is there an alternative?
Ben Alson, Cowra, NSW

A: There are three types of chemical water treatment; iodine, chlorine, and silver ions. The first two have been around for many years and depending on your palate taste equally revolting. Silver ion treatments are tasteless and do the same job, but they are a little more expensive. It is also important to remember that none of these treatments are going to improve the taste of treated water, and you should check that your water bottle or bladder is designed to contain active chemicals. It is also worth noting that many people add a flavouring powder or a Vitamin C tablet (which will neutralise the iodine) to make treated water more drinkable.

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