What goes into a Mountain Leaders backpack?

A question that gets discussed quite a lot is exactly what goes in the backpack of a Mountain Leader. There is no truly definitive answer to this question because there are a number of factors that will affect what is packed by a leader on any given day. The fundamental factors that will influence this can be broken down into a two main categories. Environmental factors and human factors.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors affect every aspect of our days in the mountains including what a leader chooses to pack. The terrain that is expected to be encountered during the day, the ground conditions predicted underfoot, the weather and wind conditions that are predicted throughout the course of the day, the temperature, how many hours of daylight there are. All of these pieces of information are vital to a trained leader in order to make the best possible decisions, including what to pack and what to leave at home.

Human Factors

The other main consideration to be made is to human factors. Who are you leading for the day? How big is the group? What is the experience of the group members? What are the goals for the day? What is your own personal experience as leader? All of these things will affect, to a greater or lesser extent, what you decide to bring with you for the day. Although there cannot be a definitive list of what every leader should take on every day out, below i have compiled a list that covers what i would usually take out with me when leading groups in the mountains.

What I carry in my backpack (usually)

Backpack (35+ Litres).

Personal food and water (and extra high energy snacks for group consumption).

Map and compass (and a backup for both).

Extra warm clothing (how much and how warm depending on the conditions for the day).

Waterproof clothing (may be packed in my bag or worn depending on the conditions).

Gloves and hat (spares if it is going to be cold).

Group shelter (big enough for the whole group including myself).

Comprehensive First Aid kit.

Head torch (and a spare).

Battery pack for phone/head torch.

Rope (30m for emergency procedures /confidence roping).

Emergency casualty/blizzard jacket.

Mobile phone with navigation capabilities (as backup to map and compass).

Satellite tracker/ communicator (for emergency use and use in remote areas without phone reception).


From reading this you have probably gathered that there is no getting away from the fact that as a Mountain Leader you will be carrying a lot of gear. You are employed to ensure your groups safety through being an expert in making the correct decisions for their safety and well being. A fundamental part of this ongoing process is making the right decisions on what to take with you on the day. If you are unsure whether you need to bring something or not it is definitely better to air on the side of caution. Far better to have it and not to need it than to need something that you didn’t bring!