Have you ever seen the guy on the trail with his pack loaded about two feet higher than the top of his head and his aluminum mess kits and canteens are swinging and clanging with every step? The quintessential outdoor neophyte, right? Yeah, that was me. I should have the Boy Scout motto tattooed on my forehead, because if someone needs it, I have packed it.
Let's just say I could pass for one of the thru-hikers we saw a couple of weeks ago, and I drove to the trail head for the one hour hike.
Harken back to this day when I let my feet go au naturale on the forest floor. Though hard to tell, my pack is full of "necessities." It took a good fifty steps of adjusting and prodding my load until I was able to move without it sounding like an industrial factory. I knew I was carrying too much equipment for the small hikes, time to reevaluate what's in the pack. This means cutting back on what I carry to ease both my movements and audible impact.
Interesting, so what's next?
I always considered weight and utility when purchasing my gear, probably because I carried so much of it at once. In order lighten up, I needed to reduce how many items I carried. But how do I determine what I really need to bring with me? And another problem is that I have too much space.
I have an Arcteryx Lumbar (that's fancy talk for "fanny") pack that is quite impressive. But I seldom use it because my slim waist cannot stand the pack weight, no matter how many times I have tried it. I even fashioned a shoulder strap to it, but it still bothers me.
What about cargo pants and jacket pockets? I hate the feeling of bulging pockets. Also, I like getting wet, so for the most part, my pockets have to stay empty - save a pocket knife that I always keep on body.
Therefore, I always carry my Salomon Adventure Racing Pack. It works well, is relatively unobtrusive, and I can handle items for my packless travelers, if necessary.
The downside is that it allows me to overpack, which I am trying to avoid. I will always be experimenting to get the perfect daypack set-up. I even set my eyes on a fishing vest of all things (the idea intrigues me), but for now I use the Salomon.
What's in the bag, mister?
Figuring out what I really need to pack requires discipline. Hiking in Connecticut is pretty safe, so bare essentials work well.
I always have:
- first aid kit
- compass and knife (or two)
- fire starter, no question about it
- emergency whistle
All of these are important to have and easy to carry, so I count them as necessities.
Next are items that I like to have for fun and comfort, and are chosen based on activity and season.
Summer day gear includes:
- brimmed hat
- bug net and repellent
- rain shell
Sometimes I will grab:
- swim goggles
- fishing gear
- trekking poles
- inflatable seat
The rule is to be mindful of the type of hike and location, as well as who you are responsible for, and pack accordingly. Experience is your best friend here, and don't go outside of your boundaries without proper preparation. If I am day hiking in the Adirondacks, the above lists completely change. For local hikes, what I am doing works fine.
Quick, where's the camera?
I separate the items by immediate necessity. I count easy access items as those things I want to grab immediately without taking off the pack. Examples include the knife, chapstick, compass, and binoculars. GPS is also on the belt strap, or a camera/cell phone. Even trail mix qualifies. I have pouches on the belt strap, and add what I need as necessary. Yes, very Batman-ish indeed.
Alright, pack it in.
Everything else goes in the pack. The pack has mesh side pockets that are good for water, food, inflatable seat, bug spray, fishing stuff, etc. First aid kit goes in the top pouch with goggles. Bug nets are clipped to the daisy chain. (The daisy chain is inviting for clipping things on, but this leads to the swinging and clanging, so don't get too crazy with it.) Inside the main pack I put rain shell, food, and items that only come out during rest. I use compression straps to tighten it up and secure everything.
Shake it up.
Once loaded, I test it out. I put the pack on and go for a quick jog, twisting, bending, and doing a rough version of calisthenics to see how it all feels and sounds (it's quite a sight). Then I make adjustments. Some things kill me because of the weight, like binoculars and water. But I need water and always use my 'nocs, so I work it out. When everything is set, I try to locate something to be sure it is not a chore or that it throws off the system. Then I am ready to go.
I will never stop adjusting and changing and manipulating my pack. It's an ongoing craft really. But I keep in mind my ultimate goal of being as integrated with my natural surroundings as possible. This means constantly simplifying. Also, gear is always changing for the better, and there are plenty of options out there.
Let experience be your guide, and experiment.
What are your daypack essentials? What do you bring that can probably be left behind?