The details of packing a pack.
Stuffing your pack is about the most serious thing you're going to do on any normal day next to scratching, shooting snot rockets, and speculating about what would happen if you never went home again.
Stuff your pack wrong and it will hurt you, all day.
Leave something out, like a few tent stakes, your water treatment, your stove, or the car keys, and you will be hurting. Promise.
So you have to get it right.
This is a good excuse to have a checklist, a clipboard, extra pens, and carbon paper. Maybe an assistant, too. Possibly two assistants, so they can both watch you, and still check each other.
This is important. Every day, every time you open your pack, you have problems. The first problem is finding what you need and getting it out. The second problem is putting it all back. Back were it fits, back where you can find it again. Back where it won't fall out.
But most of all, back.
Leaving a fuel bottle under a bush is bad form.
Having to pull everything out of your pack to get at a matchbook sucks big time. Always.
The more efficient your housekeeping the more time you have to hike. Never tempt the gods. They will whup you like a chump. The gods love to do that. The gods love to do that more than anything else at all.
But best of all, the less you do the less you have to think.
There are two ways of looking at packing.
- Deciding what to leave.
- Deciding what to take.
Deciding what to leave.
Which method is up to you. Screwing up is its own punishment. Don't plan on begging if you run out of food. Everyone needs what they have more than they need you.
True, you like your stuff. It's part of you. You want to take it all. So you do. And it starts.
There you are then, your pack is so heavy you can hardly pick it up even though you aren't carrying water yet, or food. And all you have in your pack is the bare essentials. Plus a few extra things. Just a few, but they're all really light, so what's the deal?
You've just been creamed.
Deciding what to take
That's one way to do it — starting with everything and deciding what to leave. The other way is deciding what to take. For this, plan on taking nothing. Zero.
Zero is step one.
Next, for step two, use one hand and pick one thing that you absolutely must have to stay alive, then branch out.
Say you've picked one piece of clothing, but what can you do with only a pair of underpants? Got to have a bit more, so what's one more thing that's absolutely essential?
Grab that. Hold it in your other hand.
From there, choose only the next item that you absolutely need. What you absolutely need for your well-being, for your comfort, for your safety. Regardless of what anyone else thinks.
So then what?
If using Plan A and deciding what to leave out, you might be stuck sagging under too much weight, but if something unexpected happens, you'll have a spare, or just the right odd thing to fix the rare odd failure. Like if you have super glue along, and a wheel falls off one of your little model cars, you're set. If you want to be.
Following Plan B, deciding what to take, you might find that you left out something you really do need, or that you don't have that spare thing you could use, or that you can't really cope too well if, for example, you have a July snowstorm instead of humid, drippy heat and thick clouds of mosquitoes, all of whom really want to get into your nose.
So either route can take you to a place that sucks. But it's up to you. Something will always suck. Face it, you're hosed no matter what. Backpacking is like that — the best of times, the worst of times.
You've been there. A mouse in your food bag. Or a rattlesnake in your pants. Something. You still have to manage because once you're in over your head, you're in, and it really doesn't matter how deep, because having a snake in your pants is not theoretical. You gotta do something, not think about it.
No matter how well you plan things, and no matter how terrifically you loaded your pack in the morning, it gets rearranged all day long, so organize the load based on how you plan to live. (It's good to plan on living. Don't underestimate the value of that.)
Group things by importance, accessibility, and weight. Similar things together, but you don't have to keep all of something in one place. Keep accessible what you need during the day. The rest can stay buried deep.
The basic ideas are...
- Soft things against your back
- Light things toward the bottom of the pack
- Heavy things higher up
- A balanced load
- Necessities where you can reach them
- Be as stupid as you have to be, but no more.
That's about it then for a quick overview. A longer and even more interesting version of this advice will show up in a book I'm finishing up titled Bag On Your Back. (It's about backpacks, eh?)
Until then, have fun if at all possible.