I love my backpack. I’ve had it for twenty five years. It’s been to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, around the Three Sisters and Mt. Rainier, from the Skyline to the Sea, and countless trips into the White Mountains and the Cascades. Paired with a hand-made walking stick and some light weight shoes, I am ready to go.
It took me a year to find. Internal packs were just coming onto the market and women’s packs were pretty rare—we were expected to wrestle with things that were too long for our torsos, but hugged our hips. I knew, when I went into a store and the salesman adjusted yet another pack for me, put weight into it, and I almost tipped backwards, again and again, that the pack was not right. Mine is a Madden, one of the first designed for women. It’s small, dark grey, and a simple sack. I found it in a little crowded shop in Boston, across from BU, where I was in grad school at the time. The salesman bent the back bars, put a few sandbags in, and placed it on my back. “Hello!” it said and I knew. It was perfect. The salesman showed me how to shift the weight from my back to my shoulders, depending upon terrain (and sore spots) and I left the store with my pack.
I have learned how to pack for both long and short trips and my pack is much lighter than it once was, even when we are out for five or six days. First, gear is lighter. The water filter I once lugged around weighed about three times as much as the one we have now. It was less prone to breakage, but it was heavy. Our tents, sleeping bags, and mats are all lighter replacements for gear I bought in grad school. I have also eliminated redundant systems. Once, I took a candle lantern (finicky, heavy) and a flashlight. This is puzzling because we rarely used either—we were proudly working on adjusting our eyes to the coming darkness and wandering around camp after dark without a light or we were in bed, asleep. Now, I have a tiny flashlight, but prefer to lie in my tent watching the darkness settle on the trees above. I don’t need three t-shirts; I just need one, plus my long underwear shirt. I certainly don’t need TWO reading books; I question the wisdom of bringing even one sometimes, although bringing a book you need to read on a trip with a lot of downtime can be an effective means of getting through it. I do, however, need my raingear AND my towel, which acts as pillow, shade cloth, towel, shawl, and dinner warmer.
I have been working on food for years. I carry the food for the trip, except for the snack bag, so weight is important. There’s a delicate balance between “loose” food, like a bag of fresh green beans or a couple of apples, and the nutrient dense nuts, dried bean mixes, and kippers that will keep us going down the trail. Food also has to be tough. Bagels, even white flour ones, fare better than a loaf of bread, which needs to be sliced before we leave. Cucumbers are better than tomatoes. I like a bit of variety as well. After taking a pound of almonds to the Grand Canyon for a week, I did not want to see an almond for several years. I often mix up the snacks so that we have peanuts and raisins one day and apricots and almonds another. We scour the shelves of grocery stores for light weight prepared foods for dinner and I also compound our own, based on bulgur, orzo, cous cous and other quick cooking grains. As the week goes on, my pack grows lighter, especially when I weigh out each dinner and we eat the heavy one first.
It is important to have a light, tightly packed backpack, especially on a longer trip. I have not abandoned my safety items—the first aid kit, the space blanket and water purification drops, the rain gear and wool hat—but I have seriously reconsidered all of the extras I once hauled up hills. My trips are better because of this. The pack no longer hurts my shoulders at the beginning of a walk. I do not have blisters; I have given up heavy boots (and camp shoes) in favor of my Keen sandals. I can walk upright and see the world that I am passing. And I can hear my backpack creaking away, right behind my head, as I head up the trail. “Hello,” it says, “It’s been too long.” And I agree.
Sleeping bag, mat -- both
Whisperlight stove, c. 1990—Charlyn
Fuel—Mark, outside pouch
Lighter, matches, repair kit—Charlyn
Bowls, mugs, sporks, pots—Charlyn
Napkin, stirring spoon, salt and pepper, oil if needed—Charlyn
Soap and sponge—Charlyn
Water filter and two filled quart bottles—Mark
Rope and a couple of small bungies—Charlyn
First Aid kit, including tooth brushes, etc.—Charlyn
Tool bag from Daypack (pocket knife, sunscreen, bandana, playing cards, hand lens)—Charlyn
Camera, with new batteries—Charlyn
Duct tape on water bottle, safety pins on backpack
TP and trowel—Mark
Raingear, wool hat, long undwear, fuzzy jacket—both
Walking sticks (Mark has a rake handle, mine is from the White Mountains)—both
Reading book or magazine—both