Friday, July 9, 2010
The 10 Non-Essentials
We’ve all heard of the 10 essentials. But what about the 10 things you absolutely don’t need to carry in your pack? It’s common sense that one of the best (and easiest) ways to lighten your pack is to leave things behind and replace them with either multiple-use gear or skills. Some of you may disagree with my choices and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty of having carried some of the items below in the past. But after a lot of trial and error (and careful consideration), here are 10 pieces of gear I consider to be the 10 non-essentials:
1. Candle Lantern. Terrible weight-to-light-output ratio. A good headlamp is far lighter, brighter, and more versatile.
2. Camp furniture. Why carry a camp chair and table? Part of getting out is exactly that: getting out! It’s not about trying to recreate your living room in the woods. To me, it diminishes the experience of being outdoors.
3. Radio/iPod. An MP3 player prevents you from absorbing the sounds (and quiet) of the forest. Nature provides its own music. You can listen to your iPod all week. Why drown out the few opportunities you get to hear woodpeckers pecking, the wind rushing through the trees, or the elk bugling with Lady Gaga? You can wait until the rave next weekend.
4. Tent stake hammer. Ever hear of a rock?
5. Saw. It takes more time and effort to saw through a small branch than to simply break it with your foot. For larger pieces, burn them in halves, thirds, or fourths, then throw the pieces into the fire. Spend more time enjoying the fire than preparing the wood for it.
6. Axe. Unless you're building a log cabin a la Dick Proenneke, see # 5.
7. Trowel. Multi-use substitute: your knife. Some people suggest digging your cat hole with a stick or your boot but if you’ve ever tried that, you know it’s pretty ineffective (especially if you’re in a hurry). A knife actually works almost as well and as fast as a trowel if you know the technique (think cutting out a circle in the dirt, then scraping out the middle).
8. Espresso maker. Les Stroud eats grubs and scorpions for a week. You can’t go a couple of mornings without a fancy Italian espresso? If you really need your caffeine fix in the morning (like I do), try something lighter and more compact like Starbucks via. It isn’t exactly a triple venti latte, but as they say, everything tastes better on the trail (even instant coffee). So go ahead and rough it a bit (not too much). Your back (and taste buds will thank you).
9. Ground cloth. I think a lot of people will disagree with me on this one but I haven’t used a ground cloth for years and my tent floor is fine. Not one leak. It’s about site selection and preparation. Clear the area of sharp objects like pine needles, rocks, etc. Most of us don’t keep a tent long enough or get out enough to truly benefit from whatever protection a ground cloth might offer. It’s just extra bulk, weight, and one more thing to set up and pack away.
10. Gun. Grizzly territory? Yes. 3 miles in on a trail in Rocky Mountain National park? No. Political issues aside, the weight-to-usefulness ratio of a firearm is probably the worst of any piece of gear imaginable. Some people carry them for decades without ever “needing” to use them. All that accumulated weight for nothing. I know some will argue “but when you REALLY need it, you’ll be glad you have one”. And that may be a valid argument if you’re in a dangerous place (like on safari in Africa). But the reality is, for most of us, a gun simply isn’t necessary in the places we hike. It reinforces the same false notion perpetuated by outdoor gear marketers that nature is out to get us and we need to protect ourselves from it with more equipment (i.e. buying their gear). Ray Jardine describes this myth much more eloquently than I can in his writings but basically, it puts us “at war” with nature rather than in harmony with it which (to me) is one of the reasons for getting out. I think we enjoy backpacking because it gives us a chance to get back in touch with our natural state a little bit. Carrying a gun automatically puts us at odds and skews our perception of our place in nature.
So, those are what I consider to be the 10 non-essentials. Which ones do you agree/disagree with? Do you have your own that I missed? Please post your non-essentials.