What NOT to Put in Your Pack

One backpacking pro’s no-carry list may surprise you

Ask two different backpackers what they need for a few days on the trails (or off them) and you’re likely to get two different answers.

Talk to an ultralighter and you’re likely to hear about bivy sacks and the virtues of duct tape. Talk to a once-a-year backpacker and you might hear about those bulky-but-worth-it extras like camping pillows and a good book.

There are no right or wrong answers, only differences in skill, tolerance for discomfort and dedication to shedding ounces. Heck, I have a friend who swears by his old-school external frame backpack—even went to the trouble of tracking one down—because newer-generation packs are too small for his own tall frame.

So, needless to say, we were intrigued by a rather ornery post by Seattle-based mountain guide Chris Simmons on Outdoor Research’s Verticulture blog. “Leave it at home” is the general theme of the post, and some pretty well-accepted basics make it onto Simmons’ chopping block.

A mug or cup?

Everyone wants one, but these things are a pain to pack efficiently, are useless if they aren’t insulated, and weigh something if they are. More often than not, they don’t have a lid. A good compromise: Find a half-liter Nalgene bottle. It’s the perfect size for your morning coffee or evening tea, and with the lid screwed on, it can tuck into your jacket or sleeping bag, doubling as a hot-water warmer.

So far so good. What about extra clothes?

You’re going out for a weekend—not climbing Mt. Everest. Seriously, extra shirts, pants and underwear should be tossed out.

Simmons goes on to add boot liners, “big-ass boots,” pack covers, “the big-ass camera,” “tents in mid-summer,” and, yes, even extra water.

Yeah, we know water is heavy—2.2 pounds per liter—but Simmons takes it a step further than simply suggesting you carry less and factor stream crossings into your plan, (which he does).

“I haven’t treated water since 1999,” he writes, “and I haven’t gotten sick yet.” He continues:

This means that instead of carrying water … I simply stop and take a drink at the creek crossing. If I don’t trust the water (because I see/know/suspect that there is a cow pasture/outhouse/water-treatment plant upstream), then I carry a bottle of iodine. Iodine is small, weighs little, and is effective. Filter pumps are great, but weigh a lot and take time. I’ll bring them along if I’m with a larger group, like five or more folks. The gravity-fed filters are awesome for this application, too. Steri-pens work great, but in my experience they stop operating in the field about 30 percent of the time, for a host of reasons. So everyone carries iodine as a backup, so why not just use the backup and leave the gizmo at home? Yes, iodine tastes foul. So does Jaegermeister. That’s why I bring Scotch or a good Irish whiskey. And I’m certain that one day I’ll get sick—but there are drugs for that.

Wait, so whiskey makes the cut and a water filter doesn’t? Okay, maybe there are wrong answers, at least for those of us who don’t have infinite faith in our own immune systems.

Read the entire list at OutdoorResearch.com and share your backpacking checklist in the comments.


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