In my last post I gave a number of reasons why Scouts and everybody else should pack light from a physical stand point. Sure packing a lightweight backpack is a lot easier to carry and easier on joints and all the other stuff I mentioned. It also has other benefits that I also think are as important or may be more important especially to the Scouting program.
One of the things we all try to engrain in our boys is “think” about what they are doing and more importantly why they are doing it. When a hiker crosses over to the “light side” of backpacking, thinking becomes more important than ever. They are no longer depending on “gear” to insure safety and comfort. It now becomes important to possess “skills” to live and travel safely and comfortably in the back country. Instead of investing in a bomb proof tent, a lightweight backpacker needs to be skilled in campsite selection. Does this site drain well or am I going to wake up in a puddle of water? Am I in an exposed area where strong winds are blowing or am I too low where cold air will pool? If the weather suddenly changes, how can I use combinations of clothing or layering to stay warm? I’ve gotten wet, how can I build a fire to dry my clothes and warm me up? This type of backpacking is not simply about hitting the nearest outfitter and buying the latest lightweight gear. You need to know how to use it; its limitations and how it works with the other gear you carry.
Every piece of gear needs to be evaluated as it is packed. Is this the best choice of gear for this trip? Under what weather conditions will it have to perform? Would a wood burning stove be the best choice above the tree line? Probably not but it would be a good choice on a trip where there are an abundance of trees. Would you need a zero degree bag on a late spring or summer trip? Not likely but there are alternatives that would work and be much lighter. The idea is to get the boys to think about their gear choices and understand the difference between “what you need and what you want”. Here is an exercise I do and encourage my Scouts to do after each trip. Dump all your gear in the floor. Divide it into three piles. Pile number one is the stuff you used on the trip. It will include things like the pack, sleeping gear, and cooking kit. Pile two consist the things you may not have used but should take anyway. Items in this pile will be a first aid kit, rain gear, compass and the other items that are part of the “10 Essentials". The third pile will consist of stuff you did not use. This pile is usually big the first couple of trips and as time goes on hopefully works down to nothing. Things that might go into this pile are extra batteries, changes of clothes and too many snacks.
In addition to having less weight to carry on your back there are a couple of other pay offs from carrying less gear. If you carry less stuff, there is less to keep up with and less chance of losing gear. Since there are so few items in your pack, it is easy to do a quick check each morning before leaving camp. I always run an inventory list through my head as I hike out of camp. With such a short list it is easy to remember seeing item as I packed. I also make a habit of packing every item in the same place each day. That makes it easy to find when I need it.
Another advantage is a neater campsite. There will be very little gear to leave sitting around. The only clothing outside your shelter most likely will be pieces that need drying. Having a neat campsite not only implies an experienced camper but increases your efficiency the next morning when you start packing.
So not only is a lightweight pack easier to carry, it also requires us to become more skilled as hikers and campers. It makes us evaluate what we carry instead of just tossing it in “just in case”. It reduces the chances of losing gear and after all, how many of us can afford to keep replacing stuff. It also makes us more efficient getting out of camp in the morning. As someone wrote in a journal at Walnut Mountain Shelter, “morning miles are the best, get up and hike”.
Next post we will look at the fun factor!