Stuff. Too much expensive stuff and too many choices to weigh us down. While our gear may be the lightest money can buy, a different sort of burden comes with it: My stuff! Don’t get that Western Mountaineering bag dirty! Don’t leave it compressed too long or you just might ruin your stuff. Watch that fire man, lest you want holes in that tissue-thin windshirt or 900 fill down floating everywhere!
Ever notice that John Muir never really talked about his stuff ? He talked about light and rocks and grasshoppers and trees. But he didn’t seem to care much about stuff. The stuff he carried was a means to an end, not an end in itself. John Muir didn’t need a spreadsheet.
I like the term Adan uses: Lightness of mind. Lightness of mind, as in not having to think about your gear, not having to baby things, not obsessing over choices. As opposed to lightness of pack. The two do not necessarily coincide.
This Saturday Adan and I had the chance to try some “new” things on an overnight up the East Fork of the San Gabriel River, the theme of the trip being to simply carry a minimal, traditional kit, a kit not focused on modern synthetics and hi-tech gear, but a simple kit that would loosely resemble what people might have carried 100 years ago. Flannel shirts and canvas pants would replace nylon and spandex, wool would replace Pertex. The goal was not historical accuracy, but to get a feel for what this sort of gear was like, functionally speaking. We were fully prepared to do a little suffering, to rough it. But that just never happened. It was actually one of the easiest, most comfortable trips I’ve had in some time. There was simply no stuff to worry about.
Lounging by the fire, roasting hot dogs and cooking ramen and vegetables on the coals, sipping sotol and whiskey- without our expensive, hi-tech gear, we waited for the hardship to begin. Nope, nothing yet. Purifying water by boiling, staying warm by staying close to fire. No headlamps, no ditty bags full of little odds and ends. No unnecessary or delicate stuff. The night carried on, drinks and food were consumed, Adan finished carving the spoon he’d use for breakfast (he forgot his), and we made our way to our beds: wool blankets atop canvas military half-shelters as groundcloths, right next to the fire ring, sand beneath us. I wrapped up tight, dog curled under the blankets beside me. No worries about being in the sand and dirt, about ashes or sparks from the fire, only warmth and drifting to sleep. Still no hardship to be found as the temperature dropped into the 40s and the clouds rolled in. A few hours later I caught a bad wind shift and the smoke from the fire was too much for me, so I got up and drug my whole bed 20 feet away. The sand was colder away from the fire, but I slept fine; I’ve had far worse nights with sleeping bags and inflatable pads. In true old-school style, Adan was using hot rocks from the fire to warm up inside the blankets. I was using my dog.
I woke to dim light and Adan stoking the fire back up to boil water for coffee, draped in his wool blanket.
Nope. Still no hardship to be found. Nothing but a beautiful night beside the river.
My carried gear (not including food/clothing worn):
Golite Jam2 (Simple and durable. I see no sense in buying a canvas rucksack just to prove a point/imitate a style at this time. )
2 wool blankets
Steel fork/knife/spoon (not necessary to carry them all, but it’s a cool, older nesting set I have)
Cookpot w/foil lid
Kupilka cup (not necessary, but for fun)
Twine (never used it)
Aluminum water bottle
Adan’s kit was nearly identical to mine, though he carried both canvas shelter halves in. I suspect our base weights were around 10 lbs.
What was especially interesting about this trip was packing: It felt like there was nothing to pack and hardly any choices to make, no little stuff sacks full of odds and ends, toiletries, “essentials”. Just grab some blankets, a pot…and you’re gone. In addition, there was nothing to worry about. Everything was durable, fire-resistant, leaving us with no concerns about just throwing down in the dirt. With this system, everything can be left packed, ready to go, indefinitely.
Lightness of mind; the gear became invisible, nothing to get in the way of the experience.
Now to start extending this style into more difficult weather and onto longer trips.
…and stop thinking about stuff.