Nothing screams ‘beginner’ more than a lopsided, unbalanced pack with stuff hanging on the outside. Not only does it look very unkempt it also isn’t doing you any favors in winning the comfortable pack award. The idea of taking a backpack is to put things IN not ON. Loose stuff swinging around on the outside – like a 1 litre bottle of water attached with a carabiner – will only destabilise you on every step as it swooshes from side to side. Okay, so you want your water to be accessible right? Well put it at the top of your pack for easy access, and when you stop for a drink it’s a good reminder to have a little nibble of food and look upwards at the sky and check for incoming weather patterns. So... ‘just where do I pack everything?’ There are some basic rules to begin with...
Firstly, pack the heavy stuff as close to your back as you can, think of carrying a monkey piggyback - if they are snuggled right against you they are easy to carry as their weight is almost directly over your center of gravity on your hips, whilst a monkey swinging around wildly at the back will be harder to control, agreed? (I don’t suggest trialling this with the aforementioned monkey however).
Secondly, the other thing to consider when packing is ‘will I need this today?’ If the answer if no, then try and get it to the bottom. Your sleeping bag fulfils this duty nicely and can be rammed in the bottom. Consider a compressible dry sack as this keeps it dry and allows you to squeeze the most amount of air out of that very bulky item, making it as small as possible. Chuck a pair of dry bed socks and your sleeping bag liner in there too. Items such as tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s lunch should be down at the bottom. Today’s snacks and lunch however should be super easy to get to. Have enough handy to keep the hunger monster at bay, once he comes around life becomes way harder than it should be – you thought the monkeys were bad. Putting a snack bar in your pocket is a good idea too so you can use it like a light sabre if the monster unexpectedly jumps out from behind the bushes and you don’t have time to get into your pack!
Now we can move onto ‘the sacred art of shoving’. Once you have the things you don’t need immediately in the bottom, and the things you’ll need today to one side, you can start practicing this necessary tramping skill. Take the bulky heavy items (keep close to your back – remember the monkey) and put them in, next, shove all of the squashable soft items around them filling in all the spaces. Air pockets and holes are your enemy, they will drain away things like balance and stability into the dark star. Having your squashable things in small stuff sacks (dry bags are useful if it’s raining cats and dogs…I do love a good animal analogy) means you can optimize your shoving of things into those black holes.
And the last question - which really should be the first question - is ‘do I really need all of this stuff?’ It’s the last question because at the beginning of the shoving exercise you were confident you could fit it all in! Now you are looking at a full backpack and a pile of things left on the ground not in the pack. And here’s where things end up hanging on the outside…
So now we come to the final mastery of packing – stripping! And yes I mean clothes. I like to take the number of days on a tramp and halve it for underwear and socks (and that’s generous) and quarter it for t-shirts. In the cold I take a single set of thermals. You have to be happy smelling yourself. You don’t need 3 t-shirts and 5 pairs of underwear and socks for a 5 day trip, and you certainly don’t need a pair of jeans as ‘casual hut wear’. Other items that can be stripped include: that 3L bladder of water (that’s 3 kilos people!) and instead take a 1L Nalgene bottle that you can put hot water in at night and use as a hot water bottle too. Items such as toothpaste can be shared amongst a group, or remember to save the ‘not quite finished’ toothpaste from home so you only carry a small amount.
Remember minimizing weight is about being able to be travel more efficiently, to move faster, safer and further. The key to stripping is necessity.
Which brings us to a bottle of your favorite wine? …well that’s what those wee plastic foldable bottles are for.
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