Backbacking, May 2009


Just a picture of the new pack is enough to begin the story. An internal frame pack, with a built in hydration bladder, an adjustable strap and waistbelt system, waterproof and comfortable.

The stove is made by MSR, uses white gas, one bottle of fuel will heat all the water and do the cooking for four people for a four day trip. This doesn’t prevent you from building campfires, but it means you can cook, heat water and make coffee with ease.

The tent, with a floor, full screens, zippered doors, and waterproof, was 3 1/2 lbs.

We could talk about clothing, boots, socks, hiking poles, food options, raingear, whatever, all of the gear has been improved. But that doesn’t matter as much as you would think. On this last trip, one of the group had never been backpacking. He came with the understanding that we were going as a group to enjoy the trip. Even as an adult, with modern gear, it was the experience he lacked. I saw the same thing several times on Scout backpacking trips when an inexperienced dad came along.

It is the hard learned lessons, not the gear, that makes it easy to go. You know what to pack and how to pack. Everything has a place in the backpack, so if you need something, it is immediately accessible. The pack helps. Go light is the mantra, take what you need, but no more. My pack, with food, water, stove, tent and sleeping bag attached weighed 42 lbs. The hiking, the exertion of it, when to drink water, when to have a snack, how far to go, all of that seems to happen naturally. Having a good topographic map of the area and a compass, and knowing how to use it goes all the way back to Scouting as well.

I went hiking with a new partner a few years ago. It was our first outing together, and while we both knew the other had some experience, it wasn’t clear until we made our first camp together what we both knew. He had the tent, and when we had picked a level spot near running water, he started on that. I got out the stove, started a pot of water, then began gathering for a fire. This picture is one he took on that trip. On the far side you can see the MSR stove, the fire is going, and my old pack that recently got retired is in the foreground with my food bag lying in front of it. With daylight fading, we smoothly transitioned into camp. Dinner was cooked and cleaned up, gear was stowed, the tent and sleeping bags set out. As full darkness settled in, we were sitting by the fire. I said, “There, nothing to it.” He looked at our camp, and at me and laughed.

I still have that Scout spirit. I still love it. To take off into the woods, to go where only a few ever go, to earn the view from a distant overlook by making the climb, to have the skills and the ability to have enjoyed these things for a lifetime is a gift. I don’t go on epic treks, I won’t ever climb technical rock walls, if I had wanted to do those things I would have needed to start them when I was younger. It is the trail now that is enough.

How hard to realize that every camp of men or beast has this glorious starry firmament for a roof! In such places standing alone on the mountain-top it is easy to realize that whatever special nests we make – leaves and moss like the marmots and birds, or tents or piled stone – we all dwell in a house of one room – the world with the firmament for its roof – and are sailing the celestial spaces without leaving any track.
–John Muir

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One thought on “Backbacking, May 2009

  1. Packs have changed since I started.

    My first pack was a nylon knapsack, second pack — one I took to Philmont – was an external frame pack. I can't remember how much that monster weighed but it probably would take 2 or 3 of the new internal frames to get to the same weight.

    You touch on something that Scouting has in common with service in the military– the ease of slipping into routine actions, the easy comradeship of people who don't have to talk over every step to get things done.

    Excellent series ASM….brings back great memories

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