The things we carry are determined largely by balancing the things we want and the things we need. Careful consideration is given to each item since when we’re alone in the woods, the things we carry keep us happy, comfortable and alive. But each item we carry also weighs us down.
What we carry depends on our mode of transportation. Travel by foot means a lighter load and fewer comfort items for the camp. A light load translates into more enjoyable travel time. Travel by canoe allows a bit more flexibility. The bears and the birds may witness us cracking a can of beer at the end of a long paddle day. At 370 grams per can, these are a luxury we never carry on a hiking trip.
Tim almost always carries the Grumann aluminum canoe and the weight of knowing that if he is injured, those 34kg will need to be carried by me. To lower the weight of the latter, sometimes I’ll carry the canoe. It slows us down but it gives me confidence. I carry three oars, mine, his and a spare. I carry flotation devices strapped to my pack.
On a canoe trip, the loads are divided into our two packs inequitably. I carry the heavy items and Tim carries the lighter ones. It’s only fair, given that Tim carries the weight of the canoe. For hiking trips, I divide the weight evenly amongst two packs, down to the gram.
A compass, topographical map(s), a mini survival kit. I carry these things in a floating pouch around my neck. A full first aid kit with alcohol swabs, moleskin, tweezers and band-aids. Binoculars, an ax, a camping knife, two ropes, a multi-purpose tool, four bungee cords, a small roll of duct tape and two tarps that keep our things dry in the canoe and at camp in case of rain. Two cans of bear spray, each easily accessible on our person when on land. Although they weigh 300 grams each, the bear spray makes my fear of bears sit lighter upon my shoulders.
A single pot, to boil water. Two cans of butane. A lighter. A stove-top attachment. Two forks. A drip coffee maker. Two mugs. A bear bin to store our food. A water-filtration system. The combined weight of our camp kitchen is 2722 grams. We carry freeze-dried food packets, picked almost entirely based on their calorie per gram ratios. We carry dried cranberries, blueberries, cherries and apricots. We carry almonds, cashews and protein bars. Sometimes we carry a piece of hard fudge, or another sweet that will hold up to the heat. Camp food is just a necessity, a means to an end. When you’re truly hungry, anything will taste like the most delicious meal you’ve ever had. Even a just-add-boiling-water packet of freeze-dried food. We came to this conclusion a long time ago and since then we’ve never bothered to carry much else.
Bug spray, sunscreen. Only the kind without propellants. The scent of propelled products carries and can attract bears. I don’t want to carry the weight of that risk.
There are things we carry that allow us to get a good night’s rest inside our tent. Two sleeping bags, 545 grams each. I chose the longer ones, despite the added weight. It’s worth the extra 50 grams to be able to completely cover myself from head-to-toe on an unkind chilly night. Two self-inflating sleeping pads, two camp pillows, two eye-covers and two sets of ear plugs. The ear plugs are near weightless but their importance is so significant. The slightest sound of wind rustling its way through the trees could otherwise keep me awake for hours and fatigue in the wilderness is one of the heaviest loads to carry.
If we canoe, we carry two compact camp stools to sit on near the fire in the evening. If we hike, we make do with the available rocks and logs. The stools’ 1360 grams take too much of a toll on our bodies throughout the day.
The combined weight of these supplies hovers around 10 kg, a heavy load to carry for some. Yet carrying it into the back country provides a perspective change that helps to alleviate the weight of the world that we carry on our shoulders every day.
Each item’s weight balanced against its purpose. Each item chosen and treasured. These are the things we carry.
*I was inspired to write this post after reading The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend it as your next camping trip read. It’s truly beautiful.