Sometime in the decade before last, I awoke from a long hiatus from a physical life and realized that I hadn’t been anywhere with a pack on my back for an embarrassingly long time — well over a decade. In fact, I didn’t even own a decent backpack. Or a packable tent or stove. I had a passably good sleeping bag and a blue, plastic tarp, though, and an old Boy Scout cook kit with blackened pan bottoms. More importantly, I had the desire to unbecome the couch potato I had become. Being a couch potato was, after all, unbecoming.
After taking all this into account, and assessing my equipment needs, I purchased two packs within a couple of months of each other. First, from Outdoor Experience in Sandpoint, I bought a black and bright yellow, heavy-duty Recon day-pack (it will do for an overnight if properly loaded) made by The North Face. It is not bright yellow any more, as it has seen a lot of action in places as diverse as Surgut, Siberia and Sawtooth Mountain here in the Scotchman Peaks. It has been and continues to be one damned fine pack, loaded permanently with most of the things that go out the door with me on a ramble in “my” mountains or a hike on a beach somewhere. It is one of the things I will be sure to grab on the way out the door if the house is burning down.
The other pack, purchased from the Alpine Shop (I like to keep the local economy in balance) is a black and red Patrol pack, also made by the North Face. Its capacity is about four times that of the Recon, but it has fewer pockets. It’s basically a huge compression sack with a shoulder harness, a hip strap and 45 different ways to tie stuff that won’t fit inside on the outside. I have been known to over-pack.
When I bought these lovely pieces of gear, I didn’t have much of a good idea what to do with them. I have since learned — by trial and error and following good and bad examples around in the woods — what good investments they both really are. But, when this phase of life beyond couch-potatoing first began, I must admit I was somewhat clueless.
My first trip with the Patrol pack was into my own back yard, the upper reaches of the East Fork of Blue Creek in the Scotchman Peaks. Let’s just say I survived it, a solo three-day sojourn upon which I neither starved to death nor drowned in the midnight rainstorm that convinced me to stop being a cheap and start looking for a good tent. It wasn’t pretty, for sure, but the places I got to explore with too much weight on my back were.
It was on that trip some 15 years ago that I began to learn that, when it comes to stuffing a back pack, there are certain things you never need, certain things you always need, and certain things you hope to God you never need but you better have them if you do. So, the first thing that goes into the red pack as I get ready for a long trip is most of the stuff in the yellow pack.
I’m still not the quintessential woodsman, but in this past decade and a half, I have learned much from those two pack, my fellow backpackers and from the wilderness itself. And, I’m sure I will never return to couch-potatoism. I don’t believe my packs, my fellow backpackers or the wilderness will let me.