The gear list. It might be written on a piece of paper, typed into a spreadsheet, read from a book, or all in your head. But most of us probably have one somewhere. In its simplest form, a gear list can really help with those “I can’t believe I forgot that” moments when you’ve just hiked 20 miles from the trailhead and are setting up camp in dwindling evening light. In other forms, a list can help you identify things you really don’t need, help you reduce your pack weight, and help you identify items that could be replaced with something lighter or more functional. Sometimes, that involves buying new gear.
When it comes to the buying new gear part, I almost always immediately have a specific product in mind. But it never seems to be an easy decision. Whether it’s a backpack or a stove, before making a purchase I always seem to find myself endlessly researching that product as well as any and all potential alternatives. This involves weighing all the options – Price, weight, durability, convenience, and the list goes on. Recently however, I found myself so entranced with the entire process on a specific piece of gear - A new pack - that I began to wonder if it was even worth the amount of time that I was putting into the decision.
I think that’s when I realized that it had simply been too long since I’d hit the trail or enjoyed an indescribable view from a remote summit. While pouring over specifications and considering factors like the durability of Dyneema fabric vs. the lightness of Cuben Fiber I began to wonder if all this research and time was just some type of substitute for the trail. In the end, after hours of research over several days I ended up getting the same pack that I had in mind when the whole process started in the first place. But was it a waste of time? I don’t think so. There are times when we just can’t get out there and things like reading, researching gear, looking at photos from past hikes, or dreaming of that next destination can get us through to the weekend and the trailhead that lays in wait. In regards to gear specifically, I’m satisfied with the setup I have now, and have been, but it still seems to be a constant work in progress. I thought of the following acronym the other day regarding the process that goes into my ever-evolving gear list:
T.R.I.P. – In a way, it’s what I do when I’m not on one. But do we ever really achieve that last step - Do we ever really perfect? I haven’t quite gotten there yet. I’ve thought I’ve been there a few times, but then I’m off to another destination where I encounter a new situation, or think of a new way to make something better. And I’m ok with not reaching that last step, and there’s definitely nothing wrong with making improvements at home to help you enjoy your next trip all that much more. It’s even part of what I enjoy about backpacking. The thing to be careful about is falling into the trap where the process starts to take the place of getting out there in the first place, or when gear turns into the focus of the trips themselves. I think we all get out there for slightly different reasons, while sharing a common thread. Whatever that reason is to us should always be a higher priority. These days, I’ve made things a bit simpler – My list is just a list. While I still have a spreadsheet hidden away somewhere, now I mostly just use a sheet of paper, perhaps with a few weights jotted down in a margin just so I won’t forget. This way, I still won’t forget anything, (Most of the time, at least…) and if I pack up for a trip and my pack is too heavy – Then I know it’s too heavy.
How do you handle the process of refining your gear? Do you feel you’ll ever get to the point where you’ve perfected your gear list to a level where it’s simply an afterthought? Have you already? Or is the entire process part of what you really enjoy about backpacking and hiking?