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Stuff you don't need or hardly ever use, but you bring anyway

Glenn MacGrady

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Oct 24, 2012
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When I first started serious canoeing in my own first canoe in northern California about 43 years ago, I bought all these books on canoe tripping and canoe camping. These books, all written prior to 1975, had lists of gear to bring. The lists were all somewhat different. So I combined the lists from different books into one master list, and bought a lot of that stuff.

And brought it all in a giant Bill's Bag on my first trips with the Sierra Club and Redwood Paddlers in NorCal.

It didn't dawn on me that these lists were often made for weeks-long wilderness trips and all I was doing were day trips in whitewater. So, why did I need a shovel, saw, hatchet, stove, candle lantern, canoe pole, and an emergency fishing kit for these day trips? DUH!

So time passes, experience grows, and I've now become a pretty lightweight canoe camper, though not a total gram weenie.

Yet, I still bring a couple of articles of clothing I never really need or use. And a compass (or three) that I've never used since having topo mapping GPS's for the last 20 years, and that I really would never need in the not-real-wilderness places I paddle in the U.S. And a plastic bowl that I never use for eating, since I eat out of my cookware or freeze dried food packets. And that diver's knife clipped on my PFD, given that I have three other knives with me.

I just found that Early Winters candle lantern after 35 years of being lost in my cathedrals of entropy—AKA garage and basement—and am now thinking about bringing it again. DUH!
Clothes. Far too many.
No, I'm not talking adopting a naturist routine to tripping, it's just that I often overthink clothing for trips, and I wind up wearing 1 set of clothes for days, until I go for a plunge scrub in the lake and start all over again.
Similarly, this summer I read a response to a blog post about packing vs overpacking clothing for minimalist travel. In this case it was regarding long distance recreational pursuits and international travel, but the idea is the same. This person said in so many words" I pack 3 sets of clothing, one set to wear, a 2nd set to save, and the 3rd to wash. Cycle thru these infinitely regardless how short or long the trip."
For tripping I personally could get by with just two. Plus rain gear, sleep wear, and something for warmth. Or am I overpacking again? Hm.
I'm scared of being cold, so I overpack warm stuff. I rarely dig into it, but at this point it's ingrained into me.
I've done lots of "pick out what you didn't use on your last trip and leave it next time" winnowing, but at some point, in a canoe, that extra five pounds of gear - which is a book, a sweater, maybe an elaborate coffee kit, and a heavier sleeping bag - doesn't hurt a lot to bring.
I always bring a fixed blade knife, too, but it rarely gets used. Just nice to have.
GoPros. I've shot video on every canoe trip or hike I've done in the past few years but I never take the time to edit any of them into a cohesive whole; it's kind of a PIA to mess around framing shots, placing & retrieving cameras, etc and, probably worst of all, talking to the camera (even the little that I do) seems to intrude upon my feeling of solitude. I'll probably leave all video equipment at home this summer and just take the still camera(s).
I bring little that doesn't get used. Maybe some extra clothes.
I hate being cold and not having anything else to put on.
A Brazilian Samba Whistle and a mini cheese grater. Try and stop me!
Regarding the clothing, in hindsight what was brought versus what was used is easy to criticize. The issue is that one doesn't often know the prevailing conditions until one is in them. I am firmly in the "I should not have brought" rather than the "I wish I had brought" camp.

I bring 2 stoves. Total weight is less than 5 ounces so no big deal, but I have never heard of one failing let alone having fail on me personally.
Lifestraw drinking water system. For 40 years I have used PolarPure to disinfect my daily drinking water, or boil I water when I cook my meals. I have carried the lifestraw since it brcame available, but have never sucked on it even once. I carry spare fire starters, a coupe of bic lighters and a magnesium block that i have only used as a demo to show it works. Same as others with first aid items. Never used anything in it other than maybe a bandaid or two with Neosporin.
A long time ago an old guide told me to carry 3 compasses, one as my primary navigation aid (that I rely upon constantly with a topo map), a backup spare compass in case my primary unlikely breaks or is lost, and a third to give out to some poor confused sot who I may run across who does not have a working compass. Although I am most often in places where I would rarely ever see someone else, much less someone who might be in need of one. I have given away my thrid compass only twice but just as a gift for a favor.

Cell phone. Never use it, and most remote areas I go do not have service anyway. I navigate by map and compass and experience with logic.

In my earlier days, my dad gave me his .380 auto (which I have a CCW permit for), not for personal protection, but rather as a noise maker signaler in case I became disabled and unable to travel. But it is heavy, especially with several 3 shot rounds for emergency signaling. I stopped carrying that extra weight long ago, and a plastic Fox whistle I have never used serves for that signaling purpose now.
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a pistol. I like revolvers in real calibers. I have never used it but run into bears lots of times, and some really rough desperate people a couple of times.
like many or most I started out as more of a minimalist, both by nature and the fact that I had little money to acquire all that I may have wanted anyway. But have endured many or perhaps enough "adventures" over the years that I rarely forget certain basic essentials, which would be a knife or more typically a multi-tool, EDC flashlight, means to start a fire, compass and sufficient protective clothing to endure the expected and unexpected while afield or on the water.
A can opener. I never bring any cans tripping, mainly because they make annoying trash, but I wouldn't want to be caught without one so it's permanently in my utensils bag. It's only a little "P51", so leaving it home would save me like 5 grams.
When I was guiding for Boy Scout high adventure treks in the Adirondacks, I always did a pre-trip pack check to see what the kids were carrying in their usually way overloaded backpacks. I often found such as large knives and even machetes (to cut trails, or in case of bear attack), too often Mom had overseen and provided items such as multiple pairs of cotton socks for each day, ("in case the first pair got wet") and far too many clothes for a warm summer week. Electronic devices were also not allowed.
A can opener. I never bring any cans tripping, mainly because they make annoying trash, but I wouldn't want to be caught without one so it's permanently in my utensils bag. It's only a little "P51", so leaving it home would save me like 5 grams.
I had one of those for many years, a reminder of the original can of outdated C-rations I was given during my Air Force SERE training in northern WA state. I eventually lost it, but replaced it with another of the same ilk.
I always bring an ax when on a portage trip but seldom use it anymore. As I have aged I’m in bed by dark so no need to process much firewood, small wood processed with my Schmidt pack saw is all I need. I just like to have that ax nearby.
Spare paddle…I have never needed it but always carry one.
Extra bandanna, I use my pocket bandanna a lot, but have never needed the spare.
Candle, always bring one but never use it unless I’m in the wall tent.
Extra fishing lures, I seldom loose one, I always have a few extra that never get used.
For me the gold standard is a Sheep Hunters pack/camp, which is most comfortable around 55-60 lbs. That would include a 2 man shelter and a weeks worth of freeze dries, water filter, sleeping bag, rifle, msr stove etc. These were always fly out hunts and you always had to consider how much weight you might return with?

If you leave the rifle at home, it could get plum luxurious.

While float hunting out of canoes, i never considered weight and always took what ever i wanted. Even though Moose are considerably heavier than Sheep; you’d have to have an outrageous camp to not have room for Moose quarters plus camp. Of course, we don’t portage on these rivers.
After years of thinking through this, I've pretty much got my solo gear dialed in to what I actually need and use, no more, no less. On tandem trips, I still bring too much, mostly because I'm responsible for the other person and they're maybe not comfortable with something I'd do alone (e.g. not use soap in cleaning my cookware).

Clothing. It took me awhile to get used to not having spares. Usually I bring just a single set of clothing to wear now, and a single spare set of socks. I rinse my socks and underwear every day, pants and shirt every 2nd or 3rd day (more often in summer). Sometimes I carry a spare cotton t-shirt to sleep in (hot/humid). I normally only bring one set of footwear. I bring very lightweight wool longjohns and long sleeve T-shirt in almost all seasons except the hottest summer months. Sometimes I look at these after a trip and hadn't worn them, but that's seldom if tripping in the Adirondacks, even in summer.

Tools. Unless I'm fishing, I don't bring a sheath knife. I have come to prefer a small folding Silky Gomboy and one of 3 small hatchets I can't decide over. I have gone on multi-day trips (vs overnighters) without light leather gloves but every time I do, I find that I wish I'd brought them.

Fishing gear. I limit myself to one rod and reel, one small tackle box, and a net. In the tackle box, I limit the number of lures (mostly small spinners) to the number of slots I have, x2 (3 would get too tangled up.) This gives me PLENTY of choices, and I could actually trim this down some more. I am in the middle of making improvements here (but it's only saving grams, not ounces, and is more about taking less than carrying less weight, if that makes sense.)

I go back and forth with water systems, torn between the ease of use of Polar Pure and using 2x 1L bottles and a spare 2L bag, and a hanging filter system using just 1x bottle and a 2L bag. I tend to do Polar Pure if I'm travelling some distance each day, and filter if i'm basing out of one site and doing day trips elsewhere. PP is a little lighter (about 3 oz), simpler, and you can make water while in the canoe, vs having to hang the filter. I tend to dump most of my water while portaging.

My cooking system has been reduced primarily to a pot, spoon, alcohol stove, pot chain, lexan cup, and a Kool Aid jar to rehydrate food in. Sometimes I bring a frying pan. Spare lighters don't always get used, but at 1/3 of an oz, that's ok. Cutting board-as-table is one I go back and forth with... if you find a campsite with a good flat rock and/or board to use as a table, you're good. if not, you miss the cutting board. I usually carry it. Pot chain is entirely unneeded; you can use a dingle stick instead, but for 3oz, I will carry it; far easier to use.

Sleep system is a tarp, a piece of tyvek, bug net in season, air mattress, bag, air pillow. With a hammock, swap to a different tarp, add an underquilt, drop the bug net, and swap the bag for a quilt.

Things I seldom use are my repair kit, sharpening stone, first aid kit, extra cordage, compass, whistle, and spare batteries. I am legally required to bring a bailer/sponge/PFD. I wear the PFD when legally required by calendar, when crossing larger bodies of water, or when the weather is bad.

I think most of my 'functional areas' are covered, but what I've discovered is a lighter way to cover it. This is one of the joys of solo tripping; what you need and not one ounce more.
I'm fairly stripped down. Maybe 2 or 3 items of clothing too many. The main offender is a folding saw. I almost never make fires the last few years, and on the few occasions when I get sentimental and do one (maybe the last night) it's a small teepee fire of small & medium sticks. But the saw keeps packing itself.