Things one carries

Some injuries almost a decade ago forced me to reevaluate how I move in the world. It was a small miracle by an extraordinary surgeon and a lot of PT work that I’m able to walk again. Coming that close to losing my mobility and the access it allows compelled me to vow to use my body however I can, especially to get out into nature – and to take better care of it. Little by little, over the course of a year or two, I graduated from the painful epic which was walking across a room with a walker to multiday backpacking trips. I was forced to enter into this new era of mobility with more respect for my own limitations: first to know them, then to work with them, then to try adapt the things I liked to do in my former life. Fortunately, backpacking has been more successful than Bikram yoga.

Previously, I had, when trained up in my 20’s, hiked 25 or 30 miles in a day, gaining and losing several thousand feet of elevation. No more: my comfort zone now is 4-6 miles per day with around 2000 ft elevation, and, depending on the terrain and my overall weight, my limit is around 8 miles. So where possible, I break what might have been 12 or 16 mile day hikes to beautiful locations into multi-day backpacking trips, and have to be sure to elevate my feet when at rest.

I also have to carefully consider elevation: each pound one carries is multiplied to 3 or 4x its weight on the bones when descending due to the forces of gravity and momentum.

Which brings me to what I carry. Every year I reevaluate. In the first years, my focus was on bringing the absolute minimum to be able to go as far as possible with the least bone pain. I had to climb mountains, almost to prove to an absolute positive that I could. With food and water, the pack I carried on a 2- or 3-day backpacking trip weighed 15 pounds. In the last year or two, however, I’ve made the shift into also seeing comfort as an aspect of enjoyment. I had tried sleeping under a tarp with no floor and partial walls — but the feeling of the mice running over my body at night and wind sweeping across my face without walls was disappointingly unsettling rather than bringing me joyfully closer to nature. I never really got used to that, so upgrading to a tarptent, which has walls and a floor, has been well worth the extra 12 ounces.

I had tried listening to TED talks and podcasts at night before bed on my mobile, but found I missed having something book-like to read. Though those silly Kindle Fires are heavier than a fancy Paperwhite or pocketable Reklam book, they are cheap so one doesn’t worry too much about replacement cost if one breaks it, and it allows a wide reading selection. I was happily able to hack my device to allow it to also have google books and my offline maps app (, increasing its backpacking functionality. If Alexa, which I *think* I’ve disabled, comes on the trip too as a result, I don’t think she’ll get much good blackmail material, so a good tradeoff.

This year, my big 1 lb upgrade is a Helinox Chair Zero, which will allow me to sit with my back supported to cook and read. Previously, I sat cross-legged on a section of foam pad I had cut up, on a log, or had to lie down somewhere to read. My additional impetus for getting this chair is being able to take it to kayaking locations. I’ve tried it out for a sandy beach picnic via kayak and it’s splendid.

Now my pack weight is a little more than 18 lbs, but my next trip follows a stream so I will be able to reduce that by carrying less water up and down as I can filter it along the way.

This shift to comfort backpacking admittedly feels a little glampy, or like maybe I’m getting old(!). Or maybe I’ve “arrived” and my kit is entirely dialed in – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy says 42 is the answer to the universe, so maybe this year – or what remains of it – brings answers, as much adjustment or, alternatively, growing pains, as 2020 has required.

Of course, at a time when living outside in tents in urban environments is happening to so many involuntarily, I feel lucky to be able to have options here, even if some part of me wonders if I should get a Jetboil…. just in case it comes to that.

If you’re curious, you can see my entire gear spreadsheet here.