Editor’s Note: This feature originally ran in Issue 3 of the BackpackingLight Print Magazine.
If industry leaders are correct and scarcity of time is what keeps us from getting out more, then perhaps the most sensible thing to do is to figure out how to streamline the process of taking a backcountry trip. Maybe it’s time to redefine what constitutes a satisfactory foray into wild country. Maybe it’s time to eliminate, as much as possible, the friction that keeps us from going backpacking.
After all, scarcity of time notwithstanding, many of us still seem to end up spending a few days every so often at some ill-advised gathering with people that annoy us. So why is it that we can take the time to fulfill some of our less compelling social obligations, but we can’t find the time to throw a pack on our back and head into the hills for some spiritual sustenance?
The following six steps should help you streamline the process of getting ready for a trip into the backcountry. The idea is to reduce the friction of planning and preparation to an absolute minimum. This, in turn, transforms every gap in your calendar into an opportunity to start your own little cultural revolution.
1. GEAR CHECKLIST
Create a standard checklist for most of the trips you take. This list need not be set in stone, but should provide a good jumping-off point for all of your backcountry travels. Adjust as necessary, but you won’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you get ready to head out.
2. GEAR BOX
Store your gear in a big plastic box – all of your gear, all the time. This way you’ll always have everything you need for a quick trip organized and in one place. My favorite is a clear plastic 110-liter Sterilite box that I found at a local hardware store. Storing your equipment this way means that everything in your gear box is essentially dedicated backcountry gear. Keeping your gear box stocked with all of the equipment you need for a trip eliminates the hassle of frantically digging through your junk drawer looking for your headlamp or multi-tool while your hiking partner simmers in the car outside, half an hour past your agreed departure time. Taped inside the lid of your gear box should be a manila envelope with copies of your standard gear checklist. Everything that goes into your pack or on your back should be in the box. A quick run through the checklist before departure ensures that you won’t arrive at the trailhead without some essential piece of equipment.
The contents of the author’s gear box.
3. READY-TO-GO MENU
Rather than trying to make every backcountry sojourn a culinary orgy, create simple and straightforward two-, three-, and five-day menus that are easy to shop for and package. Again, you can adjust as you see fit, but the idea is to reduce the friction of planning and packing to an absolute minimum.
4. FOOD BOX
The food box is a second clear plastic container that you store excess backcountry food in. It provides a rolling stock from which to provision your trips. Like the gear box, it has a manila envelope taped inside the lid with copies of shopping lists for your respective menus. When you are getting ready for a trip, you simply grab the most appropriate shopping list and head to the grocery store with the kind of laser-like focus that will have you pointed toward the trailhead pronto.
The contents of the author’s food box.
For this system to work well, it is important that when you return from a trip, everything goes back in its place. You clean and restock as necessary. That way, the next time you open up your calendar and see a little daylight, getting ready to hit the trail will be virtually effortless.
6. RETHINK TIME REQUIREMENTS
In addition to getting your house in order from an organizational standpoint, it also makes sense to reassess just how much time you need to pull off a successful and rewarding backpacking trip. A while back, I was talking with a friend who has a family and a demanding job. After he had described a litany of very cool trips he’d taken during the last year, I asked him how he’d been able to get out so often, given the obvious demands on his time. His response? Overnight trips. So if you have trouble knocking loose for more than a day or two, head out anyway. You might be surprised at how much satisfaction you can pack into what seems like only a handful of hours.
All the gear a backpacker could want, in easy reach.