How to put a backpack together effectively? First, make a list of vital gears. Then, gather those gears. After doing it, realize you’d need a motorized truck to take it all with you. Finally, get back to square one and start it all over again…!! Putting together a backpack is obviously a bit more complicated that it first appeared. It’s maybe even more difficult to reduce your equipment, especially for a first-timer! It’s hard to sort gears out and separate the essential from the expendable, even more when the fear to be missing something starts to show up…
A simple technique to make your preparations easier is to organize your gear list with categories. When you divide your things up like this, you make it easier for you to know what’s really important. No chance to skip the essential stuffs anymore!
3 categories to reduce your equipment: need, comfort, luxury
Of course, let’s say it right away: this technique is only a tool to make your preparations easier. It will not make your backpack for you and it will not guarantee a light or complete pack for you either. But as standard lists don’t work and as, like I said in this post, you are what will make you pack a perfect pack… It can be of great help to help you reduce your equipment.
Why these categories? Going to Santiago is a long-distance travel that traditionally forces you to carry all your things on your back. Even if the idea is not to banish any comfort whatsoever, you’ll want to reduce your equipment to the bare minimum. Thinking in terms of need, comfort and luxury will help you to visualize and keep in mind what is really important. In short:
- The large majority of your gears should belong to the need category.
- The list of your luxury category should be extremely short. Or nonexistent, is you belong to those valiant pilgrims!
- The comfort category should hold few gears that exclusively belong to it. It can however count a fair number of equipment that also belong to the need category, as “enhanced basic gears”.
Of course, you always want to adapt your equipment to the season and that will change the content of your pack. A long distance trail is not exactly the right time to experiment on your resistance to cold… be sure you have what you need!!
“What is necessary, useful to a person or to carry out a project”. Not everyone agrees on what “necessary” means, especially given everyone has different needs. On the Caminos, the double requirement to carry all our gears ourselves and to keep our pack as light as possible helps things a bit. We can resonably consider that “need” is equivalent to “vital, indispensable”, that’s to say “that one can’t do without”. In other words, the need category covers the gears that will insure the pilgrim’s integrity and safety. No more no less!
Once you take this into account, subcategories come up and clarify your list. People have relatively few fundamental needs! Breathe, drink, sleep, eat, dress and maintain health, hygiene and a viable environment. Once brought back to a hiking gear list you get this: drink/eat, sleep, dress, pharmacy, toiletries, protection against the weather. “Modernity” also requires us to add all the administrative papers.
The most efficient packs focus on these categories and optimize them to the maximum. Within the light backpacking communities, it can mean bags between 3 and 6 kg (6 to 13lb), for independent hikes or a long distance travels, camping and cooking gears included! The spirit is usually not quite the same for those going on the Camino. However, thanks to the numerous services regarding accommodation, food and other things, it’s all the more easy to reduce the “essential” to the minimum!
Also keep in mind that to reduce your equipment efficiently, it’s better not to multiply the same type of gear! Of course, forget about your collection of T-Shirts or body-lotions. More subtle yet, the unnecessary duplicates like ie. the poncho/pack-cover combo. Finally, think of hunting down everything you add to your pack “not to lack of” or “by fear of”. Those are the most insidious items on your list and the most difficult ones to put away… What you want in general is: 1 gear, several purposes and not the opposite (one purpose, several gears)! One exception: clothes (although still arguable for the most committed ones). You’ll take them in pairs to be able to switch them and stay clean.
“Assistance, material or moral well-being, perceived as pleasant or excluding what is non-pleasant”. Even more than needs, comfort is different from one person to the next. When hiking, this category is the most subjective one and usually the most delicate one to reduce. Everyone has a very personal idea of the comfort he-she needs and of the level of discomfort he-she can bear.
There is no standard procedure to define “comfort”. This concept is a complex mix between culture, education, habits, physical and mental sensitivities, perceptions and preconceived ideas about what one is capable of doing. So, it’s useless to judge the person next to you for the
stupid unwise he-she’s done! However, it’s still very interesting (necessary!) for everyone to question your idea of comfort, so you’ll be able to reduce your equipment and optimize it.
Some don’t like to hear it, other prefer tell tales of miseries… but the Camino really is a really comfortable adventure! (Double “really” on purpose!) Very few hikes offer such a network of services regarding accommodations, food and services. This is true for quantity as much as quality, the most basic infrastructures included. Instead being defensive against that fact, let’s consider it like a golden opportunity to safely lighten your pack!
Often, things belong to both the need and comfort categories. Some are truly mostly necessities, that can be declined in various degrees of comfort. Others are gears we think are necessary but that actually are comfort gears only. If you know how to spot those, this type of equipment can often benefit from a purge! Review your items from your comfort category list. Could you do without them during your trip to Santiago? Could you do differently, is such or such gear really useful? Try to find reasons and means not to take things rather than to keep them!
Let’s start by saying something. The purpose of this category is NOT to categorize you or to accuse you of being frivolous, vain, shallow or whatever other else. Its only use is to highlight all the non-essential items that pile up so easily when preparing our packs. Just to spot them in your list and help you leave them at home. No more, no less!
So, luxury: “Superfluous and extravagant element, eventually purely decorative, showing abundance and profusion. The opposite of necessity“. This says it all… or so it seems! This category of equipment is usually quite (too) full. It’s just that we’ll often like to go hiking or traveling with all the commodities we have at home!
The main subcategories of luxury are electronics, books and stationery, toiletries and clothes. Any electronics are unnecessary, from e-readers to cameras as well as batteries, connectors and other plugs. Likewise for books, notebooks or art furniture of all sorts. Same for many items found in toilet cases or dressing lists. Lotions, makeup, perfumes, jewelries, shoes, clothes, accessories… all superfluous! Let’s add as they come musical instruments, board games, ornaments or any hiking gadgets to complete the list. One exception, cell phones… and yet maybe not (but this is another story).
Of course, I’m not trying to say you have to completely eradicate those items from your pack! I’m the first one to always want to take my camera! However, it’s quite useful to focus on them to reduce your equipment and “easily” get rid of excessive weight. Keep in mind that whatever these objects are, it’s always possible to do without them. Always, whatever we think about it! The most difficult part of it will be to convince yourself it’s possible… Moderation, wisdom and enlighten choices are keywords here!
When you focus on the essential, it’s a lot easier to reduce your equipment. And, surprise surprise, you may end up with so few things you could chose to bring more. If this happens to you, good for you! Once your needs covered, it’s always nice to grant yourself more comfort and luxuries. Just be careful not to fall into the trap to load yourself up again with that king od items!
Have a nice preparation! 🙂