What’s In the Pack?


My Facebook friend Charles Mandel wanted to know what I’m carrying on my pilgrimage through the Haldimand Tract–what’s in my pack. Pictured above is tonight’s pack explosion (because of course the thing I need is the thing that’s found its way to the bottom of the pack). It’s bigger than it looks in this photograph. The pack is a 38-litre Osprey. No reason for that, except it’s what’s available in Regina, and I like their lifetime warranty.

I carry two compressible stuff sacks filled with clothes, which sounds like a lot except that since I’m not out in the woods, I need clean (or dry) clothes to wear after I finish walking for the day. You just can’t be stinky in the city. So one stuffsack contains socks and underwear (three pairs: one that’s ready to wear, and one that I’m wearing, and one that I washed out the afternoon before) and extra shirts. The other has a pair of pants and a shirt and a sweater. Oh, if those shorts don’t dry overnight, I attach them to my pack with safety pins–something people do on the Camino but which makes me look, well, more than a little eccentric around here. But I don’t see an alternative.

Those stuff sacks go in the bottom of the pack. On top of that I cram in ziplock bags filled with electronic gear (iPad, a bluetooth keyboard), books (poems by Louise Halfe), and cables and power connectors (camera, iPad, phone).  I’m also carrying seeds for ornamental tobacco that my friend Richard Goetze gave me. Other ziplock bags contain extra dog biscuits (in case I run into a lot of angry dogs and run out of the ones I carry in my pocket) and a bunch of the business cards with the unfortunate typo. I also carry a small bag of toiletries and a larger bag of food. The food is the heaviest thing I carry, but it ends up in the top of the pack because I need to be able to get at it when I’m walking.

I carry a sweater to wear while I’m walking in the top of the pack, too. I needed it for the first few days, but I doubt I’m going to any more–unless the weather turns unseasonably cold. It could happen, but I doubt it will, and the forecast agrees with me.

In the lid of the pack I keep a repair kit, extra rubber tips for my walking poles (because I’m walking a lot on pavement and they wear out quickly), toilet paper (in a ziplock bag, of course), a little shovel (in case I get caught short and need to act like a cat, although that’s never happened), my zip-on pantlegs (in case I want to turn my shorts into trousers)–stuff like that.

My rain gear–a coat I bought in Pamplona after I learned that my raincoat was useless while crossing the Pyrenees–is jammed into a pocket on the outside of the pack. The coat goes on over my pack, as European raincoats sometimes do. But I use a pack liner as well. I don’t like wet things and prefer multiple lines of defence against all kinds of moisture–rain and sweat. I learned on that same rainy day in the Pyrenees the importance of keeping things dry: my passport got soaked in the rain and guess what? Passports aren’t waterproof. Now I’m on a list of people who have ruined their passports. “Do this one more time,” the guy at the passport office told me, “and we won’t issue you another one.” I’m more careful–maybe overly careful–now.

I’ve attached an old 1-litre zippered bag to the outside of my pack as well. I keep stuff I don’t want crushed inside the pack in it, like the Mohawk tobacco I traded for back in December, which is in a cardboard box because tobacco’s not supposed to be kept in plastic bags, according to the Haudenosaunee I’ve talked to; or things I might need while I’m walking, like Voltaren, a topical anti-inflammatory; or odds and ends that just won’t fit in the pack. 

Also attached to the outside of the pack are sandals (to wear after I finish walking for the day) and a first-aid kit. I also carry a water bottle that’s filled with an electrolyte mixture, because the heat sometimes makes me feel pretty sick. My water comes from a 2-litre Osprey water bag (it fits the Osprey pack well) with a bite valve. If I forget to turn the valve when I take the pack off, then I can cause a flood, like I did at rare yesterday. Somehow I dropped the pack on the bite valve and the result was water all over the floor. That was embarrassing. 

My pack weighs about 10 kilograms (without the water). I haven’t weighed everything separately (I’m not that organized). I know it could be lighter. For example, I could ditch the electronics and cables–but then there wouldn’t be a blog. I could also get rid of the business cards, which are heavy, but even with the error, they’re still useful (if I scribble the right URL on them). And I’m reluctant to dump the dog biscuits, because there are places where dogs aren’t tied up and I’ll be walking through one of them in a couple of days.

In my pockets I carry a compass, a little bag of dog biscuits, map(s) and a trail guide, my phone, and a bag that contains odds and ends I might need while I’m walking (a list of the places where I’m staying, a notebook and pens, business cards, and the defective spare battery for my phone). Oh, and a tobacco pouch, because I’m always crossing the river, it seems.

That’s more or less what I carried on the Camino de Santiago. Of course, there I needed a sleeping bag and didn’t carry any electronic devices (except for my camera and a sound recorder which I almost never used). For this walk I’ve been able to leave the sleeping bag at home. 

I wear hiking boots for support. I know the thing to do now is to wear trail runners, but if walking on stones hurts when I’m wearing boots, wouldn’t they hurt even more if I were wearing a lighter shoe? I use walking poles because they help me walk faster and because they’ve kept me from falling when I’ve stumbled against rocks or tree roots and lost my balance. The pack can throw off your centre of gravity.

So that’s what I’m carrying. I wish I was carrying a little less (and that I didn’t have to attach stuff to the outside of my pack), and I’ll probably leave a few small things behind in Brantford. If I haven’t needed them so far, am I likely to need them at all? Still, it’s manageable.

2 thoughts on “What’s In the Pack?

  1. You could leave behind the shovel, the sweater (layers), half the business cards, half the food (are there not stores along the way), most of the dog chews, half the toilet paper, the key board, the pack liner (if you have dry bags and a pack poncho, the zip off legs (you have a pair of other pants), definitely the book, one extra shirt. That would loose 1-2 kgs. Then all would fit inside the pack. Less IS definitely more in the heat you are walking in. Does that weight include your water too? Ha, I’ve done the same thing with my water hose. Now I’m in the habit of turning off every time. Interesting post Ken. Now you can have fun figuring out what you can live without! We all of course have to go through the process. In the book I told you about I laughted so hard when they wrote about the stuff that Katz dumped from his pack the first day! Hilarious! The coffee filters?

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  2. Am following your blog with interest, Ken. Your backpack doesn’t sound all that light but this blog definitely makes carrying the electronics worthwhile. Given that your route takes you through a pretty densely populated part of Ontario I’ve been surprised at the natural beauty you’ve been able to foreground. Looking forward to future installments.

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