How much gear do we really need?: "
Last year, I decided to find out for myself whether the full ultralight experience, including tarp, is survivable during the midge season in the Scottish Highlands. Well, it is. I had a superb time. The twin keys to enjoyment were a small bottle of DEET and an MLD Bug Bivy. The midges never even came close to finding the bivy’s zip.
The one slight disappointment was my pack’s weight. It wasn’t heavy, but it was noticeable. Given the ravages of age, I need greater discipline if I am to go on enjoying big walks so, back home, I compiled my first ever gear spreadsheet, and the problem immediately became apparent – consumables. I had taken nearly 70 items, including everything from the skin out. The hardwear had all justified its inclusion, but I had carried for days food, fuel and pharmaceuticals which had not been needed.
Given the introduction, you can imagine how interested I was when four men from Natural Bushcraft decided to go backpacking on Dartmoor for three days with just ten items each. They didn’t count clothing and quite a bit else, so their trip ended up not looking much different to normal backpacking. However, their idea is an interesting one.
For rigorous thinkers, the idea is also a frightening one. Before breathable waterproofs, most years brought news of hypothermia deaths on the British hills, so waterproofs must go in the bag. Actually, forget the bag. That tenth item is going to be needed. Lacking a one piece waterproof, I’m already up to two. I don’t get on barefoot, so that’s two more items, as long as I find soft, dry vegetation to use as socks. Thank goodness I don’t use contacts because that would take me to six. As it is, spectacles take me half way.
This is Britain, so even in summer, a weatherproof barrier – tarp or flysheet – will be needed. (Instant shelter appeals. I could take an axe and make something, but then would face hours of work each time I move.) Cordage and pegs are no problem with my Karesuando knife in one of the waterproof’s pockets. Seven. Experts usually recommend belt and braces for firelighting, but I’m running out of options, so perhaps I won’t die if I only take a flint. Let’s hope I find some good tinder before going too far. Two choices left and one has to be a billy because I doubt if I could find bark suitable for making a vessel which will hold water. (Would a Dutch oven count as one or two?)
The last choice has to be determined by the location of most of my backpacking. And a plaid will explain the lack of grundies in my ten. It will also allow for those many nights when the vegetation I had been relying on for insulation is sodden. A smart aleck will suggest money for number ten, but that comes in at one item per coin or note.
No consumables, so bad luck baa lamb.
Time to get real. I would survive precisely one night with those ten items and there would be no enthusiasm or energy for hill climbing.
Things haven’t always been this way. One of the best books I read last year was After the Ice by Steven Mithen. It covers world history from the ending of the last major ice age till the development of farming. Back then folks didn’t need to worry about which ten items to take. They knew how to exploit their environment. And died young.