Friday, August 19, 2011

Stuck at Home: Planning, Inventory, Maintenance, and Packing

When I am not able to get away into the woods--due to say, having a 8.5 month pregnant wife! :)--there are still a lot of things I can do at home that are related to backpacking and camping, and that will improve my next experience.  The things I do at home before my next trip is usually the biggest reason if a trip is a success or a failure, fun or not, etc.

And if you are blessed/cursed to be the type of person that is nerdy and loves the many details, both big and small, of a given hobby, then like me you will actually enjoy the pre-adventure rituals.  I break them down into four stages, with each stage having its own dynamics.

1.  Planning.  Perhaps my favorite phase of the pre-adventure state!  This also has the most aspects, and because of this often takes up the most amount of time, money, and energy.

So I decide I want to go out into the woods and spend the night (or two, or however long I can get away with).  What is easy for me is picking a date, because I don't care about waiting for nice weather (I don't mind hiking/camping in the rain or snow), and and also because I don't mind going solo if my friends or family can't make it.  Then I pick a location I want to explore, check it out on Google maps, and perhaps go and buy a map (if I don't already have one) of the area.

Depending on how much time, money, and energy I might have during a given planning phase, the next thing I will do is consider the probable conditions and hazards before diving in to research different kinds of gear.  I have a pretty solid collection of gear of course, but as time goes on some gear needs to be replaced.  Sometimes gear is replaced because it is worn out, sometimes because I have found a better solution given the context of my needs and the trip in question.  As time goes on, technology never stops surprising me with its innovations, and backpacking and camping gear is no exception.

So I will check out new products, sometimes buy some brand new gear, often buy the same tried and true old gear.  As a full time student and father of one (soon to be two), funds are of course pretty tight, so I take this part of planning pretty seriously.  For example, for over a decade I have been using cheap yet effective hardware store bought plastic tarps to use as shelters.  In the past half year or so I have been researching other options, and to my surprise I find out about an amazing new material called Cuben fiber.  Now I am a pretty hardcore skeptic, but after reading many reviews and forum discussions from other nerds, I have to try it out for myself--especially after learning that it is much lighter and stronger than regular plastic tarps.

I now anxiously await a cuben fiber tarp (see above) along with some titanium stakes, which will probably replace my other tarps much of the time.  I look forward to testing it out!

So it helps to try and keep you finger on the pulse of not just backpacking/camping, but any hobby so that you can improve, modify, and overall evolve how you go about what you love to do. But of course this is not to say that older, tried and tested pieces of gear should all be thrown away.  Or that you have to replace all your gear, or even that it has to cost that much to make replacements.  The best thing to do is get as much information you can on a given piece of gear you are looking to improve, and then figure out if it is worth it to you and if you are able to go for it.

2.  Inventory.  Okay, so you know where you are going to go, what the conditions are going to be like, and you have a rough idea of what you are going to take.  Now is time to step things up and get organized.  The more organized you are, the better, and there are a lot of wonderful new tools available thanks again to technology and the internet.  

A website I also recently found out about is, and it makes the older pen-paper-calculator method of getting all your gear organized pretty obsolete.  There is a video on the site that explains how it works, but to see a sample of what you can do with it, here is a gear list I recently made after doing some modifications/improvements for fun: 

Once you can see a list of everything you plan on taking, you can then double check to make sure if the particular combination you put together is exactly what you need/want.  You may have forgotten something that you need to add, maybe you can get rid of something you don't think you will need anymore.  It is a good idea to just sit and reflect on your plans and your inventory to make sure as much as possible is accounted for so that you can have the best possible adventure possible.

3.  Maintenance.  Okay, this part of the process is perhaps not so fun sometimes--but it needs to be done.  Knives need sharpening/oiling, sleeping bags need cleaning/airing out, clothing/shoes/backpacks might need repairs, etc.  Not much to say here, you just have to go through your gear and make sure it is in good shape.

4.  Packing.  The last step that can (so long as you did a good job with planning and inventory) often only take several minutes right before you go on your adventure.  Make sure, however, that if you have a new backpack or new pieces of gear to try packing all your gear the night before to make sure everything fits and also try on your pack to make sure it is comfortable. 

When packing, also keep in mind that this process is a whole art and science as well.  It is like playing Tetris getting everything to fit properly, but you also want to have important things such as first aid easy to access.  Another thing that is good to have easy access is rain gear, should an unexpected downpour happen.

That's about it for now.  Once some new gear that is in the mail gets to me, I will post lots of pictures of a few different combinations of gear with my updated inventory.

As always, I welcome any questions, concerns, or feedback, and I hope this post was helpful :)