Preparing a 162,4 mile (261 km) hike, I am critical about what to carry on the trail. Although I am not an ultra light hiker, I do keep a spreadsheet to keep track of the weight of all my gear. Trying to carry a base weight (full backpack without food & water) below 18 pounds (9 kg), I still bring stuff that I do not really need on the trail.
1. A Big Knife
I always carry the smallest of knives in the pocket of my pants. Not only on the trail, but everyday. I use the five features of this swiss army knife all the time: to open a plastic wrapper, to cut loose threads from clothing , tending to my nails or cleaning my teeth. It’s the Victorinox mini of 21 grams (0,7 oz).
On the trail I will not need a knife for preparing my food. All I will eat is freeze dried meals that only require a long spoon, or burrito’s which only require my bare hands. My small Victorinox will be used for all the above things: just a little cutting and clipping.
So why would would I bring my big foldable knife, the Böker Skellig of 82 grams (2.9 oz)? I gives me a good feeling to know that I could cut thick branches of wood into thin pieces of tinder and make a fire. I could cut stakes for my tent, just in case I loose the lightweight aluminum ones. It’s a safe feeling to have a weapon for defense against a bear gone crazy (or maybe a human gone crazy, but I doubt I will meet any danger like that). It feels good to cut that burrito in half with this knife. And well, just because it’s fun just flicking it open and close it with one hand, a little trick that took some training to achieve. I like this knife.
2. A Swiss Watch
Of course, I carry my iPhone – mainly to make photographs. And I can use it as a watch. It’s impossible not to notice the time every time you look at it, isn’t it? Still, I will take my Mondaine Swiss watch on the trail. Just like the Victorinox, I wear it everyday ever since I bought it 15 years ago.
For me its important to keep track of the time while hiking, so I can estimate how long I have to go until the next campsite or lunch break. It structures my hiking day. Just glancing on my left wrist is enough to keep track, without having to take my Iphone out of my pocket. Moreover: the batteries of my watch last for about 2 or 3 years. I have to meet the first iPhone that lasts that long. The hands of an analog clock can also be used as a compass. Point the hour hand (the little one) in the direction of the sun. Now look at the angle between the hour hand and the 12 o’clock mark. This forms an arrow that points at the north.
A quick look at the sun and your watch will tell me where North is (source).
Note: the Daylight Saving Time makes it a bit confusing. To correct for this, just imagine the hour hand to point 1 hour earlier.
3. A Tripod
On the upcoming Big SEKI Loop trail I will be hiking alone. My best holiday photographs are always the ones with a person on it. At least to show the scale of things.
Being by myself, I think I will get tired of all those selfies with my own head blocking the spectacular views. So I will bring a tripod on the trail so I will be seen on in at least some of the beautiful landscapes.
My tripod is one of the few items on my gear list that’s not from an outdoor supplier. It is a cheap and very light thing I found at a Flying Tiger store that cost just € 4 and weighs 60 grams (2 oz). It has an ugly pink color that will stand out very well against the dark forest floor or grey granite slabs.
4. A Fire Starter
My 29 grams (1 oz) Light my Fire fire steel is my back up for the mini Bic lighter I plan to take with me. Of course I could take 3 mini bics with me for the same weight of my fire steel. Or bring no back up at all and save 29 grams of weight. Still I think it makes sense to bring it with me on the trail.
A lighter can break or run empty. The mini bic is so mini, I’m bound to loose the thing. It might be difficult to start a fire in the rain with it. The fire steel will even produce flaming sparks submerged in water.
But most of all, like the big knife, it is an item that gives me an independent and safe feeling. I just enjoy making a flame out of nothing with it. That happiness is worth the 29 gram for me.
5. A Little Notebook
I have been keeping diaries and notebooks all my life. Not that I am so much fond of writing. It’s the reading that I like. To me it’s magic to read what happened when, where I was so many years ago, what did I do that specific date. It’s the motivation to pick up that notebook again and force myself to write it down.
On my hike I wil take a little 11,5 x 8,5 cm (4.6 x 3.3 inches) Rite in the Rain mini Stapled notebook. It has 24 pages with dotted lines (the dots so wide apart that they are not lines anymore) and one last page with survival references and Leave No Trace ethics. The paper is waterproof and can even be written upon when wet.
I The Rite in the Rain stapled notebook of 25 grams (0.9 oz) – is all my superfluous gear about 1 ounce?
For writing I take a Bic Evolution pencil which has some cool features. It’s not made of wood which makes it easier to sharpen and less prone to breaking the tip. It has a bright color to stay found in any backpack.
For survival the booklet is useless of course (despite the tips on the last page), I don’t think the paper will even burn properly. So ultra light hikers might despise me for taking it, but I know in a couple of years I will be very thankful for jotting down my adventures on the trail.
It has been about 5 years of hiking since I wrote this post. Nowadays I do not bring the big knife, the watch and the fire starter anymore. I only use the tiny Victorinox for cutting, my phone for the time and a Mini Bic for fire. I still bring a small tripod, but a different, much smaller and lighter one. And instead of the expensive booklets I now cut and staple thin paper into a booklet myself.