The Things I Didn’t Really Need to Carry

I have read several hiking books where the author lists off the ridiculous items that they decided to carry in their backpack. Bill Bryson spends time in his book A Walk in the Woods describing all the gear he thinks he will need on his hike. Cheryl Strayed does the same thing in Wild. Carrying a huge bag loaded to the brim is a mistake for the rookie hiker. Most hikers spend time trying to lighten their load and some hikers go to extremes to save an ounce here or there by sawing off toothbrush handles and shopping for the lightest tent.


The first backpacking trip I took included some really dumb items that no experienced hiker would ever consider carrying but what I discovered was that carrying a 70 pound pack around for 20 miles helped me think about what I really needed. Not only does it clear your mind it hurts your whole body. It turns out that carrying wet clothing in a plastic bag does not make them lighter, in fact you don’t need two extra pairs of jeans, or any jeans because cotton fabrics don’t dry unless you put them in a dryer or hang them on a clothes line for 10 hours. These epiphanies usually do not occur to me until I am waist deep into some trip, but I try not to make the same mistake more than once.

When it comes to international travel I tend to carry too much stuff but during the Summer of Jon I am limiting myself to one carry-on bag. This limitation has more to do with being cheap than anything else, but it has me considering what I should take along and what I should leave behind.

My greatest vice when it comes to travel is books. I like to take several books with me, but I never read them. I just lug them from place to place. I carried four books with me the last time I was in Europe. I didn’t read a single one. I just carried them like idiots do. This summer I will be taking zero books. I will be taking an iPad which can carry a bunch of books inside it and it doesn’t weigh any more. I already put a few books on the iPad which I have every intention of reading but I think once I am rolling I won’t be digging into Moby Dick again.

Another book related vice I have is buying museum guides. I just can’t help myself. I buy the guide (usually the big one with all the paintings listed and described) bring it home and put it on one of my bookshelves. The guides look nice and I do look at them once every 15 years, but carrying 10 museum guides around Europe is just stupid when I can probably buy the same guide from Amazon and have it brought to my home without carrying it around Europe.

The most difficult decision for this trip is whether to take a rain jacket or not. If I take a rain jacket I am certain that Europe will experience the warmest July in the history of the continent. If I leave the jacket behind there will be rain everywhere I go. It works that way. The hottest summer in European history was the summer I spent in hotels without air conditioning. There is a pretty good chance I will see poor weather in Iceland and Norway, but should I take a little rain coat or a big one? It isn’t like my big jacket weighs 50 pounds, but all it takes is a serious of poor choices and the next thing you know you are carrying wet jeans in a plastic bag for 90 miles.

Good thing I have four more months to plan.


4 thoughts on “The Things I Didn’t Really Need to Carry

  1. Best travel coat ever: Arcteryx Gore-Tex Waterproof Shell . . . pricey, but rolls small, weighs very little . . .and you can stand in a waterfall and stay dry. We used them on our 100 mile hike through the Scotland.


  2. Hi Jon,

    Ha-ha! It’s really not a problem. Barb and I spent a year (two seasons) in South America with back packs that weighed approx. 40-lbs each. We skied in the summer and trekked the jungles in the winter. Shortly after I graduated from high school, I hitch-hiked to Alaska with nothing but what I had in my pockets. Then, when Barb and I met in Spain, I only had a small day pack, after spending the better part of two years in Europe and Africa. I won Barb over by taking her to the free public baths in Pamplona. Believe it or not, we were never dirty, smelly or starving. I’ll be fascinated by your blog entries relating your summer of Jon! 🙂



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