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June 1998

Modern Man Vs. Mad Dog

A techno-packer and a yard-sale minimalist go stride for stride to find out what kind of equipment is best for a good time. Or more importantly, does it really matter?

“You look bored,” I say to Mad Dog.

“Well, this is strange for me,” he confesses. “I almost always travel by myself. I hike from sunup to sundown. When it’s too dark to hike anymore, I stop and sleep. Then I get up and do it again. I don’t move fast. I take my time. But without so much gear or an elaborate camp to make and unmake, I’m free just to walk.”

The Dog wanders off to wade in the lake, while Jeff continues setting up camp. Once he erects his tent and fluffs up his down bag, Jeff has a snack (cheddar and salami slices, pita bread, with Grey Poupon spooned out of a little plastic bottle). He settles into a shady spot and starts dissecting his stove. Jeff is measured and methodical in everything he does. He sets things down instead of dropping them. He buckles all buckles and tightens all straps. He knows where everything is at all times.

“I like to tinker with gear, make repairs, figure things out,” he says, unfolding the screwdriver from his multitool. “My friends call me MacGyver because I can fix just about anything. And I always have the right tools on hand.”

Once the stove is clean, he carefully puts it back together and organizes his dinner things. He notices the knob from his pot lid is missing, so he digs back into his repair kit. Within minutes, the lid sports a neat wire grab loop.

As the sun starts to drop, the air takes on a chill. Jeff changes into a pair of thick polyester tights, turtleneck, and puffy insulated jacket. The Dog, back from a short reconnaissance around the lake, gets into his nighttime garb: baggy, pilling wool dress pants that probably once belonged to a traveling vacuum cleaner salesman; a moth-eaten, butter-colored sweater with a gaping rip at the neck; a brown tweed, grandpa-style porkpie hat with a band that hangs down like the floppy ear of a basset hound. We don’t laugh at him for too long.

Jeff starts his stove with a poof. “Sounds like a blowtorch,” says the Dog, lighting his can of silent Sterno.

“Yeah, but it’s fast,” says Jeff. “I’ll be fed, cleaned up, and counting sheep by the time that thing reaches a boil.” Within minutes, Jeff’s bubbling water is full of rotini. The Dog patiently watches his pot. He’s in no hurry.

Jeff is swirling one last noodle in a bit of pesto sauce by the time the Dog’s water has started to steam. Mad Dog takes a peak under the dented lid. “Hot enough for me,” he says. He unties his shoe, removes his sock, and uses it as a potholder, pouring the lukewarm water into the pouch of sweet and sour pork. Mad Dog doesn’t worry about microscopic bugs that might be in the water. “I don’t filter. I don’t iodine. I don’t boil. I just drink. And I haven’t gotten sick yet,” he claims proudly. Jeff has had beaver fever. “It wasn’t pretty,” he recalls. Jeff filters or boils every drop.

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  1. jerkybill

    I’ve been a budget camper and hiker for years- most of my gear came from browsing flea markets and auctions for the right stuff- GPS units that are geocache and wherigo capable, packs both internal and external frame, canopies for camping with the family, stoves of assorted sizes, up to date maps and books detailing the layout of my destinations, and of course- Goodwill clothing from wool socks to sta-dri shirts. My youngest daughters’ first sleeping bag was a hand-me-down from a neighbor. Even my bikes were bought used-My trail bike for 20 bucks at a flea market and by road bike for 40 at auction.

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  2. andrew-o

    The first time I went camping (not even backpacking), I learned the invaluable lesson of simplifying. I packed big with enough gear to fill the back of a pickup and it took me a day and a half to get all setup in the pouring rain. My friends showed up with a couple of bags in the back of a VW and were setup and dry in minutes. I realized right then and there that the beauty of the outdoors is simplicity and balance! As my knowledge and obsession has increased, my load has gotten lighter. I’d have to say I’m somewhere between the two guys in this article. I like some comforts, comfortable bed (hammock in my case), warm meal at night, but I don’t spend major money to accomplish it. I’ve found good deals on used gear, bought lower tech gear at stores like Costco, and even made some of my own. I’m getting lighter and enjoying it more! Sure, attitude plays a big part, but a good attitude with minimal blisters, that’s a wonderful thing! – Andy Go Lightly

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