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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?

“No thanks,” Jeff responds. His stove and repair kit are spread on the ground in front of him. “I left the pot supports back at the last camp, so I’m trying to rig something up.” Using an awl, he pokes ventilation holes in an old tin cup he picked up along the trail. He slips the cup over the burner, and holds it up to admire his work.

Over his dinner of freeze-dried shepherd’s pie, Mad Dog admits, “I’m glad we stopped here. Normally I would have passed right through this place because it wasn’t dark yet.”

Jeff, supping on penne with a sun-dried tomato sauce, is incredulous. “You mean to say that even if you came across an absolutely perfect campsite and it was late in the day but not quite dark, you’d pass it by?”


“You’re insane,” Jeff laughs. “Kicking back to enjoy the view after a hard day is half the fun!”

“You might be right,” says the Dog, looking off in the direction of the bear.

Thenext day we bushwhack up a steep drainage to avoid retracing yesterday’s trail. Jeff’s heels are killing him on the climb, but blisters are his fate and he’s used to coping with them. We gain the ridge again and the trail levels out. Just for sport, I ask the Dog and Jeff to switch packs, to see how the other half lives. They hesitate but finally agree. They look odd and uncomfortable, as if they’re wearing ill-fitting clothes.

We hike in silence for a while. Mad Dog is concentrating. “I can see why you need stronger, heavier boots when your pack is this big,” he says. “If you put your foot down wrong with the weight of this monster pack driving it, you could break an ankle. With my pack, it’s just a twist. I’d rather pack light to prevent injury than carry 65 pounds of cure any day.”

Nor is Jeff too thrilled with the knapsack. “It’s light, all right, but I hate not having a hipbelt. The thing swings and thumps all over the place. I guess I’m just used to carrying big loads. I admit I’m anal about my gear, but it’s all because of my photography background. In the darkroom you have to be neat and systematic. You have to know all your tools intimately, by touch. Top that training off with the fact that I tend to overthink things, and you’ve got a chronic overpacker.”

“You’re probably the type of guy who has all his socks organized by color and his underwear folded, right?” Mad Dog teases. “Just remember, the more gear you have, the more chance that something will go wrong with it.”

“True, but the less you have, the less equipped you are for the unexpected,” Jeff retorts. “I feel naked in this pack! I may be a bit overboard but that’s just who I am. I like my gear. Carrying it isn’t always fun but once I get where I’m going, I’m glad I have it all. I guess I like decadence.”

After a few miles they switch back to their own familiar loads. If Jeff is wistful, he doesn’t show it.

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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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