Wandering sometimes requires gear. And let’s be honest, one of the most important choice you can make is which pack to carry that gear. First of all, I have to admit that I have a bit of a problem when it comes to backpacks. In fact, my wife jokingly referred to me as a pack-whore. So excuse me if I geek out a bit here.
Wandering is primarily about awareness and curiosity. Being aware and curious are only part of the wandering experience. A true wanderer records what he or she has observed and asks himself or herself questions to spark their curiosity.
Recording the things that we see and hear can take many forms. A journal (a staple of many famous wanderers) allows you to take notes, draw what you see, make a map, or write a letter home saying that you’ve decided not to return. An audio recorder allows you to capture conversations, sounds of nature, or even your own ramblings while wandering. A camera (or even your cellphone) can record images and video to capture your experience permanently.
Taking the things that you need with you allows you to observe and record in the moment. That is important. Observations, made in the moment, are far more impactful than the things we remember later. Perception here is both a help and a hindrance. When we record our observations and curiosities as they happen, we get an accurate record. When we wait to process what we have observed, perception creeps in and our mindset and our past experience color the memory quickly.
Wandering is all about living in the moment. If we allow our perceptions take hold of our observations before we record them we are living in the past which is an illusion.
Follow the Leader
”Throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence.” -John Muir
Another part of the wandering experience requires tools. These may include a walking stick, a wool hat and a pair of gloves, a loaf of bread and a pound of tea, or any of another million things. Because wandering is all about living in the moment, those things should be ready to go at a moments notice. Like John Muir, we should be able to grab, “…an old sack and jump over the back fence.”
If a wanderer can grab their backpack and walk out the door to experience life in the moment, without having to pack, they have a better chance of observing what is real. When we take time to pack we consider the future and all the things that could happen when we’re out wandering. That changes the experience.
“…the future is a concept—it doesn’t exist…” -Alan W. Watts
That being said, There are times when you need to consider where you’re wandering will take you and pack accordingly. However, having a few staple items ready to go will allow you to wander more freely more often.
Like I alluded to earlier, having a means to record your observations is the primary item that should be in every pack. A notebook and a pencil have a place in every one of my bags for just this reason. I may pack also contains an audio recorder and a place for my digital SLR. But that is just the basics.
My wandering often takes me outside and into the woods, so I carry some things that will help me to make that a better experience. A first aid kit, some extra food, a water bottle, and something that I like to call and “I.C.E.” pack have a place in every one of my packs.
I.C.E. stands for in case of emergency. Some of my emergency supplies have really helped out while wandering. Some fellow wanderers have made fun of me for carrying so much gear that I might never use. But I often get the last laugh.
Once, while wandering with friends in San Francisco, we decided to take a boat across the bay to Petaluma. The boat was delayed by about an hour so we stood on the top deck, looking out at the bay and back towards the city. It was a cool night and the mist from the bay was rolling in. When the boat started up and began to pull away from the dock, we discovered that we had been locked on the roof. We had to ride half-an-hour across the bay to Petaluma. It started to rain and the wind from the Pacific ocean brought a fierce chill to the already damp night.
I reached into my bag and pulled out a simple item, and emergency blanket, and wrapped myself up to stay warm and dry. It took a little while of sad looks before I offered to share it with the friends who had been making fun of me for carrying it. Needless to say, they never picked on my I.C.E. pack again.
Because wandering is all about living in the moment, we have to remember that some moments come with difficulty. Difficulty can be overcome easily, if we are prepared for it. Sure, an emergency blanket is an odd thing to carry for a short walk in your neighborhood, but when you find yourself at a place you didn’t expect, because you let wandering get the better of you, it’s a nice thing to have. The same thing goes for an extra energy bar, a few dollars in cash and coin, or a first-aid kit. Will you use them every time you wander? Probably not, but you will be glad they are there when the moment strikes.
Here is a quick breakdown of the items in my I.C.E. Pack
-$20 USD (or enough local currency to get a cab back to my car or hotel)
-A 60 gallon trash bag
-3’ of Tenacious Tape
-A laminated card with emergency contact information of several family members as well as a pertinent personal medical information, in case I am incapacitated.
All of these items fit neatly in a small Patagonia Black Hole Cube that is bright orange and easy to see in my pack.
What you pack will depend on your needs and the terrain you’ll be wandering. For me, this usually means a rain shell, a wool hat, and perhaps a light jacket. I also like to carry a good book and maybe a deck of cards for when I find myself stuck in a location for some time. Additionally, I always have a battery back up (I like this one) to recharge my cell-phone at least twice.
Small, Light, but Complete
You don’t need to carry a massive backpack to fit all this gear. A simple school-sized back pack will do very nicely. It should be a dedicated bag; one that is specifically for wandering. Remember, you want to grab it and. “…jump over the back fence…,” not rifle through your work bag to collect the things you need before setting out.
16-30L should fit the bill well. Here is a great one to grab, if you need a suggestion.
Take a few moments to pick a bag and put together a wandering kit. If you need to get some gear, please use the links in this post to get you started. Disclaimer: they are affiliate links, I make a small commission if you buy them, but they don’t cost you any more. Once you have your kit together, sling the back over your shoulder and go for a wander with a light heart, because you have everything you need riding on your back.