For reasons unknown to me, a lot of backpackers think that making a detailed gear list is the sign of an ultralight fanatic or that you’ve crossed over to the UL darkside and become a dreaded gram weenie. I’m here to tell you otherwise. It’s true that a gear list can be an extremely powerful tool for helping you understand, manage, and reduce your overall pack weight, but it’s much more useful than that.
It should go without saying that your gear list needs to be constantly updated and tweaked as you adjust the items you carry and make notes along the trail. It serves as the reference point to where you are and where you want to get to with regards to pack weight. Careful observation and experimentation both on and off the trail are key.
Packing – Leave No Gear Behind
In addition to using a gear list to track weight it can be used as a checklist tool to help you gather, inspect, and pack all of your gear before a trip. There’s nothing worse than getting a few miles into a hike and realizing that you left a critical piece of gear at home on the kitchen table. Your gear list will help you to avoid that from happening. I have three check box columns on the left of the spreadsheet I use that are designed to walk me through the this process: Find, Check, Pack.
I systematically locate (find) each piece of gear on my list and gather them into one area on the floor. I check each piece off the list using the “Find” column to track my progress. I then inspect (check) each piece of gear to ensure that it is functioning properly. Does it require maintenance, new batteries, or extra supplies? If all is good I’ll put a tick in the check column. Once I’ve found and inspected all of my gear I use the last column (pack) to make sure that I have put each and every item in my backpack. It probably sounds a bit tedious but I can tell you that it works for me – every time.
Evaluate Your Gear
Another huge benefit of having a detailed gear list is using it for keeping track of what works, what doesn’t work, and what doesn’t even get used on the trail. There’s only so much elimination and weight reduction that can be done at home, so at some point you are going to have to validate this by getting outside and using your gear.
Keep accurate notes using your notepad so that you don’t have to rely on memory to recall what it was that didn’t work and you thought could get left behind next time. Getting into the habit of good note taking will help you in the long run.
After Each Trip
Use your notes to assess your gear list and make determinations on what you can adjust for next time. You may need more of one thing but less of another. Practice, practice, practice!
Based on a combination of your trail notes and what’s left in your pack, you can identify the pieces of gear to eliminate and leave at home on your next trip. Look at your notes to see if there were things that only got used occasionally and might be able to be substituted by another item that can serve double duty. For example, don’t carry a bowl and a cup when one or the other will serve for both purposes.