The More Stuff You Have Strapped to Your Pack, the Cooler You Look

Hey there, AJ reader. Did you know we have something like 4,500 posts in our archive? It’s true! A decade or so of stories, tips, tricks, videos, essays, and pure randomness. Might we recommend you take a several hour plunge one of these days, to discover some classics for yourselves. Like this one, from 2016, exploring the mystery of Guys Who Like to Strap Stuff to the Outside of Their Packs. – Ed.

I was renting this guy a backpack and three-person backpacking tent when I worked at an REI store many years ago, and he and I had the following conversation, as he was holding the tent bag in his hand:

Guy: I bet I could just strap the tent on the back of the backpack here.

Me: You could, but that’s about a seven-pound tent, and it’s better to have it inside the pack, because the weight will be closer to your back, and you’ll have better balance. If it’s strapped to the back of the backpack, it pulls the pack away from you. Plus, it can fall off.

Guy: But I could just strap it right here, on the back, right?

Me: Yes, you could, but I’ll tell you what I’d do. You’re going with a friend, right?

Guy: Yeah.

Me: Take the tent out of the bag and split it up. Give your buddy the rainfly and the poles, and you take the tent body and the stakes. Pack all the solid stuff in your pack, and cram the tent body in last, into all the empty space that’s left. Then you have a solidly packed pack, and you can leave that tent bag at home. And you and your buddy are splitting the weight of the tent pretty evenly.

Guy: Yeah, but I could just strap it right here, too, on the back of the pack.

Me: Yeah, you could do that. You could strap it right there, on the back of the pack.

Photo: Lukas Allspach/Unsplash

There seems to be this male instinct that the more things we have on the outside of our pack, the cooler we look. Where does this come from? Is there some movie all males watched as young men that taught us this? We clip coffee mugs, water bottles, multi-tools, anything we can think of, to the outside of our pack, as if that object is so important, we can’t waste 2 seconds opening our pack to get to it. It seems to be a sort of outdoors newbie thing, and then you learn that the more shit you have strapped to the outside of your pack, the more you lose. You learn, then you move on.

Except in the case of one guy my buddy Lee climbed with once. Lee was part of this group of four guys who climbed the North Face route on Longs Peak, a 5.4 rock route in the summer. They had backpacked into the Boulderfield, spent the night, and climbed the route the next day. After they summited and picked up their bivy gear at the Boulderfield, they were re-packing their packs for the 3.5-mile hike down to the Longs Peak Trailhead. Lee was carrying one of the ropes down, and this guy, who shall not be named, sternly said to Lee,

“You make sure that rope is on the outside of your pack when we get to the parking lot.”

What does this mean? It means the guy wanted everyone at the trailhead, and in the parking lot, to know that he and his pals had just done an, ooh-aah, technical climbing route on Longs Peak – not like all the other suckers who had just hiked up and done the 3rd-class Keyhole Route. No, this group of men was special. They had used ropes. Like the one that was going to be on the outside of Lee’s pack when they strolled off the trail, so they could impress everyone in the parking lot.

Since the day Lee told me this story, we have never failed to include it in every single one of our days out climbing. Just as we are packing up after a climb or a day at the crag, one of us will either clip a No. 3 or No. 4 Camalot to the outside of our pack, or demand that the other guy make sure the rope is on the outside of his pack when we get to the parking lot. Then we both laugh, crack a couple more jokes about making young women swoon in the presence of all our climbing gear, and we leave.



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