Painful to Carry Gear That’s Still Totally Worth Carrying

Couple weeks ago, I set out on a nice day hike up in Point Reyes National Seashore, just north of San Francisco. Ever been? Gorgeous, magical place, clothed in redwoods in the flats and valleys, fog-shrouded in the highlands, majestic Tule Elk wandering in great herds. There are even a few backcountry campsites scattered about, some right on the coast, the Pacific gently—or sometimes very, very forcefully—crashing in the background.

As I prepped for my hike, I chatted with a middle-aged man as he finished packing his backpack for a multi-day jaunt to a campsite about seven miles away. He carefully pinned his camping permit to the outside of an overstuffed pack, pulled on a pair of well-used leather boots, adjusted a full-brim hat string around his chin, and then, unbelievably to me, proceeded to strap an ancient folding chair to his bag with rope. Not a backpacking chair—a metal framed chair that had to weigh at least 15 pounds. I bit my tongue for a moment, then couldn’t help myself, and told him there was a picnic table at his campsite, he wouldn’t need to lug that chair all the way.

“I know,” he said. “But this chair has been with me everywhere, and it’s so comfortable I wouldn’t camp without it.”

I tipped my cap to the man, then thought about some of the cumbersome things I’ve carried on past backpacking trips that would have made fellow hikers scoff, but which were totally worth it.

Surfboard and wetsuit. There’s a campsite near where this man was headed that has serviceable surf just out front, with potentially very good surf a short hike away. I’ve lugged a surfboard and wetsuit the entire 6.5 miles to that campsite, you know, just in case. There’s no easy way to do that either. Hiking with surf gear is tortuous.

Surfboard, check. Cast iron pan, check. Old, heavy hatchet—check.


Telescope. I don’t do this anymore, but in years past, I’d strap a small-ish reflecting telescope in a carrying case to the outside of my pack, with a lightweight tripod tucked into a water bottle holder. A massive PITA to carry, but an awesome tool to have on moonless nights in the backcountry. Turns a regular night camping into something magical.

Mini keg of beer. I once toted a 1.5-gallon beer keg to a lakeside campsite. I wasn’t hiking a great distance, maybe three miles, but I was a hero to my friends for my commitment to fresh-from-the-tap beer. Plus, nothing offsets the exhaustion of carrying multiple pounds of beer and metal like the promise of beer at the end of the hike.

Cast-iron frying pan. Sometimes you just have to. It’s heavy, cumbersome, and greasy, but it’s all worth it if you luck into a trout-holding lake.

Packraft/float tube. Packrafts can be seriously small these days, some sneak in under two pounds. But plenty are still in the four-pound range and take up as much room in a pack as a tent. Plus, you’re gonna need oars, maybe some waterproof clothes. Swimfins for a float tube, too. It all adds up to a bunch of heavy, excess gear that’s nevertheless absolutely worth hauling.

• Laptop. Sacrilegious? Possibly. But there’s no law against getting writing done ten miles deep in the wilderness.

Toddler. Every time, I think: She’ll make it all the way on this hike. Also every time: No, she doesn’t.

Words by Justin Housman



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