Updated: Dec 30, 2019
Over the past years, I’ve gotten rid of more and more stuff. Stuff. Stuff in drawers, stuff lying in closets, stuff i don’t use very often, stuff i don’t use ever, stuff i didn’t even know i had. Stuff that quit fitting me when I was 8, and stuff I’d like to forget I ever wrote. What I have kept though I almost entirely like and use. Or at the very least the excess has been halted to a minimum.
In fact, now that I’m packing up the stuff that I’m actually going to keep, I’m glad that I’ve gotten the chance to get rid of it, because if I hadn’t, it’d be a job several times bigger. When I was in Israel, I took two bags with me: a duffel and my backpack. That was all I needed for the year, and now that I’ve been back. It’s constantly kept me on the lookout for things that I can toss out or give away or sell. A pittance compared to the next months though.
The trail is the ultimate in minimalism, how far you want to take that though is up to you. What is so valuable to me that I would carry it around with me for 2200 miles? Now, I’m not as intense as some who forgo stoves in favor of cold meals, or up for sleeping with only a tarp, or about to hike without a rain jacket. Warning, this is not a gear list or recommendation. Frankly, I hate them. They’re useful don’t get me wrong, but sometimes there’s a line where it just stops mattering to me. I don’t care that the XLR II Mountain Hideaway sleeping bag is .2 degrees warmer than whatever the next one is.
The point of all this is that what is making it in so far that I won’t be leaving behind besides gear to live out of. What Am I bringing with me besides the basics? 3 Things: A pipe, a pen, & a hat.
A pipe because while I’m contemplating life, the universe, and everything, I also like to smoke. There’s something methodical, rhythmic, comforting, in the repetition of a pipe. Getting out your tobacco, loading your pipe, lighting it, smoking it, watching the twisting forms of grey vapor escape into the air. Honestly, it will probably be the greatest compliment to the natural beauty that I’ll encounter. To take a break and put down my pack for lunch and then a smoke and a write. My goal is not to blitz from one end of the trail to the other as fast as I can, and pipes are the essence of that. They demand attention and care, and make you slow down and consider wherever you are. It may be tempting at times to try and push miles regardless of my mental state just to get closer to the end, but a pipe will help bring me back to the hike i’m on at the moment. It will be a chance to just reset mentally and really enjoy the day that I’m experiencing. And if I find some people who want to share some wacky tobaccy around the campfire, it makes it even better.
(The first person that types the smart aleck comment, “What about Tobacco? Hur, Hur, Hur, gets karate chopped.)
It’d be worth it for me to bring pen and paper. I’m not going to be doing anything else but walking for 6 months so I’m going to need something to keep my mind marching. 8 Hours a day of brainstorming and scribbling seems like a pretty good idea. Between writing from, about the trail on zero days, to crafting stories and slices of things before it gets too dark, to just using my time to consider what I might do in the future. There’ll be ample material at every curve, and plenty of time. In fact, since I’ve left school, that’s been a growing reason to hike the trail. Six months of the cheapest living so that I can spend it all hiking and writing? Worthwhile in every way. My hike transforming not only me, but my scribbling. In fact, lately I find myself wanting to do nothing more than sit and write as much as possible. Now whether or not I’ll take regular pen and paper or a fountain pen and a journal is another question.
There’s something both stupid and romantic about the idea of trekking with a bottle of ink and a modern quill through the woods. There’s something about writing with a fountain pen that is quite different from a ballpoint, and I’m curious about what it would be like in periods of long quiet. When I will be forced inside of myself in certain ways to see what bubbles back and not have anything to distract me except for the wind and sun. Then again I could always just speech to text with my phone and dictate what I want to say. We’ll have to see. Maybe even both. Either way, the words just have to make it back to civilization.
And of course my trusty hat. One of the best purchases I ever made. I bought it for 90 dollars before I left New York for a study abroad in Israel, as well as what ended up being Ireland, Turkey, and Egypt among others. It’s a pillow, a sun blocker, a winter shield, an umbrella, a comfort. There really is something reassuring about putting it on my head when I set out on whatever daily errand, unusual adventure, or even just a drive down the road. It might have something to do with the fact that it just makes me feel better prepared to deal with the day. Even if my day explodes in a terrific burst of crap, failure, and distress, I still have the comfort of that regimen. Whether that’s in the United States or another country, the city or the country, the trail or town, they stick with me. The comfort that what that hat, and wider those three things provided to me right now in my ability to meet each day is incalculable. Plus, at least with the hat and the pipe, the longer I use them the better they get. The longer they're with me, the better they work and the better I understand them, and how to use them.
It seems odd, but those would probably be the three things I’d save from a fire if I had to on a moment’s notice. Smartest choices? Maybe not, since any number of other things would be more valuable, but they’re the things that most stick with me. And have for the past few years. The longer I have these things with me almost all the time, the less I want to let them go. Not in a crippling, can’t operate without them way, but in an itchy way. I notice when I don’t have them and often wish I did.
They’re a home away from home in a pocket, and although I may be sleeping in a new place each night for six months, I’m going to have everything I need to get up for the next one if I keep those things with me in my pack.
Just as important as the things we carry to eat, sleep, and shelter, are the things that we use to live. For some this is the barest of essentials. For others, it's a coffee pot and a bottle of soy sauce. For others it's everything and the kitchen sink. Your gear list is not your hike however, and just like you, it's going to be variable. You're going to add and subtract and switch and shift and change it. I think that many people preparing for the AT overemphasize the exact right gear model, over simply having a good sturdy version of whatever you need. If you enjoy tech-ing out on every micro adjustment towards the optimal gear list, more power to you, you're probably going to have a lighter hike than I am. But for everyone out there arguing over X vs Y, in a way that intimidates new hikers, or puts down other hikers for the "wrong" or "stupid" decision with their gear, please take your pack, and shove it up your ass.