There’s something so freeing about knowing you could pick up and leave at a moment’s notice and have everything you need on your back, that you’re completely prepared and self-sustainable. That you could go anywhere at all. I’m not sure why this is important to me; it's not like I'm one of those apocalypse conspiracy theorists (usually). My Bugout Purse was just a bag full of cigarettes and loose change for many years (although if you think about it, at the time that felt like being prepared for anything too).
This bad boy taught me how little we truly need. I’ve always aimed to go lightweight, but I still made the same mistake everyone does the first time they pack up - too much unnecessary stuff. I had one of those bullet-proof bear vaults to keep my food in since I read animals are getting too smart for the tree hanging method. I ended up leaving that at Base Camp for guest use. Talk about a weight off your shoulders, literally. I also usually have at least two books at all times, which I maintain is indeed a necessity, but I trade them out as I go. A moment of silence, please, for all the good books I’ve left behind. While these are blatant offenders, I've honestly never used about 40% of the other things I have. I’m either too lazy to remove it, or my subconscious keeps waiting for the day when I’ll get into some deep shit.
OUTER SHELL: Hooked to the outside of my front strap, I have a Coghlan’s compass/thermometer/whistle. This thing even glows in the dark. I’ve never used the thermometer or the whistle but the compass has come in handy. I’ve also got a rag from REI that you can stuff into a convenient pouch; it’s made of that sweat-wicking material. I’ve definitely used this, but it pales in comparison to a simple bandana. The bandana I use constantly, mainly for cleaning or drying things off that get splashed or muddy. Or, I like to dry off my water purifier pump after each use so that any contaminated water that may be on the outside doesn’t get into my thermos; I’ve heard terrible stories. Finally I’ve got a paracord. I have never used it once. I thought I may need to get creative and tie a part of my tent in place or something, or use it for hanging food if my other tie breaks, but no such luck yet.
VERDICT: Most useful: bandana. Least useful (so far): paracord. Why not: compass.
SIDE POCKETS: I haven’t dug into these things for months, it looks like I’ve had a point-and-shoot camera in there all this time. Clearly unnecessary. It turns out this little blue pouch is full of good luck trinkets (Good looking out Past Me. Yours Truly, Future Me). The other side pocket houses a notebook, given to me by a guy who picked me up hitchhiking in Stormville, NY. We talked about music the whole drive and I wrote down some recommendations for him on one page, then he gave me the whole notepad. I rip pages out when I need help starting a fire, if the wood won't light. Note: there are also pockets on the arms that wrap around and buckle in the front - I usually put bug spray, sunscreen, and my phone in there for quick access. Right now they’re full of....rocks, that I collected on my last trip. Lol.
VERDICT: All unnecessary.
FRONT POCKET: Knife, spork, Ben’s DEET tick and insect repellent wipe, a plane ticket from Seattle to Alaska, a hostel welcome note from HI Seattle, some sort of baggage check ticket, a Greyhound bus ticket from Portland to Salt Lake City, and an envelope for a new ID (my ID expired and I had to get a new one mailed wherever I was so I could check into places). Also, some kind of food or soap wrapper?
VERDICT: Three incredibly useful things, and trash.
TOP POCKET: Water purifiers! I have the pump and iodine tablets. These bungee cords are what I use to strap my sleeping bag and matt to the bottom of my pack, since they won’t fit inside. I found some brochures in here too - Amtrak, Illinois Beach State Park, and a Chicago guide book. Also, things-to-do recommendations in the Hawthorne District of Portland, and a Jesus brochure from a lady who approached me on the street while I had my thumb out. Or, is this the Jesus brochure from the mission trip kids who swarmed me in Chicago?
VERDICT: Two incredibly useful things, and trash.
SIDE ZIPPER: All kinds of bags. Sometimes I use a garbage bag to separate dirty clothes from the rest, but I don’t know why. It’s not like you can’t tell which is which, or that you could possibly save anything in your pack from smelling terrible at all times. The red bag can be used for hanging food; also, I don’t have any kind of rain cover for my pack, but I can kind of fit that red bag over it. I should just get a rain cover. The ziplocks are for food storage, and also soap, sunscreen, chapstick - anything that has a smell. When there’s nowhere to throw away food wrappers for awhile, I stow those in a ziplock too, to try to mask the smell from animals while I pack it out. The lollipops and condoms are birthday presents from Jake, Britanie, and their dog Joe, from when I spent my birthday at Base Camp. “The condoms were Joe’s idea.”
VERDICT: It’s hard to say; how do I know whether a bear would have mauled me to death were it not for this ingenious ziplock bag pack-it-out system?
SIDE ZIPPER 2: Gear Aid Tenacious Tape Repair Patches, sunscreen (50 SPF for your girl), Ben’s insect and tick repellant, SeaToSummit biodegradable Wilderness Wash, hand sanitizer. All these liquids are usually in a ziplock. I use bug spray and sunscreen all the time, and sometimes I use hand sanitizer before I mess with my eyes (I wear contacts). I barely use the Wilderness Wash when I'm hiking, it’s pointless after awhile. Wipes and good 'ol water are fine, though it does feel good to scrub your clothes down with it every once in awhile.
VERDICT: Now we’re getting somewhere.
BOTTOM POCKET: When I can fit it, I zip my Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad up in this pocket. I'm not usually this lucky. Using the bottom straps to lock it onto the outside is a better bet, because I can never roll the sleeping pad up tight enough. This is for good reason - the pad is self-inflating, so when you lay it out it will automatically thicken up and create a comfortable matt. Squishing all the air out the next morning when you're trying to pack up is the tricky part, since it keeps wanting to re-inflate. But no complaints - this thing saves my back! Underneath this is where I bungee cord my sleeping bag on as well. For many years I used a great bag handed down by my dad, and when I was in Colorado I also bought a thermal sleeping bag from TETON Sports to keep me warm in colder temperatures.
VERDICT: Very helpful, but not necessary if you don't mind sleeping on rocks from time to time. A sleeping bag is conceivably not necessary if you only camp in warm temperatures, but is 100% necessary for me.
THE MEAT: REI Half Dome 2 tent and footprint, stakes, first aid kit, Petzl Tikkina headlamp, Coghlan’s biodegradable toilet paper, a mug, Alpine Stowaway Pot, MSR Pocket Rocket portable stove, fuel, matches, chargers, trowel, scissors, SeaToSummit Wilderness Wipes, postcards, and a rogue sock. And a shoelace?
These pots are awesome, the clamps double as handles so you can hold them over a fire. I use them both consistently. I'm surprised they stay in good shape - they get banged around more than anything else, especially the mug, which I had hooked to the outside of my pack for a long time.
The first aid kit is great for peace of mind, but I have only busted it out for bandaids. Speaking of which, the random sock floating around in my bag does remind me of a good tip - I wear thin socks underneath thicker hiking socks, that way any rubbing that happens occurs against the inner sock and not your skin. Cutting down on blisters is a priority. As far as hiking socks go, Balega makes my favorite kind; they include plenty of padding in all the usual blister areas.
I'm so grateful for the headlamp, which has come into play in more situations than I anticipated when I bought it. Great for seeing what the hell is happening around me in the woods after dark, but also just for reading in my tent. Makes for fun photography experiments too.
MVPs: The Half Dome 2 has never disappointed me. It’s lightweight and sets up super quick, but is strong and sturdy in wind and rain (though I’ve never camped in more extreme conditions). The footprint is pretty necessary - it's an extra protective layer to keep the wet ground from seeping through the tent floor. My little portable stove has always done me proud, too (I store the fuel and matches inside my pot to save space). It takes up no room at all, and even though it gets beat up, it’s always in top form when I need to get something cooking fast and easy. Side note: I have a lighter, but I have thick, long-burning matches as backup; I wanted something that would help me light a fire in crazy weather. I’m glad I have them just in case, but weather has still won out in scenarios where I hoped the matches would perform a miracle.
DUCT TAPE. This wins as the most useful item in the whole pack. Omnifunctional. On my first day of hiking the Appalachian Trail, the soles of my boot ripped completely off. By the grace of God I had brought a second pair of boots with me (remember, I overpacked). But those got pretty messed up too over time, and eventually I was just using duct tape to hold my shit together.
Odds and ends: the wipes and toilet tissue are great because they're both compostable. #LeaveNoTrace
The Goal Zero Flip 10 Portable Charger has saved me. I don’t tend to use my phone when I’m hiking, but when hitchhiking I do use my map app here and there to make sure I’m not getting turned around. A portable charger is super important, especially in case of emergencies.
VERDICT: Most useful: duct tape, tent, headlamp, stove. Least useful: first aid kit. Sure, why not: charger, wipes, scissors (actually those scissors come in handy surprisingly often).
I'm sure a hardcore thru-hiker or a mountain climber has completely different needs. If, like me, you're not that impressive but still feel like half-assing your way into total freedom, know that for a few unpredictable months on the road/trail, interspersed with hostel stays, my Bugout Bag always serves me well. I think I could probably live out of one bag for my entire life. Let this be a testament to the fact that whatever we think we need, we probably don't. We'll be just fine taking on the world with a roll of duct tape.