Now’s the Time to Explode Your Backpack

NCOAE Headquarters

February 08, 2020

Most successful outdoor retailers take monthly, quarterly, and/or an annual inventory of what they have in stock, what needs to be replaced, and what might need to be added to the store’s shelves. Items that sit ignored on the shelf or are no longer in fashion go in the “50% Off” bin or “sale” rack, enabling the retailer to make space for the newest and greatest products.

That practice of practical paring holds true for those of us who enjoy human-powered outdoor adventures and are, even now, preparing for the trails, climbs, and river rapids that we anticipate and dream about each winter.

And chief among those preparations is a thorough consideration of the current contents of our backpacks. The idea is simple: How do you lighten your load for your next adventure, feel less stressed when packing, and maybe offer free and still useful gear to a friend or local outdoor-based organization in need?

It’s time to “clean house.” And by that we mean pull your gear out and place it all on the ground, inspect it, and discard those items you can do without. In fact, here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education, we offer a number of courses that, among other things, show participants the ABCs of backpacking — which includes properly packing a backpack.

One important part of our courses is when participants “explode” their pack in front of their peers. Typically, the group circles up and  removes everything from their packs, assessing on the spot what it is that needs to go and what needs to stay. And ask any of our instructors or field guides and they’ll quickly admit, it’s pretty amazing what gets tossed into the “needs to go” pile. We’ve seen chess boards, gallons of bathroom products — even a lawn chair. Each item is perused by an NCOAE staff member who helps the participant make discard decisions that will benefit their wilderness experience.

For those of you at home, you can “explode” your pack, gear closet, and wilderness shed — either by yourself, or for more dramatic results, invite a friend or friends to come help out.

Here’s a game plan suggestion:

  • Get everything out in plain sight. Yep, you own all that!
  • Organize the gear by season, activity, and use (clothes, camp kitchen, shelter, sleep systems.)
  • Edit large items first, small items last. Those three bikes you haven’t climbed on in years — they have got to go. The stove that has fuel cannisters that are obsolete — launch it.
  • Put all these items in a pile to either sell, donate to a charity, give away to a friend, or toss.

When you think you’ve really cleaned house, repack and check again. Did you really purge what you needed to purge? Does your bag and storage area look thinner? Do you need to revisit for more cleaning?

Unless you’re a Stage 4 hoarder, you might discover that this ‘winter purge’ was a truly uplifting experience. In fact, it might become habit forming. Dare we interject the word “addicting?”

How about making it a regular event, say a mini-purge after a trip or while packing up for another trip. Make it a party. If you have friends who work or play outdoors, invite them over for a gear swap. You may discover during your original purge that you were missing some essential piece of gear. Maybe a friend has two of them. Voila! Problem solved.

Regardless of how you chose to go about it, the mantra should be to clean house. It’s good for the mind and body. And if you want to get credit for learning the ABC’s of backpacking, take an adventure-based outdoor education course with us.

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