Go lightly

It is super important when you are carrying your life around on your bicycle that you do not go heavily. Many people know this, and those who have muchel experience pedaling long distances keenly understand the important of lightness.

Some things are extremely heavy and must be taken with you, for example, the heaviest things of all, feelings. You can sqwunch them down into tiny Zip-Loc bags but their infinite mass is such that they will still feel like the heavy things they are. Never think that you can lighten your load by leaving them behind because they follow you wherever you go.

Other things are extremely heavy and must not be taken with you, for example, my Fidibus electric grain mill that weighs about 25 pounds, and my Staub giant-sized Dutch oven, which weighs another 20 pounds or so. Equally so for the bags of grain, for, although nothing would feel more homey than grinding up flour to make biscuits, I’d also have to bring along an oven.

The difficulty comes in deciding where to sacrifice weight for awesomeness. For example, a knife. Many people believe that you can effectively tour without one of these:

In fact, none of the bikepacking articles I’ve read mention the virtue or necessity of bringing your biggest kitchen knife. True, it is very large, very wooden handled, and very steel. True, it would likely, due to poor packing, slice through the expensive panniers, the carbon frame, the spokes, rim, and leg. True, in order for it to really work well you’d need to also carry the wooden cutting board and, more importantly, this:

A two-sided, heavy whetstone is crucial to keeping your giant whacker knife in good whacking shape. All in all, it would seem to make no sense at all to lug around such massive items when lightweight cheap alternatives are mostly everywhere, and in fact none of my friends who are quite expert in bike touring have recommended a large knife, a wooden cutting board, and a water stone. Could they be trying to trick me into going on this trip unprepared?

Because I think about Dan’l Boone. He’d never have left his Bowie knife at home. Why? Because you can’t skin a bear with a pocket knife. You can’t deftly cut the sinews of an elk with a mini-blade. When all your powder is gone and the enemy is breaching your log barricade and you have to dispatch a dozen foes in hand-to-hand-combat, a Swiss Army knife with 32 attachments isn’t going to cut it unless one of the attachments is a bazooka.

Nope, nothing was more necessary to the wilderness forays of yore than a trusty, razor sharp, long-bladed knife. Should I be deterred that the combined weight of these items is a third of my total carrying weight? Yes. Will I be deterred by these mere numbers? Unlikely.

And then of course there is the cast-iron skillet, an item that oddly enough never makes the list of “Most Essential Lightweight Backpacking Items.” It’s not even that heavy, as I found when I weighed it.

And when you think about all that wild venison I’ll be frying up outside of Ventura for breakfast on Saturday morning, it simply makes no sense to imagine doing it in a Teflon-coated aluminum pan that won’t absorb the bear grease properly to ensure the wild game flavor that makes trips like this so memorable.

Anyway, as various items are making or not making the final cut, I’m always eager to hear from you, Dear Reader, regarding which items should be left at home. I’ll listen with an open mind, as long as you don’t suggest that I leave the feelings behind.


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10 thoughts on “Go lightly”

  1. When you stuff your feelings into the Zip-Loc, be sure to nothing bigger than quart size. Get the freezer ones since they’re more feeling-resistant, and most importantly: Don’t squeeze all of the air out.

    Then treat it like your sourdough starter. Add to it occasionally and stir. Sometimes make something with it that’s better than what’s in the bag.

  2. Dean Patterson

    5″ Case knife, with sheath, 3″ whetsone, two sided. Had ’em for almost 50 years now…have never failed me….saves a ton of weight. I ditched the camp stove and ate out when i wanted a hot meal, but always have the knife. Good for Brears and Republicans…(Bears are usually both). Light is good….lighter is better, especially in a ferocious forty mile stretch of headwind.

    1. Right? Who travels long and doesn’t take a real knife, one that you can gut a sperm whale with in a pinch?

  3. Most unfortunate that 100% carbon skillets burn, and titanium skillets possess poor heat transfer properties. We have found a giant AL skillet, like all the restaurant kitchens use, splits the difference well between weight and performance- and frittatas work for every meal:^O

  4. Having done some solo camping I thought about what I wouldn’t leave home without: things to keep myself and my stuff dry, chocolate for when it’s miserable, bartering, instant calories or just because. A good paperback book. Because sometimes your brain is just over ‘the feelings’ and it’s nice to have something else.
    A small amount of cash for the little stores out in the middle of nowhere whose atm’s are out of order. Or their big jar of sugar for coffee is empty. Yes, I read that piece.

  5. Ha! None of those things. There are simple pleasures on the trail, and chocolate is one of them. There really is no substitute. I have tried all the coffee alternatives: Sanka, plastic press (mine is old, they are better today), pour over, and Via. IMHO effort vs reward Via has the highest ration of reward/effort, and it doesn’t take long to make that happen.

    You want to make decisions that are going to be as light as possible, but still give you enough simple pleasures.

    Depending, on where you camp, and the risk of “FIRE”, you may want to gather some sticks and have a nice small campfire. Dryer Lint. Been using it for 40 years as a starter. Works like a charm.

    If I was doing it again, I think I would avoid front-panniers as well. The extra capacity might be nice, but what it does is it dampens your ability to steer. Of course, your brain acknowledges this, and tells your hands and arms to compensate, and you can still steer, but then try to ride your bike without them, and then see how your brain is still telling your arms and hands to over-compensate.

    lite lite lite lite.

    When you want a treat get off the trail, and go into town.

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