journal

Pack Weight

The things they carried were largely determined by necessity.

Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried

Some of the most valuable lessons in life, I've learned from living out of a pack, for work and for pleasure.

A pack has limited space; the typical bathtub has more volume. The first lesson for anyone heading outdoors is prioritization in the face of scarcity. There is only so much you can take, and the essentials will leave little room for luxuries.

The real problem is weight. Every thing you add to the pack, you add as haul for the journey. Your agility and endurance is negatively correlated to your pack's weight; the heavier the pack, the slower you move, the less distance you can cover. And if you are traveling for pleasure, your joy and the contents of your pack are to a degree at odds. Light shoulders make for pleasant hiking.

Every decision to add something to a pack will be cross-examined by the future self, typically late in the day, on a strenuous climb. One learns to hate the weight of the few big things just as much as the sum of many little things. The accumulated regrets transform into intuitions on necessity. These intuitions carry over to other areas of life.

For example, when it comes to software, every feature takes up space in the pack and represents weight borne somewhere. Early on, the constraints were imposed in terms of memory, computation, bandwidth, storage. But for a while now, the real limitations have been human: labor hours, or the mental capacities of the engineers, who have to carry the code.

The same goes for our planet. The paradigm of modern life in consumptive societies is to fill the pack. We have more space for more stuff than most of our ancestors could ever dream of. But something still has to carry the weight. To a degree, we do -- with our time, money, and attention. Most of burden, though, has been off-loaded to natural systems, which are crumbling underneath the weight of it all.

Usually, when I return from a longer outing, I find myself a little more grateful for civilization. Things I normally take for granted -- plumbing and shelter and flat surfaces to sleep on -- sparkle like magic. When it comes to all the other frosting on the cake, all the other things in the pack, I'm not so sure. I find myself wishing we didn't have to carry it. Maybe without it, our footsteps would be lighter, and the going, easier.

You're humping too much stuff, troop.

You don't need half this shit.