Feb 09 2012
Big‑ticket items almost always hog the limelight when we draw up equipment lists and talk about our gear. Boats and paddles probably get the most attention, followed closely by tents and sleeping bags. This is only natural. These things aren’t cheap, and if any of them lets us down in the backcountry, the result can be more costly still. A similar logic also operates in the middle tiers of the gear list. Compasses command attention, as do GPS receivers, despite the lingering uncertainty about the future of the Global Positioning System in the States. In fact, we’re infatuated with electronic gadgets of all descriptions, from digital cameras and e‑book readers to MP3 players and smart phones. Certain tools seem imbued with special appeal, as well — especially knives of all types. This, too, makes a certain sort of sense. Compasses and knives embody both capital‑R Romance and capital‑T Tradition, and both have undeniable real‑world utility. As for electronic gadgets… Well, who among us is immune from the siren song of the Next Big Thing? Few paddlers I know, at any rate. A broken (or misplaced) digital camera may not constitute an emergency requiring evacuation, but it can certainly put a damper on the fun.
Yet the little things at the very bottom of the gear list also mean a lot, and cost is a pretty poor indicator of absolute value. More than one life has been lost for want of a match, after all, and there are many small items whose practical importance belies their diminutive size. These accumulate in the dark recesses of pack or pocket, and we seldom think about them at all until we need one and can’t find it. That’s when we discover just how thin a line separates roughing it from smoothing it. Which is why I long ago assembled my own collection of vital trifles and packed it away in a small sack, which I dignified with an old nautical tag: “ditty bag.” I first wrote about my ditty bag back in 2001, and I’m almost never without it. But there’ve been some changes made in the intervening years. In short, this isn’t my old ditty bag… Read more…
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