We're often asked about what equipment to take on a backpacking trip, and that's why we put together our list on this site. It's everything we take when we hit the trail. But people keep asking about other stuff, so we thought we'd put together a list of things NOT to take backpacking. Of course, there are no rules on this stuff, but here are ten things that we never take backpacking in the SIerra:
Bear spray. It's illegal in many National Parks, and we can't imagine carrying it around all the time on our belts--where it could accidentally go of and make a real mess of things. We've seen exactly one bear in the backcountry in the last 700 miles and six years, and he wasn't the least bit interested in us. Leave the bear spray at home, or save it for Alaska.
Bear bells. These are for grizzlies, not black bears, and there hasn't been a grizzly in California for ninety years or so. These are also really annoying to everyone else you meet on the trail. One of the great joys of hiking is the sound of nature. Give yourself (and others) the chance to hear it.
Firearms. These are illegal to fire in the National Parks...so they are just dead weight. If there is one thing we avoid when backpacking, it's dead weight. Leave them at home along with your fears.
Ice axe. OK--we admit it, there are times when you should really use an ice axe---when you are climbing on steep exposed snow slopes. But if you don't know how to use an ice axe properly, and haven't practiced and trained with one, you are far more likely to hurt yourself with this thing than save yourself. Unless you get the training and practice, do the smart thing. Leave the ice axe at home...and avoid steep, exposed snow slopes. There is always another route---even if it is back the way you came.
Crampons: See ice axe. There is no better way to slice open your ankle than a pair of crampons. We do think that the slip-on traction devices work pretty well on slippery ice and snow---but they're not for use where a fall might kill you. A long steep climb up an icy snow-covered pass, with pointy rocks below, is not a place for someone who is inexperienced. Period.
Climbing Rope: This is another one that is dangerous unless you really know what you are doing. A rope alone, without a harness or hardware, is not really a very good safety device. And unless you and your partner are skilled climbers, the most the rope will do is tie you to together as you both fall. If you are experienced climbers, feel free to ignore this advice. If you are not skilled climbers, leave the rope at home and find another route. True, you can use a rope to raise and lower your pack....but we use a lightweight cord for that, and save way more than a pound of packweight. These ropes are heavy.
Multitool: We know. These are so cool! But they weigh many ounces, and most of the tools they include don't help you on the trail. Screwdrivers? Pliers? We take a sewing kit and a small pocketknife. Because what gets broken on the trail needs sewing...not screwing. Or pliering.
Big Knife: Boy, do the television survivor shows like these things. So do the home shopping networks. But we use a knife on the trail to cut salami and cheese for our lunches, and maybe slice open a trout or cut a piece of light line to use as a shoelace. A twelve-ounce combat knife is pure overkill...and overweight. Leave it at home. (If you meet a bear, you can always just wrassle it bear-handed!). Take a small blade that weighs next to nothing and you will be just fine. You can always pose for pictures with the big knife later, back at the trailhead.
Sierra Club Cup: It's heavy, makes a lot of noise on the trail, and burns your lips every time you drink hot liquids. Worst design ever for a backpacker.
Boy Scout Folding Shovel: Big, heavy, and ugly. We take a small plastic trowel for our bathroom activities. And we know people who just make do (!) with a stick they find on the ground. We like the trowel because sometimes the ground is harder than the stick can manage. You don't need to dig a latrine, so leave the shovel for the Boy Scouts.
Anything Cotton: Not t-shirts or jeans. Cotton is among the heaviest materials you can wear, and once it gets wet, it gets twice as heavy...and it never dries. The new synthetic materials are lighter, warmer, dry quicker, and wear better than cotton on the trail.
And yes, we know. That's eleven!