The Japanese use a word - Kaizen. Simply put, this word means "change for the better" but can also mean "continuous improvement" when applied to business. Kaizen is an everyday process. You can't just make one change and expect it to serve you forever. When it comes to hiking or backpacking, practicing the Kaizen method will never do you wrong. Whether you've been backpacking for two months or twenty years, every hiker could use a gear improvement every once in a while! For me, as a guide in the Smokies, practicing Kaizen on every single hike not only makes my load lighter, it also keeps me hiking happily. Let's look at some ways every hiker can practice Kaizen on any hike!
When you are packing for a trip, you will obviously be checking the weather and maps before you pack your gear, right? When you're packing your gear, decide what is really and truly necessary. Do you really need to pack a coat or can you wear a long sleeve shirt with your rain coat instead? Will it be necessary to bring a winter sleeping bag or can you get by with your summer bag and a liner? By taking a few moments to ask yourself these questions, you can whittle down your gear pile in no time! Something NoKey likes to teach new hikers is to divide your gear into three piles - the first will be things you definitely need, the second will be things you need to decide on, and the third pile will be for the cast-off (or items you didn't bring on previous trips). By making these three piles, you'll have a visual for the gear you'll be bringing before you start cramming your pack. Being able to visualize what is going in the pack will help you realize how much you're carrying. If you're new to packing a bag, check out my post about how to properly pack your backpack here.
During the Trip
Whether you're out for an afternoon or a week, keeping track of gear you're using is easier than you think. If you're simply out for the day, you may not be in and out of your pack as much as you are on a backpacking trip. Since your pack is basically a giant tube you store things in, having to dig all the way to the bottom for more used items is a hassle. You may find yourself practicing Kaizen by simply rearranging the way you place items back in the bag before you continue hiking.
When you get home and cleaned up make note of the items you used and didn't use. I'm a fan of keeping your day pack ready to go, but regularly replacing and maintaining the items inside will keep your gear in good repair. For backpacking gear, it's a good rule of thumb to unpack everything and set it up to dry before you even hop in the shower. This way, especially if you have muddy stuff, you won't make a bigger mess of yourself in the process! Another trick I've recently learned is to take apart trekking poles to allow them to dry on the inside as well. This will keep your poles in working order for THOUSANDS of miles! Once your gear is clean and dry, repeat the three pile process and put away your gear accordingly. If you have items you use on every few trips for example, you can keep these items all in one place. You may find that they go from every few trips to no trips at all!
Something fun I like to try and teach newbie and experienced hikers alike is how to think of two uses for every single item in their pack. Basically, there should be very few unitasker items in a backpack. For example, instead of carrying a bandana and a hat, why not carry a Merino Wool Buff instead? Instead of packing a pair of gloves, why not bring a pair of socks you'll only wear as a second layer while you're sleeping? By finding more than one use for items in your pack, you'll not only save yourself space, you'll also save yourself a few extra pounds in the process!
How do you decide what to bring on a trip and what to leave behind? What is one item you always bring on the trail with you, regardless of how silly others might find it?