Bag On Your Back

Dave's Little Guide
to Backpacks

BOYB Flame!

How you can hike lighter,
hike better, hike simpler, muck around
and have lots of fun in the woods, either alone
or with your friends (if you have any),
while wearing a hump.
Pretty much the whole deal then.

lots of stuff that's mostly factual
and possibly entertaining and
very likely useful if you pay attention.
And some stories too, to relieve the tedium.

By Dave Sailer, a guy,
and his crack team of mostly
imaginary friends and advisers,
and maybe some others.
(Who can say?)

Read on!

Bag On Your Back front cover

— Contents —

  1. Title Section, Front Matter, Introduction (this page)
  2. = Section One =
  3. This Backpacking, It Is What?
  4. Story Break
  5. What's That Humpy Thing On Your Back?
  6. Story Break
  7. You Need What?
  8. Story Break
  9. Use It Or Lose Stuff
  10. Story Break
  11. I'm Special - You're Special Too, Just Like Everyone Else
  12. Story Break
  13. = Section Two =
  14. History Packery
  15. Story Break
  16. Let's Get Modern, Ed
  17. Story Break
  18. = Section Three =
  19. Outside Business
  20. Story Break
  21. Outside Fuzz
  22. Story Break
  23. Use Me!
  24. Story Break
  25. Story Break
  26. Why Am I Here?
  27. Story Break
  28. Let's Talk About Your Body, OK?
  29. Story Break
  30. Stuff It
  31. Story Break
  32. Strainin' In The Sweat Yard
  33. Story Break
  34. Simple But No Simpler
  35. Story Break
  36. All Those Tasty Extras
  37. Story Break
  38. Make Mine A Miracle Of Rare Device
  39. Story Break
  40. Make Mine More Than A Bag, Please
  41. Story Break
  42. = Section Four =
  43. Foundation
  44. Story Break
  45. Load Me Up
  46. Story Break
  47. Let's Supersize Everyone
  48. Story Break
  49. Crush Me In Your Tender Embrace
  50. Story Break
  51. Make Mine of Miracle Fuzz
  52. Story Break
  53. What? That's Not Enough?
  54. Story Break
  55. Have A Fit
  56. Story Break
  57. Story Break
  58. Story Break
  59. = Section Five =
  60. Bag Snuggliness - Loading And Adjusting A Backpack
  61. Story Break
  62. Story Break
  63. I Need To Take What?
  64. Story Break
  65. Story Break
  66. How Hard Can This Be?
  67. Story Break
  68. Your Fair Weather Friend
  69. Story Break
  70. Joining The Lunatic Fringe
  71. Story Break
  72. Solus Cum Solo
  73. Story Break
  74. Story Break
  75. Mommy Says Learn To Share
  76. Story Break
  77. Story Break
  78. A Pack A Day
  79. Story Break
  80. When The Relationship Gets Serious
  81. Story Break
  82. Where To Get More Information
  83. Lexicon
  84. About the author
  85. Afterword
  86. Index

— Disclaimer —

I got problems too, you know.

I am not responsible for anything you might do. You are. I already have enough problems, like getting out of bed, finding my socks, and trying to remember which end of the spoon to point at my food.

Whatever you read here that sounds true probably is true, but it might not be, exactly, even if you want it to be, and wish very hard upon a star. That's how it goes.

If you get any hot ideas from this book along the way, and figure you'll go out and try them, and then you do go out and try them, well, it's all on you.

Adults wanted

Because this book is for adults.

And that being the case, it describes some things adults might or might not do alone or with others, in plain sight or not, in the woods, or elsewhere, possibly in the presence of malign alien intelligences, like mice.

So then, the main distinguishing characteristic about adults is that they assume full responsibility for their own actions. This means you.

The doofus issue

I figure that since you are intelligent enough to read, and are well-enough off so you can waste time with something like this when you could be working and actually earning money, then you must be either intelligent, creative, responsible, and prudent, or nuts.

In either case you should be OK, because you can handle whatever comes along or you actually are a doofus, and if that is true, then no one really cares about you anyway. So, given all that, if you do screw up, too bad — it's your fault, not mine.

You have been warned.

Do not read any farther unless you really mean it.

The internet thing

And wherever you see a URL, well you know how these things come and go. Give it your best shot. I did.

— Dave Sailer

— Forward —

"Do not assume that because I am frivolous I am shallow; I don't assume that because you are grave you are profound." — Sydney Smith (An English clergyman, essayist, and wit. Now gravely dead.)

— Definitions —

Backpack as a verb

To backpack is to leave an area once there, or to pack backwards. To go home again, to where it's safe and fun to be.

To move in a forward direction is simply to pack. There is no forepacking, not even in a playful way.

If anything, backpacking as a sport is even more popular than packing because of the unnaturally high expectations that people put on the idea of getting out there and getting away from it all and communing with nature, only to disappear under a thick, suffocating layer of nasty buzzing black flies as soon as they step into the forest.

Once people see what it's really like they generally flee within minutes and never again leave the pavement.

However, a few foolhardy souls do refuse to admit that humans were never meant to live out of earshot of an electric can opener. These few persist in carrying heavy loads in large bags strapped to their torsos with the idea that if they suffer a lot right up front they will get over the hump somehow and things will get much better. But it is not so.

Things only get worse, and then these people have to backpack like crazy to save their lives, scattering their goods every whichway as they run screaming from the woods back into the safe arms of the highway.

Backpack as a noun

A large pouchy cloth device of medieval design used primarily in the fine art of infinitely regressing torture.

The backpack looks innocent enough at first, to the untutored, like a big cuddly fabric bag with a pair of holders through which one inserts the arms to support it.

The victim is assured that the more straps it has, and the more volume, the better it is to carry things in, and that more is always better.

Once the backpack is loaded and the victim securely strapped in (a process that, unbelievably, most of them willingly perform upon themselves), there is no easy escape. Discomfort and fatigue begin to take hold almost immediately.

The victim (or backpacker as they like to call themselves) always believes that tightening the straps and cinching 'er down will improve his condition, but without exception this always degrades his state of being and clouds his mind.

Those surviving a first trip will nevertheless go out again, and will deliberately carry an even larger pack containing more goods, in an attempt to make the trip more comfortable.

This pattern of thought indicates the debasement of intellect. It is the beginning of the infinite regression, like a helpless child walking down a hall of mirrors, reflected over and over again in endless frightening ranks.

More, always more, the victim thinks. More is better. Better is more.

Finally the backpacker's knees give out, or the sad soul succumbs to madness, and the backpack claims yet another victory. Yep.

(You noticed the use of the male pronoun up there, didn't you? Just wanted to be sure. OK, bye.)

— Introduction —

It is early morning, and cold. I am standing well above ground level, in a tree. The earth, covered in dry, dead leaves, is a good 10 feet below, maybe more. A long jump, anyway. I am getting chilled.

But the earth is ahead of me. It is already cold. The air is cold. It is all cold. This is October after all, and the world is silent, anticipating the impending winter, which will freeze everything hard, hard enough to make it crack. And it is all cold, all ready, this early, on schedule.

There is no sound.

I wait. I do not move.

The air is still in a way that is not common here, in this land of wind.

Earth is a restless place, moving.


Earth's breathing continues even while we sleep, in places high and low. Yet there are times when the earth does what we do not expect. So today, this morning, the earth is still and the air is still, and I wait.

The earth holds its breath. The entire sky and all it embraces sit in a posture of stillness, wrapped around the earth, enfolding it, and we wait together, the white, featureless sky and I.

Below me, at the foot of this tree, is my father. He does not move either, nor does he speak. I know he is breathing but I cannot see his breath, neither hanging still, nor drifting away. Not anything, he is so still.

He and I are both here while trying not to be. We are trying to be like two insignificant and invisible parts of the landscape. To be landscape. To blend. We are trying to be unseeable. Which is why we are silent.

Only two more parts of the forest, we.

I am learning his game. This is not my world, yet, or my game.

I am 15 I think, or about that age, and I want to be an adult. I have a rifle and I wait, in this tree.

This is the way he does it, and this is the way I am learning it. Men hunt. They kill and bring meat. This is my lesson today.

I am to learn this, how to do it.

I am well insulated and yet uncomfortable, with the day stuck at dawn. An October day. A cold day.

October is like this, here. October days are days in an uncertain month near the aging year's end but somehow October never seems old. It comes and then later you realize it has gone, somewhere, but you do not notice either the coming or the going.

October always exists in its own place, the way the air does today.

The air hangs and you breathe it in and then you breathe it out and then later, when you look again, you cannot find it.

October is the month of death.

We have come to bring death.

I shoot.

My father jumps.

He hears the click as I pull back the hammer, he says later, and thinks to himself how loud it sounds, that click. He must know what I am up to, but doesn't think it through. He only stands there and thinks about how loud the click is.

So the shot startles him. He said he jumped. I don't know. I was not watching him.

I was busy. I was looking elsewhere.

Down the rifle sights. At a deer. A whitetail deer, Odocoileus Virginianus.

It walked slowly and soundlessly through the bottomlands near the great river. We are near that river, the Missouri River, on the flat sandy bench of land beside it, in the trees.

This is where we are when the deer comes.

If the deer had not been moving, had not been coming to me, I would not have seen it. In later years I learn that my color vision is confused and unreliable, but still these creatures are intimate with invisibility no matter how good your vision is. If the deer had not moved I would not have seen it, and you would not have seen it either. They are like secrets whispered in dreams, these deer, these Odocoileus Virginianus, these whitetail deer, these spirit animals.

It is a clear shot.

I am above, looking down, my view is open. My father is keeping still. There is no sound, no movement from us, and our scent stays close by and does not spread its warning anywhere, not even to the deer.


The deer is plainly visible. Before firing, I slide the rifle's butt up to my shoulder and then sight the rifle. This will be a good day for me. I will kill a deer. My first.

My first life taken, the deer's last life given.

The deer stops when I cock the weapon. Then I pull the trigger with a small silent invisible movement of only one finger. The rifle fires.

The deer does not know what has happened. It stands. It looks left, and then it looks right. What? It looks around itself. It should have dropped but it did not.

It should be dead.

But it isn't.

I chamber another cartridge, aim again, and fire a second time. With the same result. Almost.

The difference is that this time the deer makes a decision.

It decides against this neighborhood. It moves. It is harder to aim at, but I manage. I fire a third time, and then the deer is trotting, and I fire a fourth time as the deer gallops. Then it is gone.

I don't understand.

I shoot well. I am a good shot. I am. Even at this age.

The first shot should have done it. Maybe there was no point in trying a second shot, or a third.

Perhaps my simple bullets went directly through empty space. Perhaps this was a spirit deer, a vision. Maybe it was only the idea of a deer, here to teach a lesson.

About shooting thoughts.

Into empty space.

Where they vanish.

With no effect.

If so, I didn't learn.

Just then.

The deer escapes and I come down the tree. After unloading the weapon and handing it down to my father I come down the tree. He is good about that. He did that right. I learned that. He taught safety well, despite his many other shortcomings. He was at least good about that.

I come out of the tree, back to the earth, and we talk. And then.

We move.


Baffled, I. Am.

This was easy, should have been easy, this shot.

I failed.

Later that morning.

I kill a deer. A different deer.

I kill it dead.

I kill it dead forever.

First thinking it dead, and then making it dead. And then my lesson comes. The real lesson, unasked for.

This is not for me.

I realize this as I watch my father work.

My father rips the deer with a knife, from its tail to its throat, underneath, with the deer on its back not moving, except in rhythm to my father's cuts with the knife. As he pushes it through the carcass.

First he cuts through the thin abdominal wall near the anus. Then using the strength of both his hands and both his arms he cuts, and cuts. Up the belly to the sternum. He continues to cut, through the sternum, separating the rib cage into halves and exposing the wet hot steaming secrets of life.

All of them, all the secrets, which are now dead.

With his bare hands he draws the deer, dragging its entrails onto the dry, dead October grass, laying them out. Among dry leaves and dead grasses, on the dirt the entrails lie, continuing to steam. The deer is gut shot. It is a mess. I have not done this well.

My bullet ripped the deer's intestines and it bled to death as we chased it, and now whatever it ate today and yesterday is spread throughout its interior, mixed with its blood, in its abdomen.

My father is covered with this to his elbows. He is cleaning it. That's what he calls it. That is what it is called. Cleaning.


He is cleaning it.

This perfect animal that was alive only minutes before. Alive, moving, healthy, alert, and brave.

He is doing it this time, this cleaning, so that I can learn how. Next year will be my turn, when I bring down my next deer. Then I will do the cleaning.

Next year I am to destroy another life with a more precise shot and then dismember it and leave behind on the ground the life of it, the steaming remains. And bring home meat.

Meanwhile I look into the deer's eyes. They are clouding. Clouding quickly. I see this, how soon death consumes them. The eyes go first, and then the rest, as death overtakes life and claims its due.

Now it is thirty-seven years later.

I sit near a small clear mountain stream, a stream narrow enough to casually toss a twig across. A stream small enough to talk across.

It is summer.

I have just waded this stream and now am sitting, waiting for my feet to dry.

Wading is a nuisance, always a nuisance, but it makes a person stop. So I have stopped.

Now I sit.

I sit and wait.

I am waiting again.

I am not in a tree this time but I am waiting, and I am as silent as I was before, in that tree in October of one year or another, and I am nearly as still.

I am not hunting.

I do not hunt.

I do not kill.

I quit killing the day I killed a deer.

I never became a real man, according to that sort of scorekeeping.

And I do not want to.

Now I carry a pack, not a gun, but I still walk, and I still watch.

I try not to kill. Anything. Ever. If I can.

Life is not tidy. You know. I know. But I try.

I try.

Then a miracle happens.

The stream erupts.

A small dark thing erupts from the stream and splashes on the surface, for an instant, dancing.

Something dances on the water. It dances.

It dances up stream, right here, right here now, right in front of me. And then it doesn't.

It vanishes beneath the surface, what?

I am not sure. What. What it was. Was it?


So I wait.

After a bit this thing leaps from under the water back into the world of air and light, skimming the water, splashing small splashes. The thing, it is, whatever, it is, skitters another foot or two before plunking. Back. Into the water.

How can this be? What? Sort of magic. Is this?


I am baffled. I am amazed.

And again. It happens. This thing.

Like a mouse. Moving so fast I cannot follow it with my eyes.

It is so sudden, so fast.

Flash. Splash. Gone.

I am like the deer that I shot at. The first one. The one that lived. I am baffled. I am confused. My world is not behaving. Flashing and splashing. I don't know.

I am not sure what is happening, at all.

I am in the middle of doubling back. I am on a long loop hike that got too complex and dangerous and broke apart halfway, and I am headed back the way I came. Because it seems prudent. To quit.


While I can quit voluntarily.

And now this mystery erupts at my feet. Something I don't understand at all. The world today isn't yesterday's world. I am lost.

I should be tens of miles from here, but I am not. I am here.

To see this miracle because I failed again, and turned back, and crossed a path. An unexpected path.


If I had stayed a hunter I would have been elsewhere. I would have kept the old mind, the old friends, kept to the old neighborhood. Kept to the familiar streets of my home town. I would have grown old standing in place. I would not be here. I would not be here now, seeing a small something impossibly running atop the moving water.

Nor would I be a backpacker.

Because things happened, or didn't happen, I am here. My failure to grow up was a success. I grew up in a different way. I guess. If you can say that. Did I?

Watching seems a better teacher than shooting. For me.

For me.

Your life is your life. You are different. You are in charge of your life. I am in charge of mine, if it's possible to say it that way. This was my lesson. This may not be how your life goes.

I am not out to bag things. Not to bag things that way.

At home I bag food and fuel and bring them with me. Peacefully.

Peacefully enough. Well enough.

Enough so. So I can be curious and carefree.

There are no weapons with me. I am not after profit and I do not need to win.

I am not tracking meat. I do not want to see blood, any blood, from any where, from any creature, at any time.

To walk and to look, and then to walk some more. That is enough.

It is good. This is why I do it.

To meet dancing water shrews. To learn magic from them. To receive a blessing now and then. This seems right.

More than I deserve, this is enough for me.

I have become a backpacker.