How to Turn Your Spine Into an Owl Pellet

Backpacking for Pack Rats


My bivvy bag and camp chair. If all else had failed, I could have slept in the chair.

(From My Outdoors Column)

Last week I took my own advice. In a previous column, I recommended taking a hike for temporary relief from coronavirus anxiety. So I did. Three days later, I emerged from the woods a happier, wiser and sorer man.

The experience reminded me why I took up canoe camping instead of backpacking. With canoe camping, the water bears the weight of your gear for the most part. With backpacking, as the name implies, your vertebrae and back muscles are packed into a tight wad.

If you were to get an MRI after a few days of backpacking, your spine and supporting tissue would look like an owl pellet.

So, how does a seasoned canoeist approach backpacking? I cheated. I divided my gear into two packs and made two trips.

In backpacking — and day-hiking, for that matter — you’ve got your loop trails and your out-and-back trails. In backpacking Irv-style, you’ve got your out and back and back and back out trail.

I tried my best to pare my load down so I could make it in one trip. I packed freeze-dried meals, lite beer, and put two batteries in my headlamp instead of three. I even opted to use a bivvy sack in lieu of a tent.

For those unfamiliar with bivvy sacks, they’re kind of like body bags with an escape hatch.

I bought mine about 20 years ago; I’ve used it all of three times. Truth be told, I hate it.

If you’re the least bit claustrophobic, bivvy sacks are not for you. Rooting around inside one when you’re preparing to bed down for the night is like spelunking in a groundhog burrow. I suppose you could stand outside the bivvy sack, get into your sleeping bag like putting on a pair of overalls, then flop onto the ground and shimmy into the bivvy sack.

You get inside and settle down to try and sleep, but you can’t because the mosquito netting is practically resting on your face. Now you know how a bank robber feels when he pulls pantyhose over his head to conceal his identity.

But all was not lost. I figured that, if I couldn’t sleep, I could hike back to the house, crawl into bed and hike back to get my gear in the morning.

In a future column, I’ll discuss the concept of base camp backpacking. But first I’ve got to hike back out there and retrieve the rest of my gear.

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