You have done your research, you have done your prep hikes, you have tested and re-tested every piece of gear. All your essentials combined weigh in at sub 10 pounds. Yet, when you heft the bag up onto the scale for one final weigh in before starting your thru-hike, it comes in at a whopping 30 pounds! Confused you look through the clear water bottles and try to pour out the water weight that is non-existent. So, the extra weight is not coming from there... Ah ha! It must be the food bag! You strip apart your pack and empty your food bag on the ground looking for the accidently packed brick of cheese that is the culprit. No, not here either, just a regular resupply, actually it appears a little light, you may need to add a Snickers Bar or two to it later. Maybe there is extra weight hanging on the outside of the pack? Yes, that must be it! Running your eyes and fingers over every seem you scour the surface looking for that D ring that must have clipped in the accidental dumbbell. No, nothing out of the ordinary here either, in fact you forgot to clip in your compass to the outside of the pack. Now you find yourself in an extremely uncomfortable situation, not only do you have no idea where the extra weight is coming from, but you are now actively adding weight that you had forgotten before. As you gaze over your pack sprawl on the ground, you start a mental checklist. Sleeping bag, check. Shelter System, check. Food bag, check. Clothes bag, check. Uh-oh, as your gaze locks in on the last dry bag in your arsenal, your focus is like a flash frame camera zooming in, as you understand where all the nonsense is coming from. It is of course the the Electronics Bag, the Extra Bag, the Miscellaneous Bag that is the culprit! Do not fall victim to the Miscellaneous Bag's mystical powers of being an endless black hole! We are here to help!
We always use a bright orange bag so that it screams at us to see it!
"Here I am, Here I am, Here I am!!!"
The Miscellaneous Bag, has grown with us throughout the years to the point that it has begun to shrink. When we began our thru-hiking journey on the AT in 2016, we not only had a giant Miscellaneous Bag but we actively wanted to add to it! We would pick up trinkets along the way and instead of sending them home, would chose to carry them for the entirety of the trail. Why? Honestly, we believed that was the only way they would have the same meaning. If an item was with us through the suffering and through the joy, it would hold more significance. So, when we summitted the AT on Katahdin, about a week later we were unpacking our bag and took stock of our Miscellaneous Bag. We had accumulated poker chips, an ungodly amount of wristbands, 3-4 necklaces, journals that we never used, 3 spools of bear rope, a pair of sunglasses that we never used, the list goes on and on. The Knick knacks were gifts from other hikers, or little tourist items we would buy in town. We accumulated so much junk, that to us at the moment meant the world. So, would we have changed anything? No, because that was part of our process, and we are just informing you that you can chose this route as well, but you also do not have to be as stubborn as us, send stuff home!
As we got into 2017 and 2018 respectively, our Miscellaneous Bag continued to surprise us with the goodies inside. Someone gave us a commemorative coin that must have been made out of metal for the National Park Systems, someone gave us a vial of sand and pebbles to be worn as a necklace (loved this one), we received patches, stickers, and hoarded O Rings for Sawyer's like they were going extinct. Not to mention the journal that was not written in again... By the end of each hiking season, our Misc. Bag had added an additional 5 pounds of stuff that was accumulated along multiple thousands of miles and multiple months on trail. Again, we think this is a beautiful part of the trail systems, that people are so kind and generous but if you are not using it, graciously thank them and then send it home. It will still be a memory and still part of your journey, because it was a moment and an interaction along the way. Take heed, if left to its own devices the mystery bag will continue to weigh you down the longer you are on trail!
Some things we have carried throughout the years. Yes, one of those is an Oscar Meyer Wiener Whistle...
We believe now we have been able to dial in our Miscellaneous Bag. It has taken 5+ years but we now keep track of everything that enters. We do not let it consume indiscriminately, instead we know at all times what is inside.
Our go to Misc. Bag will consist of these main things:
(2) cord chargers for phone and GoPro
(1) extra battery for GoPro
(1) external Anker charging brick
(1) wall charger
(3) plastic bags for emergency dry bags
(1-5) pills of emergency Aleve
(2) O-Rings for Sawyer Squeezes
And yes we still trick ourselves into carrying (1) journal at the start of each trail believing we are going to start writing as well as filming, but once we realize this is not the reality, we do not continue to carry it but send it home quickly!
Yes we still fool ourselves into believing we will physically keep a journal. We still carry one, however not nearly as big or as heavy or as long anymore!
Of course, these are the main ingredients of our bag, Just like any recipe though, there is sometimes fluctuation and sometimes improvisation. Occasionally, we will carry an emergency blanket, if we know the trail we are doing is very remote, and very temperamental with weather systems. Sometimes, we will carry a few extra wristbands, because they are super lightweight and they make us smile during any given day knowing their inscriptions and knowing they are in our pack. Occasionally, we will carry a surprise for one of our trail family members for a few days, but then we give it to them, and the weight is now their problem. It was a gift, but also a weight at the same time, we always find humor in that.
Yet, what remains the same is that we are comfortable with our Misc. Bag weight and its contents. Yes, we could make it even lighter and yes we could shed more items, but honestly it does not feel worth it to us. Life is full of balance, and when going to an extreme with anything there is bound to be a cost ratio that will no longer hold much benefit. Yes, we could send home extra wristbands. Yet, for us those extra wristbands are so minimal in weight and so minimal in pack space, that the feeling we receive each day knowing they are there far outweigh any weight savings that can be accomplished.
This is our rational after trial and error for 5+ years of thru-hiking. You can make the Misc. Bag anything you wish. We have been in every stage of it. The extremely messy and overflowing Misc. Bag. The in-between Misc. Bag where it is not fully a black hole for items, but from time to time you will still be surprised at what found its way inside. Lastly, we have been at the dialed in Misc. Bag. We are happy with this phase, and are comfortable with this phase.
We sometimes feel as if we are Mary Poppins, pulling things from a bottomless bag! Our face also resembles the kids face each time, marveling at our own bag of mysteries!
We just want to be able to give you all the facts, and give you the realization that the Misc. Bag is a very real thing on a thru hike. Now that you realize it, and are aware of it, you can take the steps necessary to make the Misc. Bag what you wish. If you love collecting Knick Knacks and love carrying them, great! We did too, on the Appalachian Trail, and we would not change that experience for anything. If you still do not want to commit too much time, to always making sure your Misc. Bag doesn't turn into a black hole and are comfortable with a few surprises every so often, also great! We have been there as well and loved it. Then, if you are where we are now, and dialed in your Misc. Bag to few necessities and the extra sentimental item to you, also great! There is no right way for how you chose to utilize this bag. The only difference is the weight on your back. If you are comfortable with the weight because you find pleasure and enjoyment within the mysteries of the Misc. Bag then that is the right way for you!
The Misc. Bag will continue to always be a companion to the thru-hiker, bike packer, any outdoor enthusiast. It is a place where all loose items in your pack tend to migrate. It is a wonderful place when used correctly in whatever your style is. When reaching into it and finding a sentimental item after a hard day on trail, the weight might be worth its heaviness because it opens up a lightness in your mind. Or if you love minimalism, knowing that your Misc. Bag is tightened to the max, it will give you pleasure knowing every single grain of sand that could have accumulated there is emptied out. No matter how you use it, it will be there, waiting for you at the top of the pack. The only question now is, "What will you feed it on your next adventure?"
A photo taken right after emptying a Misc. Bag into your hands after a hike in the desert. Be aware sand gets in everywhere!
We want to end it here. On a note that not only references this article but if you have been reading many of our articles, ties into almost every one. We want to define what we have hinted at but not came right out and stated. It is when we are describing our way of packing, our way of hiking, our way of experiencing a trail. We do a lot of our articles based in stories we have experienced not only in the moment but also where we were at in our journey as a hiker. We have been through every "phase" as a hiker, and loved each one for what it was because that is where we needed to be to get to where we are today. Simply, what we want to say is we may reference our way or reference a system that works for us, but the style of hiking and the style of trails is so vast, there is NO RIGHT WAY, ONLY YOUR PERSONAL WAY!
This especially ties into the concept of weight on trail, and the "correct" way to pack a pack, or hike a hike with high mileage or low mileage days. We are always hesitant to give recommendations and suggestions on gear (besides our own of course ElevenSkys Shorts are un-shamefully the best!) because what worked for us may not work for you. What we chose to carry on trail, may be far from what you wish to carry. How we like to hike, may be far from your preferred method of hiking. That is why we always try to take a step back, and simply describe a suggestion or a method that worked for us, but we always put in a disclaimer of sorts, saying there is no substitute for what works for you. Our methods may work for you, they may not. At least you will continue learning and dialing in your method until you find the place in your hiking style and your pack weight that you are the most comfortable with. So, get out there, hike, listen to others, but also learn for yourself. Listen to your inner feelings. Be happy!
With our Misc. Bag vacuuming in items for our future hikes,