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Top 10 Reasons Why I Sometimes Hate Lists
A life long list maker has a love-hate relationship with them as he further describes in a list
Crouched on the garage floor of our AirBNB and scratching off items from the packing list as I organized, cross-checked, and stuffed all my gear into dry bags for a week floating down the Green River in Colorado, Perry sneaks up behind me and whispers “does that make you feel better?” In a hurry to get out the door, yes I must admit that marching down a list and marking things off was indeed cathartic. Once we put in, if we didn’t have that one critical item, we’d be out of luck. There’d be no “running back” to get it.
Well suited for an avid list maker like me, substituting an “r” with a “c” in my last name, I instantly become Jay Packer. “It’s about time you changed your name!” family and friends would cry as I gave them the news when they called to ask Mr. Packer for another one of his many lists. Glad I could be of service.
But as much as I love lists to get me through hectic pre-trip rushes to get out the door with a little peace of mind, I hate them with a passion too.
Don’t believe anyone who tells you they have the “ultimate” packing list for whatever outing you’re about to partake in. Such an ideal thing doesn’t exist. Further, mistrust any article that has a headline that says something like “the most essential item to take on your next vacation.” These universal truths don’t exist either unless the answer is “yourself!” You really need to make your own list that’s dialed in just for you.
Here’s a list of some reasons why using someone else’s list can leave you listless on your next vacation:
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. That one essential item for you is someone else’s idea of extra weight. Lists are too personal to be universally applicable.
Not every trip needs the same thing. The best pair of sunglasses to bring depends on what you’re about to do. Even for one given sport or activity, it can be quite variable. Cross country skiing begs a different pair of sunglasses depending on weather conditions.
Lists can promote mindlessness. Expert packers know that the best lists out there are meant to provoke thought and should not be viewed as a list of must-have items. I made this mistake in my youth and packed everything the REI backpacking list said to take. Guess what? I brought way too much stuff and my pack weighed a ton. Instead, each item shown on a list should be used to spark thoughts such as (a) do I really need it, (b) which kind do I need, (c) how much do I need, and (d) can I buy it there if I find I really need it and haven’t packed it? By the way, this list of (a) thru (d) list of thoughts shouldn’t be viewed as comprehensive. Use it to come up with your own chain of thoughts? See? Get the point?
Change is inevitable. For the exact same thing, what you needed or wanted 10 years ago may be very different than what you’d need or want now. Also, some needs become nice-to-haves and vice versa.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. There’s a good chance that where you’re going, you can pick up whatever you might need. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “well, I might need it” and so you end up packing it. So many times have I taken things along for the ride, never used, or realized that there was a better option. Also, check with your travel companions. Maybe they’re bringing it so you don’t have to? Of course for critical things that could be next to impossible to get (e.g., vital medications), just pack it and forget about it for peace of mind.
Leave things to chance. So many of us, myself included when not practicing No Stakes Rambling (NSR), want to plan for every contingency and leave nothing to chance. You end up packing things to cover every contingency and bring way too much stuff! Another unfortunate side effect is that sometimes the hunt to find something that you forgot can lead to some very memorable experiences or a great souvenir from your travels. My favorite down vest comes from a trip to Seattle because who knew that down feathers, useless when wet, would be what I wanted to wear most in one of the rainiest cities in the United States? I serendipitously found a great ultralight vest.
Upkeep is hard work! I’ve got a list for so many activities that I need a list of all these lists. What’s first on my list when I go to pack? The list of lists! Gasp. Snort. Gruffle (just made up that word but it seems to fit). What I didn’t realize a long time ago is that as I change, each of these separate lists need to change. So when I drag out an old list, I’ve got to compare it with a more recently updated list, cross-check, compare, update, ugh, ugh, and ugh.
A master list is an awful idea. To combat the point above, one’s idea might be to create a master list of everything you might possibly need on any kind of adventure, on any spot on the globe, in whatever kind of weather, and for however long. Good luck and you might want to head to Costco now to buy that cheap ream of printer paper and gallons of printer ink. And be sure to dedicate several days of pre-trip planning to march down through that giant list to scratch out all the things you won’t need like a kayak paddle on a week long trip to the Moroccan desert.
Lists can work against your drive to go ultralight and minimalist. If it’s on a list, you may not be thinking about options to go lighter and smaller. “Toothpaste” may lead you to grab the big one out of the bathroom instead of finding a half used travel size one that would reduce size and weight.
Just because you’re at the end of the list doesn’t mean that you’re ready. It’s important to keep your mind engaged as you pack. When you grab your car keys, be thinking about whether there’s something that wasn’t on the list but should’ve been. Is there something you crossed out but forgot to grab? When you park and are about to head out, maybe think about culling down the pile of stuff you brought based on actual conditions at the trailhead and what your buddies brought. And last of all, go and have fun. Remember that if you forgot something, your adventures can be quite memorable! Like the time I forgot to bring my contact lenses on a 2 week float down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Even after having used a list! Sometimes I amaze even myself. A timely satellite call led to a high stakes moment of catching an airborne ziploc bag full of my forgotten toiletries from a not-so-close passing raft just upstream of the next chain of roaring rapids. That’s a wrinkle in the adventure that I’ll never forget and can laugh about now.
So, in summary, lists are fraught with peril, especially on things like river trips where there’s no turning back. But here’s a final thought that might comfort you on some of your minimalist ultralight adventures. I often do a final check as I’m heading out the door for the big two - wallet & phone. Pulling out a credit card from my wallet can solve a lot of problems, though it’s not always easy on the pocketbook. And the phone is handy on the phone-a-friend front. Everything else is gravy, and you may just find out by dumb sheer luck that you actually enjoy your mashed potatoes more without it.
Enough of this list making. Time to head out for a mountain bike ride!
(P.S. Funny thing is that I forgot my socks on today’s ride. I don’t use a list for routine things and that sometimes leads to some funny moments, like an unplanned washing of my bike shoes with rosemary and mint shampoo after spending so much close and personal time with my bare feet. Oh how sweet my stinky shoes smell now! I would’ve never have otherwise thought to use that trick to combat stink-shoe. Hmmmmm…what scent should be next?)