Don't Pack Your Fears

December 13, 2018

I’m standing at the launch watching a dear friend, an older paddler with much experience, pack everything but the kitchen sink into his boat. I’m not kidding; he put two huge bags worth of stuff in his boat. All three hatches are stuffed. His boat has to weigh a hundred pounds, loaded.


I, on the other hand, have so little in my day hatch that I use a whitewater stern float to stabilize my kit so that it doesn’t roll around.


This dear fellow is one of several, you could say he is an amalgamation of my friends, my peeps. And they all follow the same behavior. It is self-sufficiency, correct? Carry everything you yourself may need, right?




In whitewater we learned about the “team carry.” X number of first aid kits for Y number of paddlers. Example: one spare paddle for every four paddlers. And so on. This allows us to keep our boats light. Portaging a full boat a quarter-mile on your shoulder sucks.


When I take students long boat surfing I tell them to make their boats light. I learned about the light boat from my own teacher, Dale Williams. Experience has taught me he is right, light is better when trying to catch waves. But I myself, being the instructor, pack another ten or fifteen pounds of safety gear in my boat. Things like a well stocked first aid kit, extra clothing, extra water and snacks, all seem reasonable and don’t add more than a few pounds.


There’s a motto in ultra-light backpacking “Don’t pack your fears.” On the opposite hand the sea kayaker is apt to say “Better to have it, and not need it, than need it and not have it.” As I watch my friends pack all this gear I’m tempted to ask “do we need this?” or maybe “what fears are you packing for?”


It comes down to safety. I’ll pack a radio, a mirror, and a PLB, all of which fit inside my life jacket. I’ve used the radio a number of times to call the Coast Guard and other authorities. I’ve never used the PLB or mirror. But they are tiny items that could easily save a life, most likely my own. I’m saying I get it, I get the desire for safety.


But beyond that stuff, and a good first aid kit, what else is really needed on a day trip? (Edit) On second thought, I totally didn't think to say "paddle float, bilge sponge, bailer, paddle leash..." There is some kit that gets packed every time. It is exactly like my PFD and paddle. Going out, got that. Still doesn't fill my day hatch and the areas on either side of my seat.


Is there really anything that you absolutely need in that 50 pounds of gear on a 15 mile paddle?


Never mind, go ahead, pack whatever you want. I, however, will leave my fears on the shore.


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