3 min read

Stuff We Shouldn't Have Carried Up the San Juan Mountains

There's a fine line between overpacking and being prepared. It's always good to reflect and see what you could have done better for next time.
The back of Meera's CR-V, stuffed with backpacks and gear.
You'd think four somewhat experienced backpackers could take less than an entire CR-V of stuff.

There's a fine line between overpacking and being prepared. Sometimes that line is fuzzier than others. For people who hadn't been backpacking in 10 years, I think we did pretty well on our hike up the Williams Creek Trail. But it's always good to reflect and see what you could have done better for next time.

Here are all the things we took with us that we don't think we really needed after all. Not things that we didn't use—it didn't rain, so my rain shell stayed in my backpack—but that we wouldn't have needed even if things had gone poorly.

Extra Phone Battery Pack

Meera and I travel a lot. And whenever we go anywhere, our external battery packs come with us. With each of us. We're not always on the same flights, and there's no telling what might happen, so we always have one per person.

When you're carrying everything on your back, and you're not really using your phone during the day except to take pictures, that's probably unnecessary.

Over the course of the trip, I kept my phone in airplane mode and used it to take a few hundred pictures. When we got down to the trailhead, it had almost 60% battery left and could easily have done another three days.

We would still take one battery with us—what if we had needed our phones, and how else would I charge my Apple Watch? But we're sharing a tent—two is just wasteful.

Extra Food

There are three categories of food we wouldn't take with us again.

Actual Extra Food

We were supposed to bring enough food for four people for four days on the trail. After three days of hiking, we could easily have gone another two or three on the rations we had left.

I'll give us a break here by saying we weren't entirely sure how many servings were in a single freeze-dried meal. The bag says two, but the caloric content points at just one. We found that the ones we brought feed about 1.5 hungry people, or 2 if you've been good about snacking that day.

We had also brought extra protein bars and energy packs, so we really had a lot of food left over even accounting for cutting a day off our hike. Next time, we'll be more precise on the meals and continue to overload on snacks.

Really Heavy Food

We took a bunch of orange cups with us: one per person per day, for a total of twelve. They were incredibly refreshing at lunch, a nice sweet break from the relatively savory meat and cheese and tortillas that formed the rest of the meal.

But they have some issues: they're pretty heavy (mostly water), they're huge (a single orange cup is about... um... a cup), and they don't compress well in the trash (so you don't get your space back even after you eat).

Despite the refreshment, we wouldn't take them again. We'll probably take candy for a sweet pick-me-up in the middle of the day.

Really Bad Food

We ate instant oatmeal for breakfast each day on the trail. It was lightweight, easy, delicious, and filling. So of course Meera and I decided we should also bring a freeze-dried breakfast we hadn't tried.


It wasn't all that heavy, but it also wasn't all that good. The oatmeal was better in every way: easier, faster, tastier, smaller, lighter...

Not doing that again.

Extra Clothes

This post apparently has an "extra" theme, but I did mention overpacking at the top, so maybe I should have expected it.

Anyway, when you wear performance clothes, you don't need to take a complete unique outfit every single day. Most pants (even jeans) can be worn two or three or more times before they really need changing, and the same goes for outerwear shirts.

Depending on how the day has gone, performance undershirts, socks, and underwear may or may not need changing.

Clearly we need to update our packing list.

Pourover Coffee Supplies

I hesitate to even put this on the list, because I love my fussy coffee. I pre-ground high-quality beans and measured them into ziplock bags for this trip. I took the collapsible pourover funnel I travel with and paper filters. And we shared some very fine coffee each morning.

That said, backpacking pourover leaves a lot to be desired: you have to pack out the wet grounds, which means you're not only keeping the coffee but actually adding weight as you go, which isn't great. The collapsible funnel, a lifesaver when traveling in countries that don't believe in morning coffee, just takes up space in your backpack.

For the next trip, we're trying out two styles of instant coffee: truly instant coffee in the Starbucks Via genre and instant pourover of the Kuju genre.

Stick around to see how it goes.