Yellowstone Backpacking Light Tip: Beware of Salespeople!

Walk into most any store in the United States and chances are you’ll encounter a helpful salesperson. That can be a good thing, but when looking to purchase gear and clothing for a Yellowstone backpacking trip, it can also be dangerous. After all, the goal of salespeople is to sell things to people. And backpacking is unique in that what you buy may weigh you down. In other words, the goal is to buy as little as possible, an idea that is decidedly UN-American. And it conflicts with the goal of the salesperson. Here’s an example of what can go wrong:

Quite a few years ago, “Jim Bob” (name changed to protect the guilty) signed up for his first Big Wild Adventures backpack trip. He was a healthy specimen, a big physically fit athletic male in his late 20’s from the flatlands of Middle America. We had, of course, sent him our Clothing/Personal Gear List when he signed up, which incidentally, states “If it’s not on this list is is unnecessary and will weigh you down!”  Despite this warning, Jim Bob loved gadgets and gizmos. We’re talking stuff, as George Carlin called it. Now, the list prices for our trips include our complete gear package. But Jim Bob opted to purchase his own basic gear (and then some). Which is usually fine; many of our regular clients bring their own gear and there’s a discount off the list price of the trip when they do. But in this case, the salesman saw Jim Bob coming — with a flashing neon sign proclaiming “sucker……with money“!

When we got to the trail-head and I unloaded the group’s backpacks, I noticed that Jim Bob’s pack was way too heavy. Rock heavy! I could barely get it out of the truck. Stubbornly refusing my professional advice to leave some heavy unnecessary items behind, Jim Bob strained as we headed into the wilds. As previously mentioned, this was quite a few years ago. Nowadays, I would simply refuse to allow him to begin the trip without reducing his load.

Without going into the gruesome details, let’s just say that Jim Bob suffered. We are talking blistered bruised feet, inflamed joints, muscle strains and more. Hiking wasn’t fun for Jim Bob, it was an ordeal. To his credit, Jim Bob didn’t whine and he took his medicine, including ibuprofen, with admirable stoicism. Despite his early unfortunate stubbornness, Jim Bob turned out to be quite a nice fellow. Mid-trip, he allowed me to inspect his humongous pack, and what a pack it was! Although Big Wild guides carry a very comprehensive first aid kit, this man could have opened a surgical center with what he carried. That’s just for starters. He also had the super-duper deluxe model portable inflatable heavy-duty Crazy Creek camp chair that weighed about 5 pounds, a great item for river trips, but not for backpacking in Montana mountains. He had lots of duplicate clothing items (see the blog Packing Light Tip: Don’t Duplicate!), too.  And about 10 pounds of Power Bars, despite the fact that we advertise that we provide three hearty meals/day plus plenty of snacks. The truth is, Jim Bob could not have possibly have eaten all of those Power Bars without some serious gastrointestinal ramifications. Moreover, believe it or not, in going through Jim Bob’s pack, I found even more, plenty more, unnecessary items.

The moral of the story, of course, is beware of eager salespeople in outdoor stores. Buy minimally; our National Product is gross enough anyway. Eschew unnecessary American consumerism. Stick with our time-proven list. Jim Bob came back the following year for a Big Wild guided hike in Yellowstone with a reasonably light pack. He had a great trip and didn’t suffer. But it would have been much, much better if the previous year he had believed us — the guiding professionals — and not the person whose job it was to sell him as many items as possible.

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