How not to Pack for a Picture Rocks Hiking Trip

Hello fellow patrons of Sustaining Sara! My Name is Rachel, a humble guest, here to indulge you in sustainable, earth friendly, and wanderous content! If you do not know, Sara is my twin sister. Now, of course that is how I got this gig, but trust me, I can bring the content too!

Before I begin my tragic tale, let me tell you a bit about who you are metaphorically speaking to. Like Sara, within the past few years I have begun to expand my views on living sustainably, have continued to curate my plant bb collection, and am constantly molding myself into “Rachel, Wanderer of the World, Extraordinaire”.

…Don’t worry, it will catch on eventually…

This is me… and my giant, unnecessary backpack at the beginning of our trip

Now for the real reason we are here, overpacking.

How does one overpack, you might ask yourself? And to you dear Reader, I would say one does it quickly and without notice. It is with great dismay that I report to you that my first backpacking trip, which was to be our grandest of adventures yet, was nearly a catastrophe. All because I could not keep track of my pack weight in the week leading up to our trip.

Lets recap:

Just like Sara, I have my own lovely line up of backpacking gear. This includes my big three combo that I am just in love with! My choices include my hammock setup (which is constantly evolving), my sleeping bag, the Nemo Forte 20 degree bag, and my backpack, the Kelty Zyro 64W… I love my pack, but this is certainly where all of my woes began. We will get to that in a minute.

For now, let me indulge you in the importance of the big three. These are most often your biggest and most expensive items among your gear. This account for the durability, weight (or lack there of), and the R value rating (warmth).

A great deal of time was dedicated in finding these items. Sara and I’s differences in our hiking and backpacking styles were highlighted in our REI and Amazon carts. A perfect example of these differences was Sara’s choice of a propane stove, while I opted for an alcohol stove. There was no real weight difference to our choices, just in the way they worked and how we would store our stove and fuel.

This is fine, it is more than acceptable to have your own unique set up.

What is not acceptable is when a certain someone (yup, me) notices that the backpack I have chosen is only $10 more for the 64L pack as apposed to the 45L version.

Oh boy… That minute has come, Reader. The instant my woes became reality. I did not know it then, but my nature to overpack would be over indulged solely due to the pack size I had chosen for myself.

The majority of our packs (that being Sara’s, Charlie’s, and my own) began with the same basic items. Including, but not limited to:

  • Hammock gear (See 2020 Faves…and 2019 for specific gear)
  • food and water
  • stove
  • bowls and eating utensils
  • spare cloths
  • sleeping bag and pads
  • etc.

We also divvied up the gear we would all be sharing evenly according to weight and pack space. This included things like our water filter, the Sawyer One Gallon Gravity System, among other things.

With the essentials lined up, it was time to bring some pizzazz to my time on the North Country Trail. This is just a fancy way of saying “I can not live without my stuff, I get bored easily, and I always bring a book that I never actually read.” This trip was no exception to this “Rachel Rule” and ohhhh lordy, did I suffer the consequences.

A few things past Rachel did not need to pack include:

  • a kalimba complete with a notebook full of tabs
  • a deck of cards that was never used
  • to many pairs of socks and extra leggings
  • another book that never saw the shore
  • and an entire bag of granola (I did not need the entire thing!)

I also ended up carrying my hiking boots inside my pack instead of my chacos… Considering the blisters I received the first day of hiking, this was best for my feet… but probably not the best for my back…

Me with my giant, unnecessary pack, now at max weight with my boots inside

For a wee visual, somewhere between Miner’s Beach and Miner’s Castle the straw broke the camel’s back. The camel was me and the camel’s back, was my own. I was in literal tears for the majority of that stretch (no shame here). It felt like the longest few miles of my life. I was quite literally torn between completing our hike and just laying down and perishing on the shoreline. Anything to get that pack off my back!

After a particularly slight incline, that totally killed me, I started recognizing the area where my car was waiting for us. “We’re almost there, Rachy!” I can remember Sara cheering me on. It might have worked if there was not an assortment of picnic tables between us and the car. I limped to the nearest one and *gracefully* clasped onto it. Relieving myself of my pack was both the most painful and joyful thing I had done that entire day.

I sat there as Sara riffled through my bag for my car keys. Her and Charlie milled about the area using the facilities, loading their gear into the car, and admiring the views of the shore while I sat there feeling shriveled up, laying my head on the picnic table, hydrating for dear life.

At some point Sara came over and offered to take my pack to the car.


I lift my head in time to see her putting my pack back on the ground.

“No wonder you’re hurting! This is so HEAVY!”

Dear Reader, I cried. Again! I let it out. It sunk in slowly, I was not technically a wimp, I was an over packer!

You can almost see me behind my pack…

In the backpacking world any nonessential items are usually left off trail. As I ease into the ways of backpacking, the idea of an ultra light set up was never on my radar. Our trip and the lessons I painstakingly learned have given me a new perspective on how I will pack for future adventures. A good and hard look at what gear I am willing to take with me, and most importantly what gear I should probably leave behind will be needed every time I plan another trip!

The other major thing that I modified on my pack was the shoulder straps and the hip belt. Even though I took a considerable amount of time to do this pre-Picture Rocks, at the conclusion of our hike it was obvious that I had not done it properly! That entire time my pack was sitting on my back incorrectly, putting weight and pressure on all the wrong places!

I now know that with the correct adjustments, my time on trail would have been so much more pleasant. Obviously, not perfectly pleasant, but so much better than what it was.

Even though I have nightmares about the horrors of Past Rachel’s mistakes, I am still looking forward to our future Picture Rocks trips. This year I will have my modified pack, sans brain, and complete with proper adjustments, with updated gear and an extremely refined gear list! This trip will surely be one fore the books! Covering more trail and testing our limits!

Look at that adequate pack… and then the less than adequate one…

Whether or not you find my tale humorous or just feel pity for Past Rachel, I do hope you enjoyed your read and that any perspective backpackers have learned a valuable lesson. Perhaps, in the not so distant future I will be write to you about my amazing ultra light backpacking lifestyle… I do not foresee this being anytime soon, but here’s to hope!

Taking in the views. An important part of a Picture Rocks trip is the stopping at all the beautiful lookouts!


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