The Brain and Subconscious . . . Of Your Deuter Backpack

Packing your backpack properly is an art. At NOLS we teach our students to pack everything they need for a monthlong expedition, including at least a week’s worth of food, in a single 90-liter Deuter backpack while ensuring that the pack is comfortable and properly fit.

There are various methods of packing expedition backpacks, but at NOLS we line our packs with heavy duty contractor bags and fit everything in using the Full Body Slam Method, which involves filling every void in the bag with something and using our full body weight to compact it in (like a trash compactor).

That said, everyone needs immediate access to some things on the trail, and those things live in the parts of the pack that we like to figuratively call the “brain” and the “subconscious.”

A little primer on the anatomy of your pack (I bet you didn’t sign up for a science class when you clicked on the link for this blog!):

The brain of the pack is in the lid that sits at the very top after you’ve fit everything in the main compartment. With a zipper that faces behind you as you hike, the brain is the most easily accessible part of your pack (besides small pockets you may have in your waistbelt or pockets for water bottles on the sides).

The subconscious of your pack is the flat compartment that lies under the brain. Flip your brain over and you’ll see a zipper underneath it.

The brain and subconscious rest on top of the neck -- the tube of fabric on top of the pack that can be either cinched down or stuffed all the way to the brim. Together, the volume of the neck is usually represented by the number after the “plus” sign in the name of your pack line. For example, an ACT Lite 75+10 has 75 liters of volume in the main compartment, and 10 liters in the neck below the brain.

Ok, that’s the end of the anatomy lesson. Now back to the nuts and bolts of packing.

As family ambassadors who go on personal trips into the wilderness for no more than ten days with packs substantially smaller than 90 liters in volume, we can still translate the NOLS packing concepts to our son’s Fox 40, my Futura Vario 55+10, and my husband’s ACT Lite 75+10.

So what do we put in the brain and subconscious? Here’s our list. Make sure to waterproof any item that can get wet (food grade plastic bags do the trick):

The brain:

  • sunscreen
  • water treatment (we used chlorine-based Aqua Mira)
  • snack
  • emergency communication device
  • compass
  • one liter of water (the other liter is immediately accessible in the side-pouch)
  • trowel (for the emergency bathroom breaks)
  • soap and hand sanitizer (for the same thing)
  • wind shirt (yes, it fits when tightly balled up)
  • head lamp
  • mosquito headnet (if you’re anywhere like the Wind River Mountains or Alaska)

The subconscious:

  • overview and topographical maps
  • smaller books such as plant identification booklets
  • journal and pencil/pen

Bottom line: Don’t get stuck having to dig through your main compartment for the trowel and soap and then repacking it all trailside while doing the “poop dance.” Pack smart. Use your brain. It’s bigger than you think.

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