Packing: Trying to keep it to a duffle and a backpack

Robert Peck is currently in Mongolia, largely out of contact with the outside world. He filed several blog  entries before leaving Philadelphia and early in his trek, including this one:


As the days speed by until my departure, our house becomes increasingly chaotic. The dining room table is piled with provisions that may or may not make the final cut as I try to winnow down clumps of camping gear, clothing, and foodstuffs to something that I can carry.

Time spent with Mongolia’s nomadic families on six previous trips has helped me appreciate how much less one needs than one thinks or that many of us are used to having. If the families I will be visiting can load their entire life’s possessions onto a single wooden ox cart to move to new grazing lands several times a year, then surely I can keep my own supplies down to a duffle and a backpack.

Despite my best efforts, however, the equipment seems to multiply. My tent, rain fly, tarp, and sleeping bag take three quarters of a duffle. Add a change of shirts, pants, socks and underwear, as well as boots, rain gear, a fleece, some traditional Mongolian clothing, and two months of emergency food provisions (nuts, dried fruit and some energy bars), and there is no room left even for my maps and notebooks, let alone the technological equipment that has become increasingly important on any modern expedition. My backpack must accommodate a computer, a GPS, and various battery chargers, as well as a water bottle, eating utensils, and a medical kit. Where, then, to put two cameras (one digital, one film), lenses, light meter, tripod, and a hundred rolls of black and white film?

As my family watches my packing process with bemused tolerance, they ask why I can’t buy some of what I need in Ulaan Baatar. It’s true that the availability of everything from cloths to food has improved dramatically there since the post-Soviet era when I first began my Mongolian travels. Perhaps my obsessive provisioning – particularly of food supplies – is unnecessary. But I don’t want to risk long days of hiking and jeep travel with nothing to tide me over between meals of rancid mutton and chalky cheese.

I always find packing for field work an intoxicating blend of drudgery and exhilaration; novelty and nostalgia. For each trip the tried-and-true gear that I have traveled with for decades is joined by new equipment that does what it is supposed to do better than anything we had before. The planning and preparation for this summer’s expedition makes me feel like a kid heading off for summer camp – a little bit anxious, but very excited by the unknown experiences to come.