Among several entertaining definitions on Urban Dictionary, a junk show is defined as 'A person who is a walking disaster or really needs to pull it together.' Take, for example, the above photograph below, in which the climber seems to have all their gear dangling off the outside of a giant, empty pack. Additionally, under one arm is a rope and in one hand a gallon of water. I wouldn't be surprised if this person climbs harder than me, and probably makes more money, too. But my initial impression is: junk show.

As a full-time guide, I see all sorts of stuff like this, all the time. But here's the secret: It's really easy to appear as if you know what you're doing, even if you don't. Some semblance of pack organization equates to less time fumbling around trying to find things and more time climbing. Items attached to the outside of your pack, or in open external pockets, are easy to catch on things like tree branches, and pop out more easily when approaches get more technical. Also, if you look put together, everyone will assume you're a hard climber, which by default will make you climb harder. See the logic?

If you want to look dialed and serious—no matter how serious you actually are—follow these easy instructions on what to pack, and more importantly, how:

Step 1

Find the appropriate pack and make sure it's completely empty. 25 to 30 liters with minimal accessory pockets and straps is a great size for rock cragging. Any bigger and you'll end up filling that space, whether you need to or not. My friend Bayard likes to carry a bigger, heavier pack as a passive training strategy (read his article here). I, on the other hand, like to go as light as possible; not only do I like to avoid unnecessary aerobic exertion on a cragging day, but I also hate weight on my back. Lastly, having less stuff will make you more resourceful and thoughtful with what you do have...sort of a metaphor for life in general.  

Step 2

Decide what you need, and make your climbing partner carry their share. This is what I pack for a day of summer trad cragging:

  • Rope
  • Rack: 8-10 mostly extendable draws, single rack to 3 inches, maybe a few doubles, single run of stoppers, 2 cordelettes, 4 lockers, belay device, 1 mini Prusik, 1 tiny folding knife.
  • Harness, helmet, 1 pair of climbing shoes, chalkbag.
  • OR Helium II Jacket.
  • Water.  Water is really heavy, therefore not conducive to a light pack, so think really hard about whether you need a full gallon. I like to do some hydrating in the morning and at night, and rarely do I ever bring more than 1 liter to the crag. I also use a collapsible Platypus water bottle, which molds into the pack better than rigid plastic.
  • Food. Durable things like nuts, dried fruit, and bars. About 1000 calories.
  • Cell phone with backup battery. This one's important! My cell phone acts as my camera, emergency communication, map and guidebook (I download route info, use apps like Rakup or MountainProject, or take photos of route info).  I never carry a big heavy guidebook anymore.
  • Very small first aid kit. Mine fits into a plastic sandwich bag and includes bug repellant (a must in the Northeast), sunscreen, a tiny headlamp and few other things that would seem important in a first aid kit.

Step 3

Start loading the pack.  The goal is for everything to fit inside. Just because your pack has places to clip things on the outside, doesn't mean that's what you should do. Here's an ideal order:

  • Heavy things go in first, like rope, if possible, though I often carry my rope on the top of the pack for accessibility.
  • Draws on their own sling, then rack on it's own sling. At this point, jostle your pack up and down a few times to help the contents settle before adding more.
  • If you have a jacket or some kind of layer, stuff it into the air space that likely exists around the rack and slings. Do the same with your chalkbag.
  • Water
  • Shoes
  • Helmet, right side up with 'naked' and compressed harness inside.
  • First aid kit, cell phone, and food in the pack lid.

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