Photo by Aaron Schmidt.

Photo by Aaron Schmidt.

My friend Dave keeps two lists. First, the checklist of trip gear–an exhaustive catalog of essentials, from matches to macaroni. Second, and arguably more important, is his list of things not to take. In the old days, the central and most important item was his watch. I've stolen Dave's brilliant idea, and sadly, the list has grown with the proliferation of annoying claptrap that now clutters our lives, even on the trail.

These distractions insinuate themselves so subtly into our lives that we forget we have the option to free ourselves from them. The leave-behind list makes the packing process intentional. On the river, it makes life as Zen as I'm capable of.

The watch. Still at the top. If you must have one, for safety reasons or some logistical quirk, or to keep track of tides, at least stow it deep in the dry box and forget about it the rest of the time.

The cell phone. Leave it at the put in. That nagging voice will tempt you to throw it in, in case of family emergency, for unforeseen complications, for that crisis at the office. Resist.

Music. Lose the playlist and tune into the fathomless-hum-of-the-universe soundtrack, punctuated by the roar of a Class IV, the call of a white-throated sparrow, and the deep, dark abyss when you wake in the late night stillness and feel your heroic insignificance.

Electronics. Anything that goes beep stays home. No games, no iPad, no whatever. That stuff is precisely what we go to escape.

The GPS. Controversial, I know, but my leave-behind list includes the GPS. I am a map geek from way back, and that pixilated screen, that preoccupation with putting in waypoints, calculating speeds, finding elevation, is too much noise. Besides, what do you do when the batteries die?

Books. Again, controversial, but the more long trips I do, the fewer books I take. Much as I like literature, it's an escape. My sedentary activity on an afternoon in camp involves studying the map. There are endless possibilities, layers upon layers, on a map quad. As for books, rather than lugging along the latest summer read, I pack a slim book of poetry. It's stimulating, provocative, engaging, and keeps me centered right where I am, just when I'm there.

— This feature first appeared in the August 2015 issue of Canoe & Kayak

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