1.053 Franks & Beans


27 (Sat) February 2010

Franks & Beans


by me

at campsite

-Guleopdo, Incheon, Gyeonggi, Korea-

with MtG et al.


The backpack is symbolic of Korean camping culture in two respects: first, Korean campers eat Korean food, always and only and completely, which means a full spread of meat, kimchi, rice, dipping pastes, soup/stew, and various banchan, not to mention the booze, thus necessitating packs of enormous carrying capacity that may appear excessive if not ludicrous to outsiders (other factors may also account for the large bags, as discussed below); and second, Korean campers are obsessed with brands, especially expensive brands, especially expensive brands that all the other Korean campers are using.


In New York last summer, I spent a lot of time at Paragon Sports, one of the biggest retailers of sporting goods in the city. Although I’ve been a car camper for some time, I wanted to broaden my horizons beyond the safe and comfortable confines of commercial campsites. The first order of business was to acquire a proper backpack. When I explained to the sales rep that I would likely be going on short trips, usually overnighters but occasionally as long as three nights, he pointed me towards packs between 50-60 liters, designed for trips as long as five days. When I asked what the 80-100-liter packs were for, he said that they were for extended excursions, like month-long backpacking vacations around Europe. He demonstrated filling a 60-liter pack with various display gear around the store, such as a small tent, sleeping bag, pot, etc.  But I couldn’t imagine how food and drinks and particularly booze could fit on top of it all. With a slightly puzzled look on his face, the sales rep explained that camping foods – by which he meant beef jerky, nuts, maybe condensed soup – don’t take up much volume. He seemed puzzled by the notion of taking alcohol on a backpacking trip.  In the end, though still somewhat skeptical, I selected the Osprey Atmos 65.

Fast-forward to the present, I was packing for my first backcountry camping trip and concluded to myself that I had made the right choice in the backpack, at least as far as size was concerned. Even with the extra layers of winter clothing, I still had sufficient room for canned beans, some hot dogs, a package of ramyeon, a Ziplock bag of homemade penne and tomato sauce, a couple slices of cheese pizza from Costco, a pouch of almonds, a liter of water, a couple cans of Diet Coke, and a half-liter of tequila in a recycled Evian bottle. It would later turn out that my tent (Sierra Design Light Year 1) and sleeping bag (Kovea Traveler III) were wholly inadequate for the weather conditions, which means that the space taken up by a proper winter tent and thicker bag would’ve left me with significantly less room for food and beverages.


When I arrived at Incheon Ferry Terminal – the trip was for Guleopdo (굴업도), which requires two boat rides, with a stop in between at Deokjeokdo (덕적도) – I was in for a whopping surprise, a cultural shock of sorts. At 65 liters, my Osprey Atmos was the smallest pack of the bunch. MtG had the next smallest with the Gregory Baltoro 70, while our other companion Jun had the next smallest with the Gregory Palisades 80. Beyond the three of us, the other members of the group had brought packs in excess of 100 liters apiece, such as the Mystery Ranch Kodiak: 114 liters (7000 cubic inches). Holy crap. What the hell did I forget to pack? I thought I’d secured all the essentials, but these guys had nearly double the capacity, and their bags were packed to the brim, and they were experts or at least experienced, so they must’ve known something that I didn’t. My friends, who were also new to this, were similarly perplexed.


It turns out that the secret of what is in those gargantuan packs, in some cases, is rather disappointingly simple. For the most part, the bags are filled with air, literally. As they explained with great enthusiasm and not a hint of embarrassment, the guy takes his inflatable mattress and, instead of deflating it and rolling it up, pumps it full of air and scrolls it within the internal perimeter of the pack to form a padded frame. Then, in addition to the tent and other necessary gear, the guy stuffs goose down parkas, puffy “tent” shoes, and other light but voluminous items to fill out the pack. Essentially, it’s the camping equivalent of stuffing a sock down one’s trousers.

On the other hand, some campers had stuffed their packs with all manner of food and beverages, as well as cooking equipment. As to whether that amount of eats and drinks is reasonable, the answer depends on one’s cultural perspective. One guy pulled out a whole roaster-size chicken and a massive stock pot to make chicken stew for dinner, enough to feed four. He would also make clam soup, also enough for four. Whole chicken and clams. Other than rack of lamb, I can’t imagine menu choices with worse weight-to-food ratios. And this for the sake of feeding strangers. What an idiot.

My favorite photo of myself, ever.

Leave a Reply