The ditty bag- a simple name for what languishes in the pack, holding all that useful ‘what ifs’ and fixing stuff, and spare this ‘n’ that, and, and…
As a teenager and in my early twenties there was little in the way of sundries that went out with me. A small signalling mirror (in best Hardy Boys and Famous Five fashion), mini thermometer, cordage, ubiquitous pen knife and, well, that was about it. Twenty years ago not a lot had changed. Still the cordage and knife, possibly a tube repair kit if on cycle, a Sigg pouring spout for fuel, a couple of spare AA batteries, no electrics, no phone, possibly a bit of change for the telephone box, that was about it.
It is easy to go totally overboard and carry far too much that guards (or makes us feel guarded) against the unforeseen eventualities. The belt and braces approach to backpacking varies vastly between individuals. Certainly, I agree with those who believe that the most formidable weapon or tool we cart around with us is that between the ears. A noggin of common sense, backed up with knowledge, skill and experience goes a long way to effecting repairs and putting things right.
I still feel that the carefully thought out contents of a ditty bag are indispensable in some situations. The items I carry used to vary from trek to trek. Is it a day walk, weekend or multi day walk, camping involved or not, are there multiple towns en route at which to buy the ‘little things’ required, am I alone or with family- in a group? All these factors and others frequently determined what I took. Now, the contents vary little for multi-day walks and I carry almost nothing extra on day hikes. Just about the same bag of tricks goes on every multi-day hike and I simply replenish or replace if necessary any contents. By way of example, I take a handful of emergency water treatment tablets in my ditty bag, these have an expiry date and require periodic replacement.
Note that ‘fixing me’ items, i.e. First Aid, are kept elsewhere. I also carry, as required according to season- sunscreen, hand sanitiser, insect repellent, chap stick etc. in the hip belt pockets. Where possible, these are decanted into smaller dropper bottles.
I used to use one of the small 16g Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Quarter Cubes- These handy little packs (190mm x 110mm x 60mm) are made of a translucent ripstop silnylon. This is a slippery material that slides in and out of a pack with ease, the handle on the end aids in yanking it out when deep in a pack. The cubes are not waterproof, barely water resistant in fact. But anything at risk inside was kept sealed in its own waterproof cover. I then swapped out for a small 2g cuben fibre stuff sack listed above. That was too small to be honest. I now carry everything in a tough DCF zippable pouch. Not as thin or as lightweight as it could be but it lasts well, is still water repellant and shows no sign of wear. It is certainly more robust than a far cheaper but fragile ziplock bag.
I took a careful look at the journal I carry as this is an important part of my hiking experience. This was an an interesting wander through some of the options available and I made a separate post on that exploration. The Backpocket Journal and Stowaway pen took the place of a Moleskine plain page notebook and Inka pen which were my favoured pair for years. Even the pen was changed so that I now only include the refill cartridge. An excellent exercise in replacing items with similar but lighter alternatives where possible and practical. Note that a longer hike of many weeks, and possibly months, may warrant a larger journal.
By 2020 the contents of my ditty bag had evolved considerably. With contents pared down it is now both less bulky and less burdened with ‘what ifs’. There is a single item in this that has not been utilised, and very much appreciated, while on trail at some point. I took a slightly closer look at the contents here.
It should be remembered that the contents of any ditty bag carried are personal to the individual. Just periodically look at what is being carried and ascertain the last time any items was actually used, and if it was used, whether it came up to par. Then refine accordingly.