Over the years we've looked at tents, sleeping bags, water filters, stoves, all the usual stuff. But, no matter how you slice it, there is a finite amount of stuff that anyone needs to get outside. That ineluctable fact leads to a question: what, besides gear, is essential?
What if it wasn't about more, but about less? A lot less? What if you could fundamentally change your experience by stripping down, as it were, to some essentials?
It seems amazing now, hardly believable, but at St. Louis Park's Westwood Junior High School, where I went back in the late 60s, we swam naked during gym. Similarly, on Boy Scout trips to the Boundary Waters, we all swam naked, or, as it was and is still sometimes called, we went skinny dipping.
As near as I can tell, however, no one does this anymore, or, if they do, they're not talking about it. I don't have any solid evidence for this, of course, but I have noticed that on the last several trips I've taken to the BWCA, I'm pretty much the only one who doesn't bother with a swim suit.
Beyond the practical matter-one less piece of clothing to dry, and carry on portages when you're not wearing it-there is something to be said about swimming sans suit. I have been pondering this for some time now, and am no nearer to solving it than when I began. My advice, then, is to take a leap of faith off of the nearest rock (only after checking to make sure it's safe!) and try it. As small pleasures go, it is glorious, and the way we were meant to swim. If Adam and Eve found a pond in Eden, I am confident they chucked their fig leaves and enjoyed the unalloyed feel of the water.
The other equally interesting imponderable is when skinny dipping fell out of favor, and why. I suspect it has something to do with the hyper-sexualization of society, and our inability to look at our bodies as the multi-faceted things they are, rather than as merely vehicles for sexual expression.
Now, after you are done with your evening ablutions, it will be time for bed. The campfire is put out, the packs are put away, the stars shining bright and the sky a canopy of brilliance. Most of us retreat to a tent-sometimes cramped, sometimes big, but a tent nonetheless.
What if, instead, you slept under the stars?
Is it scary? Only at first. The first time you sleep under the stars you might not sleep that great. Over time you will figure out that actually, nature is not only not trying to kill you, but it is at worst indifferent. There aren't any dangerous creatures out there, unless you count the figments of your imagination.
The only extra piece of equipment you will need is a spare ground cloth. Leftover Duluth pack liners work well, cut so they make a long, narrow strip, big enough for your pad and sleeping bag. You can sleep without a ground cloth, but be careful: you don't want to puncture your pad.
Your window of opportunity to do this in Minnesota is not all that wide: early spring before Memorial Day, and late in the summer when it gets cool enough that the bugs go dormant. Try it anyway. Don't forget to set up the tent-eventually you'll be awakened by raindrops, and scurry to the safety of your nylon cocoon. But more often you'll lay in your sleeping bag, looking at the stars, pondering the mystery of life itself. That alone is worth the trouble. Other nights you won't need a flashlight because the moon is so bright you might need to sleep behind a tree to cut out the light.
And when you get up at night to leave the warmth of your sleeping bag, it will be just you and the rocks and the trees and the water and the heavens above. After doing your duty, you'll snuggle back in, zip up, and feel the cold air on your face and the warmth of your bag and you'll stay awake, just for a moment, because the stars and the trees and the rocks and the moon are almost indescribably beautiful, and the only sorrow in your heart will be that not everyone you know can experience it.
Bob continues to sleep outside whenever possible and has yet to take a swimsuit to the BWCAW.