Fight Right, Fight Light

Rule 17 states: Simple and light equals freedom, agility and mobility. Rule 18, also tells us: Target dictates the weapon and the weapon dictates the movement. (by Richard "Mack" Machowicz).

These two rules are very important when talking about gear, chosing the right gear and how to pack it. Going light and fast is sometimes the key to stay one step ahead of the enemy, or surviving in the wild or simply being able to adapt to the ever changing situations in the real world.

This post is about going light, about packing light an packing right. About selecting the proper gear for the mission ahead of you. It's a rant about why we need to remain nimble and light.

First little history of my obsession with going light.
For as long as I can remember I've always been trying to go light. It has always annoyed me to have to carry stuff on my arms and drag them whenever my family would go on a trip when I was a kid. I remember getting angry and feeling sweat begin to pour as I was shlepping all those bags, chairs, and stuff.

Then, when I was 10, I had my first experience camping in the wild. It was a great experience that ultimately ended in me liking to spend more and more time outdoors and finding the mountains. That became my playground by age 15: the big mountains.

Yet one thing continued to annoy me: all the stuff I needed to carry with me.

I met my first alpine climbing mentor soon after. He showed me the difference between alpine climbing and expedition climbing. He told me: if you go light you can move fast and you'll be able to enjoy it more. He taught me how to pack for the mountains. But more importantly, he told me how to rely on my head more than on the gear. When shit hits the fan in the mountains it's usually bad. You need experience to survive, however you need to be able to rely on your brain and think outside the box if you really want to come out of it alive.
After a season climbing in the big mountains, I got very good at going light and fast.

Then came the military, Recon and the sniper unit. I learned to live out of my pack there. I learned to carry the essentials (which sometimes was 100lb or 45kg) to survive deep in places where everything was trying to kill you. I also learned to really chose the right kit for the mission, something essential to mission success and my team's survival.
Shaving pounds was something we all practiced back then. Even one ounce can become a problem when you need to negotiate kilometers of bad terrain or someone is on your tail. You need to fight right, fight light.

Once I was done with that, I became a computer geek and eventually a computer security researcher. I began traveling a lot, all over the world.
One thing remained constant: the annoyance over having to carry too much. Traveling brought the annoyance of checking luggage in and having to deal with lost bags (on one occasion the airline lost my luggage on the way in and also coming back home! On the same trip...).

Then it hit me: I know how to pack light for the mountains. I know how to get the essentials needed for the missions on the military. I know I can use my head and rely more on it than my gear. Why not apply all this to traveling, red team gear needed, and generally in life as well?

That was more than 10 years ago and I never checked another bag. It's refreshing to be able to walk right out of the airport fast. It's great to be able to go on a recon for a project without only one backpack and move freely. It helps solve a lot of problems.

Of course all this took a lot of trying, correcting, trying again and experimenting. Yes, sometimes I had to run in the middle of a project to get that item that I needed and I didn't bring.

I developed a method to pack where I would just lay everything I thought I would need in front of me and then ask myself if I would wear/use the item more than once, if something else I was carrying would give me the same results or be used in the same manner (multipurpose items). This method included also a small amount of money for the need to buy at the destination things. I realized that bringing all the toiletries didn't make any sense for example. Or bringing a big ass laptop when an iPad would do.

The main idea on this system can be summarize as:

Take half of what you think you need and put it away.

Then take half of that and do the same.

Looking back at these past 10 years and how I travel or pack for projects now, it is hard for me to imagine any other way of doing this. Even after my daughter was born and the associated being a porter that comes with it (tons of stuff having to be shlepped just for the baby), I can't think of any other way of traveling for example.

Having the freedom of just grabbing my small backpack, put it on my back and go anywhere I want without being stuck waiting for a pack to arrive, dealing with carrying all that extra weight on cabs, dealing with missing luggage, not having my hands free, not being able to tail my target if the oportunity presents itself, or just not being spontaneous in general.

Packing light and going fast is not only a way of travelling better or packing right, but it's a great way to go through life, enjoying it without being weighted down by stuff.

Notes: part of this write-up are taken from two posts I wrote for Pack Light, Go Fast: Reflections on 10 years of packing light and Interview.