Ryan Jordan

Separation Anxiety

No Separation Anxiety (Tobacco Root Mountains)

Sigma DP2

Separation anxiety is what photographers get when they freak out about missing mm’s out of the focal range covered by the pounds of lenses they carry in their packs.

Lightweight backpackers suffer this too, but usually only when they sit in front of their computer, shopping online.

Shelters are the biggest culprit.

As of two years ago, I owned the following shelters:


  1. An ultralight solo tarp for ultralight solo trips.
  2. A little bit heavier solo tarp for when high winds ruined my ultralight solo tarp.
  3. A tiny pyramid tarp for nasty weather, traveling solo.
  4. A little bit bigger pyramid tarp, for when my dog, or son, comes along.
  5. A tarp tent, solo sized, for when there is lots of mosquitoes.
  6. A tarp tent, a little bit bigger, for when my son comes along and there are lots of mosquitoes.
  7. A single wall mountain tent, for high perches on cliffs during the winter.
  8. A single wall ultralight 4-pole tunnel tent for winter trekking in blizzard conditions.
  9. A double wall five bound “bomber” tent for winter trekking in really blizzardy conditions, and for windy conditions in the coulee breaks so I can sleep without choking on dust.
  10. A single wall floorless freestanding dome for sleeping on gravel bars when packrafting.
  11. A lightweight bivy sack for sleeping under a packraft, and on ridges.
  12. A heavier bivy sack with poles, which makes for neat camp photos in the mountains.

You see, I thought I had all my focal lengths covered.

And then it happened.

I went on a trip with my son, and dog, in buggy conditions, while camping on swampy tundra, with intermittent wind and thunderstorm gusts, and the possibility of heavy snow.

I had nothing for this mix of conditions. Like the photog carrying a 24mm prime and a 28-70 zoom, I found myself separated from the perfect shelter that left me yearning for mm’s 25, 26, and 27.

So I did what any self-respecting backpacker would do when he got home.

Started shopping.

And just before I clicked the PLACE ORDER button, I had an epiphany: this was ridiculous.

So I opened my browser window and signed into my eBay account.

Now, I’m down to three shelters that I actually use on a regular basis:

  1. A small bivy tent (my current favorite is the Nemo GoGo, at 1.9 lbs).
  2. A 5 oz. ultralight tarp (the Stealth Nano, in photo above in March 2010).
  3. An 18 oz. 2-man pyramid (a slightly scaled down version of the Mountain Laurel Designs SuperMid).

The beauty of this is that I no longer have to labor about shelter decisions when I plan gear for treks. The tarp stays in my pack, and that’s what I take.

If it’s really snowy or windy, or I’m taking a pal, then I’ll take the pyramid.

If I plan to camp in a High Place, then I’ll take the bivy.

Otherwise, it’s the tarp…

…or the pyramid…or bivy…or…

…maybe I just wait and see what’s new in 2011…