Packing lists as literary trope

Comments on ‘The Things They Carried’

It is now thirty years since Tim O’Brien’s marvelous short story collection ‘The Things They Carried’ was published. The eponymous story about one troop’s burdens in the Vietnam War has been covered by dozens of essays, term papers, etc. but, strangely enough, no one seems to have reviewed it from a purely packing list perspective. It’s a shame because that is where we find some of the most poignant illustrations of the naïveté and inevitable frustrations of these young soldiers. Here are my comments on the most noteworthy carry items:

PRC-25 radio with battery and PRC-77 scrambler radio. That’s a lot of radio to be carrying through the fields of Vietnam. Ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” Try to just enjoy the march without having to be on the grid 24/7.

Jungle boots. Jungle boots are great for the March to Than Khe but what are you going to wear when you get there? I recommend a simple understated work shoe like the Lems 9 to 5s, which are good for walking around but won’t draw too much attention at a bar or cafe or even low-key professional events.

Green plastic poncho. Solid choice.

Letters from Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College, New Jersey, folded in plastic, and photos of her with the shadow of the picture taker against the brick wall. While it’s a good idea to bring personal items for a touch of home in foreign places, these items do add some bulk. More importantly, these precious things might be lost or damaged as you’re traveling. Consider taking high-resolution photographs of Martha’s letters and photos with your phone. That way you’ll have them whenever you want them but don’t have to worry about leaving them behind on the nightstand or crushing them in your pack. Best of all, digital photos weigh in at 0g!

.45 caliber pistol, M-60 machine gun, M-16 gas operated assault rifle, M-79 grenade launcher, M-14s, CAR-15s, Swedish Ks, grease guns, captured AK-47s, Chi-coms, RPGs, Simonov carbines, black market uzis, .38 caliber Smith and Wesson handguns, 66mm LAWs, shotguns, silencers, blackjacks, bayonets, C4 plastic explosives, claymore anti-personnel mine, fragmentation grenades, M-18 colored smoke grenades, CS or tear gas grenades, white phosphorous grenades, pentrite high explosives. Honestly, this just seems like a lot. You have to pick your top three of these and leave the rest behind. None of this stuff is TSA compliant.

Hotel soap bars stolen while on R&R. Very resourceful. Consider the Matador Flatpak to keep the soap in. This will dry it out and also save it from messing up the rest of the stuff in your pack.

Basketballs. This is a terrible packing decision.

Various rots and molds, stink of fungus and decay. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend giving merino wool a try. It is smell resistant and naturally wicks away moisture, which should help with these issues. More than this, merino is lightweight, fashionable and adapts to keep you at the right temperature regardless of the weather.

The land, the sky, the whole atmosphere. Not sure about this one. Maybe just see what you can get into a big Eagle Creek Specter compression cube and leave the rest behind?