I agree that it's hard to gear up a bike too low.
I run 22/32/44 front and 11-32 rear with 26" wheels and find it to be about perfect. Much lower gearing and I'm going to slow to keep my balance very well. But I use every bit of that lowest gear when fully-loaded and on a steep hill.
I run the same on my 700c bike and it's fine. If I were to buy a new cassette I'd get one that goes to 34 for that bike, but it's not enough of a deal to do anything about it until I run that cassette in the ground.
Both of my touring bikes have 36 spokes. That's what came on them and I stuck with it. I've had a couple of broken spokes and several loose ones over the years. Whenever I toss these wheels I'll build ones with more spokes. I'll go with at least 44 but will pick 48 if there's not much price difference.
Were I going out of the country on a remote tour I'll go nuts for lower gears and more spokes. But touring around the US on roads and rails-trails, I'll do what I said above.