The Joys of Backpacking

The Joys of Backpacking

When I stopped working a corporate job, one of the first things I started regularly doing in my ‘new found’ time was to go backpacking.  Why can’t I get enough of Backpacking?  Why do others find it so frightening?  Let me show you some potential ways to loving the many joys of backpacking.

Initially, my main goal for experiencing the joys of backpacking was to spend time in deep nature.  Most of the hiking trails around me are very crowded (even more so since the pandemic).  Many of the people there are loud… I didn’t really want to hear others’ music and podcasts while I’m out enjoying the sounds of nature.  The crowds on the trails are often disrespectful…  I can complete a loop on a local trail, picking up trash as I go.  Often, when I return to the beginning, I could start the whole process all over again.  Honestly, who couldn’t be bothered to put their slim jim wrapper in their pocket and carry it out with them?  I noticed though, that once you get beyond ~5 miles from the start of a trail, the number of people tends to drop drastically.

The first backpacking trip… in awhile

There is a problem with hiking 10+ miles within the confines of daylight.  It can be problematic, especially when you factor in driving to a location, feeding yourself, etc.  I remembered the joy of spending days at a time in the woods with my friends when I was a kid and thought “why not do this again?”.  Time to pull together all my old (heavy) gear and purchase whatever else I needed to get started.  I tried convincing the rest of my family to go, but they weren’t having it.  Why not retrace a trip that I did many times when I was younger?  I thought that it would be an easy way to get started.

It was mostly a disaster 😉 As mentioned, my 20+ year old gear was HEAVY!  Over the years, people had stopped using the woods/roads/trails in this part of Pennsylvania and everything was overgrown and borderline impassible.  Hiking uphill made me realize how out of shape I really was.  I was rusty in setting up and using my gear and just generally ill-prepared.  Even with all this, there was immense joy in how quiet things were.  Unfortunately, trash from eons ago was still there.  The sky was amazing!  When I got back home, I couldn’t wait to go again.

Joy 1:  Backpacking is a great teacher

After allowing my body to recover for a few days, I decided I was absolutely out of shape.  Before the next trip, I would definitely need to work on my uphill endurance and some leg/hip range of motion that I didn’t use in my normal day to day life.  It seemed that making some of my gear ‘lighter’ would also help (Did I mention that it was HEAVY?).  I also packed in a bunch of stuff that it seemed I would never use.  Why I thought I needed a frying pan, multiple cups and something to boil water in, and many changes of clothes, I have no idea.  I also did not bring other things that would have been helpful.  There was a light rain that I wasn’t really prepared for and it got surprisingly cold at night.  I started looking into upgrading some of my gear.

Joy 2: Backpacking is great exercise

Experiencing my defeated body after this first trip is probably what started me down the path of actually getting healthy.  I realized how when I was a kid, I did this trip easily multiple times without needing a week to recover.  I started looking into creating a plan for allowing me to be able to do that again.  This is what led me to becoming such an advocate for bodyweight based Functional Training.  Over the years, I found that this combined with a little bit of endurance training is the best way to (mostly) stay physically prepared for what backpacking will throw at you.

As someone who constantly keeps an eye on their HRV, I’ve noticed that generally, backpacking has a positive impact on this metric.  Sure, a grueling day might tank HRV, but in my experience, HRV tends to go up dramatically while (or shortly after) backpacking.  This could be related to the fact that it’s great exercise, but I’ve also done additional experiments that show that I have a positive HRV trend just from sleeping in nature without the additional exercise.

Joy 3: Backpacking will make you more resilient

Sure HRV is a good metric for tracking resiliency, but backpacking helps in this regard in other ways.  Many of us in the west live in a constant state of comfort.  This is a reasonably modern human condition.  Even my grandparents had to deal with food scarcity.  Most of us are shielded from the weather and can adjust temperatures of our environment on a whim.  Our lives are packed with stuff and more ways to entertain ourselves than we could conceivably ever make use of.  When it’s just you and the few possessions you’re willing to drag with you out in the backcountry, things start to get interesting.  You hope that you didn’t forget anything crucial.  You cross your fingers that the weather will cooperate.  Roll the dice that you’ll get to a good location and setup camp before the sun goes down.

And then it gets dark… what was that sound?  Holy shit, the moon is bright… I hope I can get some sleep tonight before I need to hike many more miles tomorrow.  Guaranteed, that on just about any trip that you take, at least one of these things (or something else) will happen.  And guess what?  You will deal with it!  Your only other option is hiking back to civilization.

Joy 4: Backpacking makes you a better Planner

There’s nothing like one of these “borderline disaster trips” to make you reevaluate everything.  Every failure is a potential learning experience.  Get caught by unexpected weather?  You will be sure to have some way of making sure that doesn’t happen in the future.  Setup your tent on a slope and the blood rushing into your heads makes it so you’re unable to sleep at night?  You will spend more time evaluating your placement next time.

Something as simple as forgetting to put your headlamp around your neck or in your pocket after setting up camp will prompt you to run through scenarios in your mind ahead of time even on the next day of your current trip.  I’ve found that as I backpack more… especially solo… I go through visualization exercises in just about everything I do, imagining potential ways that things can go wrong and thinking of potential solutions ahead of time.

Joy 5: Backpacking is great for evaluating redundancies

You can easily go overboard with planning.  Just one mini-disaster will have you looking for new gear or solutions to prevent it from happening.  This leads to a gear explosion as you start to pack redundant methods to potentially deal with them.  Extra batteries, several different ways of creating fire, additional clothes and food… The problem is, every extra gram starts to add up.  I’ve started evaluating gear the way Alton Brown evaluates kitchen equipment… look for ‘multitaskers’ 😀 If something is only good for one thing… especially if it’s likely to be rarely used, I actively look for something else that fits the bill that can serve double duty.

Joy 6: Backpacking will make you respect nature

No matter how you feel about nature before your first trip, backpacking will give you a new found respect for it.  If you already love it, the first occasion where you are unprepared for the weather that Mother Nature throws at you, you will be humbled.  If you haven’t found any respect for it yet, a few hikes with others will have you well versed in the principles of Leave No Trace in no time.  After a handful of experiences in the backcountry, you’ll be able to fully relax and experience the joy of the sights and sounds that your section of the world has to offer!

Go for a hike

If you’ve never spent a night on trail, I hope that I convinced you to give backpacking a try.  If you’re already experienced, maybe I provided some motivation to go more frequently and/or take someone new with you.  Either way, I want to hear from you about your own personal joys of backpacking.  If you’re interested in checking out my current gear list, I maintain it here. If you need to grow/upgrade your gear collection, I have a ‘Hiking’ section on my affiliate page with some discounts.  You can always follow my backpacking (and other) adventures on instagram.  If you want to create the ultimate backpacking experience, check this out.


2 responses to “The Joys of Backpacking”

  1. […] has been most noticeable on my backpacking excursions.  I used to dread hiking in the heat of the summer, but it doesn’t really bother me […]

  2. […] cardio is mostly walking and hiking/rucking.  I do sprints one day a week.  On my active recovery days, I do at least one High […]

Leave a Reply