Someone once said to me, “the world is your oyster.” I never understood that phrase, it makes me think that people want me to eat the world, and who would want to eat a giant oyster anyway?
To me the world is a playground, just waiting for me to explore it. Have you any idea the sheer amount of stunning vistas, cool canyons, majestic waterfalls, and beautiful lakes you can find out there? They’re waiting for you, untrammeled by the crowd. Pristine and untouched. But you could drive down every road in the world and never find one.
That’s because you need your own two feet to take you there. Many of the very best ones are too far to reach in only a days journey. So to get there, you need to backpack. At this point, some of you may be wondering, “what is backpacking?”
I’d love to tell you.
I think it’s fairly safe to say that nearly everyone has heard of hiking. Some people call it trekking but it’s still the same thing. However, I recently discovered that many people don’t know what backpacking is. This was a little shocking to me because I can’t recall ever not knowing.
Backpacking is like ultra-hiking. When you go backpacking you are embarking on a multi-day trek, carrying with you everything you need to survive throughout that time, and camping as you go. It could be anywhere from a couple of days to weeks or more. The longer the time frame, and the more remote the area, the more skilled you need to be.
So What Skills Do You Need?
Though there are skills involved with simple day hiking, backpacking ups the ante. When you are hiking over multiple days you need to know how to survive in the wilderness without all the comfort and convenience at home. These skills may vary depending on where you are and the resources available to you in that area.
Some skills that you almost certainly will need, include:
- Reading a map
- Backcountry navigation
- Water purification
- Backcountry cooking
- Setting up a tent
As well as things you may not readily think of such as, how to pack a backpack effectively, how to select a safe campsite, and how to be safe around wildlife.
How Do You Build These Skills?
When you really start to think of the prospect of backpacking and everything it involves, the task can seem daunting. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be scary, and learning how to competently perform the necessary skills is very rewarding. There are many resources you can utilize if you’re just starting out.
The most obvious resource is the internet. There is endless information online including articles, and videos, that you can find relating to every single one of these skills. And I am personally writing about and constantly posting content that will help you understand how to be a great backpacker.
Unfortunately learning from the internet comes with drawbacks. It can be difficult to actually perform a skill yourself if you have only read about it or watched a video. The ideal way to learn an active skill is to hear (or read) about how to do it, see a demonstration, practice for yourself and receive correction and feedback.
If you are a first-time backpacker, I recommend finding someone who has already been backpacking, joining them on a trip and learning from them. If you don’t know any backpackers then practice, practice, practice on your own. Then begin backpacking in more popular areas where there are people to help you if you need it.
Know Your Limits
It is important to become knowledgeable and confident in your backpacking abilities and to know your own limits before heading out to the wilderness to test them out. Like many worthwhile pursuits, backpacking comes with real risks. These risks are mitigated as you become a capable adventurer.
Many mistakes that people make on the trail are completely preventable.
A few years ago I spent a summer working at a popular national park in Utah. I spent some time helping with the search and rescue operations in the park. I saw many people making simple mistakes every day that sometimes lead to real consequences. One of these mistakes was unseasoned hikers, overestimating their abilities.
I will always remember the first rescue operation that I assisted in. A very overweight man, who was recovering from the flu had hiked over a mile into the canyon with no water and was unable to make it back up. Several park employees were deployed to help carry him back to the top on a litter. This man did not know his limits.
Anyone can become a backpacker but it may require some time and some work. It may even require a training program to help you become physically ready.
But I can promise it is so worth it.
Why Become a Backpacker?
Backpacking isn’t just tramping around the woods and pretending to be homeless (as an old roommate of mine described it.)
Backpacking is one of the most rewarding endeavors out there. Some of the most beautiful and sacred places I have ever visited were only accessible by foot. I have enjoyed cultivating the knowledge and skill set required to trust myself as I travel to these places.
Learning how to backpack can be very fun and satisfying. I love knowing how to successfully navigate in the wilderness without a trail. I love feeling confident in myself and my skills and proving that confidence is well-founded by completing a successful trip.
Backpacking helps you to improve physically, mentally, and emotionally. It can help you foster a connection with the earth and bring you closer to your very roots. As a human being you are part of this planet, spending time out in raw nature can help you in ways that you can’t presently imagine.
I hope you will allow me to be a resource and a friend as you embark on, or continue your backpacking journey.
I know you can do it. So open the door, take a step outside, and discover a new world waiting where the sidewalk ends.