Backpacking! Unlike hiking, or trail running, backpacking is something that carries a bit of mystique - and a bit of fear for the casual adventurer. While there are many reasons for those - and other feelings, the main reason is that until one learns what to bring - and not to bring, the sport can seem a little daunting. In my opinion, backpacking is a great way to experience all of the unique spots around the world. I also think that, generally, once one gets a little experience in the sport it gets progressively easier and progressively more enjoyable. In this video I cover what gear I carried for a basic two-day trip up the North Fork of Big Pine Creek in the Eastern Sierra. While the gear in the video is somewhat specifically tailored for the trip, it would also be great example for other two day trips, like the one I discussed a few years ago to May Lake. Got any suggestions or comments about what you like or dislike about backpacking? Let me know in the comments below!
When I started backpacking, the one of the main – and critical issues was what gear would be left behind. At that time, backpacks were heavy, external frame affairs, and it was common to see even experienced backpackers with sleeping pads, metal canteens, and heavy and bulky sleeping bags lashed or strapped to various places on the backpack. This was before the rise of synthetic materials, and the ultralight movement that has come to dominate not only backpacking, but the outdoor industry as a whole. When I look back on the gear that I and many other people used to carry, I realize that it truly was the dark ages in terms of how the sport has evolved.
Bryce Canyon National Park is an amazing spot, first and foremost for the geologic features that are present there, hoodoos. These ancient rocks are the main attraction of the park, and there are many viewpoints that overlook these rocks, and there are many excellent trails that wind in between the hoodoos.
The Coast Track is a hiking trail that extends from Wainui Bay to Marahau in Abel Tasman National Park. The trail is 55.2 kilometers long (for Americans, that’s 34.29 miles long, so we’ll round up, and call it 33.3 miles total distance), and it can be hiked and or backpacked from North (Wainui Bay) to South (Marahau) and South (Marahau) to North (Wainui Bay). This trail, or as New Zealanders call it, “track”, covers a variety of stunning terrain, from forested areas, to estuaries, to golden sand beaches, along the shores of the Tasman Sea. It is considered one of New Zealand’s “great walks”, meaning that while it can be hiked piecemeal in a series of day hikes, it can also covered, and is best appreciated in a one-to-four day backpack trip (which New Zealanders call “tramping”). The best time to go on this great walk along the Coast is during Spring and Summer in New Zealand, which is from October to March.
When is a backpacking trip not a backpacking trip? While such a question sounds like either a riddle, or a rhetorical question, it actually is a question with a solid answer. In my mind, a backpacking trip is not a backpacking trip when it is an introductory backpacking trip. Simple, right? Wordplay aside, what I mean by this is that when you are starting out as a novice backpacker, or whether you are trying to interest someone in backpacking, the thing to do is start out slow – don’t start out with the fifty mile, multi-day trip with no experience; or all new gear. If you want to be a backpacker; start out with smaller one to two day trips – such an approach allows you to test out your gear, and it allows you to test out your conditioning. Also, if you’re trying to introduce someone else to the sport, it allows them to become acclimatized to being immersed in the wilderness without becoming overwhelmed. Finally, this approach allows you to enjoy what you are doing without the pressure of having to be somewhere on a deadline; and allows you to appreciate the experience.
There are hikes in the world that are greater than hikes. They are greater than hikes because most of the time, they consist of distances that cannot be covered in a single day by a single person. These hikes are greater than hikes because even if the distance isn’t that great, the scenery and the natural beauty present on them demand that the individual attempting that hike stop, watch, and listen at what the world is telling them through trees, mountains, hills, meadows, streams, and every other natural feature. It is for these hikes that are greater than hikes that the backpack was developed; and the term “backpacking” invented. And, if you really stop and think about it, backpacking is one of the oldest “sports” on the planet; except that for eons, it wasn’t considered a sport – it was considered a way of life for humans to get from one destination to another!
Today, things are obviously a little different, but the lessons our ancestors took from spending time in the wild remain; carried through time by such luminaries as John Muir (“Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”) While backpacking is a vacation activity or sport to many people, it also is a reflection of a world-wide historic tradition of becoming one with nature at certain points in life. In this respect, there are backpacking trips, and there are areas that are known as “Great Walks”. To me, any trip of a day or more is a great walk, but while it is hard to judge, some walks are greater than others. In any event, the purpose of this section is to discuss some of the backpacking trips and great walks I’ve been on, in all forms – gear, directions, and everything in between. If you are considering getting started in backpacking, or attempting the great walks of the world, remember this: mountaineering is the freedom of the hills; backpacking is the freedom of everything. I say this because with the right skills, the right gear, and the right motivation, a person can roam forever with his backpack, stopping only to find food – much as people have always done. Backpacking, therefore, is a great freedom – and whether you do it for a day, or two days, I highly recommend it, and hope to see you on the trail.