Continuing the celebration of National Get Outdoors Month, today we’re covering some essential backpacking gear, skills, and preparations that will help ensure you return from your adventure happy, healthy, and in one piece.
Preparing for a backpacking trip can be intimidating—there’s so much to think about! What will you eat? How much water do you need? What animals might you encounter? Should you go into your local REI and grab one of everything, or can you get away with just a shower curtain for shelter and a change of clothes like the famed Appalachian Trail hiker Grandma Gatewood?
Really, all these questions boil down to: What might kill you out in nature, and how can you successfully avoid those things?
There are different degrees of hiking. There’s the kind of “hiking” you do through Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Central Park in NYC, or Runyon Canyon in Hollywood. You’re outdoors and amidst the trees and foliage and physically active, but it’s not quite roughin’ in. You still have cell coverage, and you can procure an iced coffee within twenty minutes if you have to. For those hikes, you don’t need first aid. You don’t need any special skills other than the ability to ambulate across the landscape.
But there’s real hiking. Hiking more than five miles. Multi-day hiking. Overnight hiking. Backpacking. Hiking in a place where the trail might not be so well-maintained, where you might run into an aggressive animal, where you have to keep your wits about you. For this type of hiking, which is what most people imagine when they think of “hiking,” it’s a good idea to come prepared with first aid: with physical medical supplies and skills and knowledge that will help you enjoy the great outdoors without staying helpless. Because the true allure of hiking is getting out into the wilderness where the niceties and comforts of the modern world no longer apply. We all want a bit of adventure, but we also want to make it back in one piece.
June is National Get Outdoors Month. Here at MDA, we’re spending the next couple weeks teeing you up to have your best summer yet in the great outdoors with posts to inspire you to get into nature.
Today we’re talking about how to train for backpacking. Let’s start with the most obvious question: what IS backpacking? Backpacking is simply multi-day hiking where you carry all your gear on your back.
Say you’re going out for a day hike carrying water, food, and basic survival gear, but you return to your car the same day you set out. That’s not backpacking.
If you’re trekking across the country, but someone else is sherpaing your gear from one sleeping spot to the next, that’s not backpacking either.
In a nutshell, backpacking is essentially a long hike with more gear and more details to think about because you’ll be spending at least one night—but possibly many more—camping out. I think of backpacking as a kind of endurance sport. As with any endurance sport, you want to train for your event. You probably wouldn’t enter a half-marathon this coming weekend with minimal or no training. You could, but it would hurt a lot less, and your chance of success would be significantly greater, if you took the time to train. Same goes for backpacking.
The good news is, if you already have a solid fitness base, you are well on your way. Now you just need to tailor your training to get ready for your backpacking expedition.
The weather turns, the clouds disperse, the sun returns, and one’s thoughts wander to camping, backpacking, and just generally tromping around in the great outdoors. It is the human imperative to conquer the wilderness and to exult in its grandeur, beauty, and danger. The true frontier is mostly gone now, but we can emulate that most fundamental and ancient human experience by going camping.
I’ve explained why camping is so important for your health and happiness:
It restores your circadian rhythm.
It encourages healthy movement outdoors.
It places fire at the center of the communal nighttime setting rather than TV or smartphones.
But you gotta eat out there.