Learning the Hard Way: The Grayson Highlands Backpacking Incident | Peregrennials

Learning the Hard Way: The Grayson Highlands Backpacking Incident

Backpacking Gear for Beginners

Whether it was spending the week camping with siblings or building stick shelters in the alleyway behind my house, I’ve always been what I describe as “an outside dog.”

As a kid, I came across an old U.S. Army survival manual and the thought of survival and self-reliance captured my imagination. The minimalist passion with which I started my life outside has persisted and evolved.

I’ve come to appreciate the backpacking gear and resources at my disposal, and that appreciation is strong now, because of one particularly miserable night backpacking in the Grayson Highlands of Virginia.

The Grayson Highlands Backpacking Incident

On my first real backpacking trip, years ago, a group of guys and myself ventured along the Appalachian Trail in southern Virginia into what is known as the Grayson Highlands – a mountainous area filled with wild flowers and wild ponies (yes, wild ponies).

It was enchanting, unlike anything I had ever seen and I was more than happy to call it home for the three days we visited.

One thing I was unprepared for, however, was the actual camping aspect of the trip.

Having grown accustomed to antique car-camping gear, I knew it would be different to carry everything on my back and a 12 pound tent was the last thing I wanted to strap on my back for 3 days of climbing mountains and hills.

I brought with me only a single person tent (which broke my budget), a backpack, two packets of ramen, some granola bars and a cheap pot.

That’s all.

I figured since it was August, I wouldn’t get cold and I had clearly underestimated the amount of calories I would need to sustain myself.

To add on to that, I couldn’t afford useful gear and obtaining the things I needed at that time just wasn’t an option.

The first night above 6,000 feet — one peak over from Mt. Rogers — dipped into the high 40’s or low 50’s and I was miserable.

I did sit-ups all night and managed to get a mere 2 hours sleep. Exercising in my small tent caused water to collect from on the rain fly and every time I touched it, it soaked through my cotton clothes.

At one point I feared I was coming down with hypothermia. The whole time I thought about my warm sleeping bag, inflatable mattress, and fleece jacket at home.

In the morning, after a healthy spell of complaining to my friends about the horrible night I endured, they loaned me a sleeping pad and a space blanket. Needless to say, that was a vast improvement.

That trip, despite the problems I caused for myself, set a fire inside me to not only take more trips like it, but to at any cost acquire the gear necessary to make it more comfortable.

Through making my own gear and saving up money working as a cook at a deli, I eventually grew and refined my collection to suit my needs perfectly.

Looking back on my beginner backpacking days as a young kid with a big dream, but not the resources needed to accomplish it, I’m incredibly thankful for each and every piece of gear I now own.

If I could give one piece of advice to any young person, or old for that matter, it would be to set your ego aside, recognize you’re not Bear Grylls, and make sure you have the necessary gear for a safe, enjoyable backpacking trip.

Gear Forward

I recently came across an awesome non-profit organization called Gear Forward. Long story short, they work with youth groups to help get backpacking and other outdoors gear into the hands of kids who otherwise wouldn’t have it.

After talking with their Director, Scott Gauvin, I wanted to give Gear Forward a huge shoutout, cause this is a mission all three of us at Peregrennials can get behind!

I’m sure Gear Forward would appreciate any help spreading the word about what they do. They also take gear donations, if you have any used outdoors gear around the house. Give ‘em a shout here!

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