Backpacking and a mobile, active lifestyle has captured the imaginations of many in an age where social media makes it possible to effortlessly share photos of vistas, lakes, snow covered mountains in an instant.
While we sit at work or at home and peruse Instagram looking at these majestic pictures, often times we catch a glimpse of the elusive and mysterious figure that is responsible for applying the filters and adjusting shutter speed: the backpacker.
This mystery of the modern world makes the lifestyle look as sanitary and leisurely as going to IKEA or Sunday brunch, but as anyone who has climbed a mountain or bushwhacked through miles of brambles and rhododendron knows, there’s a lot the viewer isn’t seeing.
Here are five things you may be surprised by on your first backpacking trip…
1) The Smells
Sure, Jimmy and Wanda Northfjord have the perfect relationship.
They post all of their adventures on Instagram and Twitter, they live in a decked out van, they have cool puffy jackets that weigh less than your trust issues, and they have no responsibilities except loving each other unconditionally for the next 50 years.
But there’s a darker side to their relationship you may be unaware of: they smell like a dumpster fire that was put out with raw sewage.
Yes, hygiene is important out in the wonderment of nature, but brushing your teeth and keeping the “woods clean” (as some call it) will only take you so far. Any way you cut it, days of sweating, sleeping, eating, and more sweating will make you smell terrible.
2) The Feet
Ask a long-distance backpacker what the most important piece of gear is and immediately after mentioning toilet paper, they’ll probably mention shoes or socks.
There’s a reason for this: your feet will take a beating on the trail. Whether you come from road or trail running or being a couch potato, backpacking will hurt your feet. Even if you’re used to doing strenuous day hikes, it’s slightly differently when you strap 15 to 30 pounds on your back for miles of hiking, then sleep for a few hours only to wake up the next morning and hike another 10 miles.
This is nothing to be scared of for there is a multitude of precautions you can take to minimize foot stress. Get good shoes with a supportive insole along with some merino wool socks and you’ll be just fine.
3) The Dread
Backpacking is a lot of fun. Some of the most rewarding and joyful moments imaginable are offered through it, but it’s also important to realize that there will come a time when you will hate it. All of it.
It may not happen until you’re years into your backpacking career, but there will come a time when your feet and legs ache, your stomach rumbles, your water bottle is empty, you can’t find a decent place to camp or a water source, you get lost, and you just want to go home.
One thing is for sure, though: there isn’t a backpacker alive who would trade even their worst trip for a day at the office or a day spent at home. What seems like the end of the world outdoors usually finds a way to romanticize itself by the time you get back to the car.
4) The Monotony
Most Instagram-famous backpackers and outdoors people tend to only show their audience the most extravagant parts of their trips, but there is a kind of syndrome you may get (especially in the woods) that causes you to stare at your feet for hours on end instead of looking up and enjoying the scenery.
It’s easy to do and even the most experienced and purist backpacker is familiar with the surprising thought, “I guess I should look up at some point.” The reason for this is the monotony of the activity.
While some views never get old, many hikes are a lot of the same scenery over and over again. There’s a reason the Appalachian Trail is affectionately nick-named the Green Tunnel.
5) The Gear Doesn’t Need to Be Space-age (But It Sure Helps)
If you’re not lucky enough to be acquainted with someone who will loan you gear as a beginner, don’t worry, you aren’t hopeless. Be aware, however, of a couple things.
First is that it’s not smart to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on backpacking and camping gear only to find out during your first trip that it isn’t your thing. An enormous amount of people find themselves in that exact scenario and are stuck with loads of cool gadgets that they just can’t make their money back on.
Just remember that while backpacking is super fun, it is also physically and mentally exhausting and not everyone will take to it. Expensive gear with all the latest technology really does help in making hiking easier and sleeping more peaceful, but none of that matters if backpacking just isn’t what you thought it would be.
You can find a lot of useful gear at thrift stores or with online backpacking message boards like Backpacking Light and Gear Trade. Plus you’d be surprised how many things you have in your basement or garage that could be a god-send on the trail.
Is Backpacking For You?
There’s only one way to find out.
For the average person, each amazing view or interesting little cove of coolness is preceded by a lot of grind, sweat, and praying for the next point of interest. But this grind makes for extremely rewarding experiences. When it’s all said and done, you’ll be glad you went!
Having read this, you’ll be a lot more prepared for your first backpacking trip than most. Just keep in mind that while backpacking isn’t all rainbows and sunshine, there’s plenty of payoff in the form of incredible views and challenging yourself — nothing worth doing is easy.
Do your research, cover the basics, be safe and, most importantly, live the #PeregrineLife.