When Jill and I began this trip we had not done a whole lot of backpacking. However, during the trip we’ve made a strong push to spend as much time on the trail as possible, and as such have picked up a few things. So, if you’re anywhere near where we were when we began, and have interest in playing around outside, maybe the next few posts will help you get started.
The weight of a person’s backpack is the best measure of how seriously they take the hobby. The more time you spend on the trail, the more you realize the obvious, the less weight you carry the easier it is to hike. The ones who take this concept really seriously are called ultra-lighters. Jill and I are not ultra-lighters. This is mostly due to economics. As equipment gets lighter it gets more expensive, fast. Furthermore, the philosophy can go to extremes (as most things can). I’m not yet sold on the ideas of cutting back on first aid kit items, or possibly doing away with any extra food you carry. To me, the peace of mind is worth the extra few grams. That being said, we’re also not crazy. We don’t want to carry anything we feel we don’t have to (we’ve seen people on the trail with cans of soda!). We just haven’t invested in that really expensive equipment yet. For now, while our trips are under 5 days at a time, we’re perfectly comfortable with being middle of the road.
As we’re heading into an area we intend to do some backcountry, we rarely go in empty handed. We’ll usually have a backpacker magazine article in mind, or a few recommendations from friends, or guidebooks. However, almost always, we are inevitably swayed by the advice of the ranger in the back country office. We have learned that this blind trust is a risk. Not all rangers are created equal. Sometimes the ranger has legitimate trail experience, and more importantly picks up on what you’re looking for, and then there are rangers who make you feel that they’re just punching their time cards. It can be tricky to tell the difference. In either case they will always know more than you do, but we are beginning to learn to tell the difference. Enthusiasm is usually the key. Make sure to ask questions and keep them talking. The more you have them say the easier it is to spot the difference. The way we’re travelling it’s impossible to get it right every time. We’re spending 2,3, or at most 4 nights in a place we could spend the rest of our lives exploring. The great thing is, with the places we’ve decided to spend time, the hits are epic, and the misses are still unforgettable.
A lot of serious backpackers are going off trail. Leaving clearly marked paths behind, they are guaranteed solitude. This can be significantly more challenging, and dangerous. For many, it’s part of a long term relationship that they have with their own backyard. We’ve had enough time bushwacking, as it’s called, to know that it is both a completely different experience and, at this time, not for us. Going off trail is a much more intimate hiking experience, not one best suited for our first date. We’ll save this approach for a time we call one of these places home.