How To Start Backpacking (And Why You Should Try It)

Backpacking is such a weird concept if you think about it.  You spend a bunch of money to basically become homeless for a chunk of time.  You don’t (typically) get to shower, use a toilet, or sometimes even eat hot food.  You sleep on the ground, you exert yourself to the point of exhaustion each day, you have no contact with “the outside world”, you have all sorts of bugs and insects crawling on you and biting you at all times, and paranoia usually sets in at night when you keep hearing strange noises from the bushes…is it a bear?  a mountain lion?  a murderer?  MOM!?

So why do I and so many others willingly put ourselves through this time and time again? 

Well, my dad is partly to blame.  He (apologetically) insists he dropped me on my head as a baby several times.  So that could be why.  What’s your excuse, huh?

I imagine it’s partly because of this:

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And maybe this:

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Or this, too!

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This looks alright.

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I, for one, basically run to the mountains each weekend with my pack on, just itching to get out into the middle of nowhere.  I have been most physically uncomfortable while backpacking, but the most mentally and emotionally comfortable in the mountains.

Strange, huh?  Well, it’s because I’m a Type-2 fun haver.  And if you relate to the above, then you are, too!  Apparently, there are three different types of fun.

Type-1 fun:  This kind of fun is ALWAYS fun.  You never get sick of it and it is great from the beginning to the end.  Playing with puppies comes to mind.  Brewery hopping is another option for me.  (I’m not basic, shut up!)

Type-2 fun:  This sort of fun is usually miserable while you are doing it, but once you’re done, you would do it again and again because of the result.  Climbing a mountain is Type-2 fun.  It hurts during the ascent, but the view from the top is most likely epic and will most certainly make you addicted to that rush.  Also, working out until you almost puke is considered Type-2 fun.  You actually think you might die during that workout, but you feel damn great at the end (and you look damn good, too).

Type-3 fun:  This type of fun is not fun at all, at any point.  Maybe you thought it would be, but you quickly regret your choice and will never, ever do it again.  This could be biking the STP (Seattle to Portland), only to get hurt after mile one hundred and not being able to finish.

Most of us may immediately think that we would want Type-1 fun all of the time!  I mean, who wants to willingly experience any sort of pain or discomfort if we don’t have to?  Well, I am here to encourage you to continue doing your Type-1 fun activities, but to add MORE Type-2 fun activities into the mix.

Type-2 fun will almost always be a character building lesson.  How far are you willing to push yourself to get to a place you have never been before?  How much discomfort will you endure to experience something amazing, something that can’t just be given to you?

Well, backpacking is Type-2 fun. 

Playing with puppies and drinking beer with friends is fun at all, but I am probably not growing a lot as a person doing that.  Those things are still important to me as they are stress free and relaxing, but Type-2 fun pushes me to my limits, usually physically and mentally, and makes me better for it.  Through my experiences of summiting peaks, backpacking, and rock climbing, I have realized how much more capable of a person I am, how easily I can get frustrated, and these moments help me learn how to problem solve and even how to solve problems quickly.

One of my favorite mantras is: Less comfort.  More life.

I encourage you to try backpacking, or some activity relating to Type-2 fun, (if you haven’t already), and get an even better sense of yourself than you possibly had before.  Do you give up more easily than you thought you would?  When something goes wrong, how do you react?  Are you stronger than you originally gave yourself credit for?

Less comfort.  More life.

Backpacking will most likely bring out emotions and feelings in you that you probably didn’t realize existed.  But I bet you will be proud of yourself in the end.  It truly is an incredible feeling when you reach a height (literally) that seemed impossible to reach.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I started a trek up a mountain, so incredibly intimidated at looking towards where I was supposed to end up.  I always did it though.  And it’s no joke when people say you get a high from it.

If you are new to backpacking, here are some tips to get you started.

First, find a community of hikers and backpackers.  I am an Ambassador for Mountain Chicks (men and fur children welcome).  Find us on Instagram @mtnchicks.  There are many other groups out there, strictly male, female, coed, different age groups, etc.  Find one (or several) that you feel comfortable in.

Second, use resources provided by places like REI.  They can provide extensive backpacking lists of items you will need to be successful in the woods.  (I have created my own, so feel free to message me for it!)

Third, if you are still on the fence if you will become an avid backpacker, borrow your equipment before purchasing anything.  Whether you borrow friend’s equipment or tag along with people in one of your hiking groups, try to share a tent, water filter, and so on.  Or, you can rent the necessary equipment from places like REI.  Therefore, no real commitment is needed.

Next, make sure you go backpacking with others who have been before and know what they are doing.  You also want to make sure you are doing a hike that isn’t too difficult for your physical ability, because carrying a pack on your back is a whole different story.  Try not to over-achieve on your first trip.  You can always go again and do something harder!

Finally, get excited!  It’s ok to be nervous.  But try to let your accomplishments outweigh your fears!  Learn the environment of the area you will be going to so you can be fully prepared for whatever that area may bring, but also, don’t worry too much about everything that can go wrong.  You are smart and capable of adapting.  Just have faith in yourself!

Then, if you realize you are a total BA Boss, and absolutely loved being one with nature like that, start accumulating your own backpacking equipment!  It does get expensive, so try to be patient and purchase items slowly.  And don’t go cheap if possible!  There’s a reason the expensive stuff is typically the best (lightweight, durable, warm, etc.)  Find a good balance for your needs and go kill it!

Also, please be courteous to the wilderness and leave no trace behind.  Pack out all of your trash and the outdoor gods will bless you.  Be considerate of the wilderness as we are the intruders, not the other way around.

I hope you enjoy the outdoors as much as I do!  I would love to hear your stories about your first time backpacking!  Feel free to message me for any questions you have.  Us backpackers are a family and I hope to see you on the trails!

Just remember.  Less comfort.  More life.

With love and hopes of adventure,
Jennifer Mabus, The Whimsical Woman

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