After deciding that we would follow our dreams to travel the world, Nikita and I took up backpacking on the weekends in the few years that it would take us to save up enough money. We knew we wanted to experience a lot of nature around the world, more rural areas of countries we wanted to visit, and take our time experiencing a slower-paced lifestyle while saving on transportation costs. So we started backpacking the trails of North Georgia on weekends to practice and build up our strength for when we would backpack other parts of the world.
[blockquote type=”left, center, right”]We started backpacking the trails of North Georgia on weekends to practice and build up our strengthyup for when we would backpack other parts of the world.[/blockquote]
Case in point, on a recent trip we decided to shorten our weekend to just the day due to torrential rains, making our trip 9 miles long. 4.5 miles in each direction.
But we noticed something unusual on our way back.
We were walking a lot downhill. A lot. And neither of us remembered going uphill for that long.
While curious, it was a great feeling. To have conquered almost 4.5 miles of uphill trail and have it be unmemorable instead of a long, labored commute like it usually is!
We were both giddy with excitement about the progress we had made. Even more so when we weren’t too tired by the time we got back to the car and overall had made a personal best time.
This sense of accomplishment is one of the best things about regular backpacking.
Instead of telling you that you should start now, I’ll list some of the most positive benefits we’ve noticed from about 3 years of backpacking on the weekends.
Overland Underseas’ Best Reasons to Start Backpacking
Backpacking mountain trails is an endurance exercise. Even a hike lasting a few hours will work you hard if you’re not used to it.
If you don’t like to do a traditional gym workout, backpacking will offer you a nice change. Put 20-40 pounds on your back (comfortably, in a proper pack) and walk 8 miles of non-flat terrain and let me know if that’s a better workout for you.
[pullquote type=”left, right”]We’ve burned over a pound’s worth of calories on many weekend trips. How many gym workouts would it take to do that?[/pullquote]Hiking as an activity creates strong, lean legs, especially when there’s weight involved. And while you will be walking downhill or on flat segments some of the time, there will be uphill, sometimes very steep slopes that leave you out of breath.
We’ve burned over a pound’s worth of calories on many weekend trips. How many gym workouts would it take to do that?
A sense of accomplishment
Whether it’s getting to the top of a peak, getting to your camp in good time, packing a lot of miles, or tackling tough terrain, it feels great to meet your goals. And on a weekend trip, the goal is never far away! Yay!
Over time, you’ll notice your strength and stamina on and off the trail improving, you’ll feel more comfortable being outside of civilization, and planning your next trip with the confidence that you’ll be able to handle it and more.
Being a rugged beast
There’s no running water, TV, internet, or delivery in the woods. If there is- you’re doing it wrong.
After a long day of hiking, you might be sweaty and tired, but you’ve still got to make camp and get some good food. There’s nowhere to buy any of that, so you have to do it yourself. You’ll have to set up your sleeping arrangement, eat some food, and stash it away from potential bears.
At some point you’ll have to go #1 or #2.
I know there’s a thing about going to the bathroom in the woods, but I’m not sure why because the woods are infinitely cleaner than any toilet. It’s awkward at first not to sit down, but after a few times you’ll be a pro. I’m fairly adept at both and no longer bothered by it. I also instinctively roll my eyes when people whine about it. Man up.
All this, including not showering after nearly 48 sweaty hours carves you into a more rugged, fearless and adaptive version of your self. A beast!
Chances are, there’s incredible scenery and wilderness in your own backyard. The US is amazing in that it’s huge and still so wild in many places.
If you live in a very urban area, chances are you don’t get to experience a full, stand-alone ecosystem very often. You may even not even realize how polluted the air you’re breathing is.
Nature is beautiful but huge and sometimes intimidating. Nature does not give a shit about you or how you feel. It’s definitely a change in perspective to exist away from civilization for more than a few hours at a time.
Though I’ve always loved and cherished the natural world, spending a lot of time in it has given me a new respect for the natural world and our role in it.
[pullquote type=”right, left”]I’ve had weekends where I spent hours on the internet, reading articles and looking at dumb stuff that I can’t even recall now.[/pullquote]I’ve had weekends where I spent hours on the internet, reading articles and looking at dumb stuff that I can’t even recall now. By Sunday night, I regretted all the time I wasted.
Our society is well aware of the problem of being constantly connected. We know, but we don’t do much to change it.
Being in the wilderness, far from your 3G connection will force you to put away your phone. Trust me, you won’t miss it as much as you think, and all of it will still be there when you get back!
Aside from some essential gear, and the gas it might take to get you there, backpacking is a cheap activity. While you’re out in the woods, you’re not out on the town, shopping or eating out. You really can‘t spend money. And on the upside, your hard-earned meal when you get back will feel well-deserved.
Like any hobby, there are plenty of fancy camping and backpacking items you can buy that will supposedly up your game, but mostly they’ll take a bite out of your wallet. This explains, my love-hate relationship with REI. Expensive? Or “well-made?”
Backpacking is inexpensive, and can be done on the very cheap if you need to.
Since we’re saving up for global travel, this is a huge selling point for us.
Quality time with your friends, family or significant other
There have been times when Nikita and I have gotten annoyed or mad at one another, but it was mostly due to tired- or hunger-related crankiness.
Aside from that (which happens in the real world too), backpacking lets you spend time with people close to you in a new way. Taking on adventures together is good for any relationship, and you’ll be surprised to learn how you all develop both individually and as a unit on the trail.
Even being on the trail with your dog is fun. I can’t imagine going on a hike without ours. Riley brings a lot of silliness and excitement to hiking and backpacking, and it’s fun to see his doggie backpacking persona emerge over these past few years.
While these are just a few, they’re some of the most positive benefits we’ve noticed during our 3 years.
What about you? What are your short term, long term or overall benefits of backpacking? What were your best reasons to start backpacking?