Few things are more peaceful than strolling through the striking glow of yellow as a young maple grove prepares for the long Northern winter.
With significant absences, my desire to write and preach passions to the masses is continually increasing. That is to say, though the intermediate time between my posts are occasionally longer than I prefer, the time away is never wasted! The sizable gap since my last post was due to some late summer travels followed by a 'dream job' getting paid to spend time in the wilderness with a good friend, hiking a several-hundred-mile long trail and collecting spatial data.Many shades of color delight as autumn kicks in to gear along a pristine mountain river.
Although the details of this job and the story behind acquiring the position may be revisited in a future post, this article will serve as the introduction to a series of posts examining the technology of backpacking. In this series, we will take a objective and comprehensive look at the variety of gadgets, tools, and downright essential gear that is required to comfortably spend prolonged amounts of time surviving in nature. While dissecting the different options, we will evaluate the pros and cons of each and allow you (the reader) to determine what is best suited for your personal outdoor lifestyle.Breathtaking views like this are not too hard to come by on a good backcountry trail. Though they may be strenuous at times, these trails are often designed to showcase natural beauty.
Woodland victories come in many shapes and sizes. Here, a moment of gratitude is felt by an exhausted hiker on a foggy and soggy day along the banks of a gorgeous alpine glacial lake.
Before diving too deep into the gritty details of the gear used for walking among trees, following footpaths, and sleeping on the ground, it is only fair to give the concept of backpacking itself an objective evaluation and discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages. Because I am somewhat partial to the hobby, let's begin with a few reasons why you should be too!
Advantages of Backpacking
- Cardiovascular Health - A favorable advantage of hiking long distances across terrain with weight on your back is that it is an incredible workout! Backpacking is a great form of exercise that accelerates caloric consumption and improves cardiovascular health by increasing the heart rate for prolonged periods of time.
- Muscular Strength - Nearly all of the muscles of the body are used and strengthened by backpacking. When a pack is worn and poles are used, the hands, arms, shoulders, back, abs, legs, and feet are all utilized.
- Air & Sun - The quality of air tends to be better in remote wildernesses than in urban environments. Just being outdoors anywhere is beneficial for most people as the body produces vitamin D when the skin is exposed to solar radiation.
- Exploration - The process of exploration is critically important for many humans. Personally, I find treading on new terrain extremely exciting, never knowing what treasures are hiding behind the next bend in the trail!
- Exposure - One of the reliable benefits of wandering in the woods is that you are exposed to a wide variety of trees, plants, animals, rocks, fungi, and other natural occurrences. These broaden the entire experience and allow unrealized passions and interests to be discovered.
- Self-Sufficiency - Through challenging yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and survive in the wilderness, you are ensuring that you have the skills required to be somewhat self-reliant. This is very practical knowledge to possess and I have found that the experience can help boost confidence and overall happiness.
- Social Interactions - This one may not be as intuitive as the others, but it is important even for those who hike solo. When you encounter another wanderer in the woods, a conversation often ensues where useful information and interesting stories are exchanged. When wandering with a partner or group, you are forced to become adept in communication, tolerance, stoicism, trust, and patience. Fortunately, almost everyone I have met who enjoys spending significant time in the wilderness is a genuinely good person (as well as a glutton for punishment), and acts of trail magic are common!
Standing on the edge of a slippery, rocky cliff on a wet and foggy day is one way to increase the chances of something going wrong while backpacking...but the thrill is often worth it!
Potential Disadvantages of Backpacking
- Animal Attacks - There are many animals in the wilderness that have the ability to kill or seriously hurt humans. Fortunately, most of these animals do not attack unless they feel threatened or provoked, often when protecting their young.
- Hypothermia - A serious threat to people who spend time in cold wildernesses is hypothermia, a dangerously low core body temperature. While this will only occur in some climates and weather conditions, it has been the demise of many wanderers.
- Dehydration - This is mostly a risk for people walking in arid regions, but could also be a concern if inadequate water treatment is utilized. Dehydration can kill a person in a matter of days.
- Starvation - The lack of food is mostly only a risk for hikers who are trapped or lost in a desolate environment. It takes much longer for starvation to occur than dehydration.
- Physical Injury - When hiking on complex and dangerous terrain, it is not uncommon to incur physical injuries. These can be simple sprains and blisters, or more serious breaks and open flesh wounds. A well-stocked first aid kit and a trusted hiking partner are your two best protections against a physical injury resulting in your demise.
- Physical Illness - Physical infections such as Giardia can arise from consuming tainted food or not properly treating water. This is generally temporary and not life-threatening. You have a higher chance of catching a 'superbug' in an urban environment.
- Primitive Lifestyle - Spending time in the wilderness often requires living without some modern conveniences. A few lacking amenities include plumbing, conditioned shelters, electricity, and internet!
In the deep wilderness, amenities as simple as a bench or a latrine are quite the luxury!
As with most things in life, there are both good and potentially negative outcomes that could arise from spending time in the wilderness. This list is by no means comprehensive, as there are undoubtedly many other arguments both for and against backpacking. It is up to you to decide if the benefits outweigh the potential risks! Let us continue the discussion in the comments - for what reasons do you (or don't you) spend time hiking and camping in the wilderness?