"All the truly deep people have at the core of their being the genius to be simple or to know how to seek simplicity"
-Martin E. Marty
Its simple: Wake up, take down camp, eat, hike, eat some more, hike some more, set up camp, eat a bunch more, and go to sleep. Repeat.
There is something incredibly reassuring and simplistic about backpacking. While some might call this simplicity monotonous, there is a calm that accompanies the knowledge that my main responsibility is to transport myself (and my stuff) from one point to another. The complex systems of choice I encounter in front country life simply don’t exist, and they are replaced by incredibly important, but limited options.
This is not to say that backpacking is mindless, but instead to suggest that by the time I find myself on trail, I have already made many of the most crucial decisions. I have already chosen my destination, route, food, gear, logistics, company and most likely my mileage. While I can certainly call an audible during the trip, many of these variables are already fixed. I never have to put much thought into what to wear or what to eat, and as my trail habits are established, I am able to think less, enjoy more, and simplify everything down to the basics. As intuition develops, many of the choices that were once difficult are now normalized routines.
When backpacking, I turn off the anxious parts of my brain. This does not always happen immediately (and it certainly takes practice), but after a brief transitional period between city life and wilderness, my brain eventually prioritizes my current environment. By physically removing myself from the complications of other aspects of life, I find myself focusing on the joy that accompanies constant movement, natural beauty, and a clarity of purpose. As someone who is enlivened by physical activity, the exhausting and unrelenting physical challenge of backpacking drives a sense of accomplishment and achievement that is unparalleled. There is something exceptionally humanizing about constant motion, and its incredible how physical activity (coupled with natural beauty) can truly make me feel my best.
At its core backpacking is a simple exercise in natural consequences: a relationship between cause and effect. Everything I do on trail has a relatively immediate impact on my wellbeing. Set up my tarp poorly? Get wet when it rains. Don’t keep myself hydrated? Run out of energy later in the day. These practices are ingrained in a simple relationship that is rooted in the attainment of ones fundamental needs. The adherence to these routines requires mindfulness not brute strength or advanced technical knowledge. Backpacking emphasizes the fundamental principals of Maslow's Hierarchy in showing us that the simple things we do to keep ourselves alive and safe are the very things that support our eventual happiness.
For me, backpacking is also just as much about lightening the emotional weight associated with lots of small of decisions as it is about reducing the physical weight of my pack. Backpackers bring only what they need, and in the process eliminate many of the redundancies that cause needless complications. While my purpose for backpacking is not to stop thinking critically, by eliminating superfluous material distractions I am certainly able to stay more present. Bring what you need, leave what you don't. Your thoughts are welcome!
Yes - I also want to acknowledge that sometimes backpacking is far from simple. I've certainly been in some sticky situations that were exceptionally complex, stressful, and downright dangerous. However, I go backpacking with the desire for simplicity and the understanding that challenges are a part of the adventure.
Written by Lloyd Vogel: Lloyd Vogel is the owner and operator of Big Outdoors. He enjoys playing around outside, ultimate frisbee, and consuming disproportionately large meals. His favorite color is orange (he's a ginger) and his favorite book is Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis.