I spent my whole life camping and hiking before I ventured into backpacking. But you don’t have to be an avid hiker or an “outdoorsy type” to try a backpacking trip. At Wildwood Hiking Co., we have several Beginner Backpacking Trips that include all the gear you need and an awesome backpacking guide to lead the way (that’s me!). If you’re on the fence, here’s 10 reasons why you should give backpacking a try.
1. Get away, slow down, and move at your own pace.
Backpacking gives you a chance to get away from the rut you’re in and try a new pace of life. There are no meetings or timelines or alarm clocks in the woods. You don’t have to race to beat the traffic lights or remember to file those stupid forms your boss wants back by tomorrow. You can slow down, breathe, and move at your own pace in the woods. Nobody is going to demand anything of you! How freeing! And you can let go of all the pressures to look and act a certain way. No uniforms or business casual here. Don’t worry about your makeup or that stain on your shirt. Let your farts rip! You’re a wild thing in the woods and you get to be exactly as you are- dirt, sweat, messy hair and everything. You want to eat M&Ms for breakfast and lick that Cheetoh dust off your fingers? Go for it! Nobody is watching. You get to set the goals, and if you meet them, great! If you don’t, who cares? Keep walking and you’ll make it when you make it. Slow down and take a break by a nice pond if you feel like it. Put in some headphones and scream-sing your anthem if you want. Take off your shirt and shorts and jump in a lake if you feel like it. You make the calls when you’re backpacking and you get to enjoy every bit of it!
2. Explore the natural world.
There’s so much to see in the woods if you take the time to soak it in! I once spent ten minutes watching a bunch of bees buzzing around some wildflowers and just wondering what they were up to. They probably wondered what I was up to… When you spend more time in nature, you’ll notice more of the natural world. You can stop and listen to a bird sing from the tree tops or sit quietly while you watch a little mouse nibble on a crumb you dropped. I’ve seen a fat porcupine eat while hanging in a tree, a mamma bear stand watch over her cubs, and bald eagles dive for fish. I watched a huge snake shove an entire bullfrog into his mouth and gulp it down over the course of several minutes. I even saw an epic battle between a wasp and a black widow. Guess who won? I once heard the footsteps of daddy long-legs as they marched across dead leaves on the forest floor. Who knew that a spider's footsteps could even be heard?! My favorite are the chipmunks.. They’re just so stinking cute! I watched a chipmunk steal another hiker’s dog food at a campsite and frantically stuff 12 pieces of kibble in his stretchy cheeks before bouncing off, hiding his stash, and coming back for more. Seeing, hearing, and experiencing these things in real life is just so much better than catching a clip on social media or watching a documentary while vegging out on the couch. Nature has so much to offer if we take the time to observe it. From sweet smelling wildflowers to the tiniest of toads, backpacking will give you an opportunity to experience nature at its finest.
3. Expand your mental and physical limits.
I found out through backpacking that my body is capable of accomplishing way more than I ever thought possible. And my mind is more powerful than I ever gave it credit for. Don’t let society set your limits or tell you that you can’t or shouldn’t do something. You get to decide what you’re capable of, and you get to decide your limits. Get out there, try something new, push yourself outside of your comfort zone and see what you find. You might be surprised. After each day of backpacking, I find that I grow a little bit stronger. And maybe I can hike farther, or climb higher, or push myself longer, than I thought I could. And the daily challenges of living on the trail helped me to grow mental toughness and perseverance. You very quickly learn to become comfortable with the uncomfortable when backpacking, whether it’s a soaking cold rain or a painful blister. These things will push your mental limits, but you’ll come out stronger because of it.
4. Be Present.
Practice mindfulness, stay in the moment, breathe, and enjoy the little things that come your way. When you’re backpacking, nothing beats a dry shelter in the pouring rain, a hot cup of tea while watching the sunrise, or a cool breeze on your face when you’ve been sweating your ass off. I found that even the worst of days on trail could be more enjoyable if I took a minute to close my eyes, breathe deeply, and center myself. When backpacking, sometimes mindfulness looks just like that- taking a moment to really absorb what’s around you and appreciating the sights, smells, sounds, and feelings. But sometimes mindfulness while hiking is letting go of everything around you and just centering your focus on your inner self. Your heart beating, your steady breath, your muscles engaging while you march your way up a steep ascent. I find that backpacking is a great way to practice staying in the moment and releasing my mind of all the stress that hits me in the off-trail life.
5. Learn something new.
Backpacking might help you learn new skills and build confidence, independence, and trust in yourself. You’re completely responsible for yourself when you’re backpacking. You carry everything you need to survive in your own backpack. If something goes wrong, you may need to make a quick decision to keep yourself safe. While that may seem scary (and it certainly did for me as a beginner), it’s also very empowering. Every mile is a learning experience, and you’ll quickly learn how to solve problems as they arise. I made a lot of mistakes on the A.T., from carrying too many clothes to not carrying enough water. And after every painful fall or failed attempt, I learned something new. I learned how to patch my tent after a mouse chewed in during a thunderstorm. I learned how to safely ford streams and cross swift waters. I learned how to test my footing on slick rocks. Learning how to make changes and adjust to situations helped me build confidence and trust in myself. I’ve learned a lot while backpacking, and if I can survive out in the wilderness, I think I can do just about anything.
6. Hiking is great exercise.
It’s no surprise that backpacking can burn a ton of calories and make you sweat. You’re carrying 30+ pounds in a pack while trekking for miles over varying terrain. Sometimes the trail is flat and smooth, sometimes it’s covered in rocky boulders, and sometimes you have to hike up steep mountain ascents for what feels like hours! A full day of backpacking can easily burn 3,000 - 5,000 calories! After my thru-hike, I was in the best shape of my life. I’d lost 15 pounds and gained a ton of muscle. Every day is leg day when you’re backpacking. It’s not easy, but the endorphins will leave you with a hiker’s high for long after your trip is over.
7. Take a break from technology.
We all need it. That’s no secret. Technology is mentally exhausting. After I spent a year teaching online during the pandemic, I was craving personal time that didn’t revolve around a screen! Getting out in the woods away from cell service forces me to take a break from social media, emails, and texts. I still like to enjoy a downloaded episode of my favorite show at night before bed, or listen to music occasionally while I hike. But most of the time, I keep my phone on airplane mode and just enjoy the mental break.
8. Breathe fresh air and drink some fresh mountain spring water.
There is nothing better than getting to the top of a mountain and just filling your lungs with the cool, fresh air. There’s just something about it that feels different. And when you’re in the green tunnel, surrounded by trees and plants and fresh dirt, the air smells crisp and clean, in a non-chemically kind of way. And the water! I always filter my water, but when it comes straight from the tap (the mountain tap, that is), it just tastes better! Every time I get into the mountains, I dump all my crappy city water and fill my bottle with ice cold, fresh mountain spring water. It beats out every city water, well water, and bottled water I’ve ever tried. Backpacking gives you access to the best that Mother Nature has to offer.
9. The views.
Of course I have to include the views! Your feet can take you to places you couldn’t ever reach by car. When you hike to a mountain summit and get to enjoy endless views of the horizon in every direction, you’ll get it. It really is breathtaking. The sunsets and sunrises are mesmerizing. Even the woods carry their own sense of beauty. I love finding a creek pouring over a cascade of boulders and just sitting down to soak in the view. The outdoors are filled with beautiful views, and backpacking is the best way to get there.
10. Change your perspective.
When you reach the top of a mountain with 360 degree views, you can’t help but feel incredibly small. The world is a magnificent place, and it took billions of years of geological shifts and changing weather and delicately balanced ecosystems to create the views we are so privileged to enjoy. And we are just a tiny speck of combobulated molecules in the grand scheme of things. It’s a humbling feeling, for sure. And while the views can make you feel small, the climb to get there makes you feel so much bigger! Sometimes it takes hours, or even days, to get to the top, but you did it! Because you’re a strong, determined, bad-ass with boots! And when you get there, or wherever you go when you're backpacking, you’ll feel big and small and accomplished and defeated all at once. However you feel, chances are it will change your perspective on yourself, and life, and living. Backpacking can do that, if you give it a try.