5 Thoughts That Consume Your Mind While Backpacking

There is no denying that hikes of all lengths provide us with ample time to refresh our minds, explore our consciences, and lose ourselves in thought.

But once we exhaust all that deep stuff, what else is there to think about? Once we have finished pondering the universe, acknowledging our existence in a metaphysical world, and contemplating the true meaning of life, we begin to come back down to reality. Here are five thoughts that will consume your mind while backpacking:


Thoughts That Consume Your Mind While Backpacking

Fulfilling “hiker hunger” on the Northville-Placid Trail.

Pizza, hamburgers, bacon, or even better, a pizza topped with hamburger and bacon… you name it. The average hiker will burn between 400 and 600 calories per hour. For example, if a 160 pound man hiking at a 2.4 mph pace undertakes a hike of 16 miles and 4000 feet in elevation gain, he will burn roughly 2800 calories. That same man will normally only need to consume about 2400 calories to maintain his current weight, thus amounting in a net loss of 400 calories while hiking. Adding in the weight of a pack, and other factors, such as terrain and weather, will further increase the number of calories he will burn. Thus, it is impossible to avoid running a calorie deficit when hiking at even just a moderate level. We are essentially starving ourselves, very, very slowly.

On a mediocre diet of oatmeal and ramen, we are burning crucial body fat reserves instead of replenishing necessary calories. This leads to the intense psychological desire for real food, also known as hiker hunger. Hiker hunger might be difficult to tolerate when you’re still on the trail, but the moment you finally get into civilization, and are standing face to face with the giant sign for an all-you-can-eat buffet, it suddenly becomes worth it! Let the calorie-replenishing begin!

Whether your idea of a post hike pig-out is a fresh ribeye steak, a burger topped with melting cheddar cheese, or just a slice (or six!) of pizza from a local pizzeria, you will surely spend an ample amount of time thinking about this meal while you’re still hiking. When you get to the restaurant, you won’t spend much time looking over the menu.


Thoughts That Consume Your Mind While Backpacking

Rainy day on Cascade Mountain, Adirondacks.

Perhaps one of the most important matters that occupies your thoughts while hiking, is the weather. And I’m not referring to the current weather (trust me though, if it’s raining, you’ll be thinking about it!), I’m referring to the weather that is going to affect you in the near future. This weather is either going to render you in high spirits (there is no greater feeling than anticipating a perfect forecast), or cause you some paranoia. This paranoia comes about for good reason; inclement weather could affect whether you push to the next shelter or throw in the towel at noon, whether or not you can cook dinner, and, if you’re like me during a thunderstorm, whether or not you’re going to spend the next few hours curled up in a ball, mentally preparing your will (but don’t worry, your odds of getting struck by lightning are one in a million). You could say I’ve weathered a few too many unexpected thunderstorms…

The weather often dictates your spirits, and for this reason, it is surely going to be one of the most important things on your mind while hiking.

How far until the next…

Thoughts That Consume Your Mind While Backpacking

Birch Glen Camp on the Long Trail

… shelter, summit, road crossing, or dare I say it, privy! As much as we would all love to say that we enjoy every single second of hiking, this usually isn’t the case. At some point in our wandering, we begin to get fatigued. With this fatigue comes the desire to bypass every remaining rock, root, and incline that stands between us and our destination. I’ve even coined a new term for this mindset; shelter mode.

Shelter mode is a mindset that every hiker finds themselves in at some point. It’s the feeling that creeps in at the end of the day; you’ve been hiking for 15 miles, and you’re still 2 miles away from camp. Even if the day’s hike was enjoyable, at this point you’d rather just be done. You’re tired, you want to change into (relatively) clean clothes, and you want to eat a dinner the size of which could probably feed a small family of lions. When these thoughts begin to arrive in your head, you know you’re in shelter mode. This could also apply to the general desire to reach any particular location on the trail. Perhaps the name shelter mode is misleading, as it really means any mindset of great desire to reach a destination. But then again, privy mode doesn’t sound very good either…

 Pack Weight

Thoughts That Consume Your Mind While Backpacking

(photo courtesy of Jeanne Church)

No matter how many extra layers you left at home, how much money you spent on the cooking pot that was 4 grams lighter than your old one, or how much plastic you shaved off the handle of your toothbrush, your pack still feels absurdly heavy! Often a time, I’ve been wandering down the trail, and found myself thinking, “I swear my pack was lighter than this 3 miles ago.” But before I start blaming squirrels for stuffing rocks in my pack, I mentally re-evaluate my gear selection. The truth is, everyone’s pack could always be lighter. There will always be an extra item that could have been left at home, there will always be a piece of gear that can be replaced by a lighter alternative, and at least in my case, I always bring too much damn food!

However, there is a fine line between packing light, and packing so light that you are unprepared for the elements. Not to get too personal here, but when I was hiking the Grafton Loop Trail in the early summer of 2014, I naively left my thermal underwear at home, wanting to shave a few ounces of weight off my pack. When I spent the second night of my trip at Baldpate Lean-to, I certainly regretted this decision, waking up to temperatures hovering in the mid 30s. Let’s just say that I did more shivering than sleeping that night.

“What was that noise?”

Thoughts That Consume Your Mind While Backpacking

(photo courtesy of Carla Robertson)

Everyone’s experienced it at some point; you’re in the zone, hiking along at a steady pace, and then all of the sudden you hear a rustling in the bushes to your left. Usually, my subconscious instantly thinks “bear,” but after a split second I realize it was only a falling branch. Or how about the time when you’re trudging along, and about 50 yards into the brush you spot something that resembles a moose? Before you realize it, however, you acknowledge that it is only a rock. Though this seeming paranoia curbs itself as more hiking experience is gained, I would bet that every hiker has been surprised at something in the brush on at least one occasion.

I’ve found that I am even more aware of the sounds in the brush when hiking solo. Something about the extra quietness, solitude, and sense of adventure drives me to be slightly more on edge than when I’m hiking with someone else. Perhaps it’s instinctive, just as it is with every other animal in the woods, to be alert to one’s surroundings for purposes of protection.

All of these things weighing on your mind, however, are eliminated when the appreciation of your situation in nature takes priority in your thoughts.

What are some of the other things that consistently cross your mind on the trail?  


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Comments 1

  • Lori : Dec 19th

    As a woman who often hikes alone…my personal safety is my primary thought.


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