Five Things You’ll Learn on Your First Backpacking Trip
Some thru-hikers start their journey with zero experience in backpacking, and we’re not far from being total newbs ourselves. We have always loved outdoor adventures, though. We will go on long day hikes and do the kind of camping trips where you drive up to your campsite and unload your car. There’s just something about the fresh air, the birds chirping, and the calmness of it that is so enjoyable. But we had never been backpacking together before we decided we wanted to tackle this five-month backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. Crazy, I know. We finally took vacation time back in October to do a three-night backpacking trip in Virginia and we loved it. It presented new challenges with high rewards, and immersed us in the beauty of the woods day and night. However, it was noticeably different from day hikes and car camping. This is what we learned from our first backpacking trip.
Hiking Poles Rock
You may have thought hiking poles were for old people, but once you use them you’ll realize they rock. Not only can they help a lot with balance in steep areas and more technical trails, but they can take some of the pressure off your feet and knees. Plus, some companies, like Tarptent, have designed tents that use hiking poles in place of tent poles, giving them a dual purpose and lightening the weight of your pack.
Balancing With a Pack Can Be Tricky
Some packs are designed incredibly well, making them so comfortable you may forget you have one on. However, there is certain terrain that requires a little extra balance or weight distribution, and it’s these times that you realize you have extra weight on your back. You find yourself leaning a little and using those ab muscles to stay upright. Luckily, hiking poles help greatly with balance and this is a great time to appreciate those ab muscles that might not be so visible.
You Are More Susceptible to Blisters
There’s something about backpacking that seems to bring on the blisters, even when wearing your go-to hiking shoes that you’ve never had an issue with before. I have a couple of theories. One is that the extra weight of your pack might change the way you’re walking, putting pressure on different parts of your feet than your normal gait would. Another thought is that your body is heating up, causing your feet to sweat, which can increase the chance of getting blisters. Luckily, I have found that wool socks and Bodyglide help a lot with preventing blisters. Also, having camp shoes can really help to air your feet out and give them some relief at the end of the day.
Simple Daily Tasks Take Longer
You want to make some oatmeal at home? Easy! Just fill a bowl with water and an oatmeal packet and throw it in the microwave for two minutes. Want to make some oatmeal on the trail? Go get your oatmeal packet out of the bear bag you have hanging 200 feet from your campsite and pull your stove and fuel out of your pack and assemble them. Then pour some water (that you had to filter by a stream) into your pot and wait for the water to boil (which takes longer in cold, windy weather). Once you’ve finished you have to clean your pot and spoon before you can do anything else and put any trash back in the bag that’s hanging 200 feet away. Needless to say, your oatmeal will take longer than two minutes, and this is just one example. We won’t even go into the time involved with defecating. Luckily, the beauty of backpacking is that there isn’t much need to worry about time, so this isn’t really an issue.
Eating Isn’t Always Enjoyable
When you’re at home, you may often think, “What do I want for lunch?” and you’ll ponder what you’re in the mood for. You don’t have this luxury when backpacking. You may feel limited by choosing lightweight options that you can cook easily on the trail. Or you may not be in the mood for the food you brought. Either way, you have to eat something because hiking all day burns a lot of calories and you need the energy. This is when you find yourself forcing food in your mouth that you weren’t exactly looking forward to.
Despite these seemingly grumpy observations, we also realized how rewarding backpacking can be. We definitely were not deterred. Plus, we have a feeling we’ll have mastered backpacking and won’t think twice about any of these things by the time we reach Katahdin.
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