The (Not So) Secret Diary of a Perfectionist Hiker
If you are a perfectionist like me, welcome to a safe place. If you are not, welcome to a bit of insanity. In this article, I hope to help other perfectionists feel like they are not alone in the hiking world, as well as showcase how worrying too much about perfectionism in your hiking life can be detrimental to your hiking experience. Are you ready for a (not so) deep dive into hiking perfectionism? Then come on a journey with me.
In the beginning…
One of my earliest memories is of me at Montessori school when I was around two or three years old. This is fitting because I would spend the next 16 to 20 years of my life grinding over my schoolwork thinking that it needed to be absolute perfection. I have vivid memories of myself coming home from elementary school and immediately starting my math homework at the kitchen table or staying up into the wee hours of the morning studying for my high school AP World History class. However, I have fewer memories of playing with my sister or going outside. Hence, my current hiking obsession.
What’s the point in telling you this? Well, I’d like to say I’m a recovering perfectionist now, but I think when you’ve grown up so deeply entrenched in perfectionism, it’s pretty hard to let go. In the hiking world, my perfectionism has affected how I look at gear, thru-hiking, and the outdoor community. Over the past year and a half, I’ve been preparing and researching to do a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2023. If I had a penny for each minute I spent comparing gear and people’s experiences on the Appalachian Trail, I would have a good chunk of cash.
So, to out myself to the world and hopefully, help a few of you outdoorsy perfectionists, I’m going to discuss how the last year and a half of planning went for me and how I’m feeling as my start date approaches.
The Perfect Gear and the Perfect Hike
I LOVE a good gear review video, but the gear videos I love the most are post-trail gear reviews. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s basically a video where someone (usually a thru-hiker) will review what gear worked and what didn’t work on their long hike. When I say I took notes, I mean I dedicated a full notebook to jotting down my research. I would dissect as much information as I could from one video, then move on to the next one. This didn’t just apply to videos. I dug deep into the online blogs to see what people could reveal to me there as well.
Maybe this is all a bit exaggerated, but it’s how it feels looking back at it. Ever since I got the idea of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in my head (thanks Mom) I wanted to learn as much about it as I could. I wanted to have the perfect gear so that I could have the perfect thru-hike. I looked at the most popular gear choices and then proceeded to compare the technical specs of each and every one of those items. After months of sleuthing the internet for knowledge, I started making gear purchases. These were nerve-wracking events. I always thought, ‘am I making the right choice right now?’ Never mind that I had spent countless hours doing the research and comparison, I still doubted my choices when it came to purchasing time. Perks of being a perfectionist, am I right?
If you know anything about thru-hiking, you’ll start to think that this all sounds hilarious. Why? Because there is no such thing as a perfect thru-hike (or any hike for that matter) and I know that. That doesn’t mean that my brain won’t try and make it so.
But over time I have learned to reel in my perfectionist tendencies and say, f*ck it. Who cares what my base weight is? No one. Who cares what tent I use? No one. What if your gear isn’t perfect midway through your thru-hike? You look at the problem and figure it out. What if your thru-hike doesn’t happen as perfectly as you envision? Good, it shouldn’t (at least that’s what I can tell from the gazillion YouTube videos on the subject).
If you’re a perfectionist like me, let me give you one final piece of advice (from someone who has no business giving you personal advice). If I’ve learned anything from transitioning into the adult world, it’s that no one cares what you do or about what you have. Everyone’s too busy living their own lives that you become a ghost in the background. So don’t be afraid to make mistakes and be vulnerable. You meet better people that way anyways.
So while I prepare to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2023, I’m learning to let go of ounces as much as possible. I’m learning to take any issues that arise as challenges that will make me a better person. I’m learning to take criticism as just suggestions that I don’t have to follow. Most of all, I’m learning that this is supposed to be my hike, not anyone else’s. If I do want some things to be close to perfection, that’s fine. However, I also know that striving toward perfection makes me more anxious, stressed, and less of a happy person. So if you’re a perfectionist like me, drop your perfectionist habits in the comments below and join me in committing (or trying to commit) to a more happy-go-lucky approach to hiking this year. Happy trails!
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