Getting Outside My Comfort Zone
The Never-Ending Gift of Backpacking
It was just before midnight when my wet tarp slapped me in the face, waking me abruptly from a deep sleep. I was snuggled up in my quilt, nestled a little too close underneath my shoddy tarp shelter. After a moment of orientation, I began to laugh as I realized that the condensation was from my breath on the tarp above my face. I was sleeping too close to the roof of my shelter. This was only my second night sleeping in the backcountry without a tent and my shelter building (and apparently using) skills were novice at best.
That afternoon, we hiked adjacent to a river at the bottom of a gentle canyon. We stopped in the evening to eat dinner and fill up our water, before we departed the river to find a good place to set up our shelters for the evening. Over my years of backpacking I have slowly moved toward lighter and lighter gear, but with an approaching 700 mile section-hike I have been eager to refine my setup to make it as light as possible. So, I turned to some seasoned ultralighters to teach me their ways! I’ve learned ultralight means less layers and equipment and requires a more deliberate selection of where you set up your shelter. Unfortunately, the nice campsites with rushing rivers are almost always at the bottom of a canyon where cold air sinks at night. My first time constructing a tarp shelter the night prior had quickly turned into cowboy camping after my shelter blew down shortly after bedtime. We slept at the top of a ridge and the temperatures were relatively warm, but the wind shifted just after sunset highlighting the importance of site selection.
We approached our stop for the evening, a flat(ish) spot in a downsloping canyon about 400 yards upslope from a dry creek bed. The site was also at the confluence of multiple smaller troughs in the hillside. I was going through my rudimentary knowledge of changes in atmospheric conditions to figure out which way I thought the wind was going to blow at night. “Is it going to come down the slope or down the canyon? Or both?” “I’m totally constructing a wind tunnel!” I was rushing to complete my shelter before nightfall, shifting my plans at the last minute.
That night, I had tried to construct something a bit more sturdy. So, when the wind started blowing up the canyon directly into the sail I had conveniently created, I was naturally a little suspicious that my shelter wouldn’t make it through the night. To prevent it blowing down, every time a gust of wind blew, I would reach out and grab the edge of the tarp.
Naturally, I didn’t get much sleep that night. So, I sat there, my face only a few inches from my wet breath holding onto the edge of my tarp with some unexpected time to contemplate one of the things I love about backpacking: it can force you to get outside of your comfort zone in a wonderful way. Every time I go into the backcountry, even if only for one night, I learn something new about myself, about the weather, topography, knots, whatever! Usually, it’s as a result of doing something uncomfortable or needing to deal with an unanticipated problem. I can’t just go back to my car and seek creature comforts, or look it up online. I have to take the challenge in front of me and find a solution. If I make a (non-life threatening) mistake, I just have to laugh it off and learn from it.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.
What Do You Think?