Why Do You Go Backpacking?

Dogwood Flowers

I’m actually quite serious. What is it that drives you to get outside and go backpacking? I’m asking because a recent email submission from Joe B. got me thinking about the real reason why I got started with backpacking in the first place. Quite simply, it was because I like being outdoors.

I like the solitude of backpacking alone and I like hiking with my loved ones and friends. I enjoy looking at nature, taking in the views, studying the myriad of plants and flowers. I feel relaxed and recharged when I’m out on the trail. For all of these reasons, and more, I started backpacking.

Twisting vines

Backpacking was the mechanism that enabled me to go outside. It got me where I wanted to go and to the places I wanted to see. It was a means to an end. Lately however, I’ve felt that I’ve lost sight of the original reason why I started backpacking and that I need to focus far less on the gear that I carry with me, and think more about what it is that I want to do when I get to where I want to be. Joe summed it up perfectly in his email; “I’m not enjoying the walk if I’m thinking about my pack list spreadsheet“.

Is this a result of spending too much time obsessing about reducing the weight of my pack and shaving ounces off my gear? When is enough, enough? Have you experienced anything like this yourself?

Please leave a comment below.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14789617620655800651 Chris Marks

    There is a certain inexpressible “something” that we all get out of backpacking. I think for most of us it’s the same thing and we all sort of dance around the topic yet nobody can really quite but it into words. We can call it freedom, or peace, relaxation, or exploring the wilderness of the heart which are all close but slightly off the mark.

    Any way you look at it when I go backpacking, and get “out there” I feel I can touch that inexpressible something (not literally of course).

    The more I think about it, analyze it, try and break it down, and share it, the further I get from it. Gear lists too just get in the way.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05539601118817141671 mrklewis

    Great post. I got into backpacking last year … spent quite a bit of money getting my gear together and went on a handful of trips. I did not think about it too much beyond just getting out there. Over the winter I started doing a lot of research on ultralight and realized the investment I would have to make going that direction. It was depressing to me. I too have come to the realization that yeah I will slowly work toward a light pack as my goal but the important thing is that I get out there, because after that is what it is all about.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00410284354232381519 Heber

    I go backpacking because I find that being in the backcountry is refreshing to my soul.

    I used to worry more about gear than I do now. Once I had a little experience with lightweight backpacking I stopped obsessing about the gear because I knew what I had would work. That allowed me to just enjoy the experience.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16938279280798948229 Pilgrim

    Nice dogwoods. The redbuds around here are just popping. The dogwoods won’t be far behind.

    I love to stand face-to-face with the grandeur, which is but a whisper of the glories of the Creator. We’re drawn to things bigger than ourselves, things *outside* of ourselves, to “objective reality.” We are incurable worshipers.

  • http://sticksblog.com/ Stick

    I enjoy the scenery. I love standing on top of a mountain and looking down onto the tops of the clods, and to watch them roll over the mountaintops like waterfalls. I enjoy walking the trails and wondering what is around the next corner. I enjoy both falling asleep as well as waking up to the sun just over the mountain ridge…and lets not forget the people. I am one that enjoys meeting people on the trail, if even only for a moment.

    But it is a lot easier for me to enjoy these things if I obsess over my gear list while I am unable to be out on the trail. When I am home, I dream about being on the trail, but to pass the time I try to fine tune my gear list. Then when I step out on the trail I enjoy the time out on the trail rather than worry about if my gear will work.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16938279280798948229 Pilgrim

    If you can stand some satire, here’s another perspective on camping:

    Stuff White People Like: Camping

    HY-LARIOUS!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05871797266933288127 Carl

    I find it invigorating to only have to worry only about where I’m going to sleep tonight, when will I eat, and where is water. When I backpack all other worries go somewhere else. We’ve started bringing wine on our trips so now at night we try to solve the worlds problems after a couple of glasses. :)

  • Victor

    I try not to worry about finding any deep meaning. I don’t worry too much if I obsess over gear – I kind of enjoy being a gear geek. I try not to think about hiking in terms of whether or not it’s good for my soul – I find that a little too demanding.

    I love to walk. I love to walk in the woods. I love the sights and smells and physical challenge. I go backpacking because, if I camp in the woods, I get to walk more. That’s all.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    It’s good to read that I’m not the only that has come to this realization. Don’t get me wrong, I love my gear and will continue to tweak it when I’m not on the trail. But as Stick mentioned, when I’m on the trail I’m not going to be second guessing every piece of gear or option for adjustment. When I’m on the trail I’m going to be enjoying the outdoors.

    If you happen to see me on the trail fiddling with my gear, give me a poke with your trekking pole and remind me to relax and enjoy the scenery!

  • http://thehikehouse.com/ SedonaHiking

    Because I’ve always loved walking and trekking. Backpacking allows both solitude and communion. I think everyone needs time to be alone with one’s self to sort of regroup and recharge. At the same time, backpacking gets you in touch with the rest of creation.

  • http://the-ultralight-site.com/ Steve Gillman

    There is something about the change of environment, but traveling gives us that too, so it is more than that. I couldn’t honestly answer the question in full, but I do know that the experience of being “out there” is a powerful one.

    And by the way, I love to count the ounces and make lists – when I am preparing. But once I’m out there that part is (fortunately) gone.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16938279280798948229 Pilgrim

    There’s another issue, related to the “why” question, that has to do with history and origins. Like many sports (see: history of marathon), as you engage in backpacking you’re mimicking some of the skills, risks, and general objectives of warfare. Previous generations backpacked because they had to get over the mountain to kill the enemy. We get to do it for fun.

    And a hat-tip to the guys who still do it for the former reason.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15329904923638392138 James

    I go to spend time with my kids and to be a chaperon and adult advisor to Scouts.

    RE – tweaking with gear; playing with gear & finding new gear and messing with it, weighing ounces, and making your load lighter is in my opinion an entire meta-game & hobby unto itself. I myself have spent several hours dinking around with making aluminum can ‘penny’ backpacking stoves without actually ever taking one on the trail. The Jet-Boil is IMO a better stove.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00215280603948401453 Tim @ Appalachia and Beyond

    I really don’t have any experience with backpacking per se, unless you consider an overnight trip to LeConte Lodge with a 20 pound pack backpacking. However I do a lot of day hiking, and hopefully soon will get out on a “real backpacking trip”. As for getting out there and why, we wrote a blog post about this very thing as a letter to our daughter when she asked why we always go hiking. I think it sums it up for us quite nicely. http://www.appalachiaandbeyond.com/2011/01/why-do-we-hike.html

  • http://the-ultralight-site.com/ Steve Gillman

    There is something about the change of environment, but traveling gives us that too, so it is more than that. I couldn’t honestly answer the question in full, but I do know that the experience of being “out there” is a powerful one.

    And by the way, I love to count the ounces and make lists – when I am preparing. But once I’m out there that part is (fortunately) gone.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00215280603948401453 Tim @ Appalachia and Beyond

    I really don’t have any experience with backpacking per se, unless you consider an overnight trip to LeConte Lodge with a 20 pound pack backpacking. However I do a lot of day hiking, and hopefully soon will get out on a “real backpacking trip”. As for getting out there and why, we wrote a blog post about this very thing as a letter to our daughter when she asked why we always go hiking. I think it sums it up for us quite nicely. http://www.appalachiaandbeyond.com/2011/01/why-do-we-hike.html

  • http://thehikehouse.com/ SedonaHiking

    Because I’ve always loved walking and trekking. Backpacking allows both solitude and communion. I think everyone needs time to be alone with one’s self to sort of regroup and recharge. At the same time, backpacking gets you in touch with the rest of creation.

  • http://suburbanmountaineer.com/ Andrew Szalay

    Enjoying nature is a big part of it, but I like it for the deprivation from everything that is “relevant” to modern society and the urban day-to-day. It focuses my attention on more basic things like food, sleep, shelter and adjusts my comfort zone for what is physically comfortable. Plus, the reward of a beautiful view from a remote lake or a high peak can be compared to little else.

  • http://suburbanmountaineer.com/ Andrew Szalay

    Enjoying nature is a big part of it, but I like it for the deprivation from everything that is “relevant” to modern society and the urban day-to-day. It focuses my attention on more basic things like food, sleep, shelter and adjusts my comfort zone for what is physically comfortable. Plus, the reward of a beautiful view from a remote lake or a high peak can be compared to little else.

  • http://www.prepplace.blogspot.com badvoodoodaddy

    I live in the Rockies and I backpack because it refreshes my soul.  I see so many breathtaking areas around here.  I feel honored to have so much beauty around me and the fact that I can camp right in the middle of it all is awesome.  I like the silence that is found up in the mountains.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Jeff, I’m very jealous of your location, but to me that’s what getting outside is all about. Enjoy the views!

  • http://www.prepplace.blogspot.com/ badvoodoodaddy

    I live in the Rockies and I backpack because it refreshes my soul.  I see so many breathtaking areas around here.  I feel honored to have so much beauty around me and the fact that I can camp right in the middle of it all is awesome.  I like the silence that is found up in the mountains.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Jeff, I’m very jealous of your location, but to me that’s what getting outside is all about. Enjoy the views!

  • Glen

    My reasons vary but usually fall into one of these

    – To get away from the city
    – To breathe fresh air
    – To be alone with my thoughts
    – To be with a close friend
    – To experience nature up close
    – To challenge myself physically
    – Just because

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Glen, that’s actually a very short but accurate list of reasons that most of use can relate to. Perfect, thanks for sharing.

  • Glen

    My reasons vary but usually fall into one of these

    - To get away from the city
    - To breathe fresh air
    - To be alone with my thoughts
    - To be with a close friend
    - To experience nature up close
    - To challenge myself physically
    - Just because

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Glen, that’s actually a very short but accurate list of reasons that most of use can relate to. Perfect, thanks for sharing.

  • Birch

    It makes me feel powerful. My choices matter. Because it’s hard.

  • Birch

    It makes me feel powerful. My choices matter. Because it’s hard.

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.ratzloff James Ratzloff

    It is all about connecting with the earth – the mystery and beauty of dawn and dusk, the spirituality of night.  I come back from a trip in the wilderness feeling my life is authentic, that for once it is not going by too fast.

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.ratzloff James Ratzloff

    It is all about connecting with the earth – the mystery and beauty of dawn and dusk, the spirituality of night.  I come back from a trip in the wilderness feeling my life is authentic, that for once it is not going by too fast.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mellbutler Melissa Butler

    I think it is a desire to reconnect with  skills and ways of living that have fallen by the wayside in this techoholic world.  The joy you get in knowing you can make a fire even without a lighter…or even survive and thrive with less.  And that less allows you to connect with nature more too.  there is no fullfilment in doing things easy.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      I think you’re right on the money and reflect the words of many people in the comments I’ve received. I live in wat you call the “techoholic” world, I’m immersed in it as part of my day job, so for me it’s the chance to unwind, unplug, and relax with the most of basic things. I’m cool with that :) Thanks for commenting! ^BG

  • http://www.facebook.com/mellbutler Melissa Butler

    I think it is a desire to reconnect with  skills and ways of living that have fallen by the wayside in this techoholic world.  The joy you get in knowing you can make a fire even without a lighter…or even survive and thrive with less.  And that less allows you to connect with nature more too.  there is no fullfilment in doing things easy.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    I think you’re right on the money and reflect the words of many people in the comments I’ve received. I live in wat you call the “techoholic” world, I’m immersed in it as part of my day job, so for me it’s the chance to unwind, unplug, and relax with the most of basic things. I’m cool with that :) Thanks for commenting! ^BG

  • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

    If you didn’t already notice, I’m a huge gear geek too! There’s room for both though as you say. I like tweaking and playing with my gear and love reviewing the features and specs of gear (and sharing my thoughts here), but I also like to get away from that too and just use what I carry and enjoy my surroundings and trail partners company. There’s room for both IMHO.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    If you didn’t already notice, I’m a huge gear geek too! There’s room for both though as you say. I like tweaking and playing with my gear and love reviewing the features and specs of gear (and sharing my thoughts here), but I also like to get away from that too and just use what I carry and enjoy my surroundings and trail partners company. There’s room for both IMHO.

  • TiffanyinTexas

    I like finding out what is around the next bend and wondering about the bend after that one. I was thinking about why backpack this weekend as I walked along. I would like to bring my kids with me but I really can’t think of a reason they would enjoy it. Scenery is only good for a mile.

    Those of you who bring Scouts and kids along…Do they enjoy it and why?

    • http://www.outsideways.com/ Damien @ Outsideways

      My kids love backpacking. I just asked them why, this was there response: They like the beauty, the food, and being together as a family. They also like it when we take them on things that are a bit “epic”, when it pushes them a bit in some way, but not too far. They feel a real sense of accomplishment when we do something like that.

      • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

        They said it better than I ever could have! A truly “epic” response and reason for being outside :)

  • Shannon McGuire

    Escaping my everyday life, if only for a few days and nights, is what allows me to deal with my everyday life. In our society, we “need” to go to work, to check our email, to pay our bills on time. On the trail, you need to eat and sleep to have enough energy to find water and possibly more food. Backpacking is a humbling experience that makes me focus on what is truly essential, and helps me to remember that most other stresses are socially constructed concepts that were irrelevant until relatively recently in human history.

  • ahall

    For me, getting outside simply puts things in perspective. I’m a fairly religious person and being completely immersed in nature reminds me of how short my time on this earth is, even at 18 years of age. It causes me to evaluate what I’ve been spending my time on recently and to think about if that’s how I want to live my life. Seeing God’s perfect design in nature reminds me of the goodness within myself and leaves me wanting share the joy I have experienced with others.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      I’d say that was as good of a reason as any. You seem wise beyond your 18 years.

  • Steve

    I go backpacking because it makes me feel great. In my opinion, you can’t beat exercising outdoors…and hiking is one way I get a good cardio workout in. I never regret getting out on a new trail and there’s nothing like discovering a new lookout or cool view.

    I also love the gear. It’s fun to test out a new pack or stove you bought while out on the trail.