Summer is here and you probably have a big backpacking trip planned for July or August. Maybe it’s the first backpacking trip you’ve ever taken with your son, daughter, or family, or maybe it’s the trip of a lifetime like thru-hiking the John Muir Trail or Maine’s 100 Mile Wilderness.
I get a lot of email from readers about how to prepare for trips like these and I always respond that same way. Go on at least one practice overnight before your trip – kind of like a full dress rehearsal.
Take all of the gear you plan on carrying on your real trip and make sure you know how to use it. Even more important, make sure you really need it. Further carry all of the food – at least in terms of weight – although packing the identical bulk is also useful – that you need to carry on your big trip too. There’s nothing quite like carrying a full expedition pack to bring you to your senses and get you committed to a training regime in advance!
Unfortunately, too few people take the time to do overnight practice hikes and pay the consequences after they’ve invested heavily in travel and outfitting expenses. We see it every summer: backpackers who quit less than 5 miles from the trailhead because they had no idea how ridiculous it is to carry the loads they’ve brought with them or how arduous the terrain is going to be. They’re weighed down with all kinds of electronics and photography equipment, some of it bought just for the occasion. It’s just tragic.
I’m not sure where the disconnect is, but I have this longstanding hunch that “people” (in the collective sense) have forgotten what going into the wilderness means: that they can’t imagine a place so indifferent to their needs. Or like me, memories of my youth cloud any comprehension about what my true physical limits are now that I’m in my early 50’s.
Whatever the cause – if you want to finish your big summertime backpacking trip, go prepared. Practice will make it real and provides its own reward.