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Monday, September 8, 2014

The Draw of Backpacking: Car Campers are lying to themselves

Webmaster's Note: The following is an article penned by my good friend Ken. So I first want to say, thanks for contributing! Ken was one of the first to introduce me to serious backpacking several years ago and I've been fortunate to have him as a resource as we have both since wandered deeper and deeper down the Ultalight rabbit hole. Ken has a lot of knowledge (usually obtained the hard way) pertaining to this kind of stuff so if we're lucky we can hope to see him as a regular contributor here. Without further adieu...

The Draw of Backpacking: Car Campers are Lying to Themselves
This past weekend, four of us embarked on a car camping trip to try to squeeze out the last few opportunities for fair weathered camping.  It was the first time I have car camped since my backpacking career took off nearly six years ago.  We loaded up the truck with bags and bags of gear, drove out to a campsite in the mountains, and let the relaxation begin.  But the deeper we got into the weekend, the more I started to pick up on what was lacking.  Finally, after being reprimanded by the campground attendant for not knowing some unadvertised loophole rule we were breaking, and waking up to an early morning generator I pinpointed the problem: We weren't backpacking.
It all made sense.  We were in the same neighborhood we usually backpack, had the same trout fishing, the same trip company, and the same weather, yet it felt empty and unfulfilling. Here is why.
  1. Backpacking is simple:  While packing for this car camping trip, we had so much gear I didn't know what to do with myself.  An entire half ton full, plus half the backseat for only four people.  We had two stoves, lanterns, chairs, coolers, water jugs, loads of extra clothes, fishing gear, and who knows what else.  So much gear in fact that I had forgotten our pillows.  Yet all of these luxuries did not make the trip any more enjoyable.  It only distracted us from the amazing scenery that was around us.
  2. Backpacking is quiet:   Nothing is more surreal than hiking into a mountain paradise, realizing you are the only people up there, and pausing to enjoy the complete silence.  No passing cars, no barking dogs, no generators to wake you up in the morning, no one chopping wood, no footsteps of people walking to the washroom.  Just peace and quiet.  All day and night.
  3. Backpacking really does get you “away”: So many of us go car camping to “get away” from it all, but is car camping really a getaway? We still have our phones in our pockets, our vehicles in the campground driveway, people all around us in their RV’s and trailers, and a little society of rules imposed by some official which you must abide by in order to use a sliver of land.  Sounds like a miniature colony to me.  Backpacking typically is the opposite.  You hike up into a remote lake with no infrastructure, with no distractions, and you just survive all while the only rules are common curtesy and respect for the land.  
  4. Backpacking is an accomplishment:  Hiking 10 km up a dry creek bed is no easy feat.  Not only do you get to enjoy your destination at the end of the hike, but you get the satisfaction of physically completing a task many people are unable to do.  You are tired and sore, and yet every step is a badge of honor to show your will and determination.  Anyone can hook up an RV, full their truck with gas, and go camping.  Not everyone can muster up the courage to strap on a pack, huff it into the woods, leave the safety net of society behind, and enjoy the wilderness.  
  5. Backpacking is exclusive:  Hoards of people love to travel to new exciting areas every year where the view is taken right from a post card.  A backpacker knows that these views are available right in their backyard.  There are no resort fees, no booking ahead, and only a handful of people go out to enjoy it every year.  It is kind of like a secret spot, but people know all about it yet are unwilling to put the work in to enjoy it.  It’s yours for the taking

These reasons are a big part of what gets me excited to backpack.  I frequently try to tell people these points, yet they cannot get past the fact that you are going to the washroom in the woods, sleeping on the ground, and only carrying what is absolutely necessary for your trip.  Push yourself outside of your comfort zone, a little bit at a time until you are ready for your first backpacking trip and I assure that you will not regret it.  And if backpacking isn't for you, that’s fine too.  At least you got to experience an authentic wilderness adventure.  Happy trails.
- Ken KR -