Am I a "real" backpacker?

Posted by: Glenn Roberts

Am I a "real" backpacker? - 11/18/12 06:40 PM

Well, it's Sunday evening and I'm bored - so let's see what kind of trouble I can start!

What philosophy makes one a "real" backpacker? Must you be a tree hugger, or naturalist? An environmentalist? Or does any of that matter?

Let me get a bit more specific. I can identify a few types of trees ("evergreen," "not evergreen," "maple, I think" - you get the idea.) I even know a few types of rocks - quartz, I'm good at; usually, but not always, I can distinguish between granite, sandstone, and limestone. I have a vague idea how wind and water sculpt rock shelters. I'm no good with identifying animal tracks, and plant species leave me dumfounded.

But, here's the thing. Getting closer to nature is not why I backpack. I live a fairly controlled life: structure of family, big-time structure of work (I'm a CPA), demands on my time and attention. When I backpack, I give myself the gift of time. I can simply walk, with a minimal house on my back, and let my mind wander. Do I fail to appreciate nature? No. One morning, I was sitting on a point at the head of a valley, just sitting - and the only way I can describe what came next is "God came close." Just a sense of perfect peace, just existing, just belonging.

I appreciate a beautiful sunset or sunrise, and I'm awestruck by a sky full of stars - but I can barely identify the Big Dipper; the North Star remains a mystery. My breath is taken away by fall color, or by the way spring or summer sunlight plays on different shades of green foliage. I find pleasure in listening to the sound of breeze blowing across thigh-high meadows. But the pleasure is mostly just being out there.

I don't want to become active in environmental causes - though I do make some efforts to recycle; I turn down a bag when I'm only buying one or two already-overpackaged items, and so on. I don't help build trails, though I'm scrupulous about walking through the muddy spots, or not shortcutting switchbacks. Getting involved that way would, I fear, simply turn a pastime I love into one more demand on my time, to be sandwiched into the other committments and schedules.

So, what does it mean to be a backpacker? Do I need to turn in my boots and slink off in shame? smile
Posted by: rockchucker22

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 11/18/12 08:37 PM

For me I spend as much time as possible outside. Backpack, day hiking, hunting, my whole life revolves around it, but I'm NOT a " backpacker" as some might label.
Posted by: oldranger

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 11/18/12 08:49 PM

I like your phrase, "I can simply walk, with a minimal house on my back." That is what it is, and nothing more, -backpacking's essential essence. That is not to say that you cannot launch out from that basic position into many different ancillary pursuits,

As an archaeologist, I found backpacking, and a certain amount of outdoor expertise, to be a useful work related skill. I also became an environmentalist of sorts over time, but it is by no means a necessary requirement. I also have had religious, or near religious experiences, while out and about.

I suppose that backpacking led to my involvement in SAR activities. Of all the things I have done in life, the time in SAR is that of which I am most proud.

Do learn to recognize the North Star - it could come in handy some day....
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 11/18/12 09:01 PM

Originally Posted By Glenn
So, what does it mean to be a backpacker? Do I need to turn in my boots and slink off in shame?


Naw, I'd backpack with you anytime.

Personally, I think the only real requirement is enjoying being out there. I've put a little bit of effort into learning more about the flora and fauna over the years, but I'm not near proficient enough to speak with authority about any of it, and like you, I've got a lot of claims on my time, so I won't ever become an authority on those subjects.

I hardly ever hike on trails, I try to avoid them, but I don't think that makes me more of a backpacker, it's just the way I enjoy going. I have no desire to thru hike, but certainly those that do are real backpackers.

Those that are not backpackers, in my view anyway, are those that really do not enjoy being out there, and I've been with a few who found that out while they were with me. And those who go only to get blithering drunk, and I've found that out about a few people who I would have never have expected it from.

I'm a little put off by people who are armed with guns when they backpack. They always justify bringing them, but their reasons don't match my experience so I'd really rather they didn't, but I don't think they've disqualified themselves for it. I do think they tend to fantasize though, because I've never known or even heard of anyone ever needing one, but I also realize that they really enjoy carrying them, and most of those I've known that did, did so with great care and caution, so I don't worry about it, unless I see a liquor bottle in their hand.

Quote:
a sense of perfect peace, just existing, just belonging


Yeah, if that's what you find when you're out there, you're a real backpacker. No doubt about it in my book.
Posted by: jbylake

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 11/18/12 09:07 PM

If I had asked that question, and someone told me I had to be this, do that, adhere to this philosophy, or that, I think I'd just part way's on the trail and go down my own path.

My guess is that all of us love the outdoors, and that's why we do it (backpacking).

The only thing that I think we must have in common, is our responsibility to be faithful and responsible stewards of the land.

What really caught my attention in your post was that you didn't want to become so entrenched in some aspect or another, related to backpacking, that backpacking becomes less of a pleasure and more of another facet of life demanding your time.

I've had that happen with riding my motorcycle. I got so involved in various aspects of riding, that I found myself actually not doing much actual riding, myself.

P.S. Glenn, if you can't find the north star, use your compass.. grin laugh

J.
Posted by: wandering_daisy

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 11/18/12 09:07 PM

I do not think the "house on your back" even has to be minimal. Backpaking is getting from point A to point B, with an overnight stay, as a self-contained unit. If you want to literally haul the kitchen sink on your back, more power to you! I do not think it matters where you go. You can even do urban backpacking. Some places there are few people, some a lot. Again, I do not think it matters. Being a "self contained unit", brings up the qusetion if trekking from hostel to hostel is real backpacking. I think that is a borderline issue- maybe sometimes OK (such as hut-to-hut in Canadian Rockies, but maybe not hostel to hostel in urban Europe). Is road walking backpacking? Depends. Some roads are for all practical purposes just like a trail, others literally a highway. Another question - are you "backpacking" when you are primarily climbing, but need to set up a base camp? Do people who climb El Capitan backpack? They are self contained, carry thier house in a hual bag - not on back, (but believe me, it takes a good deal of effort to lug the "pig" up the cliff) go from point A to B, "camp out", but do not "walk" - they climb!

Studying the natural history, geology and botany of an area enhances the experience, but I do not condsider these the essence of backpacking.
Posted by: balzaccom

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 11/18/12 09:26 PM

And I would bet that most of us really treasure those moments when we truly are far away from all the cares of daily life, and that lets God come close.

That IS what it is all about, for us.
Posted by: Samoset

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 11/19/12 09:05 PM

I am a Real fisherman the pack just makes the journey and nights stay a lot more comfortable!
Posted by: lori

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 11/19/12 11:29 PM

I think of backpackers as folks who are backpacking for its own sake. There are a lot of people who will go to see a particular place, climb a particular mountain, etc. who don't enjoy the backpacking part. Then there are the rest of us who go backpacking and do other stuff sometimes while we're out there. We care about the gear we take enough to comparison shop and select it for rational reasons that make sense, and we don't always wait for a string of sunny days to go - some of us go every available opportunity, rain or shine, and enjoy the challenge of managing to be comfortable regardless of the weather.
Posted by: GrumpyGord

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 11/20/12 06:05 AM

I think that Lori has it right. I think that even some of the AT thru hikers are not really backpackers. Some of them are out there for the social aspect and they have to carry a backpack to be with the group.
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 11/20/12 03:15 PM

I'm still trying to figure out what a "real" backpacker is!
Posted by: Talthing

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 01/05/14 10:35 PM

Poster: OregonMouse
Subject: Re: Am I a "real" backpacker?

I'm still trying to figure out what a "real" backpacker is!


As opposed to a fake backpacker? wink

ahem...if you do it regularly (even if that's once a year) you just might be a backpacker

If you can outfit two or more individuals for a weekend, you just might be a backpacker.

IF you own most of your backpacking equipment...you just might be a backpacker.

If you sleep in the outdoors during your hike...you just might be a backpacker
Posted by: intrek38

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 01/07/14 09:13 PM

Throw what you think you need in a bag and walk to a place of your choice and spend the night. Whether or not you think your a "Real" backpacker or not is up to you. It really doesn't matter what others think, or how light or heavy your pack is, how much or how little you spend on your belongings. To me, the only thing that matters is the adventure I'm on and if I make it back alive..
Posted by: jimmyb

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 01/07/14 10:43 PM

Right on! cool
Posted by: bluefish

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 01/09/14 09:12 AM

I have to agree with GG about the AT thru-hikers not necessarily being backpackers. I've met a few and have one friend preparing now, that did the hike for the sense of accomplishment and goal completion. Our friend has never backpacked, and rarely even car camps. Given her past history though, she will walk the entire length. She looks forward to the completion of the task, not to what she'll be walking through. I've never stayed out more than 7 consecutive days on trails or in the backcountry, but in any given year, spend many nights outside. My wife and I have the gear, physical ability, skills and desire, but not a resume'.
It's not to say that someday when we have more time we won't attempt longer jaunts, just not a requisite for having fun, including participating here. thanks
Posted by: mrnic3guy

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 02/11/14 08:40 PM

I'm really glad to see the replies to this question. It's good to see people basically saying that you don't need a label just do what you love.
Posted by: Gershon

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 02/12/14 01:20 PM

Nobody is a real backpacker until they have shit in the woods.
Posted by: wandering_daisy

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 02/12/14 02:16 PM

I like that Gershon!

Nobody is a real backpacker until they have jumped into an icy lake for a bath.

Posted by: Gershon

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 02/12/14 02:40 PM

In Colorado, nobody is a real backpacker until they have gotten high above 14,000 feet.
Posted by: Gershon

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 02/12/14 02:40 PM

Originally Posted By wandering_daisy
I like that Gershon!

Nobody is a real backpacker until they have jumped into an icy lake for a bath.



I've never done that. I'm paranoid about fishhooks.
Posted by: GrumpyGord

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 02/12/14 02:42 PM

I am not sure if I qualify. Quite a few years ago I was backpacking on Isle Royale in Lake Superior. The lake never gets above about 50. I had been out for several days and was getting pretty ripe so I thought that I would just go into the lake, clothes and all and get myself and my clothes clean at the same time. I made it about up to the top of my thighs and decided that I just was not that dirty. There was a ranger watching and he got a real kick out of that. The point is that I may not be a real backpacker because I never went in all the way.


Originally Posted By wandering_daisy
I like that Gershon!

Nobody is a real backpacker until they have jumped into an icy lake for a bath.

Posted by: BZH

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 02/12/14 04:54 PM

Originally Posted By GrumpyGord
I am not sure if I qualify. Quite a few years ago I was backpacking on Isle Royale in Lake Superior. The lake never gets above about 50. I had been out for several days and was getting pretty ripe so I thought that I would just go into the lake, clothes and all and get myself and my clothes clean at the same time. I made it about up to the top of my thighs and decided that I just was not that dirty. There was a ranger watching and he got a real kick out of that. The point is that I may not be a real backpacker because I never went in all the way.


I grew up in the UP and you learn to embrace summer no matter how little of it you get. We used to swim in Lake Superior all the time. After 20 minutes its fine, but thats because your whole body has gone numb! Once a lady in a parka asked my Dad if we were ok when she saw us out in the lake in the summer. My dad responded that we there was obviously something wrong with us if we were willing to swim in water that cold.
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 02/12/14 05:23 PM

Quote:
Nobody is a real backpacker until they have shit in the woods.


I like that too WD.

I have to agree that qualifies you.
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 02/12/14 06:20 PM

Originally Posted By wandering_daisy


Nobody is a real backpacker until they have jumped into an icy lake for a bath.



Yeah, that for sure qualifies you too. I'm not near as brave as you when it comes to that. I've done it, but only after getting pretty crusty and hearing of plans being made against me. Some people just won't listen to the protective crust theory and it's better to jump in than get tossed by an angry mob, so I've done it.

I really do try to take a swim in a creek here before Spring each year too. It's said this will protect you from getting sick all year. I've done it the past few years and have not got sick so I'm going to stick with it.

I think sleeping outside on the ground qualifies you too. I forgot how nice that is during the years I was always wanting a better backpacking tent. When I made my Baker's tent I realize how nice it is to have it wide open, and remembered when I just used a sleeping bag on the ground. I think I may leave the tent at home a few times this season.

None of this is to say you don't qualify if you've never done those things. (Well, Gershon's might blush ) .

For me, personally, it's being off trail, hiking away from where others tend to go, and camping out wherever I want. That's when I feel like a real backpacker.

Posted by: wandering_daisy

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 02/12/14 06:21 PM

Wrong method! You cannot just slowly go in cold water. You need to go in all at once! Less agonizing. It is also all relative. Go in cold water, all at once. Get out. Wind on wet naked body makes you REALLY cold. Jump back in water - it actually feels warm. Another trick - take your bath mid-day at a rest break. Usually warmer and you quickly warm up again. You have not lived until you have taken a snow bath. That is what high altitude climbers do.

Posted by: rockchucker22

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 02/12/14 07:48 PM

Originally Posted By wandering_daisy
Wrong method! You cannot just slowly go in cold water. You need to go in all at once! Less agonizing. It is also all relative. Go in cold water, all at once. Get out. Wind on wet naked body makes you REALLY cold. Jump back in water - it actually feels warm. Another trick - take your bath mid-day at a rest break. Usually warmer and you quickly warm up again. You have not lived until you have taken a snow bath. That is what high altitude climbers do.

I took a plunge into our creek this year, but quite by accident! It had frozen and was flooding, I couldn't see the edge then all the sudden I was under ice in the creek. It took all dang day to warm back up!

The Chumash Amerindians believed in a wash in the creeks or rivers befor sunrise, or you will get feavers and be sick.
Posted by: Glenn Roberts

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 02/12/14 10:53 PM

Had the same thing happen to me: I got in about knee deep, a vision of a brass monkey popped into my head, and I got out of the lake before any damage was done. smile

That really is one cold lake!
Posted by: billstephenson

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 02/12/14 11:17 PM

Originally Posted By wandering_daisy
You have not lived until you have taken a snow bath.


Hmmm...

That might take a bigger, angrier, mob. grin

That sounds pretty darn miserable. I've spent a lot of time in the snow, and I've scrubbed my hands with it, but wow, being naked and scrubbing all over with it is not something I'd do just to experience it. I'd have to be extra ripe and crusty to try that.
Posted by: GrumpyGord

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 02/13/14 06:14 AM

I was not soft. I just re-evaluated and decided that I was not as dirty as I first thought.
Posted by: wandering_daisy

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 02/13/14 01:08 PM

Yep, you do not do that until you have been on the mountain for nearly a month. Longest I went without a bath was 28 days. When the snow finally stopped we bathed in a lake with ice still on the edges, but the sun was shining. And it felt sooo... good! After that I swore I would NEVER go that long without a bath, no matter how cold the water, even if had to be snow. But, maybe the clean thing is a girly thing too. I now rarely go more than 2 days without jumping in a lake or stream, no matter how cold. The continual misery of being sticky-sweaty-dirty is far worse than the one minute in cold water. Just do not do it before bedtime or you will have one cold night.
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 02/13/14 03:44 PM

The shock of jumping into COLD water can give us older folks a heart attack, too! No thanks--I'll do my little sponge bath in the tent with the little water left over from dinner in my kettle. It won't be hot but at least it's not cold. If that means I'm not a "real" backpacker, tough ****. Remember that back in pre-plumbing days, sponge baths were usually the only option for everyone!

There's also the issue that residue from sunscreen, bug repellent and lotions on hikers' skins is, per biologists, one of the primary reasons for the decline of amphibian species in popular hiking areas. You might want to do a quick sponge-off of that stuff before jumping in. Forget soap; that kills aquatic species, too. (That's not for you, W_D; I know you're anti-soap, too!)

I did do a little swimming in Lake Superior once, 8 years ago. It wasn't warm, but it wasn't nearly as cold as our mountain lakes! That's the only time I could persuade my late dog Hysson to swim, and it was the last--he swam out to me and then proceeded to climb on top of me, in water up to my armpits! After that, his only swimming maneuver was a quick turn to shore.

I suspect that after freezing over this winter, Lake Superior will be colder next June than when I was there!
Posted by: Glenn Roberts

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 02/13/14 07:16 PM

I've applied snow to part of my anatomy that is usually snow-free, in cooperation with some toilet paper. A bracing experience, to say the least, but it did feel refreshing about 15 minutes later, when it started feeling anything again.
Posted by: Gershon

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 02/14/14 04:23 AM

Don't eat yellow or brown snow.
Posted by: djtrekker

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 10/16/14 08:20 PM

hope I'm posting this correctly.
Can't say as I much care what it is. I go out to the wilderness to get away from folks. I need it. I might be, lesee now, backpacker, camper, sociopath, hiker, outdoor lover, outdoorsman, wanderer, trekker, I guess ...

It does serve to have a common language when we talk to each other about our passions, I guess, I just really don't much care what you call me. Pick whatever suits you and go with it; I'm good.
Posted by: Mama

Re: Am I a "real" backpacker? - 11/01/14 07:17 AM

Whether or not others think you're "real" is irrelevant.