Top 10 Benefits of Going Backpacking by Heather Hoechst

Top 10 Benefits of Going Backpacking by Heather Hoechst

While there are likely hundreds, nay, thousands of benefits of going backpacking, I’ve done my best to summarize the top 10 reasons I hoist my pack on my back and make for the trail. In no particular order…

  1. The Food. Now, I know that backpacking doesn’t conjure up images of meals worthy of an Instagram post or food blog, but we have come a long way since the MRE rations that my grandfather took on his backpacking trips in the 80s. I can still recall the unique taste of peanut butter and crackers that were packaged and sealed to withstand the battlefields. But NOW, you have your choice of dehydrated cuisine that only requires boiling water poured right into the package. Personally, I can’t afford the ready-to-eat meals on the market (for special occasions only) and prefer to concoct my own. The beauty of food while backpacking is that EVERYTHING TASTES AMAZING! Once, I was so impressed with my concoction of couscous, dehydrated soup mix, TVP, and olive oil that I ate it every night on a 10-day trip I tried it a few weeks after I had been home. In the comfort of my kitchen, it was less than awesome. So, go backpacking and discover the magical mysteries of ordinary food that turned extraordinary. 

    picture of backpacking food in a pot

  2. Being Dirty. And letting being dirty be ok. We are under a barrage of images of unreachable standards of beauty and handsomeness. It is a time in which we can’t even trust that the images we see are of real people. Backpacking gives you permission to be raw and dirty and authentically you. In fact, it forces it upon you. If you haven’t gone multiple days without looking in a mirror, go backpacking and see how much joy is found in not even thinking about what you look like. However, I do encourage you to give your face a wipe every now and then to make sure you don’t carry a smudge of chocolate on your upper lip for several days…not that I know that from experience.

    Eating food on the ground

  3. Unplugging. If you are doing it right, you will find yourself going days on end without looking at a cell phone, computer, or television. Ok, permission is granted to use those fancy map apps that tell you how far away the next water source is, but only offline! I swear you can feel your brain detox as the days tick away without digital input. 

  4. Awe. According to lots of scientific studies (just do a Google search for “awe and resilience”), resilience has a strong correlation to the ability to experience awe. There is no better place to experience awe than on a backpacking trip. Whether it’s a magnificent mountain vista, a stunning waterfall, or laying back at night and seeing the milky way, that feeling of awe connects us to our natural world while simultaneously forcing us to realize our smallness. To me, this feeling makes me feel like I’m getting a giant hug from the universe.

    Motivational words to keep going

  5. The Gear. It has become easier and easier to be a good consumer in the world of online shopping, but one thing I am happy to have quick access to is amazing backpacking gear. And, while I encourage buying quality gear so you don’t have to replace things too often, there is something so wonderful and exciting about taking that new tarp tent or backpack on its inaugural journey. I never thought I would be comfortable in the woods alone with only a tarp, but I took a chance on Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape and it is my go-to shelter for all backpacking trips. And, my back and legs thank me for the savings in weight.

  6. Simplicity. I also like to refer to this as the elimination of choice, but simplicity sounds more positive. I get so overwhelmed at the grocery store, clothing store, hardware store, knick-knack store, etc. Who needs 30 choices of pasta sauce, rain jackets, and screws (ok, probably a reason for that), but you get the point. When backpacking, you make the choices only once when you are packing and then the options are eliminated. It is so freeing to know that you only have that one dirty T-shirt to wear, so no need to stress about choosing your outfit!

    Sitting on a rock enjoying a spectacular view

  7. The People. If you are going backpacking with friends, then you are automatically surrounding yourself with people you want to spend your time with and will likely laugh, curse, and cry together, creating stories you will tell each other for years (the awesome moments and the hard moments and the time Heather got you lost moments). If you go backpacking alone, you either get up close and personal to the company of yourself or you may make friends along the way. The trail is often the great equalizer and out there, we are all just backpackers.

    friends standing together on top of Mt. Katahdin

  8. Pretending you're a turtle. I am the proud owner of a 10-year-old red-eared slider named Max and love turtles. I like backpacking because it helps me feel closer to Max- we both are carrying our homes on our backs. 

    standing by a sign in the 100 Mile Wilderness

  9. Suffering. For many of us, life today is very comfortable. We control the temperature of our homes and cars, have soft places to sleep, and food to eat, and can easily come in from the elements. While I recognize this is not the case for everyone, for those of us privileged enough to live in comfort, backpacking takes us out of that comfort zone and gives us the opportunity to push some of our limits and discover strengths we didn’t know we had. While it may feel like suffering at times, we emerge stronger, more confident, and more thankful for everything we take for granted. And, that first shower in 5 days is the best shower you have ever had.

    climbing up a log slide

  10. Pure emotions. Backpacking gives us the opportunity to experience our emotions in their purest form. Laughter comes easily and echoes down the trail. A memory may pop into your head and you suddenly find tears streaming down your face and cleansing you of an old hurt. Exhaustion sinks in like an old friend at the end of the day and as it soaks into your body, you may just be lucky enough to experience that elusive feeling of inner peace.

Reading next

Braced for Impact by Carol Wilson
The Lightest Tread: Hiking in Context with Amiththan Sebarajah

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