Inside: Random things about camping and backpacking; Rucking
BACKPACKING VS. CAR CAMPING
After the REI Campout at Greenbrier State Park I can officially say that I prefer car camping. I like having other people around, being close to civilization, and bathrooms. Drinkable water. You can make it as luxurious as you want. Or as bare bones. It’s a great way to try out new equipment and practice your setup. Easier to get friends on board.
But I suppose that we miss a lot of amazing moments, places, views, and connection if we never venture beyond creature comforts. I mean, you’ll see things you never imagined and sights that will bring you to tears and relatively close to home but you have to step off the metaphorical beaten path. For that reason alone, backpacking has to be in the arsenal, y’know.
Either way, I haven’t mastered the art of the good night’s sleep. There was no airflow in my tent the other night. Zero. I’m not beyond tent fans.
There are trade-offs, one way or the other. Car camping venues are often over-crowded. Also, you never know what kind of neighbors you’re going to have.
On the other hand, you will suddenly have to urinate as soon as you get comfortable. Guaranteed. Also, in the dead of night. It’s awkward when your knees are stiff, your feet are sore, you cram your shoes on, you’re crawling out of your tent, and then you have to walk into the woods away from other camp sites and water sources, which involves a little bushwhacking in order to relieve yourself. Plus possible bugs.
A well behaved adventure dog makes everything better, by the way.
So I’ve been trying to get into rucking, aka walking or hiking with a weighted backpack. I use my backpacking backpack and load it up with the essentials plus a ten pound hand weight. I aim for about 40 pounds. I’m not trying to kill my knees ‘n stuff so … you know. Not military grade.
People look at me like I’m insane, though, if I’m walking on a sidewalk as opposed to a trail. Like I’m a homeless drifter. Some day a ruck sack with plates may be in order so I can be less conspicuous.
That price, though. Maybe I don’t mind being conspicuous.
I’ve read that rucking burns 3 times the calories of walking/hiking. Impressive since most of the time it doesn’t feel like extra work. Until the hills.
The second time I went camping — back in late April at Assateague — I forgot how to set up my tent. Pitch black dark on the beach at 1:30am, exhausted from a long day and a four hour drive, wind blowing, rain clouds working themselves up. It was YouTube that saved me. Lucky that there’s decent cell reception. And I had a head lamp, of course.
It’s the little things.
The first time I went camping, it was kayak camping, due to a series of unfortunate events, I was wet and it was frigid. Wintery temperatures when the sun went down even though it was early November. I didn’t know about condensation; freezing cold water building up inside on the roof of the tent. I left my water bladder and a layer or two outside on top of the kayak. They froze, of course.
The second time I did the overnight Old Rag hike I did everything wrong. It was Winter. I didn’t follow any of the most important advice that the hike leader sent. I was wearing a casual Winter jacket, i.e. a sweat box. I had layers of a sort but since I’m slow and was holding up the group I never stopped to change in or out of anything. My feet were numb/tingling at points. I didn’t stop to make adjustments. I didn’t bring extra dry layers to change into at the Summit. I have never been so cold. Except for the kayak camping trip. Hypothermia was a real possibility.
I have too much stuff. Let’s start there. My apartment right now looks like an REI thew up.
Although, it’s not my gear that I’m talking about. There are many items that are simply good investments.
I’ve been watching YouTube videos and reading articles about lightweight, ultralight, and minimalist backpacking and backpack traveling.
Not something I’m good at. Take less stuff and/or take lighter stuff. People really get into chasing superlatives, though. Ultralight backpackers are obsessed with minimizing their pack weight. That’s their priority. Cutting off toothbrush handles. Cutting straps off of backpacks. Using a poncho as the only shelter. Using ultralight tarps instead of tents.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. I mean, it becomes a religion of sorts and they can take on a supercilious air, but they do have a point. The lighter you travel the more ground you can cover.
However, the lighter you travel the more skilled you need to be to do it safely. Backpackers and outdoors adventurers relish in accumulating tales of misery and woe in the backcountry. They love having stories of danger and near-disaster to share.
I will be perfectly happy to live a long life full of backpacking and outdoors goodness without any “And here’s how I almost died again that day…” yarns to spin. I’ll be happy to be able to say that I was well prepared and was with a competent crew. Wishful thinking. Not that I’m beyond showing off my scars, but you get me.
It’s an essential skill to pack efficiently, no matter how you look at it, but ultralight and minimalist backpacking is more of a competitive sport. You have to have the skill set and ingenuity to deal with adversity. Gotta repair things in the field — like sewing a tent or pack strap — because ultralight and homemade ultralight gear tends to be much more fragile than traditional gear. Amazing material sciences but less rugged and durable.
Basically, ultralight is one step up from survival skills, is what I’m trying to say.
Personally, I wouldn’t want to sleep in a bivvy sack under a tarp in a thunderstorm. Give me a tent any day. Between bugs, snakes, spiders, scorpions (in some parts of the country), and rodents, not to mention rain, snow, wind, humidity, dew, etc. That’s a huge tradeoff.
Frankly, it’s absolutely amazing how little they get by with. Of course, for those epic thru hikes they also rely on the established hiker culture. There’s trail-based generosity, lodging, gear, food, random acts of kindness, etc. I suppose that’s like relying on a natural spring. It’ll probably be there but possibly not and you still have to make it there.
All of that weight I lugged at Dolly Sods and I was missing critical items. I mean, I was close and the experienced folks more than made up the difference but … I’ll tell you this. I was lucky it didn’t rain. I was definitely not prepared for rain or any stream mishaps.
Lighter is good. Less is more. When it comes to gear it’s also more expensive but there are also ways to do things on the cheap.
I’m trying to find that balance. Never giving up the JetBoil, though.
People make poor choices. It’s fascinating how we do that. We think through a scenario, we run the calculations, we do the analysis, and then we make the wrong choice.
I was told about someone who showed up to a backpacking trip with next to no gear: no pad, no sleeping bag, no tent. They said they were used to sleeping on the ground. And it was a cool day! Which means a cold night.
Someone else said that the first time they went out they brought a yoga mat for a sleeping pad. You will not sleep well and you will be cold as the ground drains the heat from your body.
I’ve seen people show up to long Winter hikes, snow up to your knees, wearing jeans and Vibram 5 finger shoes with no socks.
On a recent trip someone decided to leave their boots in the car and wear open-toed sandals. No socks at first. They got blisters, of course, and had to tend to their feet.
Apparently, there are those who like to hike like that. I don’t understand. You know rocks, dirt and pebbles get in there. The material is rubbing on your feet with every step plus you’re carrying a relatively heavy load. (Water shoes and outdoor sandals are good for when you know you’re going to be doing a lot of water crossings. You don’t have to take off your boots and socks and dry your feet and re-lace everything time after time.)
I, myself, went on a nine mile hike at the Ricketts Glen trip and for some reason I decided that I didn’t need to lace my boots up all the way. My toes were banging around, of course. That was almost two months ago and I’m still paying for that one.
I routinely run out of water and don’t eat enough calories when I KNOW it’s critical.
Social pressure causes me to make dumb decisions. Like I know I need to remove a layer or change my socks and I don’t because I don’t want to slow the group down. I’ll just wait it out.
Why do we do things we don’t want to do and don’t do the things that we should?
The good thing about having a full complement of backpacking gear is that I’m also equipped for, what do you call it, civic emergencies. I have a go-bag or a bugout bag. (Technically, not really, because those bags should be packed and ready to go already, whereas my stuff is ready to be packed for an outing. Dehydrated food, water filter, shelter, sleeping system, etc. Right now I can’t just pick up a bag and be out of the door in the next 30 to 60 seconds.) Theoretically, I could survive for a week or so if society’s infrastructure collapsed today and it could fit in my backpack. I don’t know how to hunt, though, so I would die in about three weeks if I were the last man on Earth, as my skill set stands now. Except I did see some road kill on my bike ride today so I know where to find a source of protein.