Often when I return from a backpacking trip, people respond with various reasons for not backpacking.  Honestly, sometimes I think fear of the unknown is the biggest reason, but no one ever says that… check out some of the many excuses I’ve heard below.  Maybe my responses will help you the next time someone says, “Well it looks beautiful but…”

Backpacking in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Photo: AJ Heil

Backpacking in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Photo: AJ Heil

1. “I could never hike 30 (or however many) miles!”

Well, sure you could!  One thing to remember is that, unless you’re trying to set a fastest-known-record, no one is expecting you to hike 30 miles in one day, or even two.  Most of our trips average 5 days / 4 nights.  If you break 30 miles down over 5 days, that’s only 6 miles a day.  To break it down even further, we usually hike at a snail’s pace of about 2mph; so really your total hike time each day won’t be more than 3, maybe 4 hours.

2. “I think I’d be terrified to sleep in the woods at night.”

Truthfully, I usually am.  That’s one reason I try to make sure we find a fairly open space for camping.  Near woods, but not in them, is just about right.  It’s not like we are ever unprotected.  We always have a canister of bear spray with us–that stuff will do some damage! We also take every precaution we can in ensuring that everything we have that smells is safely stored in a bear canister or Ursak far away from us.  By doing this, we can sleep better knowing that nothing has a reason to come bother us.  Honestly, there is way more of a chance of someone breaking into our house at night than there is a chance of someone or something attacking us at night in the wilderness.

Tent site close to but not in the woods
Tent site close to–but not in–the woods

3. “There’s no way I’m pooping in the woods.”

Really, it’s not that bad.  You probably have more privacy in the woods than you do in that office bathroom you share with fifty other people. Sure, it’s awkward at first to dig your own “cat hole” in the ground.  But if you’ve got all your basics: toilet paper (which you should either pack out or burn), hand sanitizer, and a nice plastic trowel for digging, there’s no reason why this should be a particularly unpleasant experience. Just consider it time communing with nature.  After all, the alternative of not going for four or five days will make you feel much worse.

4. “I can’t imagine not bathing for that long.” 

ME EITHER. Every day once we get to camp we take our washcloths down to the river and wash off.  While it might not be quite the same as a nice hot bath, it’ll help!  You can take biodegradable soap if you like, but don’t use it in the water.  You’ll need to fill a container with water and then move at least 200ft away from the water source to use your soap and rinse.  Yes, it’s biodegradable, but it can still affect aquatic life.  Still, it’s amazing what just a rinse in a mountain stream and scrub with a plain wash cloth can do for you!  We always feel more energized and refreshed afterwards.

A bandana keeps dirty hair hidden from view.
A bandana keeps dirty hair hidden from view.

You can always plan ahead like we do and have a fresh change of clothes, deodorant, and dry shampoo at the car waiting for your return.  That way, at least you’ll feel slightly fresher on the way home.  Trust me, everyone else on your trip smells just as bad as you.

5. “I’m not in good enough shape for backpacking.”

First, no one says you have to tackle a monster week-long trip your first time out.  There are plenty of short, overnight hikes you can take that aren’t very strenuous.  Just visit your local sporting goods store, like an REI, and check out their book section.  You could even just go to a bookstore.  Either way, there are plenty of books on backpacking for specific areas, like the South San Juans, the Appalachian Trail, etc.  You can also, of course, check out our huge trail directory of hiking and backpacking trails.

My point is, if you think you’re out of shape, then start with a short trip that doesn’t have much elevation gain and go with someone experienced.

Another way to make you feel better about your fitness level is to start training.  Start with short walks around the park and then short hikes.  Even 30 minutes out on a trail at first will help.  Work up to an hour or so of hiking and then add weight to your pack.  This training will help you not only physically, but mentally.

Bonus:  How do you know where to go?” 

Research.  Ask people you know who backpack.  Get a book.  Search Tripleblaze.com for ideas.  Google “backpacking trips near…” Call your local BLM office and ask them directly, or again, walk into your nearest REI.  I can guarantee you someone there will pick up a map and say, “You should go here.”

As my dad would say, “What you oughta do is…GO BACKPACKING!”

# Comments

  • AJ Heil

    Love these thoughts! It’s encouraging to hear your take, as someone that agrees with several of these points but has still found ways to make a-go of it! These are five excuses that are worth talking through and addressing, for sure!


  • James Tracy

    Great article, especially about the pooping in the woods part. Most of my friends who won’t go are afraid of that for some reason.

  • mtbikerchick

    We actually just got back from a 5 day/4 night trip and now I remember one more excuse I should add: it might rain! It will absolutely rain…but if you’re prepared for that it won’t ruin your trip 🙂

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