Traveling Light

I am going backpacking this weekend with three good friends and one guy I don’t know at all. We’re headed up to the Bushnell Lakes, a series of three alpine lakes at 11,500 feet in the San Isabel National Forest near Salida, Colorado.


It’s been several years since my last backpacking trip. I used to do it at least once a year, back when I was young and carefree and perfectly willing to trudge up the trail with 60 pounds on my back. These days, I’m less young. I am not entirely free from cares. And I can’t believe I needed 60 freaking pounds worth of stuff for three days in the backcountry. Extra changes of clothing. Hip waders for flyfishing. And a LOT of food, including full potatoes to bake over hot coals and 12-oz. cans of Dr. Pepper. I carried a lot of luxuries because I had room for it and because, well, I was an idiot.

As I am no longer an idiot — at least when it comes to gear-hauling — this trip will be different. It’s been my goal, from the earliest stages of planning, to pack as light as possible. I’m taking everything I’ll need to remain safe and moderately comfortable, of course, but I’ve whittled my luxuries down to pretty much zero. The soft drinks are gone. So is most of the extraneous fishing gear. This year, my pack weighs 30 pounds.

The end result, I’m hoping, is that I’ll enjoy the actual hiking experience much more. I used to hate the backpacking part — the part where I squirmed into a pack and stumbled uphill for five miles — but I loved when we stopped out in the middle of nowhere and set up camp, far from human contact, far from roads and road noise, far from any sort of civilization. I loved the destination. I loved getting there. But the getting there was so strenuous I was ready for it to end as soon as it started. My outlook has changed a bit since then, because it occurs to me that the hike in — the journey, the scenery, the companionship along the way — is every bit as important as the end of the trail. That’s half the fun of hiking, isn’t it? It’s the stuff you experience in the process of weaving through the forest and climbing over rocks and jumping across mountain streams. Why let a whole bunch of gear you don’t need weigh you down and stress your body and prevent you from enjoying the trail? Why carry a bunch of unnecessary stuff that isn’t really necessary? My answers used to be 1) because it fits and 2) because I can and what I realize now is that those are really dumb answers.

The destination is important, but so is the journey. Lightweight backpacking is a great learning opportunity, because it helps you realize how little you really need to survive. A huge house? Nope. A closet full of clothes? Nope. A warm shower? Nope. Everything I need for four days in the wilderness can fit in 3600 cubic inches of backpack. A smidge over 30 pounds. Simplifying the stuff you put on your back reduces stress. It makes both the journey and the destination a lot more enjoyable.

Now, if only I could think of a regular-world, non-backpacking application for this hard-earned wisdom…

See Also

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I get back on Tuesday. Stay tuned for a trip update and awe-inspiring photos.

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