It happens every year. Thousands attempt to thru-hike the PCT, AT, or CDT. All have good intention of completing. By mile 20, and often sooner, many, if not most, are smacked right between the eyes with the big question of how in the world are they going to be able to complete such a monumental task carrying the weight they are. Savvy outfitters stationed along the first few miles of such hikes, in turn, make a killing, as these backpackers come into their supply store looking to drop weight by sending stuff back home, getting rid of some gear, buying new gear, and often completely re-outfitting themselves with lighter gear costing a thousand or more dollars. The reason this phenomenon happens is because “people pack their fears.” The other side of it is people also pack other people’s fears.
Examples of people packing their fears include
- overpacking extra warm clothing
- overpacking multiple days of clothing
- overpacking food
- overpacking water
- bomb proof backpacks
- bombproof tents
- sleeping bags better suited for bagging Everest
- Full blown first aid kits, complete with tourniquets and other esoteric items
- steel containers in case they need to boil water
- multiple knives (The bigger the knife, the bigger the fear)
- books to fight boredom
The examples go on, but those are common ones.
In many cases, people also pack other people’s fears by going on discussion boards and other websites where other people, through their own fears, influence others to also share their fears, even if the person seeking information never had that particular fear to begin with. The humorous thing is much of this information is given by people who are only parroting what they’ve read and heard:
“Man you really should take a full tang knife no shorter than 6″ in case you need to split wood in an emergency.”
“Dude, I would not trust a pack that weighs less than a pound. You want something that will last the whole trip and be durable. The last thing you want is your gear all over the forest floor”
“You do not want to go out there without some sort of firearm capable of stopping a bear”
Some people pack fears based on some sort of trauma they experienced earlier in life and because of it suffer a form of PTSD that now regulates how they approach their backpacking. The truth is these isolated incidents are simply that, isolated. It is possible to overcome these fears, very much like someone who had a traumatic auto collision and was a afraid of driving but is now back on the road without fear. Just get out there and do it. Overtime the fear will dissipate. So too, once these people have continuously gone out and see that nothing happens, they will be more confident and be inclined to start leaving some of their fears at home.
The unfortunate reality is this fear packing too often leads to a pack too heavy to carry for any appreciable distance and really takes the fun out of backpacking. And for many people it’s too late. The sour taste the experience has left has imprinted itself in their minds and they don’t want to try it again. The truth is had they had an awesome experience to begin with, they would have kept up with it.
So how can people avoid making mistakes early on which will help insure they have more fun while backpacking? Learn to separate the chaff from the seed.
- Stay away from survival sites. Their level of paranoia will have you packing 80lbs of crap in a bag capable of only holding 5lbs
- Stay away from bushcraft sites. The focus of bushcraft is different than backpacking and you will end up bringing stuff that will only weigh you down and you don’t need. In addition, they tend to be a survival hybrid and again you’ll be packing a mountain of crap
- Be wary of clerks at big box retailers. They often don’t posses the experience one assumes they do.
- Stay away from commercial hype. Often times, everyday items are just as good as overpriced backpacking specific items, at only a fraction of the cost. A good example of this is a common bottle of water (Smart, arrowhead, sparklets, etc). It is cheaper and lighter than a nalgene type bottle and it is reusable. And for goodness sake please curb your BPA fears.
Do research on lightweight and ultralight weight. Folks who follow that philosophy have, more often than not, finely tuned and sifted their needs away from their wants. Backpackinglight.com is a great resource. Also, turn to Youtube and see what a lot of lightweight aficionados are using. It might surprise you.
At the end of the day, wouldn’t you rather take advice from people who have backpacked thousands of miles such as, Andrew Skurka, Alan Dixon, Mike Clelland, Curtis Banting to name a few? Do be mindful, however, they have expensive gear, but it is not their gear you’re after, rather it is their philosophy and methodology
You may be surprised how very little you really need and are able to increase your fun at the same time