What inspires you to backpack? The hiking, the camping, or both?

What inspires you to backpack?
Stubblefield Canyon, Yosemite National Park

Earlier this week I cheered the death of the “lightweight backpacking” label, along with its misguided ultralight (UL), super ultralight (SUL), and extreme ultralight (XUL) derivatives. With this post, I hope to offer a more representative, more useful, and more inclusive framework for thinking about backpacking and backpackers. For those of you who have read my book, The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide, this may sound familiar, though my thoughts have been further refined since I completed the text a year ago.

Backpacking is a broad category of outdoor recreation, like, say, skiing. And just like how there are different types skiing objectives — e.g. downhill, cross-country, backcountry, freestyle, among many others — there are different types of backpacking objectives, too. Historically, backpacking may have been — or may have been perceived as — a one-size-fits-all activity, but it no longer is and it no longer should be.

No single backpacking objective is superior to another: it’s simply a preference that varies by person and/or by the trip. But it’s critical to recognize that different objectives demand different gear, supplies, and skills — or, “tools and techniques.” Olympic downhill skier Lindsey Vonn wouldn’t use Bjorn Daehlie‘s cross-country skis, or adopt his training and racing form, right?

Types of backpacking objectives

A backpacking trip is most usefully analyzed by the ratio of time and focus dedicated to hiking versus camping. In practice, I offer “hiking” and “camping” as umbrella terms, not literal, since most backpacking trips consist of more than just these two opposing activities. Scrambling, paddling, pedaling, snowshoeing, skiing, etc. are also common modes of wilderness travel. And extra-curricular activities like birding, journaling, fishing, photography, learning, swimming, and gourmet cooking are favorite in-camp activities.

Under this hiking/camping framework, I propose three distinct types of backpacking objectives:

  1. Hiking-inspired
  2. Camping-inspired
  3. Crossover

On a hiking-inspired trip I would hike (or otherwise move) for as many hours per day as my health and fitness will allow, and then camp long enough to recharge for another day of hiking tomorrow.

On a camping-inspired trip I would do the opposite: I would camp (or otherwise do in-camp activities) for most of the day, and only hike long enough to reach another location where I can camp again.

On a crossover trip, I would seek a balance of hiking and camping. I may do relatively more hiking than camping, or vice versa, and therefore my gear, supplies, and skills would be skewed towards one end of the spectrum or the other. But my approach would never be extreme.

In my book, the two extreme types backpacking objectives are identified as “Ultimate Hiking” and “Ultimate Camping.” I thought these labels were unoriginal hyperbole but they were at least consistent with the book’s title, over which I had some influence but not final say; I adopted the text to match it. In lieu of labels that I really loved, I suppose they at least helped to make the point, and to help readers get away from the conventional “light versus heavy” wrong-headedness.

It is important to note that I am not proposing to label backpackers, but merely backpacking objectives. This is intentional: backpackers need not have the same objective on every trip, and I’m therefore reluctant to pigeon-hole anyone, though some obviously will associate very strongly with one identity or another. Plus, I feel like my ideas for specific labels all miss the mark, e.g. “backcountry trekkers” and “backcountry campers,” “multi-day hikers” and “mobile campers,” “hares” and “turtles,” etc.

It is also important to  note that I am not arguing that the required gear, supplies, and skills should be the same for trips with the same objective. Environmental and route conditions (e.g. temperatures, precipitation, wildlife, natural hazards, sun exposure, etc.) should inform a backpacker’s needs as well.

Hiking-inspired backpacking

My backpacking trips — especially the most well known ones, e.g. Sea-to-Sea Route, Great Western Loop, Alaska-Yukon Expedition — have always been hiking-inspired. Wake, hike, sleep, repeat. I’m unapologetic about my core trip objective: I enjoy passing through extensive landscapes in relatively short periods of time, and enduring the physical and mental challenges that accompany these undertakings. It’s not for everyone, but as an endurance athlete with a passion for wilderness, it’s perfect for me.

To succeed on these types of trips, I have learned that I must do two things:

1. I pack light so that I can hike faster and/or hike with less effort.

  • I leave behind unnecessary gear and supplies.
  • I carry lightweight versions of necessary gear and supplies
  • I developed the skills to use these lightweight items properly, e.g. how to pitch a tarp, how to pack a frameless pack, how to keep down insulation dry, how to cook on an alcohol stove, etc.

2. I travel efficiently so that I can hike more, to make “constant forward progress.”

  • I minimize the time I spend on routine tasks: breaking down and setting up camp, eating and cooking, filling water bottles, etc.
  • I avoid going “stupid light” by ensuring that I (1) carry what I need for the conditions and (2) shun gear and supplies that are too light. Otherwise, I may have to wait out a storm for which I am unprepared, to repair tears in my backpack after a bushwhack, or to camp early because I’m low on food and energy.
  • I developed my trip planning skills and wilderness skills so I could avoid time-consuming mistakes in the field: botching my resupply logistics, backtracking after a navigation error, selecting a poor campsite where I won’t rest and recover well, etc.

The formula, Distance = Rate * Time, offers another way to think about hiking-inspired trips. The goal is to maximize Distance — not for the superficial purpose of just covering miles, but rather for the rich rewards of experiencing landscapes (at a blazing-fast 3 mph, I should add). By packing light, I can increase Rate. By traveling efficiently, I can increase Time. An increase in Rate and/or Time will lead to an increase in Distance.

Last year Gerry Morton and I hiked the 224-mile John Muir Trail in 7 days. This was a purely hiking-inspired trip: we carried no toys or superfluous comforts, and we hiked for 14-16 hours per day with very few breaks.

Camping-inspired backpacking

My trips are rarely (never?) camping-inspired, but I still respect this style — it’s just not for me.

On a camping-inspired trip, packing light (Rate) and traveling efficiently (Time) are unnecessary as there is no concern with Distance. Backpackers with this objective are free to pack the proverbial kitchen sink: they have no intention of hiking far or of necessarily enjoying the hiking they do; and when they arrive in camp they will enjoy having the toys, gadgets, and luxuries that make camping fun.

Crossover backpacking

Most backpacking trips fall within this range, including most of my guided trips and my personal trips with Amanda. The challenge here is how to balance two competing and contradictory approaches: How do you pack light and travel efficiently in order to enjoy the hiking, without compromising the camping experience?

I have had good success by using my hiking-inspired trips as a model, then notching back the intensity:

I/we still pack light, but I make allowances for lightweight comforts and toys, like a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir sleeping pad, a Micro Four Thirds camera, a Tenkara fishing rod, a canister stove, a tarp for the group cooking area, a Titanium coffee mug, etc. Because my load is heavier and larger, I swap out a frameless GoLite Jam for a ULA suspension pack. Certainly, with this load the hiking is less blissful, but it’s still comfortable — and, more important, our camping experience is fairly robust.

I/we still travel efficiently, but I’m not as vigilant. I make a hot breakfast and morning coffee, instead of leaving camp within 15 minutes of waking up. If it’s raining or really cold, I probably will sleep in. During the day I take more and longer breaks in order to rest, eat, admire the views, or converse with passing  hikers. And when I go into town to resupply, I spend the night in a motel, read a book at the library, and write a few pages in my journal over an omelet at the cafe.

Amanda enjoys a Pumpkin Space Starbucks Via during a mid-morning rest at Smedberg Lake. By 10am our group had already covered 5 miles and climbed 2,400 feet uphill. We packed fairly light, traveled fairly efficiently, and still enjoyed the camping component of our trip.

Camping-by-default

Success in camping-inspired trips comes easily: pack the kitchen sink and don’t go far. Success in hiking-inspired trips or crossover trips, both of which entail at least a moderate amount of hiking, is much more difficult to achieve, as a backpacker must first learn the two prerequisites: packing light and traveling efficiently. Until mastery is achieved, the hiking won’t be as good as it can be, and therefore camping becomes the easier and relatively more enjoyable activity — the default choice.

For first-time and beginner backpackers, as well as for intermediate backpackers whose gear and skills have become outdated, personal trial-and-error is a time-tested technique to acquire this know-how. But it’s faster, less expensive, and less miserable to learn from others, via blogs, videos, books, clinics, in-person conversations, and guided trips.

Hopefully, using this hiker/camper framework, backpackers that are still camping-by-default can more easily and more quickly identify the gear, supplies, and skills that they need to achieve their trip objectives. That’d be good for them and for backpacking.

When I began my Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 2002 I didn’t know how to pack light or travel efficiently. Until I learned, I hiked less and camped more than I wanted to since camping was the easier and relatively more enjoyable activity.

33 Responses to What inspires you to backpack? The hiking, the camping, or both?

  1. Justin October 25, 2012 at 11:44 am #

    Great post! I’d like to get into more hiking and then camping for us it’s usually the other way around. Might need to take some vacation time and do some longer hikes.

  2. Scott October 25, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    While I applaud your desire and efforts to redefine the lexicon of backcountry travelers from one based on weight to something more usefully descriptive, I think you may have missed the mark slightly.

    I do think that the ratio of hiking/camping is an important aspect/axis of the conversation. However, I think that the more important aspect/axis in further breaking down the broad sport of backcountry travelling, and therefore understanding what skills, training and gear are required/recommended a la your Vonn/Daehlie example, is centered on terrain and trail.

    I think that the descriptions of locale/time of year used in your book are a good starting point in this regard. I think you can extend it further to describe something akin to the what is used in other backcountry sports like skiing, climbing, and mountain biking where there has been a proliferation of specialization, both in terms of skills and gear. The specialization would seem to center on the following questions: What is the terrain you are travelling though? Are you following well worn trails, or is there significant bushwacking/route finding involved? Are you traversing granite peaks or are you traversing marshy lowlands? etc

    I think the main descriptors we use today in this regard (which map decently well to your hiking v. camping) are thru hiking versus section hiking vs overnights. For me it has always primarily had to do with the length of time your out, and secondarily with the pace at which you are travelling.

    I think the later tends to be mostly informed by terrain and trail, however. And I bundle weather conditions in with terrain.

    From my perspective, the portion of pace that isn’t informed by terrain and trail could be loosely termed ‘athleticism’. Some people ride their bike at an easy pace around a lake for pure enjoyment, as a hobby. Others ride for pure sport and athletic pursuit, training and pushing the boundaries of what we know to be possible.

    Wish I had more time to develop this further, but I don’t at the moment.

    Very cool conversation. Thanks for getting it started.

  3. Jeff October 25, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

    Most of my backpacking is family backpacking. We don’t hike big distances, and tend to set up a base camp for short exploration hikes and other activities around camp. Our goal is comfort at a reasonable weight. Since we started backpacking as a family in 2011, we’ve been looking for ways to lighten up each trip, and have had great results. Sometimes just removing one item from my 12 year old’s pack can change him from being sluggish and unmotivated, to me having to yell out, “You’re getting to far ahead…wait up!”. Your book has been valuable for helping to scrutinize all the gear and making the best choices for our goals.

  4. Jeff Bartlett October 25, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    I am a huge fan of the hiking-inspired trips. This summer, I took my tent just once. Instead, I took a page out of your usual playbook and opted for 30-60 km day hikes with a very light load – just water, food, an an extra layer.

    The results were great. I enjoyed each hike and covered far more terrain than I had thought possible.

    It’ll be a long time before I return to camping-inspired trips.

  5. Zed October 25, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    Perhaps it’s different over here in Britain, but the only difference between my hiking-inspired and camping-inspired trips is my attitude. The things which really make a difference to my solo trips are summer versus winter and hiking versus cycle touring. In summer I take midge netting and in winter I take insulated clothing.

    Our winters aren’t that different from our summers – fewer biting insects – but stiff boots which can kick a step in ice are useful on the rare occasions it turns properly cold.

    When my hefty cycle touring machine is hauling the weight, I carry a tent. I never managed to get my head around just how much gear a sea kayak could carry.

    With friends, I take whatever will help me fit in with their plans.

  6. Philip October 25, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

    It’s a mix for me, but mostly hiking-inspired. Camping adds two main features to the hike: (a) It lets me go to places that are out of reach for dayhikers and (b) it lets me enjoy backcountry wilderness in the daytime that I enjoy most, dusk and dawn. There have been numerous trips where I easily could have hiked out to the car before nightfall, but opted to stay back out there for another night.

  7. Thomas Hill October 26, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    Hi, Andrew:

    I think the arguments for hiking- versus camping-inspired backpacking are well thought out and plausible. My most recent backpacking trip was camping-inspired; therefore, I packed for camping as opposed to hiking (a camping chair, an SLR camera with three lenses, etc.). Ordinarily, however, I’m in it for the long haul while in the outdoors. This means I adopt a more hiking-centric packing style, such as you outline above. I would never bring such a heavy camera on a so-called “thru-hike.”

    Distance and time are extremely important factors in determining what to pack for an outing. And, like Scott mentioned above, topography, climate, and weather are important to take into consideration. It’s clear that outdoor rec manufacturers have created new classifications in an effort to target different demographics–in your case, the camping-inspired versus hiking-inspired trips–but it only serves as a marketing ploy for the less experienced.

    Items that serve dual, or even multiple, purposes are worth their weight in gold. They save space and reduce the overall load that a hiker carries into the backcountry. As a hiking-inspired trekker, I look for ways to maximize the usability of products that I will eventually bring on the trail. Will I buy a UL or SUL tent? Perhaps, but not merely because it’s ultralight. I already know what’s good to have on the trail–or while in camp–so I don’t pay much attention to features that make a tent SUL.

    I haven’t read your book yet, but I will be sure to check it out. Until then, I’ll keep checking out your blog posts. Thanks for the good discussion topics!

  8. Endurance October 30, 2012 at 11:47 pm #

    This was a breakout year for me in my hiking and backpacking. Despite the fact that I’ve been backpacking for going on 25 years now, this was the first that it all came together; fitness, the right influences, the right opportunities, and the right gear. Despite years of backpacking it wasn’t until 2012 that I put together a pack that was light enough to allow me to do things I’ve dreamed about. So, I managed my first 25 mile day with a pack loaded for three days that weighed in at right around 21 pounds (and covered over 3k’ of climbing).

    There was a lot learned from the three day outing including ways I could travel more efficiently with the Sawyer 121 in-line filter on my camelbak, It freed me to fill up on the fly and carry only what I needed until the next stream crossing. I also decided I could use a lighter sleeping bag on summer trips, so that made it onto my list of things too research.

    But again, it’s not just about the gear. The pure joy of whipping out a 25 mile day for the first time (the only other day I’d ever exceeded 20 miles in a day on foot was the Portland Marathon) was motivation enough to continue to expand my fitness, learn how to be more efficient on the trail, and have the ability to get to more amazing places with more time to enjoy them upon my arrival. I just downloaded the book and I’m looking forward to learning more tricks of the trade. Thanks!

    • Andrew Skurka October 31, 2012 at 10:11 am #

      Great to hear about your progress this year. Would you classify your former self as a “camper by default”? In other words, did you always want to do the hiking-inspired trips you are doing now, but limited by your pack weight and inefficient travel?

      • Endurance November 5, 2012 at 6:29 am #

        In hindsight I was definitely a camper by default. Initially it was a lack of skills combined with a very poor diet that led to a burden of a pack and spikes and declines in energy around every corner. There were times I’d barely make 4.5 miles in a miserable day on the trail. Yesterday I woke up, went for a quick 5.2 mile hike with a friend who needs a little push to get her out the door, then after returning home unsatisfied I went back out for another 10.75 miles with a 15:10 pace (some running on the return leg).

        I’ve always had the passion for the big miles, but until recently I just let the overburden of gear get in my way. I was moving in the right direction for a while, but it was only after hearing about a friend’s CT hike in 2011 that put the pieces together (carry what you need, nothing more, nothing less and maintain CFP). I’m about a third of the way through the book now and think you’ve done a lot toward picking up where Colin left off.

  9. Bob October 31, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

    Hi Andrew,

    Having taken one of your courses (loved the Stubblefield Canyon pic) and having my eyes opened up to new backcountry travel styles and techniques, I have thought a lot about this topic. For discussion sake, I offer a few more refined categories in order of skill development:
    1. Camp by Default
    2. Cross-over
    3. Endurance Hiking
    – Duration: overnight – Thru-hike
    – Primarily on trail
    – Objective is max miles for terrain and weather
    4. Hiking-centric Adventure Travel
    – Duration: 1 week+
    – Mostly off-trail
    – Mostly 3 season
    – Objective is max progress (i.e. mountain pass(s), reach a remote valley, etc.)
    – May involve side objectives such as peak-bagging
    5. Multi-mode Adventure Travel
    – Duration: 1 week+
    – Almost entirely off-trail
    – 3-4 seasons
    – Multi-modes of self propelled travel (hiking, skiing, packraft, snowshoes, etc.) in same trip
    – Objective is safe and efficient travel through challenging terrain and conditions

    • Andrew Skurka November 1, 2012 at 8:34 am #

      Your proposed tiers of skill development for hiking-inspired trips are about right, at least based on my own history over the last 10 years, plus others with which I’m familiar. It’s a big jump between each level; my own experience has been:

      • Camper-by-default: first month of the Appalachian Trail in 2002
      • Endurance hiker: Great Western Loop
      • Adventure hiker: Sierra High Route, Hayduke Trail
      • Adventurer: Alaska-Yukon Expedition
      • The framework that I’ve laid out in this post allows for these tiers, since the “gear, supplies, and skills” that a backpacker needs are always a function of:

        1. Trip objective, e.g. hiking-inspired, camping-inspired, crossover
        2. Environmental and route conditions, e.g. temps, precip, water availability, wildlife, natural hazards, etc.

        In other words, the approach to a trip is always the same. The execution of the trip is variable.

  10. Steven Wilcox November 1, 2012 at 7:41 am #

    Thanks for writing this. I grew up in south Florida and so camping there was always torture to me between the heat, bugs, sand, etc.

    Once we moved out of Florida, my wife and I started hiking in the mountains (GA, NC, TN) and we’ve enjoyed it ever since. But all of our fairly mild treks never involved camping. Now that my hiking interests have advanced a bit, I’ve realized that I had to really learn to camp (and try to learn to enjoy it) because due to bad knees and other health issues, there are things/places I won’t ever get to see/hike-to without camping.

  11. Jack Haskel November 1, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    What inspires me to backpack?

    The answer has always been the Sierra Nevada.

    It’s the wilderness and the scenery. I’m happiest on hiking-focused trips and on camping-focused trips. And cross over trips make me happy too.

    Your photo of Stubblefield Canyon makes me want to go there. It doesn’t matter if I charge through it without stopping, or if I devote the whole weekend to it. I’m happy.

    I’m not sure that I agree that different objectives require different sets of gear. Summer backpacking in North America requires pretty much the same gear no matter where you are. I think you’d agree with that.

    With gear, generally it’s all a compromise and it doesn’t really matter.

    • Andrew Skurka November 2, 2012 at 10:58 am #

      > I’m not sure that I agree that different objectives require different sets of gear. Summer backpacking in North America requires pretty much the same gear no matter where you are. I think you’d agree with that. With gear, generally it’s all a compromise and it doesn’t really matter.

      I’m going to disagree here. Gear matters; supplies and skills matter, too. I take them with me, or learn them, in order to enable or facilitate my trips — they improve my safety and comfort, and sometimes they make a trip possible. If they don’t matter, then try going without them sometime. Like a good umpire, I shouldn’t notice their existence, but I would never dismiss the importance of a good umpire.

      I would also disagree that neither objectives nor location should affect one’s collection of gear, supplies, and skills — in fact, I’d argue that these two considerations are the primary drivers for these choices. A backpacker who only wants to hike in a few miles to a lake, where they can fish and snap photos with their DSLR camera, will not be happy with my spartan hiking-inspired kit, or vice versa. Similarly, a backpacker in the East should not pack the same as a backpacker in the Mountain West or in the Desert Southwest — each of those locations have unique gear, supplies, and skills that are required or optimal for a successful hike there, because there are enormous differences in temperatures, precipitation, water availability, sun exposure, snow cover, insects, wildlife, etc.

  12. Kid Riemer November 11, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    I think you are creating categorization where there is absolutely none needed.

    In your previous post, you tried to eliminate the categorization of gear as ultralight, etc.

    Now you are talking about categorizing backpacking?

    In my opinion…it is just backpacking. Whether you carry a little gear or a lot of gear does not matter. It is simply backpacking. Whether your goal is to walk a short distance or a long distance doesn’t matter…if you are carrying your gear for a night in the woods, it is backpacking. Whether you want to spend every available moment hiking, or plan to get to camp early to enjoy life there…if you are carrying your gear for the night in the woods, it is backpacking.

    Crossover? Talk about sounding like marketing-speak. That is right up there and some brand will probably throw a TM on it and start a new line of products. CROSSOVER HIKE/CAMP™

    • Andrew Skurka November 11, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

      Absolutely, it is all backpacking. Yes, I am a backpacker, just like you (presumably).

      But there are different styles of backpacking, and backpackers — and those who sell and market goods and services to them — would be foolish to ignore that different gear, supplies, and skills are optimal for some styles and wholly inappropriate for others.

      Again, I bring up the downhill v cross-country skiing comparison. Both are “skiing” but the styles demand totally different tools and techniques. Ditto for mountain v road biking, trail v road running, or figure skating v ice hockey.

      If your style of backpacking is not compatible with your gear, supplies and skills, your trip will simply not be as good as it could be.

  13. Drew Rhodes January 14, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

    My girlfriend and I are both total hikers. We hike as long as we can but get grumpy as soon as we get into camp. As soon as we’re up in the morning, we’re packing up out stuff so fast, you think we were late to work. When we get back on the trail, we’re all sunshine and singing again.

    On a personal note, your book and Clelland’s book both completely revolutionised the way I hike. Before I read them, my girlfriend and I had to cancell so many planned multiday hikes after just one night because our packs and heavy boots killed us after just one day. (I was a salesman for REI at the time and was TOTALLY drinking to Cool-Aid.) The destinction between hiking and camping that you made in your book really helped me understand that I was placing the wrong emphasis for our hiking objectives and helped us to successfully plan and hike the JMT last summer.

    We did it in 16 days with one zero day, and it was the best time either of us ever had. No one thought we’d be able to do it because we failed to may times before, but we sure showed them!

  14. Tjaard January 28, 2013 at 9:11 pm #

    When I read your book I thought that one of the best parts of it was that you laid out objectives and conditions before you selected skills and gear.

    I don’t know whether or not we need to categorize, but I do think you are spot on that we should always start by listing our objectives and conditions.

    It seems strange that so few backpackers do this, while it is standard practice in every design process our business decision.

    Listing objectives and conditions gives us the yardstick to measure our skills and equipment, to see whether they offer the optimal solution for that objective and those conditions, thereby avoiding the ‘stupid light’ gear(unless the objective is to pack as light as possible) or ‘camper-by-default’ mistakes.

  15. Tjaard January 28, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

    Oops, just scrolled up and noticed what the question on top was:

    ‘What inspires you to backpack?’

    I want to enjoy the scenery and experiences of nature. I use the word enjoy, meaning I want to enjoy my hiking (or biking or skiing) but also my nights.

    So, that puts me firmly in your Cross-over camp.
    I don’t care to much about how many miles I cover, but I do want to enjoy the hiking. My goal is hiking centric, but not MILES centric.

    If I pack to heavy, I won’t enjoy the hiking, But if I don’t have the right clothes/gear I won’t be comfortable hiking either.
    If I pack to minimalist I won’t enjoy my nights.

    • Georg December 23, 2013 at 7:44 am #

      > My goal is hiking centric, but not MILES centric.

      I absolutely agree. Even for hiking-centric trips, the mentioned “moved hours” or “distance” are not suited as the single meters for “accomplishments”, as even 3 miles air distance might be the result of a perfect day. Except for professionals like Ueli Steck (called “the Swiss machine” for obvious reasons ;-) ), one can’t move securely for 6+ hours in really demanding terrain like on a steep narrow ridge where one single bad move will probably result in severe injuries or death – the physical and mental fitness is not sufficient for more hours of movement. Maybe the concept of the American English words “hiking/backpacking” do not cover this type of activity; the German “Bergwandern” does and thus the 4 meters distance + time + altitude + difficulty are usually contained in trip descriptions.

  16. Herb May 31, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

    I have gone through all three. When I was younger it was hiking inspired, the older I got it became crossover, and unfortunately soon it will be camping inspired. Hmmmmm?

  17. Georg December 23, 2013 at 7:11 am #

    Thanks for the post – it’s the first time I really understood the motivation why people ever care about “ultralightwight” :-) I think your categorization is useful as a basis for discussions, sales staff etc. Then everyone needs to add further dimensions for the personal interests – e.g. backpacking on trails that contain serious via ferrata or climbs, cultural POIs like monasteries (like in Bulgaria or Nepal) or war memorials (like at the Austrian-Italian border), “gourmet” POIs like alps or wineries,…

  18. Margaret Haffler March 7, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

    Crossover title is start but there are some of us who do not fit that category either, I’ve backpacked for over 30 years (longer than you have been alive :-) and would consistantly do 35 miles in a week in the mountain or deserts with no desire to do more, even with a light pack, as in dayhikeing from camp.
    I am amazed when recently I was sitting on a ridge looking out at a fantastic view in the Wind River Range and packers light and heavy went by without even slowing their pace, I wanted to shake them and say “Stop and look, What did you come here for anyway?” The hiking is the priority to be able to see all this but getting to camp at 4pm and exploring around to watch the sunset etc. is equally as enjoyable. No one can convince me that a glance is better than a look (ask your significant other :-)
    You are no doubt the best long distance backpacker around and I admire your skill, ambition and strength but be aware of your difference from me and many of us:
    1) You are a young man—challenging yourself is important and you have a higher metabolism than women (I worked in a backpack store and most women were colder than men) Long ago I did hard things and quickly realized I don’t need to prove anything to others or especially myself anymore. I’m 68, 40′s is about enjoyment most of all.
    2) You can acclimatize yourself on long trips. I ask the beginner backpacking class I’m teaching if 50 degrees is warm or cold. Obviously it is different coming from 100 or 0.
    Your perspective is great but only as one viewpoint from one style of trip. I’ve never had wet feet (even on NOLS in 1980) nor completely wet in the rain. I’ll go with a double walled tent everytime, especially now that they are 2 1/2 lbs. I replaced all my old gear and can go on a 7 day mountain trip with gear, food, fuel and water for 30 lbs and still have no need or desire to walk more than 6 or 7 miles. The point to me is to enjoy hiking and comfortably take in every view as precious, no desire to brag about it later and find it FUN. I used to hike solo and loved the freedom but find group hiking much more fun
    I even quit jobs to go for 6 months packing or bicycle touring.
    We only have moments—really—past and furture are illusions.
    Best to you.
    M

  19. Robert Doty April 20, 2014 at 1:11 am #

    I’m 51 and with Margaret in this discussion (although I found the perspectives shared here quite interesting).

    Personally, I have little, if any, lingering fascination with numbers – whether miles walked, peaks bagged, marathons finished, feet climbed or mph sustained (on my road bike), or billable hours logged (as a big city lawyer). Nor do labels much interest my any longer. Enjoy the numbers/labels as you may, but for me they are soulless metrics/classifications.

    I care about moments – vistas taken in, sunsets savored, critters watched doing what they do, lakes/creeks swum in, days shared with my teenage son who is just starting to backpack, strangers met and enjoyed if only briefly on a trail. I care about the spiritual fulfillment that (in my estimation) comes only from the solitude and beauty of nature.

    I want to eat well, to savor good food well prepared within the limits of the back country; not just restore the calories my body needs for fuel the next day. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good long hike, if it has vistas and moments, and maybe some bourbon or good tequila at the end as an enjoyable meal is prepared as a shared endeavor. But a long hike without those seems rather pointless; not much different frankly than cranking out another well argued brief or working through a long, complex contract-drafting exercise (one man’s opinion – I have no need to convince you or anyone else that my ways/perspectives should be your way/perspective).

    So, in your lexicon, I think I’m “cross-over” oriented. And in that vein, and since your knowledge and thoughtfulness in this area dwarfs mine (now and what it may become given the limits on my time) I would greatly appreciate any references to which you can point me as I am now trying to decide how much effort to put into lightening our (my son’s and my) load. Clearly, the gear my wife and I used 25 years ago is well past it’s prime for the 4- to perhaps 9-day trips I’d like to do with my son. That much I learned from 3 nights/four days this week at Pt. Reyes Nat’l Seashore.

    I have the good fortune that I can spend whatever I want. But I don’t want to spend on functionality I don’t need, in part because I want to help my son learn to think wisely/prudently about these things, not as the child of a successful parents. Any helpful suggestions for that context?

    Best regards, happy trails, and remember this as you churn your way along some path: “once in a while you can get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.” But for that to be true, you have to be willing to stop, look, listen, and consider the spaces in between the notes/words.

  20. Margaret May 1, 2014 at 7:21 pm #

    Robert….you get it!
    Andrew…. my rambling may have not clarified my point. I was sad when in one video you were recounting what you thought about as you hiked all those hours and your response was something about the logistics, the umcoming challenges, the weather etc etc.
    I was encouraged in another video where you cried when recognizing your connection to the cariboo herd and the land and that moment. Remember that, it was real and touching and important! To be moved by what you see, hear, smell, touch and experience is the point. Perhaps you think the light weight got you there but I’ve met a few lightweighters in the wilderness that are carrying a heavy load of judgment (and perhaps data).
    That may now be your job, but remember to pack that open-hearted attitude on all your trips.
    Peace.
    M

  21. Woodenhead May 26, 2014 at 1:19 am #

    “My goal is hiking centric, but not MILES centric.”
    Sums up my taste. I’m also with Margaret & Robert. I’m pretty much equal between hiking and camping; they are each a compliment to each other. And it’s about the moments, the views, the setting, the solitude. It’s about the journey *and* the destination. If I were to generalize my habits, it would be that I like to push myself while hiking, but not skipping out on any opportunities (enjoying views, sidetracks, photos, etc.), but I equally like setting camp & relaxing for dusk thru dawn. In my 40+ years, I’ve definitely done more “car camping” than long-distance hikes (mostly thanks to my friends not doing long distance, time/work, and now wonky knees) but I thoroughly & equally love both.

    I think the issue is that I don’t want to give up one for the other. :)

    Hey, what about long canoe/portage/backpacking trips? haha

    Thanks for the good read & convo.

  22. dave May 27, 2014 at 9:31 am #

    Hiking and backpacking has changed a lot for me since we had our first kid 2 years ago. We have been doing a lot more hiking and less camping for obvious reasons. We have another baby coming very soon and are going to try and get out camping this summer.

    To answer the question for myself, I probably love the camping a little more. The hiking is amazing but it’s always about making it to that final destination for the night that gets me there. The exercise is also a big part of if for me but overall the camping is the bigger thing.

    I have always tended to make more weight than needed. I am trying to work my way down to the ultralight gear to let me get a few more miles in.

  23. Curt July 27, 2014 at 11:14 pm #

    Thanks for this post – it helps me frame my choice of gear. I love to get out backpacking but do it at most once a year, and more likely every other. That makes equipment updating seem like a waste of $, but this article gives me a more considered frame of mind for those choices.

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  1. Camping or riding - both? | Trails and Tours - Bikepacking - December 7, 2013

    [...] this video? In the ultralight hiking world (during the stupid-light debate) Andrew Skurka offered these insights about the differences between hiking-inspired and camping-inspired backpacking – showing the [...]

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