A Night in the Wilds
The difference between dayhiking and backpacking is the difference between gazing at your lover and making love: Staying overnight consummates the relationship. It’s how you get to know the wilderness intimately.
Hiking by day then scurrying home before dark is fun. Your pack is lighter, your stride is bouncier, and a hot shower and soft bed await you just beyond trail’s end. Understandably, this is how most hikers do it most of the time. But it’s mere foreplay compared to the richer, more meaningful experience of backpacking.
It’s simple: You walk the earth, then you bed down on it. It’s the most primitive, elemental way of life known to our species. As such, it’s cathartic for anyone whose frenzied, urban existence is largely divorced from nature.
At the very least, backpacking enables you to hike farther and see more, earning you a greater sense of adventure and accomplishment. But there are even better reasons why day hikers should go backpacking.
Do it to cultivate your wild self–it will give you perspective; do it to revel in simplicity and self-reliance, qualities that make life more fulfilling; do it to distance yourself from the cacophony that muffles the quiet, pure voice within; do it to give nature more time to seduce, soothe, and heal you.
Compared to dayhiking, however, backpacking requires additional preparation and extra effort on the trail. The following suggestions will help you get ready and will ease your burden en route.
Wear sturdy Boots
Most hiking boots are too flexible, even for dayhiking. They’re designed to look cool and feel cushy in the store, but they’re inadequate on the trail. Choose boots with a stiff shank to keep your feet from tiring under the weight of a hefty backpack. Grip the toe of a boot in one hand, the heel in your other hand. If you can bend the boot easily, don’t buy it. Search for a stiff pair that’s reasonably light: about 1.14 kg for women, about 1.35 kg for men. Just don’t backpack in new boots. To be sure they fit, dayhike in them first.
Carry a Comfortable Pack
Most of the weight should ride on your hips, not your shoulders, so choose a pack with a substantial hipbelt that won’t sag or crumple under stress. Look for a simple, stripped-down pack bag. Organizational features appear useful but are unnecessary and add weight. For trips of up to four or five nights, you’ll want a pack volume of about 60 to 75 litres. Ideally the pack itself should weigh 1.6 to 2.3 kg.
Use Trekking Poles
They alleviate strain by enabling you to hike with your arms and shoulders, not just your legs. During a typical eight-hour hike you’ll transfer more than 250 tons of pressure to a pair of poles, significantly reducing stress to your knees, lower back, and feet. Poles also keep you more upright, allowing greater lung capacity and more efficient breathing. The heavier your pack, the more you’ll appreciate the support of poles. They’re especially helpful when crossing streams, traversing steep slopes, and negotiating rough terrain. Poles prevent ankle sprains — common hiking injury. By making you more stable, they help you relax, boosting your confidence. If you can’t afford trekking poles, make do with old ski poles. Forget those big, heavy, gnarled, wooden staffs. They’re more burden than benefit, unless you’re going to a costume party dressed as Gandalf.
Pack a rainproof tent that’s impervious to bugs and can withstand a gale. The minimum interior space two people need for a night’s rest is about 3 square metres. Some models weigh only 1.8 kg, but their Spartan size requires you to keep your gear outside, under the vestibule. To bring your packs in with you, you and your partner will want at least 3.4 square metres of interior space. Some models that size weigh just 2.3 kg. For summer backpacking, a sleeping bag rated to about -5º C and weighing less than 1 kg should be sufficient. You’ll also need a sleeping pad. An ascetic can sleep like a boulder on a short (119 cm), thin sheet of closed-cell foam. If you’re sensitive, carry a full-length (183 cm), self-inflating, insulated mattress weighing about 570 g.
Pack a First-aid kit
Be prepared to deal with minor medical emergencies. Your kit should include ibuprofen to ease pain and swelling; a variety of bandages; sterile gauze to staunch bleeding; adhesive tape; fold-up scissors; and a small, wilderness first-aid manual.
An hour up the trail, a backpack that seemed to levitate at home can feel like a sack of bricks. So jettison everything you can, which is probably more than you think possible. Question the need for each item before you pack it. But if it’s small, light, and will significantly enhance your comfort or enjoyment, bring it (like a bum pad made of closed cell foam so you can sit contentedly anywhere, or maybe some gourmet chocolate to reward yourself at milestones) — every backpacker has idiosyncratic “necessities.”
Rent a Tent
Don’t invest in outfitting yourself until you’re a backpacking convert. Mountain Equipment Co-op (269-2420) and the University of Calgary Outdoor Program (220-5038, ext. 5) rent all the necessary gear.
Pick a Rewarding Destination
Read “Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies, The Opinionated Hiking Guide.” It’s the only book that rates each trip according to its scenic reward, thus enabling you to make the most of your precious time. Don’t look further, it’s available here, through our Amazon Associates Book Store!
By Craig Copeland
(Photo: Backpacking over Whistling Pass, above Egypt Lake, in Banff National Park)