Starting down a new trail, reaching the top of the mountain and relaxing at a secluded lake are some of my favourite things in the world. One of the things I love most about adventure is the time alone, time to reflect and plan, time to be separate from the race that is society, time to let life slow down on its own. My reasons for exploring aren't the same as everyones, some people find it tremendously social, others are fascinated by wildlife and others still use it to build very close relationships with specific people. For me it is a muse, it is meditation, its is my workplace, nature is where I work on growing and cultivating the person I want to become.
I start with that because it's critical that we understand ourselves and live intentionally, what inspires you? what makes you want to grow? The lifestyle of adventure and wanderlust is something people often become very passionate about, and that is fantastic. Pushing yourself beyond what is comfortable or expected is fundamentally important to the elusive concept of self-actualization. With that said, it is equally important that we make our decisions and chase dreams with the understanding that those things are what we truly want. Whenever something is popular one risks doing it for the wrong reasons, many of us have a deep need for belonging, social acceptance/praise and the belief that what we are doing is important and valuable (I catch myself caught in this cycle all the time). These things, particularly admiration, come from behaving authentically! finding things that drive and motivate you on a daily basis. Where I love sleeping in tents and the back of my car, you might not, and that is ok, don't try to be something you aren't or eventually that thing will become empty and unfulfilling.
Well! that was a long winded intro into what I want to talk about; tips and tricks for navigating your next back-country excursion. Many of you want to get out and explore but aren't sure exactly where to start and what you'll need. That's where I come in, over the past few years I have made almost every mistake in the book so that, hopefully, you can avoid the same issues. Ive had sore, wet feet. Ive packed twenty pounds too much. Ive spent WAY to much money on equipment I really didn't need. None of those things escalated into anything other than being uncomfortable, luckily, but still, I wish that I had someone outline all of the things Ive picked up over the years from day one.
*It's important to note that travel and outdoor adventure is like everything else, you improve through practice. So while I hope you find this educational, it won't solve everything, you'll definitely make some mistakes and that is part of the fun. Also the tips I will be giving don't apply to harsh-weather trekking, taking unmarked routes, and any sort of mountain climbing or other along-the-way activity that requires specialized gear or specialized skills. I am a landscape photographer, keep that in mind.
Tip 1: Less is often More.
Planning a trek of two to three days? Lets say your destination is 20km one way, those extra pounds will add up quickly. What's a common first mistake? too many clothes. No one is judging you in the bush, you're supposed to stink, and yes you'll get dirty. So keep it minimal, making sure you are warm and dry is what's important, buy Merino Wool, something that is definitely worth splurging on. Wonder why those down jackets from the major outdoor brands are so expensive? Weight. Its worth it. Aside from that you want a waterproof exterior, even if the forecast looks favourable, don't risk it. If you have one full outfit, long underwear, underwear, pants, shirt, down jacket, waterproof jacket you should be good. Unless its very cold you're probably packing too much. As for socks(WOOL), 2-3 should be good but nothing is worse than cold feet. Aside from clothes you'll need a pack, tent, food, sleeping mat (it isn't the comfort that makes it important, it's the insulation!) sleeping bag, cookware, water purifier, knife, rope, compass and fire starters. Outside of that its all about environment, if you're from BC like me, then bear spray. Ill often carry a hatchet, I am always stuck with my camera gear, headlamps, tape and a good multi purpose flashlight are generally crucial. Remember that anything else is somewhat of a luxury, you really can afford not to have it. Look up ultra-light trekking for inspiration, some of those guys take it to another level.
2) What should I spend the most money on?
Nothing is worse than being the guy with the million dollar tools and ten cent toolkit. Remember that you don't always need the shiny, new whatever. However, when it comes to your Sleeping Bag, it really is worth it. Make sure that the bag fits your needs, when in doubt go warmer. I use a 20 year old tent, a fifteen year old MEC bag, an oldish, cheap camp stove and have never had an issue. What of mine isn't oldish or cheapish, my bag. Ultra light down is great, and the weight is incredible. If you're worried about it getting wet try and combo bag, a little heavier, give and take.
*also get a compression sack, don't waste space.
*a close second is footwear having aching, blistered, wet feet really, really sucks.
3) I want to camp and get off the grid but never have, how do I learn?
Baby steps. Try a busy drive-in campground first and socialize, you'll be shocked how many older folks or parents will be around with a huge wealth of knowledge. Many either can't physically handle back-country trips, don't think their children are ready or have friends who aren't into 'roughing' it. If you strike up conversations with some of these people they will be more than willing to help you out, in fact, I bet they'll be genuinely excited to share some old tricks. People who really love to be outdoors, fucking love to be outdoors. The next step is popular destination campsite, find a couple friends and hike to a nearby lake, maybe 5-10km. Do your research and make sure it is busy, once you're at the top everyone will be willing to share and many of them will have more knowledge than you ever will. This happens to me every time I spend the night at an Alpine campground, I always learn something new. Again; these people love this stuff! After that you should be ready and have many of the skills to be safe, you aren't Survivorman, but you're on your way.
4) Safety, First?
I could go into a long winded answer about all the ways to be safe out on the trail, but instead lets focus on ways to start off on the right track. Before you go make sure you've studied the route, make sure you're aware of the forecast and make sure that at least one person knows where you're going. Those things seem trivial but, assuming you have adequate gear, they are probably the most important factors for keeping you safe.
5) What about food?
Dehydrated meals are great, but on most of my trips I try to keep most of my food readily edible. I met a survivalist on a trail once who gave me a wicked trail mix recipe which I use almost every time I backpack;
Start with mixed nuts; high fat= high calorie, add various dehydrated fruit; high sugar= quick energy, then prosciutto high salt= for cramping and finally All-Bran flakes for fibre and slow release carbs= extended energy. Kind of a crazy mix but the guy was pretty crazy so I trusted him, of course. I usually add sunflower seeds and soy nuts, again dense calories.
Anything I bring to cook is a bit of a luxury, and that is because the last thing you want is to have complications with cookware (especially during a fire ban or wet season)
These are just a few tips and I'll post some more periodically. Remember I'm not an expert, I have some experience and am always learning. Educate yourself, be safe and most of all have fun!