Before they venture in the great outdoors, novice hikers and experienced adventurers alike are often confronted to make a certain number of choices. For Andrew Skurka, described as “adventurer of the year” by Outside Magazine and “a superman among trekkers” by National Geographic, there are really three important questions that not to many people ask themselves before they go on making those choices.
What are my objectives? What are the environmental and route conditions that I’m going to be encountering? What are the gear, supplies and skills that I’ll need to achieve my objectives while keeping me safe and comfortable in those environmental and route conditions?
To answer those questions, let’s first figure out what type of backpacker you are.
In general, backpackers can be segmented in three different categories. The first category are the ultimate campers.
The Ultimate Campers
The ultimate campers’ objective is essentially just to walk between campsite in order to do something else. It’s not really relevant that they know what sort of environmental and route conditions they’re going to be getting themselves into because they can carry as much as they possibly want.
They tend to carry really heavy, luxurious, extraneous items and can be seen setting up camp at 2PM, having a steak lunch. This category are basically made of mobile car campers.
The second category are the ultimate hikers.
The Ultimate Hikers
Their primary objective is to walk. They need to know the exact environmental and route conditions that they’re going to be encountering. They optimize their pack for the on trail experience, pack light but not stupid light. And more importantly, they rely on the stuff between their ears to keep themselves safe and comfortable.
A great example of this is when an ultimate hiker versus an ultimate camper chooses a campsite.
An ultimate camper plods along the trail. After a couple of miles, he finds a campsite that’s right next to a water source that’s been camped on by other people and sets himself up. Later, he takes out a really thick sleeping pad and pitch a double-walled big tent. He hangs out there a little bit and finally go to bed.
Whereas an ultimate hiker will hike all day. He’ll choose a campsite that very few people have slept at, if any. He won’t camp near a water source because he knows that’s where the bugs are. Instead, he’ll camp somewhere dry, less buggy and warmer to allow him to take less gear than he would need otherwise.
And then, there’s the third category of backpacker. Andrew Skurka calls them “the camper by default“.
The ‘Camper By Default’
They haven’t figured out whether they want to go hiking or camping. And, even if they did, they don’t understand how that objective translates into the gear, supplies, and skills they need. Basically, they just don’t understand what they’re getting themselves into.
They don’t understand how cold it is, how likely it is to rain or whether they need to bring any insect or bug repellent. They end up saying: “Well, I don’t really know what I’m getting myself into, so I’ll take a lot of things just on the grounds of ‘what if’ or ‘just in case’ because I can’t rule out those scenarios.” They take a lot of heavy stuff and end up not enjoying the experience at all.
What Type Of Hiker Are You?
By now, you should know your category. However, your hiking won’t be enjoyable unless your goal is to be, at least sometimes, more like those ultimate hikers.
Which skills, characteristics of gear and supplies are you to look for? Just put yourself in an ultimate hiker’s shoes and you’ll figure them out almost instantly.
Here are some guidelines:
- Characteristics of gear
The characteristics aren’t that different from what every other backpacker would look for. Functionality, comfort, efficiency, durability, reliability, ease of use, value cost and lightweight (but not stupid lightweight) are imperative.
As an ultimate hiker, a lot of the stuff you’ll use requires skills. Good planning, navigation, cunning decision making and resourcefulness are just a few. Learn how to make do with what you have. Hone your skills and go with your guts.
Our goal is to help you make your hiking fun and not an arduous chore. Go over these 3 questions more like ultimate hikers would and you’ll be able to: (1) predict the environmental and route conditions you will encounter on the trip; (2) know the best tools and equipment to use; and (3) hone the skills that will help keep you safe and comfortable with a minimum of possessions.