Backpacking: Round 1.5 (or Haven’t We Been Here Before?)

“…it’s about feeling free, unbounded, shedding the distractions and barriers of our civilization—not bringing them with us.”
Ryel Kestenbaum

I first learned to backcountry backpack when I was 18, as a gift from my parents. I went with Outward Bound to the San Juan Mountains of Colorado for three glorious weeks of natural freedom. The trip itself was the very definition of a love/hate relationship. I loathed my frozen boots and the daily hauling of water. At sixty percent of my body weight, the packs were heavy. But every morning, without fail, the hills would sway my heart the moment they began to turn orange with the sunrise. And just like that, I was a goner. In love all over again.

During that three weeks I learned how to work in a team, how to pack a bag, about the ten essentials, how to read a map, purify water, and about backcountry first aid. Heck, as part of the program we even had to spend two days camping solo (and what an experience that was…but I’ll save that story for another time).  The biggest lesson I learned, however, was that my own mind was my biggest limitation. Somehow those trails, and trials, had shown me how to let go, that I was capable of so much more than I thought. 

I’m certain that lesson is part of what draws me to the mountains today; I love the constant reminder.

Its been ten years since that trip. And while I still know the basics of what to bring, how to pack, and how to purify water, I don’t really remember how to read a map in the field or how to apply first aid beyond blister prevention or creating a basic splint. Considering I intend to enroll in some mountaineering courses next year, I figured I should probably know the basics first. So I signed up with the Colorado Mountain Club’s intro to backpacking course.  

My group is an even mix of dudes and chicks – refreshing considering my last experience consisted of myself and ten guys. I have to constantly remind myself to keep an open mind, instead of shutting down because “I know this already”. But I don’t know everything. Not even close. For example I would have never thought to put baking soda on toilet items after use to LNT (leave no trace). Fantastic idea.

I’m excited. Really mountain-nerd excited. We head out for our first trek this weekend. Here’s to hoping I can remember how to read a map!

Below are some links to more info about backpacking basics:

The ten essentials

How to read a topographical map

How to use a compass with a topographical map

How do I know what size bag to get

Backpacking 101: gear, skills, food, survival, leave no trace and more (why reinvent the wheel??)


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