I had a curiosity to satisfy the other day, so I dug out the Hike Safe 10 Essentials list– you know, the ten things you must bring with you on any hike for a safe trip into the wild. Warm clothing, map, whistle, rain gear, and so on. Mostly stuff that you can’t really argue with. Mostly. As I read through it, though, I started to think that a few of the items on there reflected a rather old-fashioned mind set (one in particular, but I’ll get to that later). Then I read a little deeper. The ten essentials, the list says, “are an absolute must on each and every hike you take – whether it is an afternoon jaunt or a three-day tour.”
Really? “Absolute must?”Are you sure?
|Does everybody have EVERYTHING they need?|
Slight change of subject: I’ve hiked near the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia three times now, and every time I’m there I see the same thing– Nowhere on the AT is the density of backpackers higher than in those first seventy miles, where hundreds of people (thousands, even) flock each year to start the most famous backpacking journey in the United States. Looking at the packs and equipment that people are carrying, I’m always surprised at how many tremendous, 50+ pound packs set off in hopes of finding Maine.
On the latest of these hikes, I met a man at a shelter eight miles into the trail. He’d been camped there for three days, resting, after his knee had started to act up on him. And no wonder his knee was unhappy! He was decked out in a full cotton sweatsuit (camp clothes, his hiking clothes were separate) and over-the-calf Wolverine boots that looked more suitable for snowmobiling than hiking. His pack was an ancient external-frame, supposedly weighing over sixty-five pounds. “I’ve been dreaming of hiking the AT all my life,” the man said, and I just shrugged, not able to say what was on my mind. “Had you done any research at all,” I wondered. This is simply not how it’s done these days.
He was an experienced Boy Scout troop leader, though. I think that was the problem. And here we are, back on topic.
The world we live in today is wildly different from the world of the 1960s, when backpacking in the wilderness really took off and became a popular pastime in this country. Hikers still head off into the woods for an escape from modern life, but plenty of people hike for other reasons, ranging from fitness to dating. Hiking is much more accessible now than it may have been in the past, also. Most popular trail systems are better preserved and maintained today than before. Equipment is lighter, stronger, more advanced, and easier to find than in the past. Education related to hiking is widespread. Hiking in general is a different beast. So why do we still think of hiking in outdated terms?
Just for fun, because I haven’t gotten on enough people’s nerves recently, I’m starting a little series of posts that I’ll roll out over the next couple of months. It’s not about heavyweight versus lightweight backpacking, my usual subject. It’s more about challenging age-old assumptions about hiking that I think need to be done away with or edited. I hope it will spur some discussions. I hope it will make you think a little about your own wilderness trips. Some of the topics will include fire, first aid kits, the map and compass, camp furniture, and knives. Think about those things a little, and how you see them in relation to hiking. Do you need them on every hike, or is there an alternative? (If that question, in relation to first aid kits and maps, doesn’t get some kind of reaction, I don’t know what will.) See you next week!