Not everyone embarks on a long distance backpacking trip with hopes of finding themselves or learning what it is that they really want to do with their lives. For some, its the appeal of a physical challenge, while others do it just for their love of the outdoors. Regardless of your initial motivations for starting a multi-week trek, you’re bound to have some healthy realizations from long distance backpacking.
You may not find the answers to life’s toughest questions, but here are 5 things you’ll have no choice but to realize during your time on the trail:
1. You’re too sedentary
When you’re long distance backpacking, you’re hiking anywhere from 10 to 30 miles a day – all while carrying a 20+ lb. pack. It’s hard work and you’re constantly moving . Sometimes it hurts and sometimes you feel tired, but at the end of the day you always feel like you’ve accomplished some monumental task and you can’t wait to get up and do it again the next day.
Once you break your body in and you get used to walking and moving all day, you’ll start to have more natural strength and energy in your body and mind all throughout the day.
Contrast that with you’re daily life back home. You spend a majority of your hours every day being sedentary. Sitting at work, sitting in the car, or sitting at home because you’re so tired from work. Even if you spend an hour or two at the gym every day, it’s not nearly enough to make up for the amount of time you’ve spent being sedentary.
Once off the trail, you’ll realize there’s more ways to stay active during the day:
- Wake up 30 minutes early and do some gentle Good Morning Yoga
- Get outside for lunch and take a short walk
- Bike those quick 3 miles to the grocery store
- Instead of plopping down on the couch after dinner take a slow walk around the block to help relax and digest
2. Nutrition matters
Calories in don’t equal calories out. A lot of long distance backpackers resort to this strategy due to simplicity and cost. They’ll eat honey buns and snickers bars in order to flood their bodies with calories and “energy” (sugar). However, if you want to thrive and feel like you’re building strength and natural energy, then you’ll realize you’re body deserves some proper nutrition.
During long distance backpacking trips, you can literally feel your body metabolizing and using the food you put into it, and it will tell you when it’s hungry and ready for more. It takes a little more effort and planning to dehydrate nutrient dense foods, but you’re body will thank you for it.
While this realization is made crystal clear on the trail, it isn’t something that should be forgotten upon returning home. You can get by eating junk food on the trail if you have too, but I found it’s even more important to eat nutritious foods when you’re not burning over 5,000 calories a day
3. You think too much
There’s no getting away from this one. With few distractions on the trail, especially if you’re hiking alone, you’ll realize very early on that you think way too much.
Don’t believe me? Give it a try: Sit quietly for 60 seconds without having a single thought – and that includes not thinking about not thinking. Ready…Go!
Our brains are constantly working: daydreaming stories, overthinking simple situations and planning out the rest of our days and weeks. However, we have phones, TV’s, laptops and other people to distract us from the constant inner noise.
Trail life on the other hand is very simple. You get up, you walk and you eat. It doesn’t require a whole lot of thinking. Pretty soon you’ll start to enjoy the simplicity and quietness and you’ll realize it feels pretty damn good when you’re brain is quiet too.
4. The difference between ‘Want‘ and ‘Need‘
When the only way to bring things with you is to carry them on your back, and every ounce of weight makes a difference, you realize fairly easily what you’re going to need and what you just want to bring with you.
A way to filter and drink clean water? That’s a need. A kindle to read at night? A want.
This doesn’t mean that you have to give up all the things you want, rather, you just have to make sure that what you want is worth it. For me, I decided I wanted a kindle bad enough to carry it with me for 4 weeks.
While the mentality doesn’t have to be nearly as extreme when you get back home, it helps to put things into perspective. Maybe you don’t really need that second (or third, or fourth…) pair of shoes.
5. The world is big, our problems are small
This one has never been as clear to me as when I was standing at the top of a mountain with nothing but mountains and trees as far as the eye could see in any direction; 3 days away from any semblance of civilization.
Everything was so big and I was so small. Those problems I used to think were so big, yeah, they weren’t so big anymore
The world is big and beautiful and we are only one, very small and rather insignificant part of it. It’s this realization which helped me put my problems into perspective and build a greater respect for my place on this earth.
It’s almost impossible not to have these healthy realizations from long distance backpacking. However, the problem with all of these realizations is that they aren’t always the easiest things to bring back with us to our everyday lives.
The best thing we can do is be aware of our feelings and realizations on the trail and make a conscious effort to bring some of those thoughts back home with us. Then, as we spend more time on long distance backpacking trips – living these realizations – we can slowly start to incorporate more and more of them into the way we live every day, regardless of where that is.