Backpacking Styles

There are many approaches, purposes, and motivations for backpacking. I have done many different kinds of trips, and thought it might be worthwhile to discuss some of them.

Traditional versus Lightweight

The break really lies around 30 pounds. The traditional hiker is using a frame pack (internal or external) that probably weighs 5 pounds or more, carries a gas stove and is packing a 7 pound tent with a rainfly and has not yet discovered that there is a better way. This used to be me. Lots of good times can be had doing this. A mark of the traditional backpacker is that the highlight of the day is getting that doggone pack off your back! Traditional backpacking fosters a mindset of hiking to a basecamp and then spending several days there doing day hikes, fishing, exploring, or climbing peaks. Lightweight backpacking is the realm where you are perfectly happy to have the pack on your back all day long, you enjoy being on the move every day covering ground, and dropping your pack to go "check something out" never even enters your mind.

Thru Hiker

This is a game I have never played. Here the idea is to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (2650 miles) or the Appalachian Trail (2184 miles) or some other epic trail. These are multi month efforts that require resupply. Lots of issues arise on a long trip like this that do not affect shorter trips. You pretty much have to make major life decisions to allow yourself to hike one of these.

John Muir Trail

You could perhaps call this a thru hike, but it is "only" 211 miles and takes most people three weeks to do it. I put it into a class of its own: more than a week long backpack (unless you are an exceptional individual and endurance athelete) but not the giant undertaking that the big thru hikes are. It is possible but uncommon to do it without resupply.

Week long backpacks

I have found a week to be an ideal long trip. Longer trips require resupply, and in general after a week I am simply ready to head home. It is possible to do week long trips starting with a 30 pound pack -- or less!

Weekend trips

I do lots of these and enjoy them a lot. It is possible, but unwise to be sloppy on such a trip and not pay close attention to weight. In desert areas without water this (or an overnight trip) can be a reasonable limit without carrying a huge weight of water.

Quick overnight jaunts

These are a lot of fun and are easy to squeeze into a busy schedule. If you already know an area, it is possible to work all day with your pack all ready in the truck, drive to the trailhead, hike to a chosen spot (with possible flashlight aid) and spend a night outdoors.

Mountaineering trips

These days I work mountaineering into my longer trips as a sort of highlight activity - and find I am enjoying hiking more and climbing less. A true mountaineering trip though is one where the prime goal is climbing and the backpacking is just a means to an end. Carrying technical gear pretty much requires phenomenal heavy packs, so this becomes a unique game of its own.
Have any comments? Questions? Drop me a line!

Tom's hiking pages / tom@mmto.org