When you buy a camper packed with amenities, you’re automatically grouped with other folks who sit at the least extreme end of the spectrum for outdoorsmanship, also known as glamping. We challenged this stigma and took an opportunity to rough it on a backcountry primitive hiking and camping trip in Grand Teton National Park. The adventure left us feeling more gratified and intrigued than we expected – and dirtier than a beaver damming a mud pit – so we came up with 5 reasons every person should consider adding the experience to a bucket list.
- Revel in the planning
If you’ve ever walked into an REI or other outdoor shop, you’ve probably felt exhilaration when looking at the variety of gadgets and gear and have been ready to walk out of the store outfitted like an experienced kayaker or mountaineer even if paddling or climbing hadn’t crossed your mind before. You itch to get your fingers on the display of equipment and apparel that seem like shiny new toys. The kind of toys that promise adventure. And this is where the fun begins for backcountry camping.
Preparing for camping in the deep woods requires a proper pack that can hold everything you will need on your back. That pack is in a sense your life source and challenges you to bundle everything as minimally and efficiently as possible and then carry it dozens of miles. You learn how to wisely choose a sleeping bag and tent that can be compactly attached and protect you from a nightly bear raid. Does this kind of thing exist yet? Then you labor over suggested packing lists and research meals that provide energy and aren’t perishable and figure out how to decontaminate animal fecal bacteria in water you find in the wilderness, because who wants an uncontrollable colon for weeks after your trip? You read about survival skills and anticipate yet slightly panic about wildlife encounters and buy bear spray and food storage canisters. You research edible mushrooms and berries (though you’re likely to never eat them). You pore over maps and regulations and think about brushing up on your fire-building and navigating skills, if you have either of those in the first place. You wonder if you really need to buy worst-case-scenario items like flares and emergency blankets. You consider your hygienic needs and find intriguing products like solar showers and containers that allow women to pee standing up. And you fill your brain to the brim with information as you howl out your own kind of warrior call ready to conquer the wild.
- Find the joy of disconnecting
Have you ever sought out quiet relaxation, maybe at a coffee shop or a park or a library, only to have someone encroach on the peacefulness with a clearly audible never-ending phone conversation that leaves you well-informed of the stranger’s personal trifles? Or have you interrupted your own quest for tranquility by incessantly checking your phone for messages and emails or clicking through different apps or streaming videos to keep you from boredom? Seeing ‘no service’ on your phone, or being without a device altogether, causes a new kind of 21st Century anxiety. It’s like as humans we forgot how to function without the help of smart technology to harness our ADD type of behaviors. But when you’re isolated and miles from cell towers, you have no choice but to live a life we all experienced just 10 years ago.
Our phones’ only functions for the trip were for photography purposes. Without the options for practical uses like calling for help (if needed) or mapping apps, we were forced to simply think through any questions we had, which is quite liberating to realize you’ve solved all problems yourself. When you’re cooking over the campfire, you can’t Google how long to cook a breakfast croissant until it burns. It’s all trial and error. Even more refreshing is the days of complete silence from your phone. No entertainment, no socialization, and no random web searches. For some or even most people, that idea is frightening. But many people have forgotten what life is like without a constant need for disruptive irrelevant information. It took us several days from our first cellular disconnection to overcome the anxiety. On a hike, the minutes and hours tick by while your mind can wander uninhibited. Conversations with your fellow hikers flow freely. Observations of the surrounding landscape become sharper and more curious. Your senses of smell and sound become heightened as you search the shadows for hidden wildlife. And when moments of boredom hit, because they will, you’re forced to go back to your childhood days of remembering how to entertain yourself using nothing but your mind. The experience becomes the ultimate escape with cheap therapy and cheap thrills.
- Catch a glimpse of a life long ago
You can set out to become immersed in nature on a walk around a park or in a quiet recreation area, but those experiences are short-lived and easy steps back into the security of civilization. When bordered for days by towering mountains, miles of rivers and streams, and an endless narrow path that disappears into the Earth, you can’t help but imagine a simpler time when that kind of landscape was as familiar as sleeping and breathing. It almost saddens you to think how convenient life has become for us and how easy it is to survive – where’s the challenge? It’s laughable that today we complain when a store doesn’t carry the specialty items we prefer rather than stressing over finding food at all. A trip in the wilderness lets you picture a life that generations ago lived with the simplicities yet difficulties of living off the land. There’s something about the seclusion of such an adventure without modern-day advantages. It’s like that sort of lifestyle is engrained in us, and our natural instincts for the wild take over. It makes you wonder and try to imagine how, in your own town or big city, the plains, meadows and mountains slowly built up with houses and roads and businesses and became almost unrecognizable from their quiet uninhabited forms.
- Swell with pride at your complete independence
Maybe you don’t consider yourself an outdoors person having the ability to survive in the wild, but you must be able to since we’re all born with it – even the least fit. Being on your own in the wilderness can seem intimidating, whether it’s the idea of fending for yourself against potential grizzlies or moose or living without modern-day amenities like plumbing and a bed. Such an experience brings a mixture of emotions like excitement, curiosity, boredom, exhaustion, doubt, and fear that rise to a different level, but in the circumstances, it feels like a healthy stress. Even more than that, you develop a slow sense of pride each time you accomplish something outside of your normalcy because you realize you’re able to live in the wilderness unscathed with very little. You realize you’re capable of more than you think: you can walk more miles in a day with a heavy pack, go without your bottle of water, eat foods for their nutrients rather than their tastes, sleep under the stars, and not be bothered as much as you think to do your business in the woods and skimp on societal hygienic expectations. And then finally, once again you get the urge to shriek out a victorious cry when you realize you’ve survived the wild.
- Rediscover your basic survival needs
We know that our bodies need food, water, and shelter to survive, but living in a developed country gives us the conveniences of readily available food, accessible clean tap and bottled water, and homes with all kinds of functions to meet our comfort standards. The art of fighting for our basic survival has been lost. In all the dozens of decisions and tasks that go through our minds every day, very little if any of them are about these necessities. A camping trip in the wild doesn’t equate to experiencing the hardships of survival, we concede that, but it does seem to refocus your brain a bit. It causes you to live completely out of your element, unless you grew up with a pack of wolves, and have an unforgettable experience that brings about a new appreciation for the advantages of our daily life. When comparing everyday living to backpacking, it means you go from pouring a glass of water from the sink to boiling collected stream water, deciding what to pack for lunch to packing just enough food you’ll be able to carry for several days, and adjusting your thermostat to the desired temperature before bed to finding flat ground with safe coverage for your sleeping bag. The extreme differences in meeting our most basic needs are alarming at how far we’ve come from a life focused around survival. And while ridding of modern luxuries is not our desired goal or even our recommendation, the thoughts around survival are (we hope) worthwhile enough to cause you to reevaluate the necessities in your life for what makes them seem necessary. We can’t say that we made lifestyle changes after the trip to better appreciate our comfortable life, but we can say that when it was all over, being readily served at a restaurant with gourmet pizza and cold beer brought an overwhelming joy not often felt from a seemingly everyday dinner.