Backpacking is Not Car Camping

I've noticed there are more than a few individuals out there who are trying to turn their backpacking trips into something resembling car camping.  That's like fitting a square peg into a round hole.  For the betterment of everyone involved, those two styles of camping should never come close to resembling one another.

When I talk to someone new about backpacking for the first time, it never fails that they want to bring beers, unstable foods for cooking, and something resembling a cooler.  They seem to think backpacking is like car camping just with everything on your back instead of in a car then wonder why their trip was so miserable.  It's with that in mind, that I give you this sound piece of advice to immediately improve your backpacking experience...

Stop car-backpacking, and start backpacking backpacking!


If you're finding yourself dreading the weight in your backpack, take a minute to ask why that is.  Are you trying to backpack like you car camp?  If so, you need to consider separating the two ideas by putting them each in their proper corners.  Let car camping be car camping, and let backpacking be backpacking

Backpacking isn't supposed to be hard.  In fact, it's supposed to be really simple, freeing, and free flowing.  There are no REAL campgrounds when you're backpacking, but rather places where you camp.  If you don't make it to your desired location for the day, it's not a problem because you don't NEED a designated location (in most places).  All you need is space for a tent and you're good to go!

Where those new to backpacking tend to go wrong is they all to often take car camping concepts and they try to stuff them in to a backpack.  When that happens, your pack weight goes up and your fun meter goes way down.  I've been at the trailhead with someone who refuses to believe me that they don't need all that stuff.   When that happens, I let it slide and wait for the pain to set in and the discomfort to begin frustrating them.  You can't make someone listen until they're ready to so sometimes you just have to let them struggle a bit.

Another nasty side effect of the car camping mindset is too much planning.  I used to think I had to have everything lined up perfectly for a backpacking trip to ensure I was comfortable, having fun, and had everything I needed.  When I would over complicate a trip, it was no longer fun. The result?  I never went backpacking as often because there was too much planning to do and not enough fun.  I've since realized that when I look at backpacking as it's own specific thing and totally separate from any other outdoor activity, things are far more simple.

Think I'm crazy?  Here's how simple life is when you're backpacking.  


10 essential items for backpacking 

  1. Backpack
  2. Sleeping bag and pad
  3. Shelter (tent, bivvy, tarp, etc.)
  4. Food (Breakfast, snacks, dinner)
  5. Water and filter (bring some with you and fill up at creek crossings or lakes)
  6. Small First aid/emergency kit
  7. Navigation (map, smartphone, etc.)
  8. Toiletries 
  9. Camp Stove
  10. Clothing (1 pair of extra socks, base layer, mid weight layer, warming layer, lightweight rain jacket, hat)


That's it!  How hard is that?  For an overnight trip, you don't really need anything else.  If you're bringing anything other than what is on this list, ask yourself why and if it's actually needed or not.  In some cases it might be, but in most it won't.  

Remember, backpacking is supposed to be a simplified way of living.  There's a beauty in it when you allow yourself to go without certain things that you're used to having.  Most of the things you think you need, you don't, and the best part is that you'll never really miss them in the first place.  When you begin to reduce the clutter in your pack, you'll begin to enjoy you time out there so much more.  

Stop making it complicated, stop trying to turn backpacking into car camping, and start enjoying the simple activity of backpacking.  I promise you that the fewer things you bring, the happier you'll be.  


Good luck out there!


By Land,

Emory Ronald