72 hours prior to writing this sentence I was nursing blisters after a long day of hiking. I was also listening to a group of badgers snuffle around in the dark, praying they wouldn’t blindly stumble onto my face. I miss those badgers. This is a brief exploration of why hikers put up with blisters and badgers. Why do hikers hike?
It starts with a plan discussed among friends
It might begin with a throwaway WhatsApp group but it definitely peaks with sprawling an OS Map over a pint at the pub (preferably with those who matter most to you). For this particular trip, myself and two friends got together and unfurled a mint copy of the OL 14 (covering the terrain of Wye Valley and the Forest of Dean). We didn’t want to fall into the trap of ‘analyses paralyses’ but equally we did want to know a rough starting point, any safety considerations and a potential distance we could hit during the trip.
This is the moment that the benefits of hiking really start to make themselves apparent. We’ve given our minds a dose of the adventure to come, we’ve engaged in the process of escaping back to nature and we’ve done it together. As a group we have varying abilities, experience and goals but together we practice trust, compromise and understanding. Things that are rarely conveyed over a messenger group. It’s an excuse to practice human relationships. I know that sounds dramatic but honestly, I do sometimes need that excuse.
The packing begins
When I first started hiking and camping, I thought that venturing into the outdoors was about buying plenty of kit to allow you to battle the elements. Now I realise it’s about buying the right kit so you can carry less and just be within it. There are a few questions I like to ask myself to make sure it happens:
- Do I need this to stay alive?
- If I leave this will it affect the enjoyment of the trip?
Question 1 is the filter. There are some basics which you will always need to carry to ensure your safety. Question 2, following a “No” from Question 1, becomes a little more subjective but aims at preaching minimalism. My advice for this process is to pack without giving it too much thought and then ask the above questions for each item. Only you can decide what is required for you. It’s a process that should let you feel as if you have shed some of those modern burdens. It should allow you to immerse yourself in the environment around you. Don’t see it as a chore, see it as mediation.
We’ve also written a backpacking checklist to help make this step that little bit easier.
Pack in image: Talon 22
The Rewards of a Hike
You’re fresh faced, packed and stood at the beginning of your journey. In front of you lies numerous kilometres, hundreds of metres of elevation, hours of walking and probably some discomfort. Why are you doing this? Well here’s what I take from a trip, you can decide if it’s worth it.
1. You’re outside the boundaries of your daily life
I’m not suggesting we should all be trying to escape our lives. We have loved ones, we have hobbies and we have fulfilment. What I do seek to escape, if only for a few days, is a routine. It’s about escaping a desk or the screens I sit glued to at home.
2. Nature isn’t for outdoor experts, it’s for the people
There’s a danger of thinking that getting back to nature and learning about your surroundings isn’t for everyone. I mean, you love a green field as much as the next person but you’re nowhere near experienced or well-equipped enough for an adventure into the hills? This couldn’t be further from the truth. One of my friends came along wearing a pair of battered trainers. Sure, he now fully regrets his newly attained blistered feet but he wasn’t going to let a piece of missing kit get in his way. It costs almost nothing to walk through a forest and stroll along a river. Walking, at least on short hikes, has absolutely no learning curve. It is there to be enjoyed by everyone, you just need to embrace it.
3. Silence is golden
Hiking with friends is definitely about the camaraderie to some extent. It’s also about the silence. On this most recent trip there was a point where my feet were beyond sore, we were on hour five of walking and the conversation had completely disappeared. This wasn’t a bad thing. These patches of silence are the famous periods of introspection that every hike can offer.
It begins with focusing on your plodding pace. Just trying to keep one foot moving in front of the other. The breeze brushes against you every now and then. The leaves and grass rustle. Time doesn’t disappear but it ceases to hold importance. Gradually your mind begins to retreat into itself and without even acknowledging the fact, the pain in your feet abates. At these times there can be almost no thought processes occurring. Occasionally a meaningful thought will drift into consciousness before falling away as you continue your plodding hike. Some call this mindfulness. Hikers call it hiking.
4. There is a world outside your world
I started this article by writing about curious badgers. Well they weren’t just mentioned to fluff up my intro. At the end of day one of this trip, I lay for maybe an hour listening to the forest wake up around me. It was an absolute racket. Apart from an initial grumpiness at the time it would take me to get to sleep, I was also struck with wonder at how alive the forest was. It’s easy to forget, sat in our lounge and watching Netflix, that there is a world outside our walls. There is a wilderness. Deep…
And that’s it. Hiking is planning with friends, it’s practicing minimalism, it’s silence, it’s breaking from a routine and getting back to nature. The price? Sometimes blisters and occasionally badgers blindly stumbling onto your face in the middle of the night.
What do you gain from your hiking and backpacking trips? Comment below and share your stories.
Written by James Walls, Osprey’s Senior Digital Marketing Coordinator