Congratulations, you’re thinking of backpacking. You’re thinking about going on a hike. Maybe a long one. You’re thinking of adventure and you’re thinking about nature. Naturally, you clicked on this article written by me. I am, after all, a non-certified and self-proclaimed master of the passion. In fact, at the time of writing, I have over 10,000 hours of continuous backpacking under my belt, and over 6,000 backpacking miles. I have hiked and logged in writing and/or video the entirety of the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Long Trail, and many more smaller or partial trails. In any way you define it and to any viewer partial or impartial - I am a backpacker tested not only by literal fire, but also by snow, ice, mud, 106-degree heat with no water, freezing cold nights, torrential downpour thunderstorms, and the most beautiful and stunning landscapes the world has to offer.
I truly believe anyone can Backpack. It doesn’t matter your current physicality, your financial position, or anything other. It only requires a will to do it. The planning, similarly, requires very little navigational abilities or charts. People get so caught up in those particulars to realize that walking is the simplest of tasks. Humans have been doing it for their entire history. Walking on a well-trodden path is that much easier. Walking, in many ways, is what our minds and bodies are designed to do. It is not only natural, it's simple.
The simplicity of backpacking is what caused me and so many other backpackers to fall in love with it. When it comes down to it you only need to focus on 4 things: walking, consuming enough calories, consuming enough water, and staying warm. That’s it. Anyone who tells you differently is trying to sell you something.
Now, please don’t take me to say that a bit of extra complexity is always a bad thing, or that spending money on good equipment and advice isn’t advised, or that not knowing the basics of navigation might get you killed once WWIII starts and the GPS satellites are knocked out. In fact, quite the opposite. If you want to be equipped like most backpackers you will have to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000 - $5,000 on equipment. If that number seems large to you, DON’T PANIC.
That is another crucial piece of advice. No matter what happens, on or off trail, panicking will not only not help but will also make your situation much worse. Remember, walking is simple. Easy even. Humans of all ages and for all of history have done it. You don’t NEED $1,000 - $5,000 to buy all the equipment and advice necessary for backpacking (and yes, I realize saying that probably isn’t a good marketing strategy for this post). You can do it for cheaper. Much of the cost can be absorbed through learning and research. Just, if you want to dress and look like most other backpackers, $1,000 - $5,000 is about the price to get started. Let’s be honest though, are you looking to hike a trail in order to be burdened by societal pressures and marketing? If those are the things that are making you want to backpack then don’t go backpacking.
If you are still reading at this point I will assume that get my meaning: you shouldn’t let not being to afford expensive equipment keep you from backpacking. If it does, you probably aren’t wanting to backpack for reasons that will give you a high probability of success. After all, nearly 80% of Thru-Hiking attempts end in failure. Why you backpack is a more important question when determining someone’s chances of successfully finishing than almost any other. At least I, the non-certified and self-pronounced master, think so.
Why do you want to do it? Yes, let's start with that. What are your motivations to go backpacking? Many successful thru-hikers I have spoken to have answered something along the lines of “because I love it and I love nature”. Of course there are many things to love and many things that some love and others hate about the trail. So that is not the only possible response. Another common answer I get is something like: “because the connections you make with the people around you are some of the most real you will ever have” or “to challenge and learn about myself, for fulfillment”.
No matter why you want to do it, or what your motivations are, merely thinking of backpacking in that way will help you out tremendously in those many moments of pure misery that are sure to come. You need to have a true sort of willpower and you need to want it and love it enough to carry you through.
All this is to point out what I believe to be the most important aspect of hiking a successful thru-hike: your mentality. Of course equipment and planning are important as well but, when it comes down to it, if your mental game isn’t on point, and you don’t have a strong enough will to make it happen, then you probably won’t make it very far.
Or not, I could be full of it.