Staying in-practice mentally (dealing w/complexity)

Forum Posting

A Membership is required to post in the forums. Login or become a member to post in the member forums!

Home Forums General Forums Philosophy & Technique Staying in-practice mentally (dealing w/complexity)

Viewing 8 posts - 1 through 8 (of 8 total)
  • Author
  • #3722390
    Ian Schumann
    BPL Member


    Locale: Central TX

    As a starting point I hope we can all agree that backpacking is complex. It involves navigating and solving a bunch of little problems (and some big ones) using a combination of mental and physical tools that are highly specialized. The working-out of that complexity is a lot of the reason we have this forum, right?

    Anyway in my view, there are (at least) two classes of problems amid that complexity, and I’m interested in perspectives (or just sympathy) regarding the second of these two:

    1. Problems that can be solved through knowledge: for example, all the first principles that I learned from reading seminal BPL articles in the mid-2000s. The various ways in which the body loses heat to the environment, and how to mitigate them. How to use a windshirt as the core ‘action layer’ while hiking through variable mountain conditions. How to put together an ultralight sleep system. How to select a reasonable campsite. Subjectively speaking, I learned most of these concepts from my desk and I’ve been able to put them into practice consistently ever since.
    2. Problems that mainly get solved through practice: and mainly here, I mean how to reduce fussiness in all the little things. How to select and pack all your gear (before hitting the trail) quickly and efficiently. How to rig up your pack in such a way that things you need are easy to reach and accessible while you hike. How to pitch your chosen shelter quickly and without frustration. Basically, how to do anything on trail quickly and efficiently. There are certainly some heuristics to get at these problems, but for the most part I find these are too idiosyncratic and personal to be addressed by broad principles.

    Overall my experience has been that this second class of problem is nearly impossible to address from the comfort of a desk. These problems mainly get resolved by going backpacking and there’s no way around that.

    Any disagreement so far?

    The trouble is, the fruit of that practice only gets to be enjoyed if one is able to backpack frequently enough that the lessons actually stick.

    In my case, I live in central Texas, and have only ever managed to do “real” backpacking about once a year. This month I’m in an unusual break from that pattern: I’m working remotely in the Dillon CO area, so I will get to backpack 1-2 nights a week, for a string of 4 weeks in a row. In other words finally I will be able to go backpacking often enough to apply the lessons from the previous trip, to the next trip. The practice will compound on itself, for once.

    But usually, this compounding isn’t available to me. When I go a full year between trips (or sometimes, multiple), I find that I often have to relearn all the “class 2” ☝️ lessons all over again. This creates a lot of barrier energy in front of the whole activity. It’s easy to go backpacking again when one has gone recently, because the brain and body hold onto those recent lessons. It’s hard to go backpacking again when all those lessons have been forgotten, and need to be relearned.

    So my questions for the room are: what do you all make of this, and how do you deal with it? Obviously my goal is to be able to enjoy backpacking as much as possible. I find that this is harder (and in particular, going light is harder) when I’m out of practice.

    How do you stay mentally in-practice, and avoid all the fussiness that accompanies these hundred-small-problems to solve out on the trail?

    Thanks for reading. I hope this is an interesting discussion that’s useful for other occasional-backpackers as well.

    Ryan Jordan


    Locale: Central Rockies

    Great discussion starter, Ian.

    My approach to staying “in tune” focuses on frequent overnighters close to home – they might be low mileage, they might be car camping trips, they might be in your backyard. The goal is to use your “backpacking gear” in these contexts to keep the routines practiced. You are right – frequency pays dividends, so anything you can do to overcome the barrier of just getting outside and doing it is good.

    Likewise, I often take a full backpacking gear kit on long day hikes for the same reason – practice and tune the routines of hiking for several hours with a complex gear kit.

    Jon Fong
    BPL Member


    Locale: FLAT CAT GEAR

    Class 2 Problems – one way that I mitigate this is to look at trip reviews/reports.  They tend to trigger “forgotten” memories as well as draws on tribal knowledge that I may not have.  I sometime look at YouTube for vary recent trip reports to get an assessment of weather conditions (like snow pack).  My 2 cents.

    Ian Schumann
    BPL Member


    Locale: Central TX

    Thanks RJ, that’s validating!

    Your suggestions / practices here make it sound like you actually treat this as a standing, first-class problem to continually guard against. Stepping back to look at the whole picture, that makes a lot of sense!

    I suppose I’ve never noticed that one’s trail habits and mindset are a kind of machine, which requires ongoing maintenance (like any machine) in order to run smoothly. I’ve done the equivalent of storing a car in the garage for a full year at a time, and then being surprised when it has trouble starting up. Hmm! This could be a good paradigm shift to take onboard.

    Ian Schumann
    BPL Member


    Locale: Central TX

    Interesting Jon, I like that. I can see how the richer texture of videos and trip reports – as opposed to articles about dry concepts and gear reviews – can keep one’s relational memory a little fresher. That is, relational memories of one’s one on-trail experiences and habits, etc. Good call.

    BPL Member


    I am always pitching my tarps, tents, bivys and hammocks in my back yard. I always break out my cook kits and mess with them in my yard also… Different weather patterns to keep my skills sharp. I don’t mind setting up my tent in my yard when it is windy and pouring rain out! Snow storm rolling in? Great time to get some practice in with my winter set up. I do this so many times my wife has plenty of jokes and my neighbors probably think I get the “dog house” quite often.  It never gets old for me. But yes its true.. Nothing like actually getting out and using your gear to get that feel for it.  I will also add, if you take only the necessities, then the packing and unpacking part that concerns you should NOT be a problem at all. There should not be too much for you to worry about there.

    BPL Member


    Locale: Western US

    I’m always trying to optimize gear and clothing, simplifying what needs to be simplified.   So my softshell microfleece-lined screen compatible gloves are in a hipbelt pocket for deployment, my storm layers tops are “hoodies” (no warm hat to forget or lose), sunscreens/bug juice/etc.. in an external mostly  “netting” shoulder pouch so I can get to it and a squish doesn’t get the substances all over other gear/pockets.  Some of this has been learned the hard way.

    reducing fussiness

    All about that on 3-season trips.  In the morning last thing I want to do is futz with too much repacking.  So I’ll try to put away everything possible before trying to go to sleep.   That way in the AM, it’s (cold) coffee and then a simplified load out .. breakfast later.   Note when solo I like starting to hike at the crack of dawn, but set up camp before sundown.  After dinner I’ll have plenty of time to put everything where it needs to go.

    Some hikers may want to do the opposite, simply dump their gear in their shelter to lie down pronto and then take their leisurely time packing up in the morning.  That’s fine too.

    Then I met a young hiker on the southern PCT this year with a Pa’lante pack … who had only a tarp to set up for inclement weather, but cowboy camping otherwise.  That can be pretty simple if knowing how to rig a stormproof tarp.

    BPL Member


    Locale: Virgo Supercluster

    I cram my practice into whatever space is available.  I play with tents in the yard, I carry packs on the local hiking/walking trails, I walk up and down icy driveways with microspikes in the winter, and I often take a stove and canister to the local pub to practice cooking while having a pint.  When it’s raining I either read articles at my desk, or learn how to stay dry on my lunch break.  Using your theoretical knowledge/resources to crack the problem of “how do I train?” sharpens both your theory and your practice, regardless of situation.  Wilderness can be found where you seek it; not just where you see it on a map.

Viewing 8 posts - 1 through 8 (of 8 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
Forum Posting

A Membership is required to post in the forums. Login or become a member to post in the member forums!