The Backpacking Tithe Revisited

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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable The Backpacking Tithe Revisited

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    Mark Wetherington
    BPL Member


    Locale: Western Montana

    Companion forum thread to: The Backpacking Tithe Revisited

    Further reflections on short trips vs. thru-hiking.

    BPL Member


    Locale: Idaho

    Thanks for this article Mark!

    I’m fortunate enough to live a simple life (low overhead, flexible work, no kids, etc) which gives me quite a bit of time to get in the woods. Each year for the past 6 years, my wife and I have taken a 2-week backpack trip in addition to 1-2 week-long trips and a number of 1-3 night trips. Last fall we did a 30-day trip (ending in your backyard) – the longest trip either of us had done. I should say that these trips tend to be in remote wilderness and we try to stay away from trafficked areas. These are routes that we’ve but together and don’t follow established thru-hiking routes. Thru-hiking likely offers a different experience than we’ve had.

    These trips have encouraged us to think about how the length of time out plays a role in what we get from our trips and how they affect us. Obviously, the answers to these questions are very personal and relative to your other experiences. Before I started doing 2-week trips, a week-long trip felt long and committing. Now I can do a week trip with very little planning and it goes by like nothing – it feels like a 3 day trip used to. After last year’s month-long trip, I’m curious how this fall’s 2-week trip will feel! Hopefully someday we’ll do an even longer trip to see what there is to learn.

    I’m of the mind that any night spent out in the woods is a good one. When I’m short on time and only have a weekend, I’m just as driven to do a one night trip. But I enjoy the camping aspect and a night spent out in the woods as much as the hiking. I know for some, the camping is just a means to make their hike longer and a night out in the woods is just something that’s tolerated.

    To me, a “long” trip is one in which the worries, anxieties, stresses, and routine of everyday life fall away and you’re just left with the present life on the trail. For me, this takes around a week, sometimes more. When I get to this point, I feel absorbed by the routine and life on the trail. Life on the trail may not be easy, but it tends to be simple. We have a well-defined purpose and most tasks we do serve that purpose. Especially on our month trip last year, life on the trail began to feel like “normal” life rather than something we’re doing temporarily.

    Jon Fong
    BPL Member


    Locale: FLAT CAT GEAR

    I have never had the inclination to do a through hike; 10 days is my maximum length. After that, I have an itch to do something else. Not that I don’t enjoy hiking, if I were to take say a month off, I would rather go to distinctly different locations. A week in the Sierra, a week in Slot Canyons, week hiking along the coast and so forth. My 2 cents.

    Paul Wagner
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wine Country

    I’m with Jon.  Eight to ten days (what will fit in our two bear canisters) is about our limit.  When we take off on one of our long car-camping expeditions, that also about how long we go between hot showers.

    But we’re old (almost 70) and I’m sure that younger people have more fun with this.

    BPL Member


    My dear friend John and I hiked the PCT by section starting in 2010 when we were 60.  We hiked 100 miles 5 days the first year to test our gear, food, hydration and physical selves.  The next year we hiked the John Muir trail from Tuolumne south and summited Mt. Whitney on the 10th day.  These were highly educational shorter trips, and we refined every aspect of gear, food, hydration, clothing and training. Year three we hiked Washington PCT, 525 miles in September and enjoyed crossing paths with many thru-hikers and hearing their stories. We completed the trail in 2015 at age 65 and were fortunate to dodge all the closures and forest fire events.  It was a spectacular experience.  One benefit on our 120 days/nights over 6 years on the trail was we never got sick, got bad water, injured ourselves.  We avoided the big snow years that plagued some in the Sierras we met, the early snow years in Washington Cascades that stopped many, hit wild flower & butterfly blooms to die for, hiked many sections in September generally with few hikers.   Now we are rowing from Seattle to Alaska, 800 miles, in our 17 ft rowboat (Facebook or Instagram – “Rowing to Alaska”), in our early 70’s.  We made in 400 miles to the north end of Vancouver Island and a health event ended our trip.  We decided we are “section rowers” and will finish next year, build upon our experience and pickup at Port Hardy where we left off.  It’s all amazing no matter how you do it!  Now it summer vacation and time to take grandkids to our cabin in Alaska.

    Drew Smith
    BPL Member


    Locale: Colorado Rockies

    Well said Mark.

    I think the term “thru-hike” is fairly useless as a categorical description of a hiking experience. After all, the starts and ends of long-distance trails are fairly arbitrary. They are mostly defined by human politics and history. Geography and ecology are secondary considerations at best.

    That said, a long-distance hike is a categorically different experience from shorter hikes. For me, that difference comes at the point where I become wholly immersed in my present surroundings and present experience. It’s when I stop thinking about returning home because I am home.

    This is an experience every hiker (and every human being) should have at least once. Maybe there are other ways to get to this state of mind, but walking long distances is the only one I know of.

    BPL Member


    Locale: Colorado

    I’m not a fan of through-hiking even in the best of circumstances, but I really wouldn’t recommend the Colorado Trail, unless perhaps you are a millennial looking for a hookup. I have hiked sections of it many times, and always found it to be a truly terrible experience. It’s an ant trail of hikers and cyclists, with dozens of people camped every night at the obvious places.

    AK Granola
    BPL Member


    I wish I had the stamina and physical condition needed to do longer than 2-3 weeks. I always regret coming back. Unless the trip was nothing but type 3 fun, constant rain, etc.

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