Walking With Marcus: How Stoic Philosophy Informs My Ultralight Backpacking

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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Walking With Marcus: How Stoic Philosophy Informs My Ultralight Backpacking

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    Andrew Marshall
    BPL Member


    Locale: Tahoe basin by way of the southern Appalachians

    Companion forum thread to: Walking With Marcus: How Stoic Philosophy Informs My Ultralight Backpacking

    Can an ancient Roman philosophy make you a better backpacker? It all depends upon your application.

    Monte Masterson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Changes Often

    The last of the 5 Good Emperors, Aurelius led the Empire at the twilight of the Pax Romana. Pressures from all sides were multiplying and closing in fast.

    However before rejoicing too much about the accomplishments of Rome you have to keep in mind that martial prowess is what fueled the Empire. The point of a sword is what brought such unimaginable fortune. Not to say the Romans weren’t supreme engineers, administrators and soldiers, but at the end of the day it was ruthless, state sponsored violence which brought home the goods. There were of course benefits to living under Rome, as long as you submitted, but if you didn’t you could be crucified at the drop of a hat. This is the same culture that relished watching people hacking each other to death and animals ripping each other apart in the arena for entertainment. Aurelius might have been one of the more enlightened emperors, but he was still the leader of a ruthless war machine. But then again philosophy has always helped conquerors rationalize their actions.

    The Greeks were far better philosophers, artists and writers. Romans just tried to imitate them as best they could. Also the Romans were far more superstitious than most people today realize. I do however like the way stoicism promotes the idea that you can be destroyed by letting your emotions rule you, and I embrace the notion of being content with where you are in life compared to others at any given time. It provides peace of mind and diminishes anxiety, which I find is so very essential for a good backpacking trip to go off well.

    Thanks for the article Andrew, philosophy is something which isn’t covered enough here on BPL. It all just seems to be gear dominated.

    david morgan
    BPL Member


    When Covid hit and the gym closed, I did pull ups on the very HOT metal bars on the nearby playground that became the very COLD metal bars as it drug on through the Winter. One legged hops up the YMCA  stairs in the Southern Summer (very often 90+F/90%+ humidity) became a welcomed way to (literally) WARM UP in the Fall. Since then, just walking over to the the gym at 4:45am sharp seems pretty EASY!

    BPL Member


    Locale: Front Range

    Nice article, Andrew. Thoughtful and thought-provoking.

    I don’t know much about Stoicism, but what I have heard is attractive and far different from my original association to simply putting up with hardship and not feeling. For example, I have heard memento mori (remember I will die; life is temporary) paired with memento vivere (remember to live). This points me to living this moment as fully as possible. This is often with me when backpacking. It opens the door to more awe, fascination, enjoyment, and gratitude of being deep in the natural world.

    As another example, the phrase It is what it is goes along with Stoicism (so I’ve heard). This helps me disengage from whatever story I’m telling myself (stories which often lead to grumbling, blaming, self-criticism, etc and more internal stories). In this way, I can still have my feelings without adding another layer on top. To me, it syncs well with what you wrote about present-centeredness in your mindfulness piece. This view of Stoicism reminds me to let go of the layers of my associations, concepts, and words to more intimacy and direct contact with the world. This may be the last time I get to be in this place, so I’m going to take in as deeply as I can and enjoy it.

    …Now, time for me to take a walk.

    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member


    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    It seems like Stoicism has a lot in common with Buddhism.

    Which would make sense, because both are based on human nature which is the same in Italy as in China

    W I S N E R !
    BPL Member


    I would love to see more on the intersection of philosophy/religion with the outdoors here; it’s what I miss about many of the Chaff conversations of old.

    Memento mori is a concept that exists across numerous religions and philosophies. I have found it fundamental to living a good life, not just in the outdoors. Many Buddhist traditions meditate upon it daily (“The Five Remembrances”). I do.

    I was once on a backpacking trip on which a friend characterized the 20+ trail miles we had to do that day as a “death march” and he was genuinely unenthusiastic about the day. I didn’t say it aloud, but I found this attitude quite sad. We choose to do these things, we should be reveling in the challenges not lamenting our choices. In my mind, even the hardest of days are “life marches”; one day my physical body will come to an end and I will no doubt cherish the memory of doing hard things while my body allowed it, including the discomfort. Unfortunately, for many it takes a brush with death or illness to understand that their health has been taken for granted…and that life- mosquito bites, aching muscles, and all…is precious. I’ve had my share of dark days spent in a hospital bed wondering if I would hike in the wilderness again; henceforth I’ll only celebrate the “discomforts” of backpacking, placing them in their proper context.

    BPL Member


    Yes, a lovely article well-laced with experience, wisdom and 21st C. humor, both actually, Andrew. Intertwining the Dharma (in the 1st part) and Stoics here helps those suspicious of -isms (Buddh, Stoic) to see shared value in ancient traditions. Which often have a depth of knowledge lost to ’empirical’ science and technology. Of course, while Stoics relied on thought exercises to more sanely, responsibly and productively suffer, the Dharma has unparalleled understanding and numerous practical, non-conceptual Ways that lead beyond suffering altogether.

    Mark Wetherington
    BPL Member


    Locale: Western Montana

    Really enjoyed this piece, Andrew. So many concepts to ponder and examine, which offer an opportunity to get even more spiritual/intellectual richness out of backpacking.

    BPL Member


    Locale: Northern California

    “Memento Mori”.

    I remember Maurie. Nice guy. Too bad he died so young. Oh well, I try not to think about that.


    (I’m always glad to contribute. Now the adults can carry on.)

    Andrew Marshall
    BPL Member


    Locale: Tahoe basin by way of the southern Appalachians

    I’m really happy this is resonating with folks. Thank you all for your kind words!

    John Conley
    BPL Member


    For those yearning to learn and experience stoicism, I suggest joining the military and volunteering for outfits like Special Forces, Seals, PJs, Rangers, etc. You won’t get much Latin, but you’ll have plenty of opportunities to experience/practice stoicism!

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