Backpacking entered my life at a comparatively late stage, when my twin sons joined a Boy Scout Troop and parents were needed to chaperone. We went to REI and purchased three backpacks (and everything else) according to the ‘shopping list’ the scoutmaster had given us. Our troop’s backpacking trips were great outdoor adventures, where we usually backpacked a short distance from the trailhead to our camp (for example less than 2 miles to Coastal Camp in the Point Reyes National Monument) that would serve as a base camp. From there we would later hike 10 miles with a little day pack to work on the Hiking Merit Badge and/or fish on the ocean shore to work on the Fishing Merit Badge, etc. My first ‘long’ backpacking trip happened when my son Daniel decided to backpack the complete John Muir Trail to raise funds for his Eagle Scout Project.

Backpacking for hundreds of miles didn’t seem possible by any stretch of imagination just a short time earlier. But backpacking the JMT with my sons for three weeks was the first in a series of ‘stretching my limits’ events that opened a whole new world for me.

Every following trek we would stretch our limits a little more.

Not sleeping in an enclosed tent was unthinkable with all the creepy crawlies out there, but once we stretched our limit and used a tarp (tent) instead of our REI Quarter Dome, we discovered a new world. It started with open doors and starwatching and encouraged us to stretch our limits further and simply cowboy camp. This newfound level of confidence enabled future quick weekend get-aways  that required some amount of stealth camping

While cowboy camping, we couldn’t imagine not being enclosed in a comfy mummy sleeping bag. But once again we stretched our limits, took a leap of faith by buying quilts and never turned back. The weight (and volume) savings of using a quilt were enormous. That put us  finally into a position where we could replace the 70l Gregory Palisade that weighed 6.5 lbs. with an Osprey Exos 58 saving another 4 lbs.

Lighter backpacks enabled another level of outdoor adventure for me, one where I could leave the trodden path. Leaving a trail seemed unthinkable when I started backpacking, but stretching my limits led to cross-country treks like this Sierra High Route trip.

Stretching our limits in several ways had lightened our backpacks enormously, had given us self-confidence to navigate off-trail across a wilderness and now we stretched our limits once more to use the weight savings to take on additional weight and carry packrafts which enabled us to have a wonderful trek across the Brooks Range in Alaska.

Once we embraced the idea of carrying extra weight, we stretched our limits again and again. Now we could imagine to carry many liters of water to stay in a dry-camp on a cross-country route. This enabled me to walk across the biggest desert in Europe when crossing all of Iceland with my daughter.

Our Boy Scout Troop is located in California and it was unthinkable for  the troop to go backpacking in adverse weather. Any rain would cancel a planned outing.

In our family we stretched that limit and started frequently to hike in the rare rain events here in California . Stretching that limit made treks like crossing Iceland, crossing Scotland or crossing the Brooks Range possible.

Recently I have also stretched my limits regarding temperatures. This winter we did a snowshoeing trip in the Sierra and slept in our quilts comfortably in freezing temperatures under our pyramid tarp.

This spring we stretched our temperature limit in the other direction and ventured for the first time into the Grand Canyon where the temperatures rose into the triple digits.

These are just a couple of examples of stretching our limits in regard to

  • sleeping ‘unprotected’ without a tent or mummy sleeping bag
  • being out in ‘adverse’ weather with rain, freezing temperatures or scorching temperatures
  • leaving the trodden path and finding our way off-trail across a wilderness
  • carrying extra weight to enable dry-camps or to use waterways in a packraft

Getting out of our comfort zone and stretching our limits has enabled amazing adventures. Adventures that widened our horizon and made us step by step more self-confident. My children have developed a level of self-confidence through these adventures that they are not even aware of. The benefits of stretching their limits step by step via these backpacking adventures are countless and priceless.

It’s a wonderful world out there and stretching our limits enables us to experience more of it.