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We’ve written (and podcasted) a lot at Backpacking Light about managing mental health in the backcountry. Generally speaking, these articles approach the subject in the past tense – as in, what to do when your mental state goes bad in the wild? This glut of mental health content reflects my personal interest – I’m diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and ADHD, and none of those things go away just because I decide to go backpacking.

But in this series of short skills pieces, I’d like to take a different approach. Rather than talk about reactionary techniques, I want to spill some ink sharing some preventative mental techniques I’ve learned or stumbled across so far as I walk my path. The strategies I’ve assembled come from all corners of the globe and range from 5,000-year-old philosophies to hacks gleaned from modern brain science.

I’ve used such techniques to ward off negative mental health episodes in the woods, but I’ve also used them to complete challenging backcountry excursions that might have defeated me without them. I tend to punch above my weight class (in gear and fitness level) when it comes to planning trips. The results often make for good stories but rough moments that might be trip enders without the mental scaffolding I’ve developed.

Not that there’s anything wrong with bailing on a trip – we’ve made that clear here at Backpacking Light – but sometimes there’s a primal joy in completing something that – on paper at least – you shouldn’t have been able to.

a trail sign almost completely covered by snow with trees in the background.
A heavy Sierra snow year meant this thru-hike of the Tahoe Rim trail had roughly 75 miles of sun cups. I clocked 25+ mile days in these conditions 7 days in a row, largely thanks to mental training.

This piece will focus on the cornerstone of my mental preparation techniques: mindfulness meditation.

Why Meditation is a Powerful Backpacking Skill

I can only state this anecdotally, but it seems like the current go-to move for dealing with uncomfortable circumstances in the woods is to distract oneself – primarily by popping in a pair of earbuds.

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