There’s Craziness in Backpacking Too

I was having a conversation with someone about backpacking recently, and they proudly told me that a coworker was loading up his pack with 80 pounds and schlepping the 3 or 4 miles to and from work to build tolerance for the 35 pound pack he’d be carrying on a week-long journey in a few months. His logic was that if he could carry 80 pounds, then 35 would seem light to him.

I asked if he was a gym guy using the workout as weight training, or if he was just a backpacker. “Just a backpacker,” was the reply.

“Is he an athlete of some sort?” I asked. “Nope, just a desk dweller in an office getting ready for his first trip,” was the response.

Having seen this sort of thing before in the running realm, I gave her a “Wow. That’s crazy.”

And to me, it is.

Back when I trained for and ran marathons, I’d occasionally run into (pun intended) someone training for a marathon who was going out and doing 25-30 mile long runs. Their logic was the same as this guy’s: On race day, the 26.2 mile marathon will feel easier if I’ve done 30-mile long runs to prepare for it.

To me, that brand of logic has one fatal flaw: You’re increasing your risk of injury during training in an attempt to decrease the perception of difficulty during your planned hike/race. That’s a pretty precarious position on the physical tightrope. But there are over-trainers in every sport willing to laud their success at doing so, and encourage others to give it a try. And many will do just that, to their peril.

Not me.

I don’t plan on carrying more than 30 pounds on my back at any one time. So I’m starting with 20-pound practice hikes. When those feel good for 8-12 miles, I’ll move up to 25 pounds. Then 30. And when I can carry 30 pounds for a dozen miles, I’ll be ready for a three-day weekend hike. If it gets tough towards the end, I’ll have the ability to push through, thanks to my running experience.

When I was a marathoner, I never covered more than 20 miles on a long run. I knew that, if I was in good shape for 20, I could manage the physical discomfort of the last 10K with the knowledge that I was on the home stretch. It worked seven times. It failed none.

But having said all of that, one of the things that I enjoy most about hiking is one of the things that has kept me running all these years. It’s an individual sport/activity. And in any individual exercise, there will be a variety of approaches, with each participant doing what they feel works for them.

In the running world, the race day mantra is “Run Your Own Race.” In the backpacking arena, it’s “Hike Your Own Hike”.

They’re the same.

So, to the guy carrying 80 pounds so that he can carry 35, I not only say, “Wow. That’s crazy,” but I would add, “To each his/her own. Hike your own hike.”

And maybe, under my breath, I might toss in, “Good luck”…



5 thoughts on “There’s Craziness in Backpacking Too

  1. Mountain Goat December 11, 2016 / 3:53 pm

    Nice post! This really resonates with me. I’ve felt this way for as long as I can remember. Well said. Happy Trails! MG


  2. kddolley December 11, 2016 / 4:03 pm

    Thanks! I appreciate the comment very much. I’ve just never understood that mindset, both in running and now backpacking. I’ve seen some pretty serious injuries on the running side from doing things like that…

    Thanks as always for reading and for your feedback. Happy trails back at ya!



  3. sindrealmost December 15, 2016 / 6:58 am

    Going from 0 to 80 pounds in preparation for your first hike is crazy… but I can understand that if someone feels they need to change from a sedentary lifestyle they will likely feel that starting slow feels inadequate… or if they planned to do a big through hike out of the blue and suddenly feel woefully unprepared they might compensate with going overboard in prep… still not a good idea though in either case. My max load is about 75 pounds in my pack for autumn and winter multi-day hikes and I’ve built up slowly to be able to manage that… but that amount of weight in my pack does mean shorter distances usually somewhere between 15 and 25km (9-15 miles) depending on terrain, weather etc. but crazy people are everywhere 😀

    Happy Trails



    • kddolley December 15, 2016 / 7:09 am

      Wow. You must be in great shape to carry 75 pounds! Impressive. I’m hoping to manage 40 at the most.
      Thanks for the comment. Happy trails to you too!


      • sindrealmost December 15, 2016 / 7:23 am

        Well not the best of shapes, the trick is to find a really good backpack that puts most of the weight on your hips via the hip belt and then the leg muscles take care of the rest. So while I won’t win any stamina contests, I can happily carry a lot of stuff if going at a steady relaxed pace… going back to the hike your own hike mantra. I aim to loose about 22 pounds of flab and joke with my friends that when it is done I can add another 22 pounds to my pack 😛 I do, however, prefer to hike with a less heavy pack… but winter gear is heavy combined with solo hiking and camping it adds to it. Tent, fuel and other gear that could be divvied up in a group… not so much on solo hikes… lighter is always better, but then there is always that small piece of kit you need, and another and another 😛

        Liked by 1 person

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