Backpacking 001

December 07, 2017 5 Comments

Backpacking 001

I kind of half heard the words, "So why don't you write a blog about backpacking?"

"Huh? Oh, sure" I replied through a fog of other thoughts that occupied my head at the time. I didn't even remember the topic until it was time to sit and put down some words. Had I been really listening, I would have said "NO" without any hesitation. Backpacking was often a necessity for camping, but never my favorite outdoor activity by a long shot.

To put it mildly, this is definitely not a how-to, but more of a "you might just relate to this" kind of a story.

Boy Scout Backpack

When we were young scouts, the last words we wanted to hear out of our Scoutmaster's mouth were "Backpacking Overnight". Our backpacks then were heavy canvas with metal frames--and like our other gear was cumbersome at best.

We were "all about" filling our packs with what we wanted to take on overnight trips, but we usually didn't have far to hike to get to the campsite, and by the time we were done filling them up, they looked more like a dog tick about to pop than anything you'd like to carry on your back for more than about 50 yards. 

Actual "backpacking" always meant a 5-10 mile trek that also suggested packing light...if you had any sense at all. We didn't. Even though we had a long list of what we should take, we often took more of what we wanted to take instead.

All of that "right stuff" seemed like a LOT to keep up with and organize, and often got glossed over until just days before--so we made do with what we did have, and packed most of what we didn't really need. Who didn't pack Smores? Marshmallows and chocolate bars don't really weigh much, do they? By the time we were done, we also would have a football, frisbee, slingshot, and about 10 items of clothing we would never use--and we hadn't even divided up the cooking gear and tents yet!

I think someone even packed a slinky one time.

Walking with a miniature RV on your back was a science all to itself. 

If you leaned forward just far enough, the weight would force you to take a step, and the momentum of moving forward would take you in a perfectly straight line. One lean to the left, however, and you were toast.

I felt complete and total absolution to hear later in life that one of the best places to find great brand new camping gear is all along the Appalachian Trail. It was from people dumping their gear because what they thought they needed was more than their legs wanted to carry once they got into the journey. Imagine that.

Much later in life while going through an adult scouting experience called Wood Badge, I actually had a second chance to pay attention and learn how to do most of this correctly.

It was a most satisfying experience to know there actually was a right way to do almost anything outdoors, and made me regret not listening when I should have years before. Lessons like this, however, is how boys become men...though we didn't realize that at the time.


During this learning experience, we met one guy who was an avid camper that had challenged himself to be able to pack all the necessities he needed to camp overnight in an Altoids tin.

I kid you not. He's also the same guy who told us how to wear the same "fresh" pair of underwear for four straight days by continuously turning it inside out each night. I'm not sure I would want to share my tent with him.

Backpacking Trail

Today's backpacking is a whole 'nother story.

Outdoor companies specialize in the entire tech aspect of camping gear. Backpacks, sleeping bags, and even tents are as light as a feather. Today you can pack an entire down jacket into your pocket--and it's even warmer than the Micheline Man model we used to wear!

It's all about technology and efficiency, and it really is pretty exciting just to walk through today's high tech outdoor emporiums like REI, Bass Pro, Dick's, Cabela's and Gander Mountain. You can spend hours walking through the aisles seeing new ideas and equipment that we couldn't even imagine existing when we used to shop in the musty old Army/Navy store when heavy green canvas was king.

They even sell underwear that's anti-microbial and moisture wicking from recyclable bamboo! It's not reversible like our cotton boxers were, though, so don't try and wear it four days in a row.

Best of the Best,

5 Responses

Andrew Pilkington
Andrew Pilkington

December 10, 2017

I have very fond memories as a Boy Scout that cemented my love for the outdoors and my attachment to my old canvas backpack and aluminum frame that I saved for with my earnings from my newspaper route. It served me well the Summer of 1968 in the mountains of New Mexico when I attended Philmont Scout Ranch for a ten day trek. There was no “ultra light” gear back then and I remember my backpack weighed in at 35 lbs! Living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with hiking opportunities everywhere, I still get out as often as I can.

Nice Memories, eh?

Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich

December 09, 2017

We were weighed down pretty good! And I couldn’t have carried Altoids in an Altoids can, much less all the stuff we used to take. If it wasn’t green, heavy canvas it wasn’t worth it! And we couldn’t lean over far enough to go uphills! The hardest part was getting to the cars and dividing up the food among everyone, and Mrs. Buell wouldn’t let Baby Boy carry even a slice of bread because it was “too heavy…” We had to load him up when we got out of her sight! And the coolest thing about the Army/Navy store, outside of the cool belt with all the holes for stuff to hang, was the patches! Bummer we weren’t allowed to sew them onto our uniforms or packs though. And, like you, I still have my old back pack, metal frame and all, and empty it is heavy! Your blog brought back a lot of memories!

Matt Sigmund
Matt Sigmund

December 08, 2017

Sounds like you had a lot of fun


December 08, 2017

looks great!!!!

George Armistead
George Armistead

December 08, 2017

very well done !!!!!!!!!!!!

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.