Endless Ways and Reasons to Enjoy The Outdoors
Over the past 3 decades, I have come to realize, that in my pursuit for the optimal outdoor experience, there are many paths to choose from - each with their own pros and cons. As I look back on the changes I've made to my approach each season, the underlying similarity seems to be to find a way to enjoy a new challenge. When I was a teenager, just getting into backpacking, the word that always seemed to float off every retailers tongue was "bombproof". People made purchases based on longevity, lifetime guarantees, and Kevlar was the fabric of choice. Despite the weight differences from the lighter gear available today it made sense at the time. Most of my friends used gear their parent's had when they were young. It was handed down, and to be honest, didn't seem to be all that different from the new stuff on the shelf. With that in mind you generally made purchases thinking about the long term viability of the thing, and passing down this heirloom piece of gear to your own children. At age 17, the salesman told me that my new down Western Mountaineering sleeping bag would last 30 years if I took care of it (so far, so good). I carried MSR Alpine stainless steel pans, you know the set with two nestling pans and a lid - just in case one needed to make two separate dishes for a meal. They fit my liquid fuel Coleman Apex 2 stove perfectly, which would burn in sub zero temperatures above 10,000 feet. My 2 man Quest Viper 4 season tent was 9 POUNDS!!! That was light! I packed all this into a 5800 CU in Vortex backpack and tied on a Thermarest Luxury Camprest to keep me comfy and warm. I didn't mind the weight. It seemed normal to haul 45 - 50 pounds. In any case, I was just glad to get out and enjoy the backcountry and away from the crowds. I figured that I was set, and for a few years there weren't too many innovations. Sure there were always new options each season, but really nothing too game changing. There were always people who would upgrade here and there to save a few ounces or try some new thing. Little by little though, I made changes here and there. Who doesn't like to buy new gear? The first big change I made was to move to a canister stove. They had come a long way from the unreliable and finicky options available to me in my teens. Tent designs changed, too, and I was able to find a MSR Zoid 2 tent that saved me 4 pounds. While lightening my pack was nice, smaller/lighter gear just gave me more room in my huge backpack - enough to start carrying a Backpacker's Pantry Outback Oven. And for the next few years, I became more and more interested in making gourmet meals. If I could look around camp at the despondent stares I received from my fellow backpackers as they peered over the mylar bags of their re-hydrated Mountain House meals, longing for a taste of my creations, I knew I was doing something right. It gave me a sadistic sense of pride that helped ease any lingering body aches from the days hike. Outdoor gear design seemed to kick into overdrive after that. Each year manufacturers were making things with new materials and designs that took backpacking into ultralight mode and had people scrambling to get lighter and lighter. For the most part, I ended up going another direction: that of the survivalist. I'm not going to suggest any skills I may have acquired are anything close to the gurus you could easily find online. For sure, I would be hard pressed to make it with a knife and "the knowledge and skills I carry in my head" as the saying goes. I will claim that taking the time to learn more traditional ways to enjoy the wilderness gave me more confidence to deal with emergencies or gear malfunctions that could otherwise lead to more dire consequences. I ditched the tiny Swiss Army Classic I carried, preferring a more robust full tang Bushcraft Knife, and swapped out some of my synthetic insulating layers for wool. Bushcraft survival relies heavily on fire. Now, the last thing I want to do is make a fire when I am ultralight backpacking. Mostly, this is due to the nature of the materials I am wearing. I don't want errand sparks to make holes in my tarp or rain jacket, my pants, or whatever. It is also just generally hard not to get all dusty, too, when you work with fire. All that is incompatible with ultralight fabrics and tools. You need a way to process wood, dispose of embers, and all that just weighs more and takes time - time I'd rather spend hiking and sleeping. But if I am not ultralight, giddy-up. I'll happily sit in front of a fire, wrapped in my wool blanket, and tend it all night long as I watch the stars glimmer defiantly in the void sky. In college, I had a Scandinavian professor talk about the outdoors and how we can choose to take from the landscape to survive or take what we need to survive with us when we go outdoors. As I have tried both, I don't know that one is better than the other - only that I want to survive, regardless. So, I would say that my reasons for backpacking and bushcraft survival camping were about developing more options to keep me alive. Throughout these years my gear has changed and my pack has become lighter. This past summer I found myself in an arms race of sorts with my brother and his son, to who could have the lightest backpack on a trip we were planning. I would say that I caught the bug fully and had fun trying to find ways to save a few grams. What I noticed most with this change, was how welcome reducing the weight was, more so now, that I am getting older, fatter, and generally just a sad excuse of an out of shape guy getting older. Going lighter keeps me able to keep going. All in all, the journey is what I like most. Each new challenge is enjoyable to work through. And well... I also like to try out new gear, too!
thumb_upBernardo Menezes Germano, Moonson, and 6 others


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