I had no idea what time it was—and I really didn’t care. At an elevation of 11,200 feet, there were no treetops to obscure the view into the deep sea of stars above me. Every minute or so, a star would go streaking across the sky, some of them looking like they’d drop out of the sky right into my hand.
That trip backpacking to Conundrum Hot Springs near Aspen, Colo., is one of the most magical moments I can look back on in my life—and I carry it as a reminder that with just a little effort, I can experience some of the most postcard-worthy places in the world. But gorgeous scenery isn’t the only reason I’m willing to shoulder a pack and hoof it out on the trail for a backpacking trip. Since my first—humorously inexperienced—backpacking trip back in college, I’ve learned that backpacking trips generally give back much more to my life than the effort I put in. Here are five reasons you should go backpacking this summer. Never backpacked before? No worries—these will mean even more.
Car camping can be a blast. You can take everything including the kitchen sink, and you’ll probably find a lot more friends who’ll be excited to join. But if you ever dream of solitude, sometimes car camping can be disappointing, especially during high seasons or holiday weekends. Crowded campgrounds and loud neighbors eat into any sense of privacy and natural quiet. If you’re willing to put on a pack and walk just a few miles, you’ll be very likely to find a spot out of sight of anyone else, where all you’ll hear in the morning is a bird song or a trickling brook.
You’ll get up close and personal with nature
When you are backpacking waking up as the sun warms your tent and gazing at stars unimpeded by urban lights are just the beginning. When was the last time you watched a hawk soar high into the sky? Or enjoyed the crisp coldness of freshly filtered alpine water in your throat and on your face? Even just a one-night backpacking trip can take you farther into the wilderness than you’d be able to go on a day hike. Setting up camp and watching the light change as you enjoy dinner is a slow-pace pleasure we miss out on in our urban and suburban lives.
You’ll realize you’re stronger than you think
I’ll be the first to admit, even after all these years, I’m still surprised how heavy a backpacking pack can feel when I first heave it up onto my shoulders. But what always impresses me is how quickly I adjust to it. I feel my strength growing as I continue my hike. My time spent in the wilderness feels much more valuable because I’ve earned it by walking there on my own two feet. Sure, anyone can drive down a 4x4 road and set up a giant tent. But finding the inner strength to carry your own gear and make your own way into the backcountry is deeply satisfying. It builds character and confidence—the kind of qualities you take back into your everyday life even after you’ve packed up the tent until next time.
You’ll come back refreshed in a deep, new way
Sure, you’ll be sleeping on a thin foam or inflatable pad. And you might be working harder, physically, than you normally do. But somehow, that doesn’t ever seem to take away from the sense of renewal that comes with fresh air, sunlight and starlight. Being outside for an entire 24-hour period or more helps reset your circadian rhythm, even if it’s just a little bit. Putting aside glowing screens and inboxes for a day does wonders for a stressed psyche.
You’ll find a new appreciation for everyday luxuries
Whenever I’m unloading my pack into the car after a weekend in the backcountry, I’m struck by how happy I was to make do with so little during that time. All I needed I could carry on my own back. A weekend backpacking trip does two things: 1.) It makes you realize how simply you can really live—how little you need when you have nature. 2.) It also makes you appreciate what you have. Little things like a soft bed and a cold beer seem more special when you’ve been truly roughing it for a couple of days. A little bit of gratefulness certainly never hurt any of us.
Hilary Oliver is contributing editor at Adventure Journal, outdoor adventure writer & doer and has her own blog, The Gription, where you can find more articles about backpacking, climbing, mountain biking and more.