Backpacking for the non-backpacker

You know why you haven’t taken up backpacking?

Because you think you have to hike with 40 pounds on your back with every footstep you take.

Well, you don’t. If every backpack trip we took involved lugging a full pack for days on end, we wouldn’t backpack, either. 

That’s why we promote a different approach to backpacking: hike in a short distance in full pack, set up camp, do day hikes — with a day pack — from there. Basecamp Backpacking, we call it. Here are its two big advantages:

  • Corporate Wellness
    Hiking, sans backpacks, at Doughton Park

    Back country camping solitude at a fraction the cost. The physical cost, that is. You’d be surprised at how short a hike it can take to achieve camping solitude. For example, one of our favorite basecamp trips is to Doughton Park along the Blue Ridge Parkway. From the Longbottom Road Access it’s a flat, mile-and-a-half hike in full pack to basecamp, a spacious backcountry site served by two creeks. From here, you have access to about 30 miles of trail for day hikes. It’s an even shorter hike — maybe a quarter mile — to the primitive site at Rock Castle Gorge in Virginia (pictured at top), from which you can day hike the popular — and challenging — 10.8-mile Rock Castle Gorge loop. Short hikes in full pack, access to miles and miles of hiking in a day pack.

  • More miles, more scenery (and less aching). Most of us hike a mile and a half, maybe two miles per hour in a full pack in the mountains. After six or seven hours, we’re done. In a day pack — bearing only the 10 essentials and weighing, what, five pounds tops? — you’ll cover closer to three miles in an hour. So that’s close to twice the distance based on pace alone, let alone the fact you’ll likely be able to hike longer with a lesser load. Who wouldn’t rather hike 15 miles as opposed to 7?

Here are some other advantages to Basecamp Backpacking:

  • One home, not several. Show of hands: whose favorite part of backpacking is setting up camp and breaking camp? With Basecamp Backpacking you set up camp once, you break camp once. You get a chance to settle in, to make camp feel more like home.
  • It’s cheaper. If your goal is to add up miles getting from point A to point B, then you’re going to quickly become obsessed with weight, and as every backpacker knows, to trim weight you have to spend more, way more. With Basecamp Backpacking, you can get away with a $100, 5-pound tent. If you’re doing a section hike or thru hike, you’re looking at at least halving that weight, which means tripling or quadrupling the price. And that goes for every piece of equipment you have.
  • Luxuries. Ask a thru-hiker what “luxury” he’s indulging and he’ll sheepishly admit to bringing a stove. This as opposed to saving the 2.6 ounces ounces his stove weights and — yech! — cold soaking. Ask me about my luxury and I’ll reply, without hesitation, it’s my Helinox Chair Zero, a camp chair that weighs in at 1 entire pound — more, likely, than the distance-hiker’s tarp tent. And frankly, I balk at referring to it a “luxury” — it’s my dadgum right to sit comfortably around camp and I will not be denied!
  • Campfire. One of the saddest things about distance hiking, in my book, is that after hiking  15 to 20 miles in one day these bedraggled distance hikers just want to eat their porridge that’s been cold-soaking in a Talenti container since noon and fall asleep. I know, the campfire has been under a lot of criticism of late, but if there’s a better form of therapy out there, I’d love to hear about it. Sitting around a campfire in the evening with your people, talking about anything and everything that doesn’t have to do with work or politics or civilization is my favorite part of the backpacking experience. I love the hiking, I love nature, I’m even pretty good with inclement weather. But it’s those campfire conversations that keep me coming back.
  • Don’t fret the wet. I like hiking in a light to moderate rain. What I don’t like is setting up and breaking down camp in the rain. If you’re section hiking for 10 days, that’s 20 times you need to hope it’s not raining. With a basecamp trip, it’s really only once, when you set up your one and only camp, that it needs to be dry. Set up dry and, barring an issue with your tent, you’ll stay dry.  
  • In fact, embrace the wet. If it rains when you return from a day hike, you’ve got a dry place to hang out and read, nap, listen to music.
  • Quick bug out, if need be. If something goes wrong on a basecamp trip, you’re likely just a short hike from your car.

Backpacking has long been romanticized as the one true way to escape into the wild — but at a price. With Basecamp Backpacking, that price has dropped considerably. 

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Basecamp Backpack with us

The price of basecamp backpacking drops even more if you sign up for one of our Basecamp Backpack trips. If you’re an avid hiker, you likely have all the key hiking gear you need: clothes, boots/shoes, daypack. What you likely don’t have is backpacking gear, and that can be pricey, especially if there’s no guarantee you’re going to like primitive camping.

That’s where we come in. For all of our GetBackpacking! basecamp trips, we’re now offering our Basecamp Back package. In addition to hikes, we’ll provide the following key gear:

  • Osprey backpack. We have high-quality packs that will fit most hikers comfortably and will hold all the gear you’ll need for the weekend.
  • Backpacking tent. If you’ve got a tent, great. But if you need one that’s a little lighter, more compact and will leave room in your pack for more gear (including a “luxury” or two), we can help you out.
  • Sleeping pad. A sleeping pad insulates you from the ground (providing a little more heat) and gives you a soft, more cush night of sleep.
  • Sleep sack. Again, if you have a sleeping bag, great. 
  • Stove and cooking kit. We provide a lightweight, classic gas canister stove, the gas canister, a pot and cup, and an all-purpose eating utensil.

Our next Basecamp Backpack trip is to the Wilson Creek area of the Pisgah National Forest the weekend of Aug. 6-8. We hike in Friday afternoon a little more than a mile, set up camp, then do two days of hiking in day packs. Learn more about this trip and sign up here.

GetHiking! Southeast Podcast

This week on the GetHiking! Southeast Podcast we distinguish between a National Park and a National Forest, and look at two efforts to get a wider array of people into the woods. Give a listen here.

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