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What Backpacking Teaches You (18 Cool Insights Into Life)

Backpacking teaches you a great many lessons about yourself and about others. What backpacking teaches you is to be adaptable and to be resourceful.
Written By: Josh Koop
December 9, 2019
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You learn more about yourself when challenged than when you aren't. This is what backpacking teaches you over time, that you welcome the challenges and adapt to situations with a vibrant attitude!

There are a great many things you learn about yourself when you are away from the civilization you have grown accustomed to. These backpacking lessons can help you learn or re-learn skills you had and have lost due to a lack of use in your day to day life.

Trail through nice green woods

18 Backpacking Lessons In Life

Living life on the trail can provide some good hard lessons that you may have been missing. Today I am going to cover the top ones which I feel have impacted me the most to date and if you feel there are other good ones drop them in the comments below with your story as I would love to read it!

How to Exist With Less Material Things

One thing everyone who hikes learns is to live with far less "crap" then they typically would. In many ways, it teaches you the opposite of consumerism that the world loves to sell you on.

When you carry everything on your back you learn what you need to have and what you like to have and what you never need. Not that you don't enjoy these things when you are back home and not on the trail but that they aren't end-all be-alls to your life.

Tolerance Of Others

This covers a great many different things, tolerance to others, to others' beliefs and ideals and more. We are forced to expand our minds to like-minded backpackers from all walks of like and areas of the globe.

As you travel with others you learn to appreciate their often new or different customs, cultures, and languages. You share spaces within the trail, campsites and more and learn to understand that your "normal" isn't the same as everyone else's' "normal".

Growing Past Your Fears

Backpacking teaches you to leave your normal comfort zone and start adapting. As we age we tend to build up fears which we use as a crutch to avoid situations we don't know how to handle. As you take your life in your hands and leave civilization behind you you learn to take appropriate risks and face the base fears.

Fear basically becomes a way you validate you are alive, you choose instead of cowering from your fear to stand up and take it on. This mindset helps you build up faith in yourself and that you can weigh the benefit to risk and reward better.

Solitude Isn't Always a Bad Thing

Backpacking is a sometimes single traveler endeavor. This can sometimes lead to loneliness and to miss your loved ones and even coworkers or other people in your life. One thing that most backpackers will learn on the trail is to counterbalance those lows by the highs they experience on the trail.

Backpacking and more precisely long-distance backpacking takes you to new cities and new places which helps you grow. The solitude helps you be more open to people when you come across other hikers you want to talk and interact with, even when people you wouldn't expect yourself to interact within your normal day to day life.

Benefits To Ear Plugs

When you travel with people you don't know or more precisely share a room or space in a hostel, or other space you will find out how noisy people can be. Having a pack of earplugs adds almost zero weight to your pack while allowing you to get a good night's sleep regardless of the noisemakers within your party.

Enjoying The Small Things

You'll never be as ready for a home-cooked meal as you are after a few days to weeks hiking and eating what you bring with you, the smells of a fully functional kitchen and qualified cooks will be bliss.

You'll bask in having a room and closet space that is yours so you can hang your clean clothes and the access to a free clothes washer to clean your clothes anytime you want or need to.

Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.

Robert Brault

We give up a tremendous amount to be able to travel through the countryside, learn to take them in when they are available, enjoy them and share your joy with the people around you, and never forget to say thank you.

Theft, or Crime Doesn't Pay

Unfortunately without a home to lock up your goods, you may frequently leave them where others may have access. While this isn't an issue with good, upstanding people you may find some people resort to theft when they have planned poorly and decided theft is better than asking for help.

This is highly frowned upon in the hiking and backpacking community and we work hard together, especially within internet access to spread the word and contain the thieving.

Frequently people have stolen things like hiking poles and then taken off in the night only to be apprehended by the police in the next town as the hikers relayed the information ahead. Don't think that you can get away with the crime while you are on the trail as trail justice comes for all.

Doesn't Pay To Be Picky

When you are traveling on longer backpacking trips you only have what you can carry with you. This means all those little extras you always have are at best extravagances that come with a price to bring while hiking, in fact, we typically will call them luxury items.

This luxury item status comes with items like a pillow, camp seat and other "nice to haves".

This status also comes to a great majority of food items, typically what you need to carry is both calorically heavy but light to carry. This frequently means eschewing things like fruits and vegetables on all but your first day as a carry-in.

Additionally when you do long-distance hiking or thru-hiking your only re-supply may be a gas station or similar quick stop. With these types of resupplies, the quality will be extraordinarily low but you still need your 3-5000 calories a day which means choosing the best bad options that you can manage.

Eating is a Necessity, Not a Luxury

In the day to day lives most of us sometimes get too busy and miss or purposefully skip meals. While this works in our normal work and day lives it is tremendously important to feed your body food consistently while hiking as it needs to feed, fuel and repair itself constantly.

Sometimes this means choking food down when you know you need the calories regardless of good taste or not, you have limited foods on hand, don't waste any of it!

To Create Your Own Path or HYOH

I'm not saying leave the trail and make a path!! In all seriousness, you want to make your own path through this journey, don't stop where everyone else stops unless you want to for example.

Many make their plans based on YouTube, movies, and fascination with specific sites or stops on the trail. I just want you to remember that this is YOUR trip and if you don't feel it DON'T stop.

Learn To Relate To Others

You encounter a large number of people while on the trail, many who are on a similar journey as you. You may only meet someone for a single day or less but the lessons they provide are exponential and can last a lifetime.

Learn to respect and appreciate our differences and to embrace the similarities that bind us.

Josh

While on the trail you learn a great deal about human nature, cultures and cultural practices and beliefs and ideals. Hopefully, over your time backpacking, you also learn the value of friendship and comradery with your fellow travelers.

Gratitude

While you hike you will learn gratitude to a new level, like when you are out and exhausted and run into trail angels with a burger and soda who only want the payment in a heartfelt "thank you". Sometimes in life, we lose focus on gratitude and somehow begin to expect things or treatment, backpacking I feel helps you reset this mental affliction from consumerism.

As hikers while you are out and away, you gain affection and remember your families and friends, homes, the possibilities available at your fingertips. You learn to cherish yourself and express deeper empathy for those around you.

Josh

You will learn to not place expectations on people you encounter that you may have normally placed on them in the normal world. Growing in tandem with this lowered base expectation you will find that offering a nice, friendly smile can work wonders when used with the words "thank you".

Trail Life Isn't Glamorous Unlike How Social Media Showcases It

When preparing to go backpacking you may fall in love with the romantic trips shown on YouTube, Instagram, and other social media. What you learn though is that your real-life trip is actually nothing of the sort, you figure out that they take the best 1% of each day to showcase and leave 99% on the cutting room floors!

Your biggest lesson from this is to enjoy your trip, enjoy the highs and your lows and know it is a journey.

The thing about backpacking and thru-hiking is that if it was easy, then everyone would do it.

Josh

Macgyver (Self Sufficient When Short Options)

You may not always have the right tool for the job, you may have to improvise on the fly to enjoy your trip and this is where you grow this skill tremendously. Like when you lose or break your tent spikes and you learn how to use rocks or other options in its place.

Macgyver Skills - What backpacking teacheds you is to become a Swiss Army Knife

Adapting to the inconvenient things which will occur helps you learn to be self-sufficient and to acknowledge your ability to adapt and overcome any obstacles which stand in your way!

Cleanliness Is Overrated

Alright, I need to confess, my wife will agree that I am very scatterbrained and sometimes amazingly unfocused. I am always looking for the most efficient line in the sand between the 2 points and this can be beneficial and a drawback.

When backpacking the thing my wife and most people look forward to is a real bathroom and a shower which allows them to get the dirt out. Where I'm totally fine without the shower for long periods of time, not that I prefer to be dirty but more that it is a deviation in my mind as I'm just going to be dirty again shortly.

Shower head raining down - what backpacking teaches you that cleanliness is overrated

So my brain perceives it as a wasted effort unless it is to be in town around people I would probably avoid it 99% of the time. Though it can feel quite exquisite if you are grimy sometimes to get that off and away, it is just something I fail to focus on often.

Beneficially on longer hikes and/or thru-hikes, no one thinks anything about body odor as it is unavoidable with the exertion and lack of consistent bathroom options. Learn that to enjoy a longer hike you will have to survive the grime, learn to love yourself and not hide away due to it.

Appreciate Your Surroundings and Nature

I currently live in Texas, which after living in Washington state and California feels pretty darn amazing. I get nice days most of the year but rain enough to keep it all green and pretty, though I do miss the mountains I can say.

This means most of my normal hiking areas are amazing but mostly flat, this doesn't mean they aren't beautiful and the Lone Star Hiking Trail here is a 96 mile long 6-7 day thru-hike! It has amazing forest and vegetation and is ever-changing depending on the season, making it enjoying to hike at many different times of the year.

This does mean that I don't get those picturesque amazing views from the summit of a mountain without travel.  There is no ability to look down at the clouds from above, that is unless you skydive.

You can see the trailhead you started from, and you realize that even though it’s a great big world, you can get just about anywhere if you keep going forward, and don’t give up.

Learn To Let Go

Backpacking is full of meeting new people and then possibly never seeing them again on the trail, this means you learn to let go early and often. This can lead to many feelings of pain or joy while on your trail.

Backpacking is a highly impermanent thing, you are never anywhere long enough to get to know the place or the people well. So you have to develop a kind of "superpower" in being able to let go of them and let them go on their path instead of pulling them into your orbit or being pulled into theirs.

We thrive on fully living the things we experience along with understanding that these things are temporary. This also means we must learn how to let go of the previous versions of ourselves as we grow and that this isn't a bad thing.

This can help you to drop those ideals you hold tightly but that is unnecessary to cling to. Personally, this helps us to learn to redefine ourselves perpetually becoming a newer version of what we used to be, evolving like a caterpillar into a butterfly.

Learning How To Stretch Money

One of the most important lessons you will learn comes from how to figure out how you can survive on $5 each day, budgeting is a necessary evil. As you learn while you’re backpacking with limited savings, spending more money than you have will mean that you have to stop and go home. You realize how frugal you can actually live with to have your time and be successful on the trail.

I’m much less strict with my spending these days, the budgeting skills I learned while backpacking does seem to have benefited me in other parts of my life, helping me add more gear to my collection and run this blog, without losing all of my money.

Learn To Be More Extroverted / Introverted

While many people that choose to backpack and hike are extroverted and really love to interact and talk with people a large portion are also introverted, like me. A large benefit to backpacking or thru-hiking is that travel as an introvert can help us open up.

Some people also realize that maybe they weren't as much introverted as shy and they learn to open up and be vulnerable and open. This is another part of how valuable it is to be taken out of your social norms and to depend sometimes on others.

The opposite can be equally true as most extroverts have issues when on their own for long periods of time a long-distance hike can help them come to grips and look inwards a little bit more. I have heard this from my extroverted friends that they were more at peace when left on their own after they started to backpack and spend time away from the world.

Living In The Moment (There Is Always Tomorrow)

We all know the world we live in, where your days are planned and every second is typically owned and at least minimally planned out. If you are like me this has made you bored of the typical day to day and longing for more adventure, less clock minding.

On the trail you learn to mind things other than a schedule, feel that crick in your knee, must be break time. You work hard to get the time to spend outdoors in nature, take time, smell the roses and don't put yourself on a hard schedule. Adapt and overcome, chill and enjoy the moment you are in.

Josh

Over time you stop thinking where you are going next and instead learn that it is far more enjoyable to live in the moment itself.

Building Self Discipline

One core thing you learn is about your own self-discipline, or the ability to keep moving when all around you are quitting. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to keep putting one foot in front of the other, ensuring movement to your goal.

I've only heard one way from someone else that I love and that was Darwin Onthetrails "Embrace the suck". I feel this deeply in the bones of my body, you must know that the bad comes with the good and that you will need to suck it up and survive the bad times on occasion.

Know this though, nothing is gained by taking unnecessary breaks and hoping for something better. Obviously, if the weather is threatening then you need to have a plan and follow it to stay safe, don't let it grind you to a halt though as it gets easier to not move the longer you stay stationary.

The other part of self-discipline is you have to keep yourself on task, as there is only so much daylight to use for travel. To get from here to where you plan to sleep later tonight, whatever the distance, you need to get on yourself to move.

Bottom Line

Traveling with everything you need on your back teaches you a great deal about yourself and how you handle the pressure of being independent along with our need as humans to be a part of a group. It teaches you about yourself on a deep level that is hard to find in real civilized life as you never are more than a few minutes from anything.

This can lead to a serious amount of confidence-building along with self-reliance. These are life skills that help you live life to the fullest and like most backpackers, you will probably be planning to head back out again soon!

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