I didn’t come out here to rough it, the city is rough enough.
We’ve all heard the phrase “roughing it” before. This simple string of words is most commonly applied to pursuits that involve heading into the backcountry. Where did this phrase come from and better yet, should we subscribe to its implications? Either this term is a jolt of truth or is the greatest ploy in history to keep the crowds at bay to the informed trekker. As the civilized world has settled into modern routine, we’ve forgotten just how enjoyable the backcountry can be. “Roughing it” hardly does it justice.
Use these tips on your next outing and show up to the office Monday morning feeling more rested and triumphant than ever. Welcome to the club.
What kind of house do you want to live in? You get to ask this question every night in the backcounty as you settle into camp. If getting beaten by the elements and eaten alive by mosquitoes isn’t your thing, proper campsite selection is the cure you’ve been looking for.
If weather looks threatening, select a site that is protected to minimize exposure to driving wind and rain. Lakeside campsites are tempting, but are rarely within LNT regulations and are generally colder as moist air settles in over night. Avoid soggy meadows for the same reason unless frosty dew and endless mosquitoes are your thing.
Crawling in to bed each night should be accompanied with a long, satisfying sigh of content. This is best achieved by a comfy sleeping pad and an overly stuffed, down sleeping bag (the French call this a duvet, how fancy). Where I was once able to sleep on a ¼” foam mat the size of a doormat, I never leave the house without my ultra-squishy Therm-a-Rest NeoAir. Don’t forget, with proper food protection, you can enjoy both dinner and breakfast from the confines of your bed, no room service required.
2. Freedom of Choice
Where else in your daily life do you have complete freedom of choice? Everyday on the trail you get to decide where you go, when you break and how far into the “Type 2” pool of fun you want to dip your toe. You design your day right down to what you eat, who your with and what sights you want to see. This little tidbit of reality is a sure-fire way to lighten your step and deeply engage with your surroundings. I like to saunter down the trail to the mantra of “Nowhere to be and all day to get there.”
3. Food for the Soul
I once heard that the true way into a person’s heart is through their stomach. If you accompany this slogan with the tongue in cheek quip “hunger is the best spice,” how can you go wrong with a satisfying backcountry meal? Since you’ve already trimmed every possible gram from your pack, why not add a few back through gourmet consumables! Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box here. I’ve seen full pizza boxes and watermelons strapped to backpacks, cooked pancakes on an alcohol stove, Jiffy Pop and baked potatoes over a fire and even a lugged-in cast iron mountain-pie maker. Did you know homemade soda only requires a Nalgene, water, sugar, yeast and flavoring? Winter opens up a whole new realm of possibilities thanks to your grocer’s freezer. Frozen burritos? You betcha.
4. Hygiene Happiness
Dirt don’t hurt, but feeling clean and refreshed after a hard day’s hike does wonders for the soul. Why not hang out poolside at every alpine lake you pass? A quick dip upon arrival at camp will not only give you a good rinse, but the cold water will act like nature’s ibuprofen on your joints. At a minimum, use a bandana to rinse your dusty legs and salty face.
When it comes to using the “facilitrees,” whether you use natural or traditional toilet paper, a final wipe with a baby wipe keeps you daisy-fresh when you’re on day 13 of your trip. Don’t forget to pack that trash out though!
Always pack an extra pair of socks. This way you can rotate their use by giving them a good rinse at every stream crossing and hanging them to dry on your pack. Not only will the lack of gritty socks help prevent blisters, but putting on clean socks each morning will feel just like home.
5. Pack A Secret Smile
Some things are just always going to be out of our control once we leave the safe harbor of home. Weather dampens your spirits, a bum knee reminds you of your true age, or you forget to pack the lighter and are forced to eat crunchy ramen for a week. Always have something to fall back on to boost your morale. You could be reading Thoreau under the patter of rain on your tent, numbing that knee to the beat of Beyonce or painting a self-portrait with watercolors. Other light luxuries could include a Frisbee, playing cards or even a tuba. (True story)