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What is Backpacking?

Backpacking is a popular way to experience natural settings.
A backpack.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 11 April 2014
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Backpacking is an outdoor pastime which is popular in many parts of the world. Backpacking involves hiking to a camping location while carrying a pack which contains food and gear for the hikers. Backpacking usually involves at least one night of outdoor camping, but can last for months if hikers replenish their supplies along the way. Many mountainous regions of the world are popular among backpackers, and several countries have well established trails such as the Pacific Crest Trail which are designed for backpackers and day hikers.

Travelers have camped and used packs for centuries. In 1914, the word “backpack” in reference to a travel pack first appeared in America. Overnight camping expeditions became a common recreation during the First World War because backpacking was inexpensive and pleasurable. After the war, backpacking continued to be a popular way to experience nature.

In the 1920s work began on the Appalachian Trail, a hiking trail which ultimately spanned more than 2,000 miles (3,218 kilometers) of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Some hikers spend a summer trying to hike the full length of the trail, known as thru-hiking. Hiking trails all over the United States see extensive use by backpackers interested in exploring the natural world.

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Backpacking is usually done in groups of two or larger, although some backpackers will undertake solo expeditions. Depending on the physical stress of the trip, people of most levels of fitness can engage in backpacking. Some backpackers rely entirely on the provisions and supplies in their packs, while others take advantage of trails with backpacking cabins provided to accommodate hikers overnight.

Some individuals use backpacking as a method of travel, especially in Europe. Europe has an extensive network of public transit to supplement hiking, and backpacking is a cheap and fun way to see large parts of Europe. Traveling backpackers appreciate the portability and pared down aesthetic of backpacking for travel. It is also a way to network with a wide variety of individuals met in the course of traveling.

Some schools use backpacking trips as a way to orient and bond with new students. Backpacking usually involves a high level of cooperation and interdependence, as all members of the group rely on each other for support. Backpackers must be aware of all members of the group, making sure that no one is lagging behind or feeling unwell. Once a campsite is reached, backpackers usually break up necessary tasks such as pitching tents and cooking.

Backpacking and camping are usually done in the summer, especially by less experienced campers. Extreme weather conditions in some regional winters can be dangerous for unprepared hikers. In the winter, backpacking is sometimes integrated with winter sports and snow camping. Some travel companies specialize in backpacking trips, and lead expeditions to regions all over the world for individuals ranging from college students to retirees.

When practiced safely, backpacking can be a fun and beautiful adventure. Inexperienced backpackers should take advantage of experience and backpack with seasoned friends or travel companies. Outdoor supply stores are usually happy to help backpackers select the proper equipment. Especially when choosing a pack, care should be taken to ensure comfort and safety. Backpackers should also be aware of weather conditions, and should follow the advice of regional officials as they travel.

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Discuss this Article

anon945069
Post 2

This is not the way to find out about wilderness travel, experienced people are your best resources as I have travelled in many North American wilderness areas since I was 5 or 6 which makes me a student of the wilderness still! There are many facets to the sport and I would recommend contacting and following the advice or lessons of people in my position. Wilderness Backpacking Experiences on Facebook is a great starting point for the novice hiker and family.

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