Weekend warriors and noob backpackers, I want to clear up some misconceptions that backpacking is necessarily a prohibitively expensive and back-breaking hobby. Below I have put together some of the information I’ve acquired over the years to help people who are interested in going on a summer adventure in the woods. I want to reassure people that getting outside is not difficult and that anyone can do it. The woods should not be thought of as a daunting hostile place that people carry machetes and guns into because frankly it isn’t. If you’re looking for a badass adventure, the backcountry in the Mid-Atlantic is not the place most of the year. But if you want a break from civilized life and want to relax, here are some tips I have, including a comprehensive budget ultralight backpacking gear list at the bottom.
1. Don’t worry about investing in huge amounts of gear if you’re going on your first overnight trip.
This is the same for people trying to get out on the water for a kayak trip. Just swing by the local outfitter and check out their rentals. For Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, and Norfolk residents, Wild River Outfitters can hook you up with rentals and most of the gear on this list.
2. Don’t concern yourself with fads and gadgets.
You don’t need a solar charger, a big knife, a fancy tent, an expensive pump filter, or huge boots. The best way to spot a noob in the woods is a ginormous pack and $300 worth of electronics from REI. I remember one of my first backpacking trips I went into the woods with my school backpack, running shoes, a few Pop tarts, a headlamp, and a fleece blanket. Arguably it was a little too minimalist but worst case scenario was just hike out of the woods. In most of the Mid-Atlantic backcountry, you can just hike out if the situation goes to crap.
3. Study backpacking; learn about the woods.
My goal is to go in and be at peace with the woods, not at war. I’m not trying to be spiritual and profound in the least; I mean these terms in the most literal way possible. For example, sleeping in a valley is going to be colder than sleeping on a windless ridge because cool air falls into the valley. Being at peace means sleeping on that warm windless ridge instead of sleeping in the cold, hostile valley. It means sleeping in an area with a slight breeze and out of swampy areas to avoid bugs rather than carrying half a gallon of Deet. It means finding a clear flat spot to sleep on rather than making one. It means hanging food instead of carrying a heavy bear canister. One is elegant, beautiful, and easy; the other just uses brute force.