Managing your Expectations on a Backpacking Trip: So you can keep going when things feel hard.

No two people are alike. Every person has a different threshold for comfort when they venture into the great outdoors. Some people can handle weeks (some, months) in the outback and thrive with minimal comforts. Some people won’t even hit up a patio for lunch or would cringe at the mention of a summer camping trip. We all may differ, but what IS a constant in the great outdoors, is unpredictability and possibility for frustration for the unprepared.  The most important thing to pack is the right attitude.

A true adventure involves making the best out of any situation you may encounter along the way.
For some, spending the night in a tent is a nightmare, for others, it’s their happy place.

Every great backpacker has likely suffered the drag of a bad mental state on their trip, myself included. I’m a firm believer in the mental brief and debrief. It has certainly helped me mentally prepare for what I may be facing, what may (and did) wear me down, and how I plan to overcome that going forward.  For example, I can handle 8 days in the same stinky clothes, but 2 days without chocolate or coffee? Deal breaker (so I pack appropriately). Most people are completely capable of doing anything they aim to undertake…with a bit of perseverance and determination.  But when external factors on an adventure get you down, it’s the mind that usually breaks first.

I have to hike to where ? Over what? Sometimes we lose focus on the journey when our mind gets the best of us.

Necessary in backpacking as much as normal life: the 5 Ps for success   Proper – Preparation – Prevents – Poor – Performance

If you are considering a backcountry or backpacking trip (especially one of any great length) take a gander at some situations that you may encounter and consider how you will overcome it on the trail:

1. You stink – Unless you have a mule to haul your bags through the mountains, chances are your change of clothes or body care products will be minimal.  Not everyone is cool with going days without a shower or fresh clothes to throw on.  There is no real way around this. Accept, embrace and move on.

You Stink ? So does everyone else. No biggie! .. No Offense Guys 🙂 

2. You hurt:  Even the most physically prepared person will feel the wear and tear of hauling themselves and their gear for 8+ hours a day.  Your feet will ache and your body may hurt. Ibuprofen will become your best friend. Pack lots.

Cold? Tired? Frustrated? Let your fellow hikers enthusiasm recharge your attitude. Positivity can be contagious if you let it be! 

3. You miss at-home comforts: You will trade your normal at-home comforts in for the trail life. Never fear, you will soon find comfort in your daily routines and nature’s gifts;  tenting by a babbling brook, a gorgeous sunset over the lake, the morning sun’s warmth after a chilly night.  These will become your new comforts. It may take a few days to find your routine and appreciate the journey in its entirety.  Have patience with the trail and with yourself.

4. You want fries and chocolate:  Even after a few days on the trail, you begin to day-dream of ice cream sundaes and giant greasy pizzas (ok…I do).  Pack enough treats in your bag to satisfy your usual urges so you don’t become a Hangry Hiker.

Good food fuels the body and the mind. Never forget this.

5. You have to go to the bathroom.. where?  When I talk about hiking with my friends (or strangers) usually their number one question is… where do you go..like.. go?  Backpacking trips usually aren’t all equipped with privys or bathroom facilities. You may be required to use mother natures outhouse (aka: the woods).  For most, this one takes a bit to get the old head around, as it did for me when I first started. Now, I would much rather go in the woods than a broken down, smelly, overused privy (but use the privy if it’s there, of course).  Give this one a chance, you will (over time) be pleasantly surprised with the adjustment.

6. You’re tired and it’s hard: Seasoned hikers will know how fast they can hike, how long it will take and what pace makes them comfortable. For newbies to the trail, it can be daunting to plan or do a hike without knowing what you are capable of on new terrain with a 50 pound pack strapped to your back.

“Your legs haven’t given out, your mind has given up.”

When in doubt, plan on the less ambitious side until you are more familiar with your hiking style: nothing will burst a happy hiking bubble faster than fast approaching dusk with sore feet and 6 more miles to go until camp.
If you are hiking with more experienced hikers, be realistic about what you think you can manage.  Overdoing it will only lead to injury and discomfort.  And yes, of course it’s hard, isn’t that why you wanted to do it in the first place? You may need to remind yourself of this 100 times a day. When all is said and done, I guarantee you will not remember how hard it was.. but how amazing it was.

Mother nature may not have blessed you with amazing weather, but She did bless you with his amazing place for an adventure. Embrace it.

7. You hate rain:  Rain and cold; the creator of foul moods, even for some of the most seasoned hikers. Mother Nature can be an unpredictable beast… sometimes for days at a time. Plan for the worst and embrace the adventure (no really, this is one where proper packing and planning will help keep you from being totally cold, wet and miserable).

8. You are dirty and germs are everywhere: I will be the first to admit that in “real life”, I’m the biggest germaphobe alive.  On the trail, I’ve learned to let this go (for the most part). Dirt is inevitable, and though you may not feel very clean on the trail, washing your hands (especially before eating or handling your food) is the number one way to keep yourself safe and healthy. Also, its likely that there are less germs in the woods than at your workplace.. just saying.

9. You get hurt or sick:  Illness or injury on the trail can burst a happy hiker’s spirits and/or plans pretty quickly. Be mentally prepared that unanticipated illness may alter your hiking plans, get you off the trail, or make your day less than enjoyable.  Even a painful blister can make hiking all day a bit miserable. They key to feeling terrible is either to power on and/or know when you truly can’t (or shouldn’t).

Don’t let a bad attitude get in the way of enjoying the adventure and the beauty around you.

10. You miss your wi-fi connection: Though some may see this as a good thing (like me), some people may struggle without a “connection” to the real world.  I recommend experiencing life without the drag of electronics while outdoors, but it is nice get a word from loved ones at home from time to time. There are electronics available that offer means of communicating if cell reception is bad.  BUT.. in my opinion, if you need wi-fi to enjoy the outdoors… you are missing the whole point of being there.

When in doubt.. just pack extra wine 😉

Sure, none of the aforementioned items seem like a real selling point to take a great adventure in the outdoors. (But I thought you were trying to get us to GO on adventures, Glynis??)  The truth of the matter is, for those that love outdoor adventure, the seemingly negative things are far outweighed by the awesomeness of trip, and they just add to the experience. Adventure lovers and seekers plan on what expect and know that they can adapt and handle it.  That being said, don’t be discouraged on your first few trips.  Nobody enjoys or will tolerate everything all of the time.  Adapting and adjusting (not only your mind) is a life long adventure on the trail.  Stay positive and mentally prepared and enjoy the adventure. That is what it’s all about anyway, right?

camping in the snow

What gets you down on the trail? What do you do to cope. Share your thoughts. 

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2 thoughts

  1. My first ever overnight hike I forgot a coffee sachet. That got me down for about a minute until the urge to pee, pack up and hit the trail hit me. I did remember one for the trip after that though 🙂


    1. I totally know how that feels. Coffee on the trail is one of those mood boosters that warms the body and soul. Every adventure is a learning experience for sure ! ! Thanks for your comment !


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