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BACKCOUNTRY STYLES

        

Celebrating Diversity: Acknowledging the Variety of Ways of Being and Traveling in the Backcountry



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Trust your style, trust yourself. Hike your hike.

—Carol Crooker, Backpackinglight.com forum

 

Instead of asking yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. 

—Howard Thurman

 

Central Issues Addressed in This Article

Which of the multitude of styles and ways of being in the backcountry excite you the most? Where do your passions lie for the backcountry? What new style(s) or way(s) of being might capture both your imagination and stretch your comfort zone? Are there any styles of backcountry travel that are inappropriate, should be illegal or are morally wrong?

An Abundance of Backcountry Styles

Much to my amazement, I have identified more than 80 styles of travel (ways of relating, modes of being) in the backcountry. The 80+ styles listed below are mostly self-explanatory, especially when listed next to a contrasting style. After reviewing this list, you will be asked to acknowledge your preferred style(s). Ready or not, let's take a trip into this amazingly diverse land of backcountry travel.

Fair weather hiker

Three-season, good-weather hiker

All-season, all-weather hiker

Casual and occasional hiker

Social hiker (bonding with others with similar interests)

Group hiking; member of hiking organizations

Solo hiker; solitude seeker

Trip organizer; group leader

Youth mentor; Boy or Girl Scout leader

Family oriented hiker and backpacker

Immersion hiking (out most weekends or for long periods)

Itinerant hiker (lives full time out on the trail)

Slumming and bumming in backcountry

Lowest cost backpacking

Lightweight and ultralight backpacking

Extreme ultralight (minimalist) backpacking

Fastpacker (speed hiking; high mileage hiking)

Slackpacker, slow walker (anti-fastpacker; anti-backpacking)

Trail running

Adventure racing

Packless trail running supported by friends

Long-distance, supported, resupplied thru-hiker

Roadless and unsupported distance hiker

Section-hiker on long-distance trails

Bikepacker (combining backpacking and mountain biking)

Packrafter (combining backpacking and rafting)

Commercially supported backpacking

Horse, mule or llama packer

Spot packing (packer drops gear off in backcountry)

Heli-hiking (hike down to trailhead from drop off point)

Equitrekking (backcountry travel on horseback)

Expedition assistant; porter; camp tender

Base camping with many comforts

Alpine loafing (staying in one place for several days)

Camp cooking and feasting

Backcountry gourmet chef

Identifying and eating wild foods

Hunter of wild animals

Wildlife lover and observer

Wilderness naturalist

Wilderness guide

Trail maintainer; trail crew

Off-trail primitive hiking and camping

Map and compass traveler; orienteering

Geocaching/ TerraCaching

Night hiking

Off-trail routes and traverses

Rogaining (team sport involving long distance, cross country navigation)

Wanderer, explorer, adventurer

Explorer of unmapped and unknown places

Hot springs and waterfalls explorer

Adventure trekker to foreign countries

Barefoot or soft-soled moccasin hiker

Nude or nearly nude hiker

Alpinist; climber; mountaineer; peak bagger

Alpine scrambler; high country rambler

Search and rescue volunteer

Outdoor education specialist

National Park, Forest Service or BLM employee

Backcountry ranger

Backcountry artist (e.g., photographer, painter, sketcher)

Biological scientist in the backcountry (e.g., biologist, zoologist, botanist)

Physical scientist in the backcountry (e.g., geologist, glaciologist)

High lakes fisherman

Wild river runner; white water kayaker

Mountain biker

Cross-country skier or snowshoer

Backcountry alpine skier, snowboarder, snowshoer

Telemark or randonnee skier

Extreme skier or snowboarder

Hi-pointer (climb to the highest points in all 50 states)

Climb the highest points (“seven summits”) on all continents

Abandoned trail researcher and preserver

Competition hiker (hiking further, faster, longer, lighter)

Trophy hiker (e.g., completed the “triple crown” — Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail)

Record holder; world-class competitor

Historical reenactments (e.g., “19th Century mountain man”)

Nature writer and commentator

Hiking-oriented author and writer

Wilderness writer, poet, philosopher

Armchair adventurer

Homeless nomad in wilderness with few material possessions

Religious or spiritual seeker in wilderness

Wilderness hermit

Urban (metro) hiking

Rural (para-wilderness) hiking

Gear and gadget addict; state-of-the-art packing

Gear expert; gear tester

Flashpacker (lots of  electronic toys)

Gear experimenter, inventor, innovator

Manufacturer of quality outdoor gear

Outdoor recreation promoter; lobbyist

Small-scale “cottage” gear maker

 

Such diversity and so many different ways of being in the backcountry! Three hurrahs for the privilege of living in a country that allows and encourages such!

[Note: I am grateful to the late Harvey Manning (Backpacking: One Step at a Time, 4th edition, pages 92-93) for his suggestion to define your own style of backpacking especially before beginning to collect a lot of gear. With his trademark acerbic humor, Manning uses phrases like “fancy packer,” “Neanderthal packers,” “tech-man,” “minimum packers,” and “state-of-the-art packing” to define various styles.]

Why are so many styles practiced? I have no real answer except to speculate that it must be tied to several complex forces operating in contemporary culture (e.g., high value placed on the individual and individual freedom, discretionary income, countercultural influences, advertising and media influences). When it becomes possible, it will likely happen.

Cartoon sketch of backyard camping
Hikers are often eclectic in practicing many different styles, sometimes focusing on multiple styles during a single trip. Some styles focus on competition and achievement; others on getting away from goals and achievements. Some see their style(s) as part of an integrated philosophy of life, encompassing both the front and backcountry. What is your overall focus?

Reader Participation: Acknowledging Personal Styles

One purpose of this article is to assist you in seeing a bigger picture and acknowledging that humans are complex creatures, living diverse and fascinating lives. But the primary purpose in listing these 80+ styles, however, is to encourage you to think deeply about your own style(s) of backcountry travel. To think more deeply, consider the following exercises.

1.    Circle those styles with which you have some experience (don’t hesitate to rephrase some of them in your own words).

2.    Mark through the styles of backcountry travel you think are totally inappropriate for you, should be made illegal or are morally wrong for some reason.

3.    Go back over the list and indicate those styles that interest you enough for research and future experimentation.

4.    Write down the unique behaviors, skills, values and attitudes that define your highest priority style(s).

Right and Wrong Styles and Ways of Being

With only a few exceptions (e.g., human predators, polluters, smugglers, arsonists, those leaving much evidence of their travels behind them), there is no right or wrong way of being in the backcountry, only different preferences and styles.

Even though there are generally no right or wrong styles, it is desirable to become as proficient as time, money and energy permit in a few chosen styles rather than superficially trying to experience a whole bunch. Becoming proficient in a particular style means acquiring the appropriate equipment and developing the requisite skills, knowledge and attitudes. I encourage you to take your chosen style(s), whatever they are, to ever higher levels of skill, understanding and excellence. More succinctly, I encourage you to raise your level of passion. As Zig Ziglar, American author and motivational speaker, says "It is only when you are growing in something that is important to you that you feel alive and in touch with your world. Remember that excellence is not a destination, but a life long journey."

Decisions About Backcountry Styles

I suspect that most outdoors people just “fall into” their styles after satisfying experiences rather than consciously choosing them after researching and experiencing many alternatives. For myself, I “fell into” my primary styles (e.g., lightweight backpacking, mountaineering, alpine scrambling, high lake fishing, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing) after many pleasurable experiences. I did not use a conscious decision process. Consider rationally choosing your styles from an understanding of the many options, opportunities, limitations, etc. Do as I say, not as I have done (though I have no regrets over my choices). Having said this, I acknowledge that many experienced hikers have already gone through some sort of process in choosing their styles and are not about to make any real changes.

A conscious decision process, such as I am recommending, is somewhat like making a marriage commitment after going with the flow of a developing relationship. A marriage commitment, following a careful decision process, will often result in the relationship moving to a higher level. The same is true with committing to a specific style of being in the backcountry. A careful decision process with an attendant commitment could easily move your chosen backcountry style(s) to higher levels.

Cartoon sketch of a couch potato

 Additional Issues for Reflection

Here are several additional issues for your consideration. These issues are only stated, but not explored, in this article.

1.    Is the act of labeling different styles (as in this article) a positive and constructive exercise? Should I think of myself as following clearly labeled styles?

2.    What criteria should I use to decide which styles to follow? Those that are the most fun? Those I can afford? Those that are most comfortable? Those with which my friends and loved ones feel most comfortable? Those that push me out of my comfort zone? Those that consistently provide new challenges?

3.    Do I practice my chosen styles in a competitive manner? Is competition in outdoor recreation a good or bad thing?

4.    Am I an achievement and goal oriented person when in the backcountry? Or can I be quite satisfied, at least at times, with just being in the backcountry without any real goals to achieve?

5.    Are some of my preferred styles superior to other styles? If some are superior, what criteria have I used to make this judgment? Are those styles that focus on giving back to others superior? Those that emphasize being independent and self-sufficient? Those that use a minimum of the world's resources or have minimum impact on the Earth?


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