Quote by Robert Pursing
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Why philosophize about hiking and backpacking?

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There are six crucial ingredients of good philosophizing: genuine problems and concerns, ideas (especially yours), argumentation (pros and cons, point and counterpoint), skill in critical thinking, imagination and vision, and a lively and eloquent style.

—paraphrased from Robert C. Solomon, The Big Questions



But no matter how helpful philosophers may be, they cannot do our philosophizing for us — no more than someone else can do our loving for us. In the final analysis, philosophy is an intensely personal affair; its questions we must experience, and our answers must be our own.

—Roger Eastman, American philosopher



For whatever else philosophy is, it challenges us, not simply to think, but to do so with care and patience.

—Tom Regan, American philosopher



Central Issues Addressed in This Article

Why encourage philosophical thinking about hiking and backpacking? Why explore the high country of the mind, especially as related to outdoor recreation? In what ways is this website philosophical? What does it mean to philosophize and be philosophical?


The phrase “high country of the mind,” borrowed from Robert Pirsig (see the quote on the homepage of this website), can denote many different but related concepts: philosophical, intellectual, theoretical, idealistic, ethical, spiritual, reflective, thoughtful, contemplative, and so on.  In this article, I will use the umbrella term “philosophical” to refer to most of these concepts and to all “high country of the mind” phrasings.

In what ways is this website philosophical?
What does it mean to be philosophical?

This section deals directly with the “What?” question. A later section will deal with the “Whys?” The term “philosophical” has many different meanings. This section will touch upon the more important meanings.

Philosophy As Critical Thinking: Probably the most philosophical part of this website is applying critical thinking techniques to opposing sides of controversial issues. Philosophers love to argue and debate. Sometimes it is giving supporting arguments for a controversial position (e.g., the article “The Challenge of the Lightweight Backpacking Movement”). Sometimes it means providing both pros and cons (e.g., the article “Four Wheel Drive—The Case For Trekking Poles”). Sometimes it means providing added depth to a debate by including in-depth replies and counter-replies to selected arguments (e.g., the article “Wilderness Safety—A Debate Between Ultralightists and Traditionalists”). Many articles on this website end with a series of questions: “Additional Issues For Reflection.” Raising questions, even when there is no attempt to answer them, is a form of critical thinking. Some claim that the questions asked are generally more important than arriving at satisfactory answers. Whatever “critical thinking” approach is taken in this website, the emphasis is always to provide increased depth and breath, to assist the reader to better understand the many sides of an issue, and to encourage well thought out conclusions.

Philosophy As Creative Thinking: Many articles on this website attempt to stimulate the creative juices by exploring a full range of options and alternatives on a given topic and encouraging readers to come up with additional options (e.g., the articles “Celebrating Diversity—Acknowledging the Variety of Ways of Being and Traveling in the Backcountry” and “Strategies to Make Solo Hiking Safer”). Many articles include quotations from thoughtful individuals that express highly creative and unique approaches to the subject at hand. All articles explore their topics in considerable depth, which in itself provides material for critical and creative thinking.

Philosophy As Questioning: Philosophers love to ask questions. Often the questions themselves further the pursuit of truth and understanding, as much as acknowledging the many answers given. Most articles start with “Central Issues Addressed in This Article”; most end with a series of “Additional Issues For Reflection.” Some of these questions and issues are practical in nature, but many delve into more philosophical aspects of each topic.

Philosophy Demands Clarity and Analytical Thinking: Philosophers are always pushing for increased clarity and cutting through confused and muddled thinking. Clarity can be provided in many ways: providing definitions, making distinctions, making explicit underlying assumptions, examining common confusions, and so on. The first few paragraphs of most articles start by laying a clear and useful foundation on which to explore the topics at hand.

Philosophy Strives for the Big Picture: As mentioned above, this website often provides optional perspectives on selected issues, many of them expressing different philosophies. Providing a full range of options from which to choose broadens our perspectives. Getting the big picture and enlarging our perspectives has always been part of traditional philosophy. The article “Celebrating Diversity—Acknowledging the Variety of Ways of Being and Traveling in the Backcountry ” is an excellent example. The article “Why Go Into the Backcountry?—A Cacophony of Voices Merge Into a Grand Symphony ” takes this activity to the outer limit by examining more than thirty different philosophies and motivations. The article Maximizing Energy and Minimizing Fatigue—Energizing Our Energy Systems ” provides over twenty such options in an attempt to provide the big picture about energy and fatigue. These are just a few examples of articles that attempt to widen the scope perspective of the topics at hand.

Philosophizing Provides Greater Depth: In addition to looking at the big picture, this website is philosophical in looking at both new and familiar topics in much greater depth than most hiking and backpacking books, articles, blogs and websites. In the process of going into more depth, I often expose and discuss underlying principles, values and assumptions (an essential “philosophical” activity). This aspect of the website is somewhat like peeling the layers of an onion and getting to the juicy inner parts that lie beneath.  Even though some will find the inner layers indigestible, many will enjoy the variety of tastes and textures offered in these in-depth explorations. One website article that peels to the inner layers is Tents, Tarps or Bivy Sacks—A Difference in Camping Philosophies. Another such article is Selecting Your Preferred Styles and Philosophies of Walking and Hiking.

Philosophy As Providing Answers and Perspective: Finally, this website is philosophical in providing answers, both in the quoted wisdom of others and with my own perspectives and conclusions on controversial subjects. Some of the quoted wisdom is highly practical, but much is philosophical in perspective. Even though I raise many questions for which no answer is attempted, I often take the liberty of offering my own perspectives and conclusions on the central issues. Coming to conclusions in the website usually happens after doing the other types of philosophizing related above. A good example of this activity is the article Wilderness Emergency Communication Devices Analyzed, where I conclude that one or more dependable emergency communication devices should be viewed as one of the essentials of wilderness travel.


It could be said that merely arguing, clarifying, questioning, providing options, offering opinions, etc., does not, by itself, make something philosophical. Anyone can do these things on very practical and non-philosophic topics. While it is true that these behaviors are not the whole story, and that they are not sufficient by themselves, they still provide the essential underpinnings to serious and successful philosophizing. Furthermore, the depth and extent of these activities on this website make it inherently more philosophical. Most important are the chosen topics, which lend themselves to philosophical enterprises.

Why Be Philosophical About Hiking and Backpacking?
What Are the Motivations for Philosophizing About Hiking?

Even though I have answered the “What?” questions in the first section above, there is still the bigger challenge of answering the “Whys?” In this case, “Why be philosophical about hiking and backpacking?”

There are many answers to this question. The simplest is the claim that I enjoy it; I thrive on this kind of activity. You too will likely find enjoyment if you engage in serious philosophizing. The more you develop your critical and analytic and creative thinking skills, the greater the enjoyment. Of course, if you don’t enjoy this kind of activity, you will likely only skim through the more philosophical sections of the website.

One reason to philosophize about hiking and backpacking, one that gets to the heart of this website, revolves around advancing one’s hiking and backpacking gear selection, skills, understandings and appreciations. Throughout the website, I encourage getting beyond the basics to develop a deeper, more refined, more sophisticated understanding of the subjects covered. All of the philosophizing activities delineated in the first section of this article are designed to achieve this goal. If you have limited knowledge, skill and experience, then most of the articles have the great potential for advances. Even for the highly skilled and experienced there is always room to grow. The act of researching and writing this website has had immeasurable influence on my own growth.

To philosophize is to think critically. There are many reasons to think critically about hiking and backpacking, but a primary motivation for me is to challenge ingrained habits and unexamined assumptions held over the years by many in the hiking community. One example is the challenge implied in the article  Seeking Truth About the Ten Essentials. Another is the assumption that one will usually be miserable hiking for days on end in cold and wet weather (see the article Wet and Cold Weather Hiking Considered in Depth). Yet another is the belief that trekking poles are awkward and take extra energy to use (see the article Four Wheel Drive—The Case For Trekking Poles). In addition to challenging the hiking and backpacking community, I want to challenge and expose insupportable claims and beliefs espoused by the recreation industry. In essence, I want experienced hikers and backpackers to think for themselves rather than adopt a herd mentality.

It is easy to rationalize beliefs and values and even be intellectually dishonest at times. Serious philosophizing can help achieve an important measure of intellectual honesty and integrity of belief. It is not so much what is believed, but how one arrives at his or her belief that matters. Are the beliefs based on supportable assumptions and objective information and on logical thinking? Noted philosopher Walter Kaufmann puts it this way: 

"Most see philosophy as a quest for truth. John Dewey said it was a quest for certainty. I think it is more illuminating to say it is the quest for honesty and integrity." 

Another answer to the “Why?” question is that philosophizing is part of human nature. Unless it has been destroyed by a schooling system or by the all-pervasive media or other social forces, all humans have a natural curiosity, a natural desire to question and examine and search for the truth. This natural curiosity is at the heart of serious philosophizing. As Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher, puts it: "Man by nature desires to know." As contemporary American philosopher James Christian says, "Philosophy is the art of wondering. Philosophy is for those who still have the capacity for wonder."

Travel in the backcountry and high country is often done at many levels: physical, social, spiritual, emotional and intellectual. One purpose of this website is to enhance a sense of wholeness and integration while traveling in the wilderness. I want to add deeper layers of awareness to what is often an intensely physical act. If successful, this website will assist in exploring the backcountry and the high country with more grace and style and awareness.  Put another way, my aim is to help readers create a synthesis of body, mind and soul when traveling into the high country.

There are many more motivations for philosophizing about hiking and backpacking, but the ideas reviewed above give a real sense of the possibilities. Achieving success with these motivations and justifications (the “Whys?”) and specific activities (the “What?”) is a tall order, but it is the challenge I have taken on for myself in constructing this website. I hope you will take up the challenge as well.


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