Kalmiopsis Wilderness

Getting in Shape by going Wilderness Backpacking

The American Backpacker

Wilderness backpacking can provide you health benefits that a gym membership cannot.  Backpacking can be physically and mentally challenging.  These challenges allow you to be an adventurer and you get to see scenic wonders that a gym does not offer.

I believe that an individual’s overall health relies on them being physically fit and having mental stability.  Having one without the other can cause imbalances in your life.   Someone can be physical fit but if they are mentally depressed that imbalance can lead to many serious issues.  So how does backpacking support overall health?  I will discuss how this is accomplished.

Physical Health

I stay physically fit to take on the challenges in a wilderness area.  Staying fit can be difficult for many people who have families and careers.   Our modern day technological advancements have made life easier for everyone but it has also made us lazy and sedentary.  Many people find themselves avoiding fitness because of their daily routines.

In the past, pioneers did not have gym memberships to stay in shape.  Pioneers settled in rugged wilderness areas and they worked the land to stay fit.  Backpackers are like pioneers they carry their own gear traversing the rugged wilderness landscape.  Backpacking makes you use many muscle groups to include your core muscles. 

The core muscles are the muscles located around your midsection (abdominal, pelvic, and lower back).   Core muscles are your stabilizer muscles which help you walk, run, bend over, and keep your balance.  Some individuals who go to a gym neglect these core muscles and focus more on their arms and legs.  Backpacking with a weighted backpack is a continuous exercise.  It requires that your core muscles maintain your body posture while balancing the added weight.  Backpacking is also a very efficient way to burn off many calories which means weight loss.

Another important muscle in your body is your heart, (cardiovascular system). The cardiovascular benefits of walking with a weighted backpack can be far more beneficial than running on a treadmill.  Putting on a backpack and walking up and down inclines and through rugged terrain is a great way to build up your cardiovascular system.

When you workout at a gym usually you workout by yourself.  Backpacking on the other hand allows you to workout with other backpackers unless you choose to go solo. Backpackers who have families can take them on adventures and experience a bond that they will not find back home.

The physical benefits of backpacking are:

  • Weight loss (Calories burned off during your adventure)
  • Cardiovascular fitness (Walking with a backpack in rugged terrain)
  • Improved strength (Using all muscles especially your core muscles during your adventure).

The one main benefit of backpacking is that your workout is done in a scenic atmosphere and not in a crowded gym.  Having this scenic backdrop makes you thing less of the physical workout and more of your surroundings.  This can also be a psychological boost which can enhance your workout.  Working hard to get to the top of a mountain so you can see for miles is an accomplishment that makes the physical workout worth it.

Mental Health

A person’s mental health goes hand in hand with physical fitness.  We all have our daily stresses that affect us differently.  These stresses can be very emotional.  We may become depressed, excited, or show signs of anxiety. Changing your environment and putting yourself in a wilderness area will help you overcome many of these mental challenges.  Planning a backpacking adventure is the start.

Your adventure gives you something to look forward to.  Much goes into pre-planning your adventure and it will keep you busy.  Once you are in the wilderness you have taken yourself out of your routine and the environment becomes your focus.  The scenery and challenges of navigating through the terrain makes you focus on your safety and enjoyment.

Backpacking is a way to mentally cleanse your mind.  It’s like changing the oil in your vehicle.  Once the oil has broken down you change it so the engine continues to run efficiently and at peak performance.  Changing your environment helps refresh your mind with new sights and experiences.  This in turn allows you to forget about life’s daily stresses and it lets you enjoy the wilderness experience .

Wind River Range
Wind River Range

Conclusion

Wilderness backpacking can be physically demanding.  Getting physically fit is a benefit for backpackers but if you have never been backpacking or if you are out of shape I recommend starting out slowly.  Start with a day hike and work your way up to overnight trips. Go with others initially before you decide to go it alone.

A good way to begin is to put on a backpack and load it down with weight.  Put it on and go for a 2 to 5 mile walk around your neighborhood.  This is a great way to build your endurance and check your gear for fit.

Your mental state will also benefit from backpacking.  What you visual see, hear, and feel will reset the way you think.  I have been wilderness backpacking for many years, and I always come back from an adventure refreshed mentally.  I then look forward in planning my next adventure.

Remember to do your pre-planning before any trip.  Many individuals have gotten lost even on a day trip to a local park.  Have a topo map, GPS, compass and your cell phone with you.  Make sure that you have a backpack, (Go Bag), that has the essential gear to hold you over if you have to stay overnight.  I have posted articles on my website discussing what to do if you get lost and what gear you will need in your Go-Bag.

Remember that the challenge makes the adventure.  The adventure in turn keeps you physically and mentally fit.  So start planning your next adventure.  Your mind and body will thank you.

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