“I was in Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, a 75-minute train ride northwest of Tokyo, with half a dozen other hikers out for a dose of shinrin-yoku,or forest bathing. The Japanese go crazy for this practice, which is standard preventive medicine here. It essentially involves hanging out in the woods.” Florence Williams, in an article in Outdoor Magazine
I’ve been trying to exercise more lately, but I’ve had a hard time finding something that I like to do that doesn’t feel like a chore. I’ve tried running, but have never been able to get into it (probably due to poor lung capacity, laziness, or both). I’ve always liked hiking though, and while searching for new hiking trails I came across a backpacking class offered through the Explorer’s Club of Pittsburgh. Backpacking! Finally, something that appealed to me. I checked my schedule and signed up for the class without a moment’s hesitation.
I’m really glad I did. One thing I love about backpacking is that it can be done by a broad range of people, regardless of athletic ability, age or skill level. The trick is to pack carefully and go at a pace that’s comfortable for you. There are plenty of great day and overnight hikes within a 100 miles of Pittsburgh and there’s sure to be a trail for just about everybody out there ( I recently even discovered this really cool Braille Trail in North Park).
Not being a great athlete, I was quickly won over by one of the more surprising aspects of backpacker culture—it’s nerdiness. Even if you are not a very skilled hiker, you can become an A+ packer. The idea is to include everything that is essential, but to keep your pack as light as possible. There is even a class of extreme backpacking called Ultralight, and these hikers will go as far as cutting the handle off their toothbrush to lessen their load. I’ve already learned a lot from the folks in the Explorer’s Club, although I don’t anticipate becoming an Ultralight extremist. Still, there are other sub-genres of backpacking to get into if you want to get nerdy in the woods. You can become an excellent map reader by joining an Orienteering Club, or a gourmet backpack cook by pouring over tons of blogs and books, or become a master of survivalist skills by taking a wilderness survival course.
Whatever your interest or skill level, there are tons of resources available to get you started. Here are just a few:
This was the textbook for my backpacking class with the Explorer’s Club, and I found it indispensable. This book covers all the basics.
I’ve been told that this is the old stanby for backpackers. It covers all the basics, with some additional philosophical musings.
These are mostly days hikes, but if you’re just getting started hiking around Pittsburgh, I can think of no better book to begin with.
A vital website for any Pennsylvania hiker or backpacker.
These guys are great, and can help get you started with everything from hiking and camping, to kayaking and snow-shoeing.
A great place for gear and maps, and also a few classes.
A volunteer group that currently offers once-a-year classes in backpacking, rock climbing, and mountaineering. The also have gear available for rental for first timers.
This National Geographic special highlights this great trail, which runs all the way from Georgia to Maine.
This documentary follows five friends who leave their daily lives behind to hike California’s historic John Muir Trail, a 211 mile stretch from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney.
This documentary follows a dozen thru-hikers who try to complete the Pacific Coast trail–a trail that is over 2,663 miles long.
Be safe and happy exploring,