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Backpacking Essay, Research Paper

Have you ever been fed up with the stress and noise of city life? Do you like

spending time outdoors? You are not alone. Every year thousands of people head

to the nearby Appalachian trail to get away and spend some quality time

outdoors. Backpacking is, at least, an interesting way to spend time outdoors.

By keeping all their gear in a backpack, campers can travel distances with ease.

The following will identify and explain the techniques and equipment used for

backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail, or A.T. as it is

known to backpackers, is a foot trail that runs from Springer Mt., Georgia to

Mount Katahdin in Maine. (Curran, 7) Running through the Appalachian Mountains,

the trail allows packers to encounter wooded landscape with a variety of

terrain, temperatures, and weather conditions. "In practice, the Trail is

usually a simple footpath, purposeful in direction and concept, favoring the

heights of land and loaded for minimum reliance on construction for protecting

the resource. The body of the trail is provided by the lands it traverses, and

it’s soul is the living stewardship of the volunteers and workers of the

Appalachian Trail community." (definition of the Appalachian Trail, from

Appalachian Trail Management Principals.)(Curran, 7)Because the trail is over

2,100 miles long, it becomes very difficult for a packer to hike the entire

trail. Each year about 5,000 people attempt to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.

Of these 5,000 it is estimated that less than 300 accomplish their goal.

(Curran, 8) Many other packers enjoy weekend or short trips and hike the trail

in pieces. Either way, backpacking is extremely challenging and enjoyable.

Hiking on the Appalachian Trail requires it’s own kind of equipment, unique to

backpacking. Campers must have a sturdy reliable backpack to carry their

equipment. (Drury 37) Backpacks are generally supported by a combination of

straps around the shoulders and hips. Packs usually come in two styles: external

frame and internal frame. (Gorman,1) An external frame pack is an excellent

choice in a backpack for many reasons. An external pack is easy to load and

organize because of the large panel that opens for easy access. (Gorman, 1)

External packs often have large pockets or compartments so that the backpacker

can quickly find a specific piece of equipment. (Howe 94-95) Another quality of

the external frame packs is that air circulates between the camper’s back and

the packbag, keeping them cool in the hot summer months. (Golman,2) Perhaps best

of all, they don’t drag hikers down when carrying a heavy load. Because external

frame packs have a higher center of gravity, they allow hiking in a more upright

stance. (Gorman, 2) For a pack that typically costs less than half an equivalent

internal, these features are noteworthy. Internal frames are built with lighter

loads in mind. They are supported by stiff aluminum poles inside the packbag.

(Gorman 2) All of the camper’s gear is stored inside the pack as well because

there are no outer poles to strap equipment to. Internal frame packs carry the

weight lower than externals, and closer to the back. The result is a pack that

has much better balance, ideal for off-trail hikers, but not too important for a

well groomed trail like the A.T. (Drury 41) " Select an internal or

external frame pack based upon the outdoor activities you normally do and

consider that external frame packs are generally less expensive." (Drury

43) Another essential piece of equipment for the backpacker is shelter. (Drury,

56) Although some lightweight enthusiasts prefer a simple rain-fly or tarp, bugs

can often be a problem. A tent is usually a good solution. There are many types

of tents to choose from. One reliable type of tent is the seventies style

"A-Frame". (Drury, 57) The A-Frame is a triangle shaped tent that

works well at keeping the weather out. (Wallace 41) The dome tent is becoming

more popular because it has more space with less weight. Dome tents use

fiberglass poles for support so they are strong, reliable and light. Dome tents

keep rain out well but do not always hold up in very high winds. (Wallace 42)

Whichever tent is chosen, some common features are necessary. "Most tents

today are designed with a bathtub floor, breathable walls, and a waterproof

rainfly." (Drury 56) First campers must find a tent with a

"bathtub" bottom. This is sturdy waterproof nylon that covers the

bottom and 6 to 16 inches of the tent wall. (Drury 56) This design eliminates

the need for a ground cloth, thus cutting back on weight. Another important

feature is the breathable walls. Breathable fabric should prevent condensation,

keeping moisture from collecting and getting the camper wet anyway. Finally,

tents should be topped with a rainfly. Rainflies enhance ventilation and make

sure that the tent is waterproof. (Drury 56) One of the most basic and essential

pieces of equipment is clothing. Clothes are selected based on comfort,

protection, and layering. (Wallace 21) Comfortable clothes are defined as those

that will keep the body cool in warm weather but warm in cold weather. Clothes

should be selected for the expected temperatures. Clothing quality is very

important to backpackers. With the limited wardrobe backpackers have, quality

apparel that is rugged and durable is well worth the money. (Wallace 21) The

synthetic fabric of recent years has performed well by providing better

insulation, waterproofing and durability than traditional fabrics. (Wallace

21-22) No matter what clothes that campers wear it is essential for them to wear

layers. The more layers worn, the warmer the body. Fewer layers are worn to stay

cool. (Wallace 23) Layering traps heat that the body produces and keeps it there

in air pockets. Layering also keeps packers dry and comfortable. (Wallace 23) By

removing inner layers perspiration is removed so that the skin stays dry. At the

beginning of the day packers shed layers as it gets warmer. Near evening

however, it begins to get cooler and the layers are soon replaced. Rain gear is

always an essential item. "No matter what the weather forecast says, no

matter the season, no matter the climate: The only thing that will absolutely,

positively guarantee that no rain falls on you during your trip is your rain

gear"(Wallace 23) A sturdy pair of boots are also very important for a

trail like the A.T. (Wallace 25) Boots should be flexible on top but stiff in

the sole to prevent feet from twisting. Food is another of the most important,

troublesome, and desired items that packers must worry about. On the trail every

ounce counts, and most common foods are simply too heavy to haul through the

mountains on our backs. (Drury 78) Also food must be easy to prepare and be able

to last without a refrigerator. Dehydrated and freeze dried foods do a good job

fulfilling these requirements but their taste leaves something to be desired.

Some people make rice or soup or other naturally long lasting, light, easy to

prepare dishes that can be found in the grocery store. Most parts of the A.T.

have banned camp fires so a portable stove is a useful item to have.

"Stoves can be distinguished by the gas that they burn. White gas,

kerosene, unleaded gasoline, alcohol, solid/jellied fuels, butane, propane and

isobutane are the most common types of fuels that you will find" (Drury 62)

The weight of the stove and the fuel should be kept in mind, however. (Wallace

58-59) Even with all the right gear there is still much more to backpacking.

Walking with a 30 to 40 pound pack is like learning how to walk all over again.

A slower pace is required to prevent injury. Backpackers should try to walk with

an easy stride, establishing a smooth rhythm. (Wallace 49) When walking uphill a

shorter stride is better, opening up the stride when traveling downhill. (McManners

136) It is very important to take breaks regularly on the trail. The suggested

increment is a 5-10 minute break every 45 minutes of hiking. (Wallace 50) Breaks

allow the packer to relax, look around and really take a good view of the

scenery. Wallace contributes "Hiking with your eyes on the trail will get

you places, but unless you stop and look around, you won’t see where you’ve

been" (Wallace 50) The Appalachian Trail is indeed great for backpackers

for various reasons. The Appalachian Trail offers possibilities; who knows what

will be around the next turn? It provides an opportunity to test oneself

physically. The trail is a much needed break away from civilized life with

magnificent views padded in along the way. Most importantly though, the trail is

a path into oneself, a place to think, and to figure out one’s place in the

world. (Wallace 9) Understanding the equipment and techniques needed to hike the

Appalachian Trail will result in a rewarding trip for anyone who takes up the

challenge of backpacking.

Curran, Jan. The Appalachian Trail: A Journey of Discovery. Rainbow

Books,1991 Drury, Jack, etal. The Campers Guide to Outdoor Pursuits. Sagamore

Publishing 1997 Hodtetter, Kristin, etal. If it ain’t broke. May 1998. Online.

Backpacker. www.SIRS/Researcher.com/backpacker/_1998 Howe, Steve. "All

Terrain Packing". Backpacker. October 1998:94-95 McManners, Hugh . The

Complete Wilderness Training Book . NewYork: Dorling Kindersly, 1994 Walker,

Celeste. Take A Hike! . April 1997. Online. Worldhealth Organization. www.Sirs/Researcher.com/Hike/1997

Wallace, Joseph. The Backpacker’s Companion. Smithwork. 1992

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