The “Evolution” of Backpacking

I remember when I first started backpacking as a kid in the early-to-mid 70’s (I know, I know… that dates me, and I really don’t like thinking about it!).  My family had been backpacking for years, so as soon as I got old enough to carry a pack I got a hand-me-down Kelty external frame from my older brother.  Some family friends decided to get into it a few years later; they bought simple packs, sleeping bags, foam pads that rolled up, and a tarp or tent.  Scrounged a few more items up around the house, and they were ready to go!  Pretty easy to get up and running, right?

The gear back then was pretty simple.  The packs were just one big bag (one compartment) with a few zippered pockets on the sides.  That was it.  Over the years, manufacturers have made use of advances in materials, using more durable plastics instead of metal, lighter and tougher fabrics, etc.  At the same time, manufacturers have created lots of bells and whistles for the packs.  Daisy chains, removable fanny packs, water bottle holders, more zippered pockets, and all manner of straps to tailor the fit to any hominid body type in the known universe.

All of these “advances” have resulted in a few things.  Many packs today really aren’t much lighter (while some are even heavier!) than when I was a kid, despite all the technological advances.  And they’ve become freakin’ expensive!  And this has happened with other gear besides packs: tents, sleeping bags, you name it.

Additionally, now there are tons of companies out there creating all sorts of gadgets and gear for going out into the woods.  Don’t get me wrong; many of these are pretty cool.  The problem is, if you completely outfitted yourself for backpacking from scratch, you’d have to take a 2nd mortgage out on your house!  It’s become a barrier to entry for some folks who think they need all this gear to get out and enjoy a weekend on the trail.  The fact is, they don’t.

It’s time to Get Back to Basics! We need simple gear that will meet the needs we actually have when out on the trail.  I mean, really!  Some of this gear was built to go out into the wilderness for weeks or months at a time.  With the economy of today, those who are lucky enough to have jobs must work their tails off to keep ‘em.  So why would they need a pack like that if they can barely get away for an occasional weekend?

When buying gear (whether you are just getting started in the sport, replacing some worn-out gear, or just adding to your kit), here are a few “rules of thumb” to follow:

  • Buy gear that matches what you will actually use it for (length of trip, type of terrain, etc.)
  • Search for the simplest, lightest and most inexpensive gear that meet those particular needs
  • Don’t go out and buy every piece of gear you think you’ll need; on your next hike try similar items that are lying around the house first… then you can decide whether they will suffice, or if you want to upgrade (or if you got that raise!)
  • Look for great deals at Mountains Plus (we frequently put backpacks on clearance in our Outlet), or let us know if we don’t have what you are looking for

Backpacking is a great way to “decompress” from the harsh realities of our lives (jobs, mortgages, etc.).  Don’t let hype complicate this simple yet addicting activity.

One thought on “The “Evolution” of Backpacking

  1. I remember my first backpack. It was a Coleman Peak One external frame pack. I loved that pack and it’s innovative plastic frame. I used it throughout my scouting years and it never let me down. In fact, it got run over by a truck one day and was no worse for wear. Any aluminum framed pack of that generation would have been totaled.

    I eventually switched to internal frame packs, as sizes and styles evolved, but I still miss that big ol’ external frame pack and it’s memories.

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