Spring is the season of rebirth, but as any mother can tell you, birthing comes at a painful and messy cost. Although slightly warmer temperatures, longer days and the return of some feathered friends occur early on, the potential of the season unfolds slowly. Yet, the spring remains the harbinger of summer and for most a more active backcountry exploring season.
Spring is a chaotic month with many extreme conditions, as waning winter and waxing summer fight for dominance, a battle that summer has historically never lost (except on the backend, where it has never won). The uncertain weather conditions make it a challenging season to pack for any backcountry adventure, as one day requires shorts and the next a parka and hat. Too bad no outdoor manufacturer has created a line of clothing with modular amounts of insulation for such occasions.
In winter, the choices are usually quite easy, a well-insulated sleeping bag, enough fuel for melting snow, an assortment of heavy clothing and a larger backpack to hold all of the bulky equipment. While during the warmer months, the essentials are simpler, and quite lighter, such as lighter clothing, rain gear, an alcohol stove, etc.
Regardless of the season, but especially during the spring, the notion of fitting all that gear into an empty backpack is daunting. Although this apprehension is present before any backcountry trip regardless of season, the unpredictable weather of early spring makes choosing gear (e.g. clothing, food, stove, sleeping bag, etc.) much more difficult, and thus induces a greater amount of anxiety than usual.
The myriad number of questions presented by an empty backpack causes this sense of trepidation. What clothes should I bring? Which stove? The lighter sleeping bag, or the heavier, warmer one? Down or synthetic? How much food do I need? Is the backpack going to be big enough? It can be so overwhelming that often I feel like throwing in the towel and just staying home and writing about the outdoors instead.
This backcountry packing anxiety has never been formally diagnosed, or described for that matter. Yet, it is very real. I know, because I feel it during the preparation stage before every backcountry trip. In fact, the prospect of an empty backpack, emaciated and waiting to devour a pile of outdoor gear can cause as much anxiety as a blank screen facing a blogger hours before an article is due. Not that that has ever happened to me before though.
If you expect this article to cure this anxiety or provide a step-by-step instructional guide on how to efficiently pack for a backcountry adventure then you may be greatly disappointed. There are no easy answers; if I had any, I would be a very wealthy man, enjoying a cool drink on a beach in some exotic locale. The standard wisdom of packing the heaviest gear closest to one’s back and centered within the backpack, with things needed while hiking in an easily accessible place fails to elevate this anxiety since it does not indicate WHAT to take, only how to pack once the decision has been made.
I recently faced this dilemma once again while packing for my first backpacking trip in about a year. It was only an overnight trip, but it still filled me with a great deal of anxiety, such that I had not felt since the spring before. These early spring trips always require more time and effort because of the uncertain weather conditions, and thus causing more anxiety than usual.
Soon, weather and health permitting, I shall become reacquainted with exploring the Adirondack backcountry as well. There my absence has been even longer, as my last visit occurred mid-summer of 2011. I am certain that the black flies, mosquitoes and their allies will show me how much they missed me upon my return.
Perhaps the Adirondack Almanack readers can come up with a name for this anxiety, or more importantly, some methods to try to alleviate the apprehension of packing for a backpacking trip. Such methods may ease the transition from winter to summer, at least for those few of us planning backcountry adventures during this turbulent season.
Photo: Packed, and non-anxiety inducing backpack on the Sand Lake Trail in the Five Ponds Wilderness by Dan Crane.