By: Ethan Hayman
Whether you choose to explore the world around you by motor vehicle, bicycle, or by foot there is a fine line between wandering dangerously into the unknown with no preparation, being safely prepared for the adventure ahead, and being paralyzed by the insecurity of not having every piece of equipment you can imagine. If your goal is to explore the world and to be able to do so for a long time there are certain items and skills that will be necessities and others that can simply keep you from exploring at all. The most important question to ask is, do you want to sit around and wait for the stars to align, or do you want to plunge head first into the unknown and seize every opportunity for adventure?
The first multi day backpacking trip I ever did definitely fell on the less prepared end of the spectrum. Three of my best friends and I had planned out a five day fifty mile plus trek through the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri. Combined, we had very little experience and almost no proper gear suited to the task at hand. Those of us with some cash to spend invested in various items of the outdoors persuasion, and do we ever look back and laugh at those choices. Some items were solid selections. I purchased a pair of Vasque hiking boots which have now been worn for four years, gone hundreds of miles, summited peaks in Colorado, traversed the Grand Canyon, and waded through the Buffalo National River. I also bought a Fiskars chopping axe which weighed over five pounds and was proudly strapped to the outside of my pack to be carried fifty miles and was necessary approximately zero times. One friend opted to spend no money and wore old sneakers, military fatigues (in navy digital camouflage), and borrowed an ancient external frame backpack.
To keep a long story short, we got absolutely destroyed within two days of being on the trail. Five inches of rain fell the morning we were supposed to set off, turning our path into a tiny flowing river and making every step treacherous. The forecast also changed drastically from when we packed up and when we arrived leaving us expecting mild weather. Instead we woke up to snow falling the second morning. It was at this point that our spirits were broken and we decided to detour to a nearby state park and call for a very expensive shuttle ride back to our vehicle. Many experienced backpackers have told us we were foolish for going out with the equipment and lack of experience we had. We certainly felt foolish and were lucky that no serious injuries occured, communications were maintained, and there were options to bail out. To add to the point here, two of us attempted a return trip at the opposite time of the year with a different group and experienced one hundred degree temperatures and drought causing the expedition to throw in the towel at the exact same location as on the first attempt. All that being said, I am so thankful that I experienced both of those trips and would absolutely not trade the memories for anything. We learned a great deal about ourselves, our equipment, and our passion the hard way. And sometimes that’s the best way.
Since these experiences, many more lessons have been learned and many thousands of miles have been successfully traversed by foot, car, and bicycle. As I gain more experience and begin to slowly accumulate better, more useful equipment I find that sometimes I am held back by this desire to have all the right gear before setting off on the next adventure. Some of the hesitation is warranted, lack of potable water on our second trip to the MTNF could have been a fatal mistake, but I will probably be ok on every trip without a solar panel, 50” LED light bar or even steel bumpers on my expedition rig. While all of these can make certain situations easier, safer or simply more convenient the lack of them should never keep you from exploring the world around you.
As long as you have the basics covered, water/food, communications, first aid, navigation, and shelter I say go out and find something amazing in the world around you. Waiting until you have every tool and gadget will keep you from ever seeing the world and being totally unprepared could end your grand adventure we call life, but with minimal expense, basic gear and careful planning you should be all set to get out there and safely venture into the unknown.
Today’s post was written by Ethan Hayman. Ethan is a hiker, wood-worker, and general outdoorsman. Ethan’s adventures take him all over the South Central United States including Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, and Arizona. Follow him on Facebook to keep up with his shenanagins