Thursday, October 22, 2015

Ten Reasons to Travel into the Backcountry

Hopefully you've read my recent story on our fall backcountry trip to Egypt Lake in Banff and are now thinking about whether you'd dare to take the kids on a similar, albeit maybe shorter, trip. If so, this story today is for you.

On the flip side, maybe you think traveling into the backcountry is crazy, dangerous, inappropriate with kids, or entirely outside your comfort zone. Well, this story today is for you too then!

2023 edit: The Egypt Lake Shelter has been removed by Parks Canada. All other content in this story is still relevant and up to date.

Ten Reasons to Travel into the Backcountry

One - To cleanse, clear the mind, and re-focus

When your only thoughts are of comfort, warmth, survival, and hopefully the beauty or company surrounding you, your mind tends to forget about the zillion things you should be doing. That meeting you have at work bright and early Monday morning - forgotten. That parent teacher conference you have next week (or perhaps just had) - long forgotten. The fight you had with your mother, spouse, sister, friend... - forgotten. The list of chores waiting for you at home - forgotten. The ten million things you should be doing right now at work, home, school - forgotten. It is all forgotten.

Traveling into the backcountry clears the mind, creates peace, and re-focuses everything to the here and now. And nothing else matters.

I go backpacking to refocus and clear my mind

Two - To escape society

Do you remember that movie, "Into the Wild" based on the true story where Christopher McCandless leaves everything and takes off into backcountry Alaska to live off the grid? Well, that is quite possibly my favourite movie and definitely my favourite movie sound track. And while I don't want to die of starvation squatting in a dirty old bus, I do want to disappear from time to time. Backpacking lets me do that.

Life in the backcountry is simple.

No people
No noise
No music
No technology

That is the life I need and crave from time to time (probably at least once a month truth be told.)

We go into the backcountry to escape

Three - Simplicity

Do you find life complicated? I do!
In the backcountry though it comes down to staying warm, staying fed, staying hydrated, and staying comfortable.  It’s that simple.

Life in the backcountry is simple

Four - You learn to just "BE"

You drive back home at the end of the weekend wondering what happened while you were gone – and surprisingly enough, you don’t really care.  You learn to live in the moment and to just “be.”

Life in the backcountry - Learning to "BE"

Five - You learn to be minimalist

You learn just how few things you can survive on when you have to carry everything you’ll need on your back!  Paddling trips are easier but you can still only carry so much in a kayak or canoe.  

Do you really need to play cards, read books or watch movies for entertainment - or can you just talk and hang out?  Can you create games without bringing any toys?  Can you entertain yourselves with nothing but creativity at your disposal?

Backcountry trips teach you to be minimalist

Six - You learn gratitude

You learn to appreciate the finer things of life that we all take for granted (warmth, heat, indoor plumbing, showers, electricity, a bed…) I know for myself, I don't normally look around me and thank God for my indoor toilet. After a backpacking trip I do!!

Gratitude is born in the backcountry


Seven - You test your character

Hiking for several hours while carrying a heavy backpack shows you just how strong you are, what your body is capable of, and what your kids are capable of for that matter (even if they are carrying nothing.)  You learn just how far you can push yourself and where your breaking point is. And of course none of that is comfortable, but building strength and character is vital if we are to deal with daily stress and challenges that arise.

Backpacking tests character

Eight - You learn who your “real” friends are.  

They are the ones who take over in a moment of crisis and tell you to step back when you are too overwhelmed, scared, or in over your head.

They are the ones who encourage you to go further without ever making you feel like you should be going faster or stronger.

They are the ones who see you struggling and offer to carry stuff for you when you know their pack is already heavy enough (and yours is already lighter than theirs.)

They are the ones who make you laugh when all you can think about is your sore feet, shoulders, hips, etc, And they would never look down on your for complaining or whining when you're tired, it starts snowing, or it just won't stop raining after hours of soggy wetness.

They remind you why you are doing this.  They shout out that this is glorious when your body wants to scream everything but that. They encourage you, they encourage your kids, and they make life better!

Friends are born in the backcountry


Nine -  To bond with family and friends

Tell me if this typical daily schedule sounds familiar:
  • Get up, get ready for school and work, say goodbye to one another while rushing out the door
  • Spend the day apart at work, home, and school
  • After school hours spent in clubs, extra-curricular activities, doing home work, and preparing for dinner
  • Dad (and or mom) comes home in time to eat dinner
  • Evening is spent in more extra-curricular activities, in doing more home work, doing chores, cleaning, and maybe sitting in front of the TV
  • The kids go to bed
  • The TV is looking real attractive!
  • Bed
Now, while that might be exaggerated, there's a lot of truth to it and it's hard to find time to spend together as a family. Friendships are also hard to maintain on a weekly or monthly basis. (I know that I have good friends I haven't seen in a year - and we live in the same city.)

Take a weekend backpacking trip with friends and family and suddenly, you get to spend two or three whole days together in uninterrupted time walking the trails together. You cook together, you sleep together in the same room/tent/cabin, there's no TV to provide diversion so you must actually talk with one another, and you reconnect.

Social Time in the Backcountry


Ten - To reverse Nature Deficit Disorder

The term "Nature deficit disorder" refers to the phrase coined by Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods.  In the book, Louv describes a condition where we, especially children, are spending less time outdoors and failing to have a meaningful relationship with our environment. Louv believes that this results in a wide range of behavioral problems and health issues (including that of our community and environment.)

Well, I don't know about you, but my son has to spend 5 days in school a week and there just isn't a whole lot of time to interact with nature each day before it gets dark. Fortunately, there's nothing like a long weekend spent in the woods to reverse the symptoms and to get us back in touch with nature.

Backcountry experiences reconnect us with nature

I wrote this story on the note pad of my phone while driving home from a recent backcountry trip. This story captures what I was feeling in the first hours upon coming face to face with civilization again after three days spent walking through backcountry Banff. I hope you've enjoyed it.


  1. This is really the perfect list! I think some of those things are super beneficial to kids as well. I know that when I am having a tough time in my life my mind always goes back to really tough hikes with my dad. We just had to push through. There was no going back and even if it was raining and we were bush-wacking looking for the "old logging road" that should have been there and there was bear sign everywhere and we were exhausted, we just had to keep going. Then you get through it and you learn how tough you can really be and how things get better if you just keep moving forward. Just one example of why backpacking is great for kids!

  2. Really enjoyed your thoughts and pictures.