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first-time backpacker looking for recommendations

I’ve never gone backpacking and want to do the Trans-Catalina trail as a first trip (solo). I want the proper gear to be able to continue and hope to eventually do the John Muir Trail, but the problem is … what if I hate backpacking? I actually hate camping but the appeal for me is being in unspoiled wilderness, testing my endurance (I used to run marathons), and the idea of being resourceful in the wild. It is such a large expense for all the gear, only some of which is good to have for other situations, so sometimes I’m unsure about making this leap. Any recommendations on how to navigate this? 

 

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Starting any sport is expensive.  But remember that if you can car camp at times and not go to a motel, you can pay for your equipment in a few trips.

There are lots of Youtube videos about cheap gear that works just fine.  It may be heavy to begin with but it is worth getting out there and doing it.  Do not be intimidated by people taking out only a 15 lb. pack for a week, you will likely have a 35 or even 40 lb pack.  No problem, thousands of people started with that for decades (me included at the time a 120lb. 5' 9" female going solo for a week at a time).  If you like it you will learn what you want to change or invest in.  Just start. 

You will not be completely alone on any trail but that is ok for your first time.  Unspoiled wilderness may be a stretch but peace and solitude can be found.

Listen to the silence, take a paper map and compass and leave the electronics either at home (I know....horrible) or packed away to really get the feel of wilderness.  

Once you do your research, just get out and don't worry about gear....it is only a tool to accomplish your goals.   On a basic level, take what you need and no more.  After all it is just walking, but do not start with 15 mile days, less than 10 is a good start with unfamiliar pack and trail.  And most important study hypothermia prevention. Remember to stop to really see the world.  Running will let you glance at a lot but conscious, deliberate walking will reveal a whole new world.

 

I completely understand the desire to be in the wilderness - it's why I hike.

But camping will be an integral part of it. Can I ask what you dislike about camping? And when was the last time you went?

Depending on your previous experiences, we may be able to offer some alternatives that could make it (at the very least) less uncomfortable.

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“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

This is a good question. I haven’t had the most positive experiences camping, but for good reason. My first time camping was in junior high in a tiny tent I shared with a friend, and I had no guidance on how to manage any of it and the tent was full of dew, with no room to move around. The other times I went camping was with my ex, who I relied on totally and who was a very bad planner. My allergies kicked up from the dust on the blanket that hadn’t been washed in a long time. I also ended up staying awake, needing to go to the bathroom, unsure of what to do. Feeling more confident about what to do in the wilderness when needing to relieve myself would make the biggest difference for me. Basically, there was no planning involved for these trips. At all. There was one really lovely campsite we went to and I had this feeling like it *could* be a nice thing to do… if well-planned. But I haven’t even made that leap. I was not introduced to it in the best ways and totally left it up to those I was around. If I’d do it on my own, I do feel like I could appreciate it so much more. It just makes sense to camp as part of a longer trail, and there are too many of the longer ones I’m interested in.

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No doubts - you don't choose this activity, it chooses you.

To have your Wilderness experience, perhaps you can just run for 20 miles at a time through long Wilderness areas. You could use Uber or meet other people who do this activity.

There are a subgroup of wilderness users who attempt to not leave a Trace by never defecating or cooking in the wilderness. That means you don't sleep in the wilderness. You might spend 24 hours, but you're moving under flashlight at night.

You can find your way. If you want to be a backpacker though, you should have no doubts. There's a lot of risk and challenge involved, and most of the funny stories involve things that go very wrong.

According to your post, backpacking really doesn't appeal to you.  I recommend choosing pastimes that you will enjoy.  Perhaps backpacking will eventually be inviting....

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
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You dont need a bunch of expensive gear to test if you like this at all.  I'd recommend hiking with a friend in a overnight or weekend trip. Try to rent or buy used gear to keep prices down at first.   See if you like it...if you do ...buy the right gear, if you dont ...no big loss.  First hike in the summer so you dont have the extra expense of winter gear and weight.  You can test your endurance in a gym, your taking a trip down the hiking lane for a reason...Nature 🙂   If you are really looking for being resourceful in the wild, you may want to look into a survival camping class.  

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

@aaco11 - I have not been on that trail, but needing reservations and very open terrain (few trees) may I make a suggestion?  Do one overnight in a forested area to start.  Pick a Wilderness Area near you and check out a map for a 10 (or less) mile hike to a campsite.  Try out your gear then walk out the next day.  That is a good way to start. 

I'm not a runner but you may need to reset your priorities from challenging yourself to just being present in every moment you are experiencing.  Changing from goal setting to just wandering and exploring your surroundings and yourself can be life-changing.

This is a great suggestion to test things out and I think I will do exactly this— thanks !!

Your replies have been so helpful! It is an interest that has grown very strong recently and has slowly grown over a long period before that, and you have all helped me look more clearly at my doubts and think of ways to test things out first and take it step by step. It’s not true that it doesn’t interest me or I wouldn’t be here talking about it. I’ve already spent a lot of time thinking and researching and needed to find my way through my doubts. Thanks!!