Have you taken a true multi-night backpacking trip into the wild outdoors? The kind of trip where it’s just you (maybe some friends), your pack, some trekking poles, a trusty pair of hiking boots, and a grand sense of adventure?

If you have, you’ve probably experienced the captivating magic of trail life. The range of emotions you feel during and after a big adventure spans from the tough lows up to magnificent highs, but the memory you take with you in the end is truly magical.

In this 4-part series, I’m not going into the nuts and bolts of backpacking or the how-to’s or what to bring, but instead taking you through the mental aspect of trail life and what your senses experience:

Part 1: Trail Life & Magic of Backpacking // Tickle Your Senses
Part 2: Trail Life & Magic of Backpacking // Reset to Simple
Part 3: Trail Life & Magic of Backpacking // The Ties That Bind
Part 4: Trail Life & Magic of Backpacking // Memories That Stick

For those of you who love Gear Lists (like me) and want more detail in what we take on our multi-night backpacking trips:

Check out what we take → Our Current Backpacking Gear List

Backpacking mug smiles with marshmallows

Mrs. Saturday & I crave more time and miles on the trail. It’s a reset of our spirits back to a simple and pleasant routine. While on our way to early retirement, more time on the trail vs. expensive luxury travel can be an effective way for us to take frugal trips. Then once we reach financial independence, the freedom from being anchored to one location will give us the ability to fully immerse ourselves in the culture and richness of local and diverse environments.

Doesn’t THAT sound exciting?

Early retirement and financial independence will give us so many options to live in faraway lands. At the same time, backpacking can provide added flexibility where normally you might book a hotel or AirBnB. But, if home happens to be with you, then you can literally be anywhere you want!

Now, into the magic of backpacking and trail life.

Bonding, Friendship & Camaraderie

Backpacking trips have a way of bonding people and adding a special layer to friendships that others can’t quite understand unless they were there to experience it.

I think it has to do with a special mix of ingredients you can’t get in any other environment. Humans come from nature and introducing us back into our natural state does wonders for the soul. We were especially built for walking, socializing, and teamwork so when you put these together:

Nature + A Common Goal + Hardship + Fun + Magic + Embarrassing Experiences = Guaranteed Bonding

You are all equal in this environment. Each step you take is the metric you measure toward your common goal as a team. Just like with a marriage, it’s never a 50/50 relationship. It’s probably more like 70/30 or 40/60 or maybe even 20/80! There are ups and downs and when you can pick someone else up from their low or if they do the same for you, it’s becomes the glue that bonds friendships together.

The longer you hike with others, the more you’ll discover people’s idiosyncrasies, unique abilities, weaknesses, and also their limits physically and mentally. Everyone is different in their own way and each person brings unique qualities to the table.

Shared Highs

Standing on Devils Bridge in Sedona, Arizona

Facing our fears on top of Devil’s Bridge in Sedona, AZ.

Traveling alone can be a journey of self discovery & personal insight, but humans naturally love to share experiences. There’s something magical about looking out over the edge of a cliff at a gorgeous sunset in mutual awe. Stories that are told and retold for years to come are made from experiences like trekking along a trail and just as you round the next corner, a group of elk peer up at you, or maybe you scare a bear that takes off with a start, crashing through the brush, likewise scaring all of you!

Through the ages, simply sitting around a crackling campfire has been the kindling that can bond a group together. Nothing could give more immediate gratification of working together after a hard day’s hike in the cold than the results of a campfire.

Stoking a sparking campfire at night in the forest

Some of these high moments can happen by pure chance, like the time we spent hiking 20 miles on the Appalachian Trail and towards the end we got slightly lost and stumbled across a hiker inn that sold ice cold Bud Limaritas, had fire pits, and clean showers! An oasis of good memories.

Other memorable highs can be cleverly engineered by being thoughtful ahead of time. Imagine hiking for days, far away from civilization, to discover someone brought your favorite beer or sangria and gifted it to you the moment you needed it most. The same can be said for any variety of luxuries like chocolate, candy, or fresh fruit.

Shared Lows

Having to road awlk while lost in Tennessee

While some of these types of experiences make great stories after the fact, when you’re in the moment it’s probably why the phrase “misery loves company” is so well-known. Enduring hard times with others can bring you much closer together. Maybe you’ve hiked until you’re all delirious, low on energy and lost, only to road walk endlessly to find something to get you out of your dismal situation.

It doesn’t get much more miserable than being dirty, exhausted, wet, and freezing cold while you’re setting up your tent in the rain with no end in sight. Sometimes just the thought of knowing you’re not alone makes hardship just a bit more bearable.

Embarrassing Moments & Inside jokes

Many times in life, the people closest to you get to know things you normally wouldn’t reveal to anyone. Trail life likes to present many of these fun opportunities to let your friends in on things you normally would rather not be known. Embarrassing and uncomfortable things. This privileged information adds another layer to your friendship and whether you classify it as innocently hilarious or maybe blackmail, those faux-pas can tie you closer to someone. One of these great “opportunities” happened to me.

Mr. Saturday squatting by a tree in Yosemite National Park

On a trip to Yosemite with a couple of friends, I got the privilege of being be part of a now infamous inside joke in our group. We had settled into our campsite and after some time, nature calls and you need to “do your business.” Apparently in this area, we heard that small, soft pine cones make amazing toilet paper. One person in our group raved about it, so I thought I’d give it a try just to say I had. I take our shovel with me, a bit of toilet paper, find a nice spot, and get down to business. I have my pants down to my ankles in an awkward position, and as luck would have it, a kid comes trotting down the path near me and all I could get out was a grin and a cheery “excuse me!” Later that day, after sharing this with the group, we laughed until we cried and then laughed some more.

A Helping Hand

People tend to remember kindness shown to them at a moment in need and the same holds true on the trail. This is one reason strangers you might come across on the trail that help you out for no reason other than to show kindness are called trail angels. In groups that we’ve hiked with in the past we’ve been shown kindness and have always returned the favor when we can.

Person laying on his back & out of energy or fuel

When we were just getting started, small things like someone bringing a strong enough clothesline for everyone to use was a nice gesture. Other times when hiking in the desert with some friends, we loaned an extra bandana for some sun cover and brought enough extra water in case they ran out (which they did early on). On another trip when we had two water filters fail at the same time, having a good one to borrow in the group was greatly appreciated and saved us a lot of frustration.

Deal Breakers

On the other hand, you find out real quick the types of people you can’t work with. Backpacking is raw and wild and friendships can either flourish or disintegrate quickly. We’ve had friends in other parts of our life who were so negative (even during the best of times) that once we couldn’t take any more, had to be released back into the wild.

Life is too short for bad company when there are so many rich friendships out there, yet to be discovered.

Trail life is not easy and requires cooperation and at least a positive outlook. After several miles on the trail your nerves will be tested to the max and how you react to each stress reveals a lot about your personality.

Your attitude is your currency.

Build Unique & Strong Friendships

Backpacking with friends can a strong bonding experience for many reasons. With every situation you face together and overcome, it becomes a story to be told and a “remember that time when…” Precious memories like that can’t be bought. You have to earn them with your time, effort, and attitude but in the end it’s so worth it.

Next up in this series is Part 4: Trail Life & Magic of Backpacking // Memories That Stick

How about you? Have you taken a backpacking trip with friends?