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.

Your Backpack is Now Home

A subtle change in thinking comes into play when transitioning to a backpack. It’s slightly unnerving at first and also exciting at the same time. Here’s what we felt when taking some of our first real backpacking trips.

After the anticipation & excitement of reaching the parking lot for the trailhead, you step out of the car, look around and take a deep breath. It’s about to get real. You get your gear out of the back and once you’re organized, you throw your backpack over your shoulder, click the waist belt into position and finally, adjust your straps. One last check to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything and everyone gives a thumbs up. You grab your trekking poles, take a photo at the trail marker and once you start down that path, the realization hits you – your new home is your backpack.

Everything that you need, want, and will make this adventure memorable and (hopefully) enjoyable is tucked away on your back.

Backpacking backpack - ULA Circuit loaded with a bear canister

You feel exposed and you’re now self-reliant whether you like it or not. You’re also relying on the skills you possess that will allow you to improvise what you either forgot or didn’t prepare for. Fleeting thoughts and worries flash through your thoughts:

  • Did I bring enough food?
  • Will I stay warm with the clothes I brought?
  • What if I run out of fuel to cook food and make coffee?
  • What if my sleeping pad gets a hole?
  • What if a bear attacks us???

As the routine of the trail sets in, you’re gathering and filtering water from natural sources, cooking up meals you packed in beforehand (using filtered water). You’re setting up your tent, sleeping bag, and constantly have to revolve clothing to keep a comfortable body temperature. You’re life is reduced to the bare simplicities.

Your main concerns: stay warm, cool, dry, hike, drink, eat, bathroom, & sleep.

After many hours and miles under your belt, occasionally you stop for a rest, take off your backpack and immediately feel lighter on your feet without the heavy load. As you enjoy the break, though, a strange little nagging feeling develops that makes you feel slightly naked without your backpack. Your back is cool and you feel a need to have it on again like something is missing.

Your backpack has become a part of you and is your refuge of safety and comfort.


The Range of Emotions You Feel

To describe the array of emotions you feel on a long backpacking trip, choose any emotion you can possibly feel and (FILL IN THE BLANK).

Life on the trail is now very simple, but far from easy. It’s like flipping a switch that controls only two inverse situations that are tied together. Your options are one or the other:

At home, life is complex:

You have chores, work, social media, friends, obligations, meetings, bills, and an endless amount of other things competing for your time and attention. But life is easy. Thirsty? Water comes right out of tap. Hungry? Open the fridge or go to a restaurant. It’s raining? Read a book while looking out the window with a glass of wine.

On the trail, life is simple:

You walk, drink, eat, do your business, and take in the views. You don’t have to be anywhere except where you are. But now life is hard. Thirsty? You have to filter and carry water. Hungry? Unpack your backpack, set up your cookset, rehydrate your meal, and hope you brought enough. It’s raining? Unpack your tent in the pouring rain, set it up, and bring everything in while “trying” to stay dry.

In these conditions, your mood and emotions can swing from super highs to extreme lows, but even through this crazy range:

An average day on the trail is better than the best day at work.

You would think that resetting back to a simple life would lead to only a baseline array of emotions that wouldn’t fluctuate wildly, but I disagree! When life is reduced to its bare simplicity, it’s then where you can truly come alive and tap into life’s wonder.

Without all the complexity fogging your vision, things sharpen into focus and you start to notice life’s little intricacies and pleasures that in the past would have escaped your attention.

Black Eyed Susan yellow flowers with a butterfly landing

The spectrum of your emotions is broad and extensive. The most common we experience with trail life and backpacking trips are many and frequent:

TRAIL LIFE – An Emotional Rainbow

  • Excitement ← beginning of trip
  • Refreshed ← Good night’s sleep or dip in a stream or waterfall
  • Enlightened ← I never knew views or places like this existed in real life
  • Connected ← The world is more beautiful than I thought
  • Disconnected ← Home, friends, & civilization are so far away
  • Wild ← I’m just another creature in this environment
  • Happy ← Routine of simple trail life
  • Thirsty ← During every uphill
  • Hungry ← Constantly and often
  • Comfortable / Cold / Hot / Dirty / Uncomfortable ← Constant sliding scale
  • Bored ← Repetitive straightaways or stuck in tent due to rain
  • Scared ← What was that noise outside the tent?
  • Accomplished ← I really just did that!
  • Sad ← end of trip

Each of these simple emotions holds a collection of stories & experiences. Every memory is but a tiny chip in a grand mosaic of your life. The more intense and real the emotion and memory is, the brighter the color of the tile.

If you could step back and see the whole masterpiece, how colorful and unique would your life be? Every day you add a tiny piece. Would you be happy with what you see?


What Does & Doesn’t Matter Anymore

Far away from home, work, and normal life, status goes right out the window. You could be hiking next to a billionaire, a movie star, or a professional athlete, but you all suffer the same aches, pains, and desires as the other.

Trail life is the great equalizer of people.

Backpackers hiking a rocky trail in Yosemite National Park

Backpacking in Yosemite National Park

What DOESN’T matter on the trail:

  • What kind of car you have
  • How much you make per year or your net worth
  • Your professional connections
  • Your incredibly fashionable clothes
  • Basically all materialistic things that don’t have a function or real-world value
  • Your conventional knowledge of hygiene 🙂

What DOES matter on the trail:

  • Your attitude & optimism
  • Your proven outdoor skills
  • Good health & endurance
  • Perseverance
  • The ability to work with others even at your lowest
  • Your foresight & pre-planning
  • Your updated knowledge of hygiene 😉


Do You Need a Reset to Simple?

Sometimes life can get overwhelming and it can feel as if we can’t focus on any single thing because we’re juggling SO MANY things at the same time. Spring cleaning and smart lifestyle design might be in order and can help immensely, but there’s also a soul element that needs nourishing too.

A Serene Forest Trail in Fundy National Park, New Brunswick, CAN

Serene forest trail in Fundy National Park, New Brunswick, Canada

Many people have found that a simple reset back to what actually matters is what they need to get back on the path to happiness & contentment. You can throw on a backpack, head out solo or with friends, and let nature do its thing. Think of it as full-body medicine to recharge your soul.

Next up in this series is Part 3: Trail Life & Magic of Backpacking // The Ties That Bind

How about you? Have you escaped to nature for a reset?