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Intro to Slackpacking
You've seen unwashed, malnourished through-hikers on the Appalachian Trail. You've heard about the grizzly bear wandering through the backcountry camp. You've encountered backpackers with tons of gear, pots, pans, and a folding stove -- eating some gritty greyish paste and raving about it.
And you want no part of it.
But you love hiking. In fact, nothing suits you more than a day in the wilderness, except perhaps, a day in the wilderness followed by vitello saltimboco in a four-star restaurant. You'd enjoy weeklong expeditions, if only you could jump in a car at the end of the day and head off to a comfortable bed.
Congratulations, you are a confirmed Slackpacker.
"Slackpacking" was originally coined to describe a day's worth of thru-hiking unencumbered by a pack, after which the hiker would hop in a car and drive home -- then drive back some time in the future pick up wherever one left off. The idea was to string together enough of these daytrips to eventually "complete" a much longer trail, without the burden of backpacking. A number of people, for example, "slackpack" the 2,000 mile Appalachian Trail, adding sections like puzzle pieces to their personal trailmap.
Today the definition has expanded, and "slackpacker" has come to represent anyone that fits in between the casual day hiker and the backpacker. On occasion, the slackpacker will indulge in those practices as well, but doesn't make a habit of lengthy backpack trips. As for the typical National Park Service nature loop, the slackpacker prefers to opt for a longer, more difficult trail to avoid the masses.
The Slackpacker's Approach...
The slackpacker generally sticks to the trail, but has no problem bushwacking when the need arises...unless the area is recovering, or particularly sensitive. The slackpacker never shortcuts the switchback, but will wander off the end of one on the chance that they might see something interesting. If the trail happens to follow a paved road for a time, the slackpacker will not hesitate to accept a ride.
Do's and Don'ts
When did our society become so self-centered and self-absorbed that we lost all regard for common courtesy, decency and propriety?
I'll get off my soapbox now, let's move on...
The Hiker's Lexicon
Unsure what a certain term means? Able to walk the walk but have no idea how to talk the talk? This page will clue you in.
The Well-Prepared Hiker
Here are a few links for more comprehensive pack lists, as well as advance preparation. Content is on a website by LeisurelyBackpacker.com, and they do an excellent job of spelling it all out for you. These are NOT commercial links:
Appalachian Trail Thruhike: Pre-Hike Introduction and Plans Planning a thru-hike? This site includes an in-depth Gear List, guide to Tarp Structures, a Food List, and more. Uh, before you go, you may want to read the "post-hike" debriefing, and think about it before plunging ahead. Just a suggestion. Anyway, this is a terrific site for slacker and thru-hiker alike, by Loren Jay Chassels, AKA "Arctic Sven."
We used to have links here to a couple of on-line hiking outfitters, and we got a commission that made a dent in our expenses for running this site. But I personally would never buy that overpriced stuff, so I had the links taken off. Sort of embarrassing that they were here as long as they were. I buy my stuff either through ebay, at Wal-Mart when I'm not too particular, or at a place in New Jersey called Campmor. Campmor has the best combination of quality/price in my opinion. You can find plenty of cheaper stuff out there, but it is usually doomed to fall apart. This link will take you to their online store, and they'll gladly send you a free catalog. I prefer the black and white catalog to the fancy online store. You might also look at our own GearGuide page. From time to time we put links in there to specific known, trusted & tested sources.
Tired of Hiking Alone?
Are you single, or expect to be soon? Website called Hikers Passions is something you ought to check out...for singles passionate about hiking, and as we all know, hiking alone gets old pretty quickly.
Some hikers don't have the advantage of being able to use legs and feet to enjoy the trails. Now, it isn't practical to provide access to every trail, but that shouldn't be a problem. There are plenty of trails accessible to everyone, regardless of ability or capability. We cover many of them in this site, and provide links to many sites with further information.
Contents of the Slacker's Pack
We vowed not to put "the ultimate slackpacker's checklist" or anything like that on this page, but we can't help ourselves. Here's our quasi-serious checklist.
A compass? Well, okay...but chances are you aren't really a slackpacker if you think you need a compass. Most slackers stick to the trail, or venture off only where the trail is still in sight.
Now of course if you're headed for the desert or somewhere that you absolutely need a compass, the list below won't cover all your contingencies; use one of the links provided for a more comprehensive checklist. Otherwise, this list will suffice for the typical slackpacker who plans to be out for a few hours on a clearly marked trail in generally good weather.2 - 3 hour hike
4 - 6 hour hike
Notice anything missing? Trail map? Mirror to signal search parties? (You probably watch too many movies). Common sense must prevail: If you don't know the trail, and you aren't sure how well it is marked, bring a trail map. If your route leads you to believe you might become marooned in the Andes, then by all means bring a mirror. Most slackpackers, however, do the intelligent thing when an uncertain trail or other dangers loom: Bravely turn around and go home.
A comment about flashlights: You can usually see better at night without one. Sound crazy? Go out at night, away from all lights (not possible if you live in an urban environment) and sit quietly somewhere for a minute or two. You will be surprised how much you can see. After five minutes, turn on your flashlight. You'll wonder why it suddenly got so dark.
Fact: The average human eye will dilate to compensate for the available light. If the light is dim, your eye will eventually make out everything illuminated by the dim light (starlight, moonlight, whatever). Once the flashlight is on, the eye will dilate to that...and you will only be able to see that which the flashlight illuminates.
On The Road
Call it yellow-blazing, hot-top or whatever, hitting the highway is an unavoidable fact of life for the slacker. As for hotel and motel rooms, you know as well as I do that the mom'n'pop motel -- unaffiliated with any chain -- offers the best value. It is not always easy, however, to find these operations in advance. And unfortunately, the quality and cleanliness is worse than ever before. (I don't want to say why) So I've been moving to the low end chains more and more. The online service I've had success with is Travelocity. Now, I realize I've flip-flopped around on these, from Travelocity, to Orbitz, to whatever. Fact is you've got to do your due diligence and find the smaller, out-of-the-way motel in a lot of the areas we hike in. You just won't find too many Marriotts on the road to Cascade Pass. This is another reason why I'm a fan of the "Hidden" type guidebooks (Not that the book is hidden...I mean books written about "hidden" or out-of-the-way areas, e.g. Hidden Oregon versus Best of Portland Nightlife). So I tend to mix it up...a day at the National Park Lodge, a day at the mom'n'pop, a day at the Travelodge, a day at the Marriott. Tends to balance out the budget and the experience nicely. I use Travelocity -- quite frequently -- for the latter two. I also recommend using the Travelocity site for researching airfare...it's excellent for research...but I admit to never actually purchasing airfare through it.
Flora & Fauna
Skunks, poison ivy. Hard to think of two more unpleasant things to stumble upon in the wilderness that can make you more miserable without killing you.
Here's the best, most informative website I've yet found on poison plants is this one, CSU Guide to Poison Plants. It covers everything from choke cherry to poison ivy, excellent free resource.
The best skunk stink remedy I've ever uncovered is this one on Brian Retzler's website. It works.
Obviously most of us slackers aren't going to require any real survival skills; about the worst thing we experience are the frequently long distances between the trailhead and the nearest Wendy's. But of course you want to be prepared. Here's a site by Erik Falk on Wilderness Survival Skills. Nothing too deep, but a good outline of knowledge worth a read-through.
The Last Word on This Here Page, in No Particular Order
More important than the places you hike or the pack you carry are the people you are hiking with. And if somebody needs you to spend time with them not hiking, do it. Have you ever shared a sandwich with a homeless person? That's more important than hiking too. Then there's another 6,328,252 acts of kindness that are also more important than hiking. I'm learning. A few minutes of love and mercy is worth so much more than a few minutes on top of a mountain.
We need to remember to "value people and use stuff." Too many of us get that backwards. I'm working on it just like you. We can make the climb together. We can make it, will make it. Somebody else already carried a cross up the hill, so we don't need to make that climb. The climb gets easier if you let it. Peace...
Have a link or something valuable to contribute to this page? Please e-mail rick(at)slackpacker(dot)com.
We want to link to your hike reports, trail narratives, etc. If you have worthwhile links for the other pages (intro to Slackpacking, Geology links, etc.) then by all means tell us. If you've taken the pains to create a web page, you probably want people to view it...a free link on slackpacker.com will certainly help. Thank you for your participation.
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