1). Disconnect – Please read this article. Once you are done, come back to this one. In a nutshell, when you are in the backcountry, you are not going to have cell service. This means you will not be able to text, email, tweet, Skype, Facebook, check email, post on Instagram, nothing! You will need to take some time away from sharing details of your daily life that no one cares about. But this takes some getting used to, so practice at home before your adventure into the unknown. Start with an hour of not checking your phone, then two, then three, etc. You may find it is a lot like quitting smoking, gambling, biting your nails, watching Bigfoot shows or any other addiction – yes, the need to be on your phone or computer constantly IS an addiction. But soon you will find you didn’t even notice the text from your best friend that she found her soul mate on Tinder. And this is what you need to get ready for when in the wilderness. And something we all need in general – the wilderness is the best way to distract you from distraction. You will also find when you reconnect, the world continued without you and you now have bigger and better things to share on social media.
2). Do something Outside When the Weather ISN’T Perfect – A trip in the wilderness presents many obstacles and one of the more common and unpredictable is the weather, and waiting for good weather is not an option. You have a trip planned and the weather you get is the weather you get. Not saying you should continue your trek to the top of the highest peak in a lightning storm or a trip on the coast in a category 5 hurricane, but being flexible with your plans due to weather or just dealing with and being prepared for rain, snow, cold or heat is part of the experience. Get ready for the outdoors by getting outside and hike, bike or run in the rain, heat, snow (of course making sure you are prepared for the conditions). Why? As mentioned a few sentences ago, because when you are in the Great Outdoors, weather is not perpetually 80 F with 0% chance of rain. Anything can happen so might as well get yourself used to being out in inclement weather, AKA, the unexpected. Plus, the weather you are training in and thus preparing for translates to the same preparedness you will need for your upcoming Grand Canyon backpacking trip – or whatever you are preparing for.
3). Pitch a Tent in Your Backyard – Getting into the outdoors can be a challenge for so many, especially when there are few to none of the amenities we are all used to – shelter with heat and cooling, Sleep Number mattresses, flush toilets, craft beer on tap, etc., so you may need to practice getting out and living off the grid. Start with your backyard, then step it up like your neighbor’s front yard in the suburbs, the neighborhood park, a state park campground, and keep moving out from there. Not saying you won’t get arrested for pitching a tent in your neighbor’s yard but that’s part of the adventure right? Add to the excitement and camp when it is windy, raining and/or snowing because weather will not be perfect on your planned backpacking/camping trip either.
Anyway, the point is, you want to get used to having minimal shelter, sleeping on the ground on maybe a 2 in thick pad in a sleeping bag. All aspects of sleeping in the outdoors you have to get used to – no mattress to adjust, no down pillow and no 15,000 thread count sheets. Oh ya, and no bathroom. Part of getting used to being outside is not having a toilet so get your trowel ready – and your wallet because I believe a code 311 (indecent exposure) comes with a hefty fine and possibly a night or more in jail (talk about roughin’ it!).
4). Get Used to Cooking and Eating Ramen – OK, you can eat much better than the old college standby, but first you need to get some skills cooking over a campfire or a backpacking stove to become a true backcountry chef. Getting out in the wilderness means there are no refrigerators, no ovens and no take out. If you are car camping, you may have a propane grill or stove to use, but if you are carrying everything on your back, you want to go light. So durable and sustainable food with minimal cookware. This means no fresh veggies or meats and items than create the least amount of waste. It also means one pot cooking. You also have to get used to portioning your meals just right. You don’t want to go hungry, but you don’t want to have a bunch of leftovers to carry out of the backcountry either. When you are in your backyard with your tent, take the backpacking stove out with you and practice making some backyard camping cuisine.
5). Engage in Spontaneous Activities, Often – While spontaneity helps keep us feeling young, alive and exciting, it also gets us prepared for the surprises nature has in store for us. And when you are part of engaging in the unexpected, the unexpected becomes a part of the adventure and not a huge wrench in the grandiose, yet unrealistic expectations you set. You don’t have to set out for a 60 day excursion on a moments notice as it depends on how spontaneous you already are. If dropping plans to go on a road trip with no preplanned route or booked hotels is unheard of for you, take baby steps. Maybe start by leaving your GPS at home or off and just take one of those maps made of paper – yes paper! See some monkey bars or a swing set as you are walking to work or wandering around texting? How about being a kid and going for a swing or climb the bars? It’s hard to say what may be your comfort zone, but the point is, move outside that zone.
6). Bathe the Old Fashioned Way – There are no showers or bathtubs in the backcountry. This means you either need to stay dirty for 3 plus days and NOT wash your hair (oh the travesty) or learn how to wash up the old fashioned way. And if you are backpacking, you will sweat because you are exerting yourself, so you will be even dirtier. Being dirty is fun, but help out your fellow hikers by cleaning up. A basin with water (cold of course), biodegradable soap and a wash cloth – preferably a lightweight one like a pack towel or bandana – is all you need. Or, get into a creek, river, stream and just rinse off (but avoid using the biodegradable soap). I am sure there are plenty of instructional videos on how to clean yourself without a shower for those of you that can’t just figure it out.
7). Go to the Bathroom Outside – I eluded to this in tip number 3 since when you are camping, you will rarely encounter actual toilet facilities. In order to be ok with this fact, you need to get used to it. I already wrote an article about this and choose not to rewrite it since I also found that many people get turned on by information about women peeing in the wilderness. So please read it only if you are looking for advice, not if you are looking for your own brand of dirty fun.
There are many other ways to prepare yourself mentally for your backpacking trip but these tips are pretty solid and tested by our own outdoor professionals. Seriously, do you really think guides spend the majority of their time indoors? When I am at home and not guiding, I pee outside in spite if having a bathroom. Who wouldn’t? That said, please check out my GoFundMe campaign so I can pay off my fines.