Image: Woman standing arms spread on mountain top. Text: Backpacking: Reality vs Expectations

Backpacking: Reality vs Expectations

Author: Tina Eckelrin

So, you have planned an epic backpacking adventure. You have envisioned all of these images of amazing Instagram inspired mountain top vistas, joyful climbs and pristine campsites in your mind. The reality is, it probably won't work out that way.

Backpacking is not always fun or picturesque. You may have even heard backpacking referred to as Type II fun. 

Types of Fun Scale

  1. Type I fun is something that is fun while it is happening, like being on a roller coaster, downhill skiing or sitting around a campfire with friends.
  2. Type II fun is something that is hard or even miserable during the event, but in retrospect (sometimes much later...) it is reflected on as fun or rewarding.  Activities in Type II fun tend to be things like marathons and child birth. Backpacking tends to fall within Type II fun.
  3. Type III fun is generally horrible in the moment and remains so after the experience. Type III activities quite often have a near death aspect to them such as being lost at sea and surrounded by sharks, nearly freezing to death in the Arctic and becoming a cannibal to survive,  and filing your income tax returns.


2 women hiking and smiling in the rain. Type II fun.

Backpacking can be all of the above. It has moments of sheer joy and actual fun, but generally tends fall in the middle: Type II fun,  with hard and even miserable times. 

For instance, it may be 34 degrees Celsius and you are swarmed by humidity and mosquitos, or you may get 55 mm of rain in a 48 hour time frame. Your tent was floating, and both you and your gear is soaked. The trail is a mud pit and your whole body is pruned. However, by the end of the trip, you laughing are already making plans for your next adventure.

Occasionally, some hikers hit Type III fun, which is not fun at all.  Generally, these instances are few-and-far between, but can be instigated by poor preparation, exceeding your limits and by circumstances out of your control.

I have seen so many new hikers have their romantic backpacking ideals crushed by reality. To be honest, I have been guilty of this to.

So why do we do it? Are we masochists? 

Kind of. 

No one wants to be in a life or death situation. However, part of the thrill of backpacking  besides great views and a connection to nature, is pushing yourself mentally and physically. Working towards a specific goal, bending boundaries, carrying only what you absolutely need and being autonomous, and crossing the finish line you have set for yourself.

Just like a triathlon participant, you need to prepare, train and set goals. 

Girl Scouts saluting. Text: Be Prepared

Determine what you want out of the trip. What type of fun is your limit? Just like physical preparation, having the right gear can quickly turn a Type I or II fun trip into a dangerous Type III situation. Packing the right items can make a crappy situation more tolerable.


Be prepared for inclement weather. Depending on your location you could see extreme temperatures, snow, rain, hail, ice and rain.

  • Check local forecasts, if possible get weather alerts on trail
  • Plan trips, sections or mountain ascents around weather
  • Carry quality rain gear and thermal layers
  • Know your sleep system temperature comfort and extreme limits
  • Have the right shelter for the right climate
  • Pack your ditties: sun screen, lip balm, bug juice or net....

Trail Difficulty Level

Research the trail and terrain types, and plan accordingly.

  • Plan trails based on your physical capabilities
  • Organize distances based on elevation and how technical the terrain is
  • Know your experience and skill level
  • Know your limits!

Food and Water

Calories and hydration are often overlooked.  Dehydration and undernourishment can cause health problems,  can lead to serious illness and impair mental judgement.

  • Research water sources, water treatment and carry enough water 
  • Plan enough intake calories for the outtake of calories
  • Pack food you like or treats to boost moral
  • Use water additives with flavor, minerals and salts to boost water intake
  • Eat regularly to maintain energy levels


If you are planning to hike 30+ km days over 10 days and rough terrain right off the sofa, you may be in for a surprise. 

I have seen many people just go backpacking without any prior conditioning or prepared fitness level. 

Many of them were able to do it, but they suffered greatly with pain and some had injuries.

Hiking requires strength, endurance and balance.


  • Before a big trip make sure that you are capable of hiking the milage per day you are planning
  • Make sure that you can hike the milage with the weight of your pack
  • Don't assume that you will get fit on the trail. This may be the case for some thru-hikers starting out a 2000 + mile journey, but you will not get fit in a week or two of hiking
  • Walking, jogging, hiking and other similar activities will help condition your body for a trip. Make sure to start at least 8 weeks prior to the trip (but starting earlier is better) at least 3 days a week. 
  • Work your way up to longer distances. Start with 30 minutes, then an hour and so on


When setting goals only you can decide. What do you want out of the trip? Are you seeking a connection to nature, a weekend get-a-way? Are you just trying to complete a specific trail and push yourself or are you trying to set a FTK (Fastest-Known-Time) or beat your own record? 

Setting Goals

  • Set realistic goals based on your fitness level
  • Plan milage based on your fitness level and the terrain
  • Decide what you want out of the trip. If you hate hiking in the rain, plan for a dry weekend
  • Determine what is important to you. Is it about crossing the finish line, the experience, the speed or technical aspect? 
  • Know your limits! What would make you bail-out and quit a trip, how far are you willing to push yourself?
  • Make sure you goals line-up with how prepared you are and your training!

By preparing your body, gear and mind you can turn a miserable situation into something more tolerable. 

Managing your comfort during Type II fun makes it more bearable and  Type I fun more satisfying!

Author: Tina Eckerlin. Tina Eckerlin is a hiker, owner and maker at Terrain UL.

What kind of tricks do you use to make your backpacking adventures more comfortable and more fun?

Make sure to leave us a comment below and share your thoughts!

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