My last backpacking trip was just shy of 30 years ago. (See the photo at the top) A lot has happened since then, both in the evolution of backcountry gear, as well as the gradual erosion of my hairline. And so, when my buddy Dick and I began planning our summer backpacking trip to Colorado, I went through my old gear and quickly realized that there was a lot of stuff that needed to be upgraded. Many things that are now necessities (like smart phones, solar chargers and hiking poles) simply didn’t exist back when I was hiking in the 1980s.
As a small example I needed to find a hat suitable for hiking at altitude during the height of summer. When I Googled “best summer backpacking hat” eight different sites popped up, each with anywhere from three to ten different recommendations. Surfing the internet in an attempt to pick the perfect hat took up the better part of an evening. In the old days I would have simply gone with an old baseball cap and been good to go.
I recall from past backpacking trips just how difficult it was to keep our food safe from bears. We’d load our food into a stuff sack and search for a tall tree with long sturdy branches that were a good ten to twelve feet off the ground. Of course, the higher up in elevation we were, the tougher it became to find a decent sized tree. Then we would take a long piece of nylon cord and tie it to the bag. We would next look for a good-sized rock to attach to the other end of the rope. Depending on where we were hiking, it could take a good 15 minutes or so to find the perfect rock. Once we had everything all attached, the next trick was to throw the rock up and over the branch so that it landed back on the ground without hitting us in the head. Harder than it sounds! When that was done we could finally hoist our bags full of food up to the branch and far enough away from the trunk so that it was secure from prowling bears. On nights when big trees were far and few between, and where there were few rocks available, it could easily take an hour each evening going through this process. And it wasn’t a fool-proof system. I still bitterly recall losing a 2-pound bag of M&M’s to a young bear cub in the backcountry of Yosemite.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there now exists a whole new system for securing our backpacking food! As tough as it was for me to find the perfect new tent and water filtration system (and hiking hat!), it was a very easy decision to get a BearVault canister! I’m delighted that Dick and I won’t have to spend a half hour each evening looking for that perfect “bear tree!”
” I try to gently remind myself that rather than focusing on finding the “perfect” air mattress or water filter, to simply trust that whatever I wind up selecting will do the job.”
I will be the first to admit that I’ve been very anxious about preparing for this summer’s adventures in bear country. With so much new equipment on the market it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the number of options available. I try to gently remind myself that rather than focusing on finding the “perfect” air mattress or water filter, to simply trust that whatever I wind up selecting will do the job. Ultimately it’s not about obsessing over the gear – – – it’s really about getting outside, breathing in the mountain air, and gazing up at the Milky Way! I can’t wait!
My name is Barry Auskern. Years ago, in a former life, I guided trips for the Audubon Expedition Institute. I’ve trekked from the wind-swept coast of Labrador, to the hot sands of Death Valley National Park. And then I became an attorney. It’s been a good 28 years since I strapped a backpack on. I’m beyond excited for this summer’s adventures.
Raise your hand if you recognize this as a subtle allusion to Erica Jong’s “Fear of Flying,” which was a huge international bestseller published back in 1973. I well remember that book, which tells you what demographic I represent.