(a moral framework for lightweight backpacking and outdoor recreation)
If you have been around hiking circles long enough, you know of the phrase “Hike Your Own Hike”. The idea that as long as your hike does not effect other people, it’s all kosher.
…I’m fine with your HYOH just don’t destroy my HYOH please.
-from the BPL forums
The phrase hike your own hike has become a reflexive catchphrase with a variety of meanings in the context of lightweight backpacking. Virtually all of these meanings are bad, or at the very least troubling, as most of them center around a refusal to engage in a debate over the purpose and minutia of lightweight backpacking (and outdoor recreation generally), and by proxy a refusal to acknowledge that the details of how one pursues lightweight backpacking matter. I will hike my own hike, you will hike your own hike, and irrespective of the differences the two approaches may have, we will agree to ignore all consequence and conflict.
The implicit assumption here is that lightweight backpacking has no particular value, worth or importance, except perhaps as entertainment for the hiker in question. This is not merely false, it is a pernicious lie with grave social consequences. The enduring popularity of multiday outdoor recreation, for the last century and in the western world, is one piece of evidence. The profligatory nature of internet forums dedicated to said recreation is another, as is the vociferation with which the aforementioned minute details are discussed. The tendency of pseudonymous humans to become immoderate in their discourse should never be underestimated, but all the same I do not think that obsessive gram-counting is only a symptom of 21st century human maillaise. There is something about lightweight backpacking which speaks with particular directness to significant aspects of the human condition.
To be clear: that your pack is a particular weight in and of itself means nothing. For all its cultural cachet, backpacking (irrespective of base weight) is particularly prone to ressentiment (1), that self-loathing which comes from failing to definitively succeed or fail at an aspiration. Lots of people love the idea of backpacking. Many struggle to actually practice it, finding excuses to cut trips short or cancel them altogether, or worst of all hardly ever plan to make it out the door. Your backpacking is of worth insofar as it challenges you, enlightens you, and makes you a better person. If you are not in your backpacking pursuing this self-overcoming, than the contents of your pack and gear closet are merely variations on a theme of materialism as self-deception. The people in your life and the world in which you live deserve more.
Lightweight backpacking is of special value because wilderness travel distills the challenge and character building which are largely constituent of personal development into a uniquely succinct package. You, the tool-building ape, plan an outing. You use judgment and experience (in short: character) to quantify the hazards, and then select your tools accordingly. The artifice of a lightweight pack forces a more honest consideration of these hazards, which should bring about a more developed understanding of which hazards exist primarily on the ground, and which dwell primarily in the mind. As the stakes are raised, either with more ambitious trips or heightened artificial constraints (e.g. a SUL base weight), the challenges and benefits become greater.
Naturally, the self-confidence and self-knowledge which grows out of a bold backcountry plan successfully implemented will translate into other realms. You’ll become a more effective spouse, friend and colleague. And that is where the true worth of lightweight backpacking lies; it may be one of the more effective catalysts of personal development available today. Personal development invariably determines and redetermines our relationships with others, which is to say, our identity itself. We can become more worthy people and create a better planet for everyone else at exactly the same time.
In a world of overconsumption and social injustice, backpacking is luxury and privilege. Don’t squander this important opportunity by pretending that the way you engage in it is trivial enough to not be worthy of comment. Don’t be facile enough to pretend that your actions will not inevitably and always affect others. When you hike your hike, you are always already hiking the hike of someone else.
1: Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard defined it in Present Age as “…the constituent principle of want of character, which from utter wretchedness tries to sneak itself a position, all the time safeguarding itself by conceding that it is less than nothing.”