Hiking and backpacking enthusiasts run the gamut in their methodology. On one end are the so-called backpacking purists. They generally have the best gear and are always on the lookout for the latest in high tech offerings by the outdoor outfitting industry. And they are willing to pay for it.
Their fare often consists of expensive freeze-dried food. Gore-Tex fabric and name-brand labels are prominently displayed on their clothing. Cards, reading, a radio or any other diversionary pleasure not directly related to the appreciation of nature is disdained. Always prepared and ready to help the ill prepared, they rarely get in over their heads, saving taxpayer dollars and ranger headaches from having to rescue.
At the other end of the spectrum is the make-do backpacker. He or she probably borrowed half the equipment on their back and will not hesitate to tote a cast iron skillet to fry some bacon at the campsite. They can be spotted on the trail invariably wearing too tight jeans and some kind of camouflage shirt or hat. They would not be caught dead with a trail map in their hands.
At camp, make-do hikers try to think of ways to use that big knife in that leather case attached to their belt. An oversized cheap tent invariably pops up wherever they are. They are learning and some will eventually move across and find their own place on the spectrum.
Two other subcategories exist, the minimalists and the gearheads. Minimalists become overly obsessed with weight, paring their gear down to such a degree that much enjoyment is lost from their wilderness experience and has become a sheer survival test.
I once stayed with some women at a backcountry shelter who drank hot water for breakfast; they felt the weight of coffee did not justify its extravagance. Others become so concerned with pack weight they will cut off the ends of their toothbrush to save one-tenth of an ounce. However, when they step up on the podium to tell about how much weight they save they are in hog heaven!
The gearhead has it all, literally, and it is in his pack. Around the fire, you grumble about losing a tiny screw from your fishing reel, ten minutes later he proudly returns with the exact size screw you needed. It is a good thing he has a hot water bottle because he is going to need it after his late arrival to camp to soothe those back muscles that are cramping from carrying all that extra equipment on his back.
Pack weight has always been the source of spirited mountaintop discussions. As a general guide beginner backpackers should carry no more than 15 percent of their body weight. Nevertheless, wilderness adventuring has no commandments. Nobody is completely wrong — each person literally carries his or her own weight.
While out there, I relish the opportunities to see how others conduct business in the woods. With an open mind, I usually learn something, even if it is what not to do. To think my way as the only way merely restricts my growth as an outdoorsman.
So the next time you see somebody walking down the trail, it is not merely putting one foot in front of the other. There is probably a philosophy behind that hiker.