Into the wild tri-state area

Nicholas Kristof offers advice on how to hike and camp in the NY/NJ area and not get eaten by bears:

Here’s how to pry yourself and your family off the keyboard and venture into the wild — without feeding a bear. In the same way that you recharge your BlackBerry from time to time, you also should recharge your soul — by spending part of August disconnected from the Web and reconnected with the universe.

In short: Go take a hike! Backpacking is the cheapest of vacations, and it links you intimately and directly to the world around you. It reminds us that we are just a part of the natural order, not lord of it, and that humble acknowledgment is the first step to improve our stewardship.

Backpacking means you take on your shoulders everything you need to hike and camp. The key is to carry very little, say 10 pounds not including food and water. I frequently see tortured backpackers stumbling along as they lug gargantuan packs that dangle frying pans; in their torment, they gaze enviously at my small pack and mistake me for a day-hiker.

So here’s a basic how-to guide:

1. Follow Robert Frost and take the path less traveled by, for that makes all the difference. In the evening, camp where no one else is around. You don’t need a campground: just stop anywhere that is flat. Indeed, the ground in the woods and fields is much softer than the packed dirt of campgrounds. But when you leave in the morning, make sure that you leave no trace.

2. Wear an old pair of running shoes, not a new pair of hiking boots that just give you blisters. One way to tell neophyte weekend hikers from Mexico-to-Canada through-hikers is that the beginners have huge packs and heavy boots, while the through-hikers have sneakers and tiny packs.

3. Try the “ultralight” gear that is revolutionizing backpacking. My beloved basics are the 1-pound G4 pack from Gossamer Gear, with a sleeping pad that doubles as pack frame, and a 1-pound, 13-ounce Ultralite sleeping bag from Western Mountaineering that is warm to 20 degrees.

4. Skip a tent. To keep off rain, carry an ultralight tarp that you tie between two trees and stake to the ground, like a pup tent. But if there’s no rain, sleep under the stars. God made stars so that humans could fall asleep admiring them.

5. A tiny backpacking stove can boil water for freeze-dried dinners that are unpalatable at home and delectable in the field. My kids’ favorite food is “anything cooked in the woods.”…

I used to cook hot dogs and smores in the campfire (when I was able to get a good fire started). Food that doesn’t need to be cooked, like tabouli, hummus and pita is also good. If all else fails, it’s good to keep a supply of power bars & rice krispie treats.

Bugs are also a big part of any effort to get in touch with nature. Long-sleeved light shirts, bug repellent and some mosquito netting under the tarp can really improve your attitude towards the wild.


About marypmadigan

Writer/photographer (profession), foreign policy wonk (hobby).
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