Last week I was lucky enough to go to Jackson Hole, Wyoming for a family member’s wedding. Just looking at the beautiful mountains, epic blue skies, and rolling grass is enough to restore your faith in this world and just bring a smile to your face but then I was lucky enough to go hiking on top of that with my backpack in tow. Though these were just day hikes (and I also was carrying the smallest Patagonia backpack) there was something so great about them. And as it turns out, I have science to back up that feeling.
A new study published in the Journal of Travel Research points out that not only does backpacking do great things for your physical health as you are carrying extra weight around as you move (though clearly, Reese Witherspoon in Wild was burning a few more calories with her backpack, Monster, than say mine, which looks like something Monster coughed up) but also for your mental health.
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Backpacking helps bring certain skills out
The study looked at the relationship between backpacker personal development (BPD) generalized self-efficacy (GSE) and self-esteem (SE) between two samples from different cultural groups: 230 Chinese backpackers and 242 Western backpackers. The study found that among Chinese backpackers, skill development positively influenced GSE and that for Western backpackers, capability development and emotional adjustment positively influenced their GSE. The positive effects of GSE on SE were confirmed in both samples.
In English, this means that your productivity and problem-solving skills are boosted by backpacking. Backpacking brings about a sense of self-sufficiency. You have to depend on yourself entirely but because hiking with a backpack is set at a more relaxed pace (Thank God) you actually de-stress and acclimate more easily. Now if you are going on a real trek I imagine you start to feel very self-sufficient and also rather scrappy when it comes to dealing with different situations. Even though I was only hiking for a few hours I felt that I could handle anything with my backpack of water, a Swiss army knife, a spare tank top, and Sour Patch Watermelons (to distract the bear with as I ran away/took a photo for Instagram.)
The soothing sounds of nature … and your backpack
In addition to this study, researchers have found that the simple act of backpacking in nature as opposed to just carrying a backpack around a metro area can help to banish negative thoughts and boost self-esteem levels. It also just helps decrease stress overall.
The book Wild was about author Cheryl Strayed wanting to confront her own demons and mourn the death of her mother and end of her marriage by backpacking the Pacific Coast Trail. The sequential film starring Reese Witherspoon was such a hit that in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life the main character goes on a Wild-type hike in order to get more in touch with her emotions after the death of her father.
In other words, if you have a free weekend consider taking a backpacking trip even if it is just for a day. REI is a great resource for this with their trip planning program. You can find adventures in your local outdoor community – like paddle boarding, kayaking or campouts – as well all over the world. Last year alone, more than 375,000 people got outside with REI Outdoor Programs. So find your own Monster and get going!