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Exploring the Art and Science of Backpacking: History Lingo and Famous Backpackers

Backpacking has long been one of the most popular outdoor activities. It allows individuals to immerse themselves in nature while carrying everything they need to survive on their backs.

There are different types of backpacking, each with its unique characteristics and goals. In this article, we will explore the history, equipment, lingo, famous backpackers, events, and competitions relevant to backpacking, as well as the various types of backpacking.

Types of Backpacking

Lightweight Backpacking

Lightweight backpacking involves paring down the amount of gears and supplies needed. The ultimate goal is to make the backpack lighter and, therefore, easier to carry for longer distances.

Hikers usually carry only the essentials, such as a tent or shelter, a sleeping bag, a stove and fuel, proper clothing, and water. When backpacking lightweight, hikers need to consider every item as a weight issue.

Therefore, everything should have multiple uses, be multi-functional, and lightweight.

Ultra-Lightweight Backpacking

Ultra-lightweight backpacking takes the concept of lightweight backpacking to the next level. Backpackers who venture into this type of backpacking often carry a minimum amount of gear, with a very sparse shelter and a small amount of food.

This type of backpacking has become quite popular on the

Appalachian Trail (AT), the

Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), collectively known as the Triple Crown. It has been estimated that an ultra-lightweight backpacker can cut up to 30% of their base weight by identifying multi-functional pieces of gear.


Flashpacking is a more glamorous type of backpacking. Flashpackers often travel to National Parks or popular hiking trails and stay in hotels, resorts, or lodges but still partake in day hikes.

They can still experience the beauty of nature and the outdoors without having to give up the comforts of luxury travel.

Flashpacking is an excellent way to take advantage of all of the activities and sights of a particular area while also enjoying a comfortable, luxurious stay.

Traditional Backpacking

Traditional backpacking involves carrying adequate shelter, food, toiletries, clothing, and other essential supplies when embarking on a backpacking trip. The equipment and supplies packed will depend on the trip’s difficulty, duration, terrain, and preferred comfort level.

Traditional backpacking is an excellent entry point for someone new to backpacking, who may require a little more comfort when they are new to the outdoors.

Ultra-Long Distance Backpacking

Ultra-long distance backpacking demands the best equipment and supplies because the hikes can be insane amounts of distance. Backpackers who venture into this type of backpacking typically cover triple-crown trails such as the AT, ICT, and PCT, as well as the Sea-to-Sea and Mountain-to-Sea trails.

Most of these trails require hikers to resupply every few days with food and other supplies. This type of backpacking is not for the weak or unprepared.

One must have significant experience in hiking and backpacking to take on this kind of challenge.

History of Backpacking

Backpacking has a rich history that dates back thousands of years as hunters and gatherers used it as a way of life. In more recent years, backpacking traveled a long way from its past and was popularized by John Muir.

Muir’s conservation efforts were an essential stride for backpacking since it encourages people to explore nature and understand its value. Backpacking is now considered one of the fastest-growing outdoor activities, with millions of people venturing out each year.

Backpacking Equipment

The success of a backpacking trip depends on the right equipment and supplies, whether it be tents, backpacks, sleeping bags, or cooking utensils. A backpack must have adequate capacity to fit everything that is needed for a trip.

Essential clothing items include rain gear, warm layers, and hiking shoes or boots. Cooking equipment will depend on the intended type of backpacking.

Backpackers also need a reliable source of clean water, and for this, they require water purification devices, filters, or tablets. Every piece of equipment should be chosen with care, and every piece should be multi-functional, lightweight, and reliable.


Like any other activity, backpacking has its unique terminology, including the Triple Crown, which is the collective term for the AT, PCT, and CDT. These trails have become iconic for backpackers who want to tackle a long-distance hike.

Other popular terms include ICT, which is short for the Ice Age Trail, and PCT, which refers to the Pacific Crest Trail.

Famous Backpackers

Backpacking enthusiasts include Grandma Gatewood, who was the first woman to solo through-hike the AT and went on to hike the trail two more times.

Andrew Skurka is a backcountry adventurer who became widely known for his ultra-lightweight backpacking achievements and, in particular, walking more than 4,700 miles across Alaska and the Yukon Territory.

Christian Thomas, also known as Buddy Backpacker, is a well-known backpacker who completed the Appalachian Trail with his parents at just six years old and went on to hike other long trails.

Heather Anderson, also known as Anish, hiked the full length of the PCT, a 2,650-mile trek, in just 60 days.

Events and Competitions

Backpacking events and competitions include the Triple Crown, the Six Pack of Peaks, and the 52 Hike challenge. The Triple Crown requires hikers to complete the AT, PCT, and CDT to complete the achievement.

The Six Pack of Peaks takes place in southern California and requires hikers to complete six of the highest peaks. The 52 Hike challenge is a program designed to encourage people to complete 52 hikes in 52 weeks.


Backpacking is an incredibly rewarding activity for those who love the outdoors and want to explore nature in a unique and exciting way. Whether you prefer traditional backpacking, ultra-lightweight backpacking, or flashpacking, there is something for everybody.

Additionally, lingo, history, and famous backpackers have played a significant role in shaping backpacking and hiking. By understanding these concepts, one can get a deeper appreciation of the art and science of backpacking.

Backpacking is an activity that has been around since the beginning of human civilization. Although it has evolved over time, the concept has remained the same: carrying essential supplies and equipment on your back to be self-sufficient while traveling or venturing outdoors.

In this article, we will delve deeper into the history of backpacking and explore the different types of equipment and essential items needed.

Origin of Backpacking

Backpacking is said to originate 13,900 years ago when people were migrating across continents. During this time, it was essential to carry supplies on their backs because there were no vehicles, and the only way to transport goods was using pack animals.

Over time, people began using backpacks for travel and daily activities, such as carrying tools or foraging food. The use of backpacks for recreation and venturing outdoors gained popularity in the latter half of the 19th century.

Development of Backpacking

As exploration and mapping became more prevalent in the 19th and early 20th centuries, backpacking became more popular. Backpacks were the ideal way to transport supplies and equipment necessary for expeditions, enabling early explorers to venture deep into uncharted territories.

Backpacking as recreation gained more popularity after World War II. The United States Forest Service estimated that in 1960, around 300,000 people went backpacking, whereas currently, almost 40 million people backpack each year.

Backpacking Equipment

Equipment selection plays a crucial role in the success of a backpacking trip, and the wrong equipment can result in discomfort, injury, or even death. Choosing appropriate gear such as hiking shoes, clothing, shelter, and food for the intended climate and terrain is essential.

The wrong kind of equipment will deteriorate a backpackers health, impede the journey, and end the adventure early.

Clothing and Footwear

Selecting the appropriate clothing is necessary when planning a backpacking trip. Clothing must fit appropriately and be comfortable, made of quick-drying materials with good ventilation to reduce sweat, which can cause irritation and give rise to diseases or injury.

Footwear is of utmost importance. Hiking shoes or boots with suitable support, durability, and stability are necessary to prevent foot injuries, blisters, or sprains that may arise during long-distance hikes.

Shelter and Sleeping Bag

Shelter is the most crucial piece of backpacking equipment as it protects against the weather elements. The chosen shelter should provide adequate protection from the weather, keeping one warm and dry.

A sleeping bag, essentially a portable sleeping pad, is equally important in keeping one comfortable. A sleeping bag should be rated for the expected weather of the area and should provide warmth but also allow for ventilation if temperatures rise.

Food and Cooking

Food is essential in providing the necessary nutrients and energy needed for the hike. Backpackers require about 1.5-2 pounds of food a day, and its essential to carry the right amount and to avoid spoilage.

Backpackers should aim for food that is high in energy, making sure it is cooked appropriately, and carry the right cooking utensils to prepare their meals. Some popular backpacking food options are dehydrated meals, energy bars, and trail mix.

Essential Equipment

Backpackers must carry equipment that is necessary for their trip, including a backpack, clothing appropriate for the conditions, cooking utensils, food, water, shoes or boots, a sleeping pad and bag, a stove, shelter, and water purification devices. Each piece of equipment must be chosen for its reliability, durability, and usefulness.

A backpacker’s gear should be customized to suit the individuals planned activities and participants skill level.


Packing skills, while not explicitly equipment, are crucial to backpacking. Overpacking can make a backpack heavier than one can carry, while underpacking may lead to not having sufficient equipment to complete the journey.

One must try and find the perfect balance through trial and error. Backpackers should reduce the weight of their gears by choosing lightweight alternatives or multi-functional gear.

A well-organized backpack can be the difference between comfort or discomfort during a long journey.


Backpacking is an enjoyable and rewarding way of exploring the outdoors. The evolution of backpacking over time shows that it has been around since the beginning of human civilization.

Equipment selection plays a crucial role in the success of a backpacking trip, with packing and appropriate clothing and footwear essential to ensure a safe and comfortable journey. The right backpacking equipment and knowledge of its usage can turn a potentially unsafe journey into a thrilling adventure.

Backpacking is an activity that has become increasingly popular in recent years. As such, the backpacking community has developed its own language, including slang, jargon, and acronyms, collectively known as backpacking lingo.

In this article, we will delve deeper into backpacking lingo, with a particular focus on the Triple Crown, Appalachain Trail (AT),

Intercontinental Trail (ICT), and Pacific Crest Trail(PCT). We will also explore several famous backpackers and their accomplishments.



Triple Crown

The Triple Crown is one of the most highly recognized accomplishments for long-distance backpackers. To achieve the Triple Crown, hikers must complete thru-hikes of the AT, the PCT, and the CDT.

The AT is in the Eastern United States, stretching from Georgia to Maine, covering a total distance of 2,190 miles. The PCT is in the Western United States, spanning 2,650 miles from the Mexican to Canadian borders.

The CDT runs from Canada to Mexico through the Rocky Mountains, the Continental Divide spanning 3,100 miles across the United States. Completing all three of these trails are highly recognized, leading to backpackers earning the prestigious Triple Crown.

Appalachian Trail (AT)

The AT is arguably the most famous backpacking trail of the Triple Crown. Running from Georgia to Vermont, the AT is one of the oldest long-distance trails in the United States.

The trail spans over 2,190 miles and is known for its diversity of terrain, varying from lush forests to rocky mountaintops. Completing the AT is a significant achievement for backpackers, taking approximately five to seven months to complete.

Intercontinental Trail (ICT)

The ICT is a proposed long-distance trail spanning from the Canadian border to the Mexican border through the United States. Preparing for its opening, the ICT will be over 5,000 miles long, connecting several existing trails.

The ICT will also involve the addition of 19 new trails and the expansion of current wilderness areas, encouraging outdoor enthusiasts to access less explored territories.

Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)

The PCT is another highlight of the Triple Crown, spanning 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada through the Western United States. The trail passes through 25 national forests and seven national parks and is known to offer scenic views of the Pacific coastline and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Completing the PCT is a significant achievement for backpackers, typically taking four to six months to complete. Backpackers who complete the PCT also earn recognition as a thru-hiker.

Famous Backpackers

Grandma Gatewood

Emma Rowena Gatewood, also known as Grandma Gatewood, was the first woman to solo-hike the AT in 1955 at the age of 67. Following her historic hike, she also completed the trail again in 1960 and 1963.

She gained notoriety for her hiking accomplishments, becoming an inspiration and advocate for the benefits of hiking and the preservation of wilderness areas.

Andrew Skurka

Andrew Skurka is an adventurer, guide, and speaker who has completed many long-distance backpacking journeys. He has covered over 30,000 miles on foot, including twice completing the Triple Crown, as well as the Alaska Yukon Expedition and the Great Western Loop, among others.

Skurka is also known for his expertise and his ability to educate others on creating efficient systems for hiking gear and equipment.

Christian Thomas

Christian Thomas is known by his trail name, Buddy Backpacker. In 2013, at the age of five, he became the youngest person to attempt a solo thru-hike of the AT.

Together with his parents, they completed the trail and continued to complete the CDT and PCT, earning them recognition as an “unassisted family Triple Crown.

Heather Anderson

Heather Anderson, also known as Anish, holds the record of fastest known time on the PCT. She completed the trail in 60 days, 17 hours, and 12 minutes, covering an average of 44 miles per day.

Anderson also became the third woman and sixth person to complete the calendar year Triple Crown, completing all three trails in a single year.


Backpacking lingo is a highly specific and unique dialect created by the backpacking community. The Triple Crown, AT, ICT, and PCT are some of the most notable and well-known terms in the backpacking world.

Furthermore, famous backpackers like Grandma Gatewood,

Andrew Skurka,

Christian Thomas, and

Heather Anderson are pioneers in the backpacking community, inspiring generations of backpackers to come. Their accomplishments illustrate the grit, determination, and perseverance that are essential traits for completing long-distance backpacking trips.

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