Ever since I can remember my group has talked about backpacking. Some older members of the group had done it in their teens in the northeast and were very interested in the options in the western US. Often, our backpacking chatter would revolve around backpacking the bottom of the Grand Canyon and Phantom Ranch, which first sparked our imaginations in 1995 on our first visit to the park. (We finally conquered that dream 10 years later by doing a dayhike down the Lava Falls Trail in Toroweap area – 1.5 miles each way, but very nearly straight down, then straight back up!) But there were always problems with backpacking. There were too many small children who couldn’t carry their own gear vs. the number of adults who’d have to carry it, and how’d we carry all the things we’d need, anyway? As the years past and the children got older, there were still small children who would need to be carried instead of carrying their own gear. Now most of the children are old enough carry most, if not all or more than, their own gear. But I still choose to dayhike. Why?
Here are 10 reasons why I choose dayhiking over backpacking.
1. Various ages / abilities. It used to be that the younger ones had to be carried or couldn’t carry their own gear. Now the once-older members of the party are even older…and although in excellent shape, I don’t think backpacking is their idea of a fun vacation!
2. Most sights can be seen just as well on a shorter hike. Sure, there are places I’d love to see that I could only get to via backpacking (the Wind River Range in Wyoming, for example), but in general most parks I visit can be dayhiked without the need for backpacking.
3. We can dayhike the backpacking trails. My group can hike 10-12 miles a day on normal terrain (like, not up a 45 degree angle trail at 13,000 ft.) which opens up a lot of backpacking trails to us, especially in places like Canyonlands, the Tetons, and the Grand Canyon (though once this resulted in a 17-mile dayhike on the Horseshoe Mesa Loop Trail). So, we can often see what the backpackers see, but return to our vehicle at night.
4. We don’t have to carry as much stuff. Maybe we’re wimps, but my group really does appreciate not having to carry as much food, water, and supplies as we’d need if we were backpacking.
5. Dayhiking doesn’t take as much training. If we were backpacking, every weekend before a trip we’d have to be down at the one hill in the area with salt in our backpacks just to get in shape… Instead, as long as we keep up our hiking muscles, many of us don’t have to do much training before a trip.
6. We like soft beds. Ok, definitely wimps on this one, but it is nice to have a soft van seat instead of rocks under your air mattress after a long day of hiking.
7. Weather isn’t as much of an issue. If bad weather comes along, we can simply up and drive to where the weather is nice instead of having to hike back to the vehicle. Oh, and if it rains at night we don’t have to dry out the next morning (assuming no shoes were left outside the van, lol!)
8. We don’t have the equipment to backpack. I’ll be honest, the equipment we’ve invested in is meant for day-hikers, not backpackers. Whenever we’ve thought seriously enough about backpacking to start thinking practically, the questions nearly always revolve around how we’d even carry the stuff we’d have to bring along.
9. We don’t have space for the equipment even if we owned it. Backpacking equipment takes up space in a vehicle. I don’t know where we’d all sit in the van if we had to stash backpacking packs, tents, air mattresses/pads, etc., etc., etc.
10. We can see more sights in more places. This isn’t necessarily a “pro”, but since we dayhike, we can spend only a day or two in an area (seeing the best-of-the-best) before moving on. (For example, we can see several things in Bryce Canyon before driving to Grand Staircase-Escalante and then end our trip in Arches.) If we were backpacking, we could spend an entire week in, say, Glacier National Park, before driving to the next place.
And, lastly, three reasons that don’t impact why I choose dayhiking over backpacking:
1. The trail lengths. I like long trails (within reason – but not ones over about 12 miles RT!)
2. Lack of knowledge. We do know something about backpacking – one of our group members actually led a college-level backpacking class, so we do know something about the sport.
3. The dirt, grime, and lack of facilities. With the way we hike and camp, I get that anyway!
Why do you choose to backpack or dayhike? I’d love to know!