My introduction to backpacking was … heavy

As summer comes to Wyoming, my thoughts turn to camping. But those thoughts aren’t always based on fond memories.

When I was a kid, my dad used to take me into the mountains above Pinedale each summer. I was quite young when Dad decided I should carry my own weight – literally.

Before we left on our trip, I had come across an article in an outdoor magazine that said a hiker’s pack shouldn’t be heavier than 30 percent of the hiker’s weight.

I showed Dad the story and asked how much our packs weighed. His response was, “Uh, I think we’ll be OK.”

I was skeptical because I knew the empty weight of the ancient external-frame pack I’d be carrying already exceeded 30 percent of my 99 pounds, and that was troubling, because we didn’t own anything resembling lightweight camping gear. Our cook kit, for example, consisted mainly of old, cast-iron pots and pans Mom had used up over the years. The rust alone weighed a good 10 pounds.

But we were determined to go camping, and what we had was what we had. After donning his pack, Dad hoisted my backpack up so I could position myself under it and strap myself in.

I realized as soon as he let go that my pack was a bit top-heavy. I had to hunch slightly forward to avoid falling on my back, but if I went too far, I’d tip over on my nose. I gamely stepped out to lead us down the trail, but I had to turn around right away to see what Dad was laughing about. As it turns out, all Dad could see of me was a backpack with a pair of legs sticking out of it.

While we were in camp, Dad and I lived like kings. The weight of our gear was justified by good cooking, warm sleeping and dry shelter when it rained.

I’ve passed down the wisdom to my own sons that the best gear isn’t always the lightest weight. I’ve showed them that to enjoy the outdoors, sometimes they have to put some physical effort into it.

Like my own father, I’ve taken lots of pictures so they can remember their good times. In those photos, they’re the backpacks with legs.

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