Christopher Ketcham's essay is one long misunderstanding of the trends in outdoor recreation ("The death of backpacking?" HCN, 7/21/14). Backpacking is not dead, and it's not dying. It's different, yes, thanks to a revolution in lighter and more versatile gear, as well as an ethos of carrying less gear. And while weeklong treks are less common, overnights and even monthslong thru-hikes of epics like the Pacific Crest Trail have never been more popular.
Eleven years ago, when I wrote the story on lightweight hiking shoes from which Ketcham quoted me, this trend toward lighter/swifter was being pitched by companies as "fastpacking." My introduction contrasted the old style of backpacking – heavy, arduous – with the new: light, breezy, fun. Ketcham's selective use of the first part of my intro, "Backpacking leaves me cold," misses the critical point and twists the message into the opposite of what I meant (and said), which is that fastpacking, which is simply backpacking with less weight, is awesome.
Here's the rest of my original quote: "Fastpacking, on the other hand: Now that's an activity I can get behind. Unencumbered by bulky or superfluous gear, I travel swiftly, never feeling like there's an angry, drunken monkey clinging to my back. If I want to slow down and smell the Indian paintbrush, I can, but if I want to fire up the turbo and run along the trail, I can do that, too."
The backpacking that Ketcham describes – ponderous, dull – hasn't been the status quo in 30 years. Today, you can (and I do) go out for a couple nights with a kit that weighs less than 20 pounds, food included. Backpacking is alive everywhere you look, it just no longer resembles Grizzly Adams carrying a grizzly on his back.
Editor, Adventure Journal
Monarch Beach, California