Walking in mountainous and remote regions is always great, but backpacking and pitching in them brings a marvellous extra dimension that can only be appreciated by experience. In clear conditions, when the tent is pitched in the mountains before sunset and the area is deserted, watching the peaks turn to black silhouettes against the oranges and reds is a tonic for the eyes and spirit, and the colour and angle of the light near dawn and dusk can illuminate the landscape on a grand and artistic scale. Even when we awake to thick mist or a biting wind, there is still a feeling of affinity with the mountain and respect for its moods. There is no better way to know a mountain than to pitch on it and the memory of that pitch will always linger.
More fundamental is the uplifting regime of the 'wilderness experience'. On trips up to 4 days exclusively in a wild region, the cutoff from civilisation is total and there is no modern intrusion to break the spell (for trips longer than 4 days the weight would be too much and we must restock supplies). There is a great sense of satisfaction in self-sufficiency and having everything you need in your pack - and nothing you don't need. This last point is an important one to think about. The lack of any extras and luxuries may be seen by some as a negative consequence of reducing weight, but we find it a positive one. There is nothing to detract from the purity of the wilderness concept, and anything extra would be a mental encumbrance as well as a physical one.
This raises some questions in mid winter, when the tent is pitched before sunset around 4pm and the nights are very long, and some readers have asked us what on earth we do during the cold evening hours. Surely we must take a little radio or a pocket micro-TV?. A very unwelcome intrusion - definitely not!. An oriental gentleman once noted that "westerners can never be content sitting in an empty room", a perceptive observation. Many people find it hard to relax with nothing more than conversation or their own thoughts. Lying warm in down bags on winter evenings we can talk and think about todays walk, the anticipations of tomorrow and plans for future walks, or simply be content with being out there. Do you really need anything else?.
It takes time to develop fluid backpacking routines that you are happy with in all seasons, and they will always evolve further in minor ways with experience, but once mastered the feeling of accomplishment is very satisfying. You have the skills and experience to walk and pitch confidently in the wild regions of our country throughout the year, and while it may not be on the scale of an Everest expedition, nor the severity of SAS training, it is nevertheless an achievement to be quite proud of.
For us, the practical side of backpacking is mainly about the two Ms - Minimalism and Minutiae.
Minimalism - in weight obviously, but also everything else which translates into weight. It must be said that the much greater weight of a backpack is a disadvantage, but is insignificant compared to the many gains. You climb mountains more slowly and have to stop often for rests (well we do anyway!), but this gives more time to appreciate the landscape and extract every nuance from the view, which is no bad thing. Backpacking is a forceful mentor, it teaches you what is important and what you can do without. Initially there is a tendency to take some aspects of your home life onto the hill, but when you have to lug the resulting weight up there, you soon learn how inconsequential they are and you will very probably feel better for doing without them too. All those little comforts that seem so crucial at home are not so vital after all, and all that is needed is a little mental readjustment. It goes without saying that the weight of every item should normally be minimised, but better still is to eliminate it completely.
Minutiae - the smallest things are often the biggest nuisance and cause the most annoyance. This aspect of backpacking was the one that surprised us most and certainly could not have been predicted. A task that is utterly trivial at home can be a major pain in a wild camping situation. All backpackers will have their own personal demons but ours is washing up - this resulted in the most rapid and radical changes to our regime, which are detailed in the other wild camping sections. The amount of washing up is irrelevant, it is the process that is too awful for words. However you do it, you have a dirty pan (and probably plates) to clean and dry, with no bowl or accessories, maybe in a freezing cold wind or rain... think about it!. Another example is simply being able to find things. In the confines of a tiny tent, with many pockets in various garments and on the packs, we find it essential to have a strict place for everything, otherwise we spend half the time in contorted positions searching for them, which is a much bigger pain than it sounds. There are many little things like this that will quickly become apparent and you will find your own way of handling them.
Our backpacking scenario is one of multi-day walks and pitching wild overnight, but there are others.
One is where the tent is pitched in a strategic spot and forms a base camp, from which daily excursions are made to climb the nearby tops and ridges, then returning each evening. This retains most advantages of wild backpacking with the bonus that the day walks can be done with a light daypack, though this must be carried as an extra on the first ascent to base. In this scenario it is clearly desirable to choose a spot near a good water source, which usually means a mid-level pitch. On the down side, the day walks must be circular which limits the possibilities, and the advantage of pitching anywhere you like on any day is lost. The question of security also arises in this case and one can never be 100% sure, but it is very unlikely that your tent will be pilfered, and far less likely than your car while you are away.
Photographers might use this method to concentrate on setting up landscape shots in varied lighting conditions, and may not walk very far from the base camp at all. Detailed explorations of routes and features on a single mountain can also make a satisfying trip that lends itself well to this scheme.
In fact, wild camping in the mountains purely to enjoy the experience and the views from a relatively small area around the camp can be a rewarding end in itself.