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What Lord of the Rings Taught Me About Backpacking


By: Otto Ross

Recently I saw an online post asking about favorite backpacking movies. The standard titles came up near the top of the comment section: Wild, A Walk In the Woods, the Way, etc… but it got me thinking, what was the first movie that made me want explore wild places and strike out on some grand adventure? Suddenly, I could hear the horns of Middle Earth blaring in my mind: BUMMM, BUMMM, BUBUBUMMMM and it dawned on me: Lord of the Rings! Reading and watching Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit at an early age was a huge inspiration for my desire to go out and explore the world with just a rucksack and a walking stick. In fact, Bilbo, Frodo, and the Fellowship experience many of the same hardships all to familiar to any backpacker: boring food (you can only eat so much Lembas bread), inclement weather, unexpected detours, unforeseen dangers and a great story at the end. If Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit truly are backpacking books and films what trekking wisdom can we glean from them? Here’s what Lord of the Rings taught me


When Gandalf Knocks, Answer the Door

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” 

One of the most difficult parts of any adventure is the starting. Picture it: You’re sitting in your hobbit hole Friday night, surrounded by all of your favorite things, planning to have a relaxing weekend, maybe get get a couple drinks at the Green Dragon, when you get the proverbial knock at the door –a text message from your buddy, let’s call him Randal…f.

Randalf:” Hey man, me and like 13 other dudes are going to send some gnarly peak called Lonely Mountain this weekend. We’ll be by in the morning to pick you up!!”

Sure, Randalf should have given you more notice and the last time his 13 buddies came over they were drunk and rowdy, singing and breaking plates and such; regardless, get out of your hobbit hole and go on the adventure. Chances are you’ll end up having a great time and Randalf’s buddies aren’t so bad when you get to know them.

While adventure can sometimes be inconvenient or scary, when the opportunity rises, don’t let your apathy or fears get the best of you. Get out of your hobbit hole and climb that mountain! You won’t regret it.


Bring Sam Along

“I am going with him, if he climbs to the Moon, and if any of those Black Riders try to stop him, they’ll have Sam Gamgee to reckon with!”

As Bilbo and Frodo both discovered, the right company can make the difference between having a great adventure or leading you to a giant spider named Shelab. A good companion, or a few for that matter, can be a wonderful asset on your backpacking trip and provide a source of encouragement, motivation and laughter throughout the hardships.

That being said, don’t hike with Gollum. If someone is going to add drama to the trip or complain under their breath in some creepy, raspy voice the whole time, it can really bring down the group morale. It’s important that everyone in the group try to keep a positive attitude even during the rough patches which leads us to….


Carry Your Ring

“Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” 
Or “Look Frodo, just deal with it…”

While relying on one another occasionally is perfectly normal and expected, try not to bog down the rest of your group with complaints or a negative attitude. I’m sure even Gandalf got tired of Frodo’s whining from time to time. Backpacking can be really difficult and uncomfortable, especially when you throw in inclement weather or a hoard of Orcs on your tail. Everyone experiences some degree of discomfort. Remind yourself that part of the reason you’re backpacking is because it provides a challenge. Use discomfort or difficulty as sources of growth rather than focusing on the discomfort. Distract yourself by taking in all the beauty around you and enjoying the company of your friends –maybe start a conversation with that guy Boromir, he seems friendly…


You Don’t Need Mithril Armor

“All folk desired it. It could be beaten like copper, and polished like glass; and the dwarves could make of it a metal, light and yet harder than tempered steel.” –Backpacker Magazine’s review of the latest cuben fiber tent

Sure, some sleek Mithril or the newest cuben fiber tent might be a lifesaver in rare circumstances, that being said, you don’t need all the best, most expensive gear to go hiking through Middle Earth or Regular Earth. Hike like a Hobbit: don’t purchase big rugged hiking boots when some trail runners or your hairy, Hobbit feet will do the trick, carry a small backpack with just the essentials, one pair of clothes can usually last a week, leave the heavy Elven rope at home and if the weather is nice, a tarp can often stand in lieu of a tent. Cut out everything you don’t need while staying safe and prepared.


Don’t skip Elevenses

Aragorn: Gentlemen, we do not stop ’til nightfall.
Pippin: What about breakfast?
Aragorn: You’ve already had it.
Pippin: We’ve had one, yes. What about second breakfast?
Merry: I don’t think he knows about second breakfast, Pip.
Pippin: What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them, doesn’t he? 

As any hobbit knows, good nutrition is a crucial aspect of any successful trek. Make sure to eat good food and eat it often. Smaller snacks throughout the day will keep you energized without the weight of a huge meal. While the occasional ramen noodles and lembas bread might keep you alive, make sure to try to get some dehydrated fruits and veggies and quality protein worked into your meals and snacks. Even if your hiking partner has never heard of elevenses, make sure you take care of yourself and take the time to eat while hiking to keep your blood sugar up and your legs strong. Aragorn’s going to bonk soon if he doesn’t eat something soon anyway…


Send Mt. Doom

“I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten.”

Whether it’s hiking Half Dome in a Day or Mt. Doom in a Day, set a goal and stick with it. Even though it may be scary or difficult, we learn anytime we put ourselves outside of our comfort zone. Through all the trials and tribulations, carry your ring, make it to the top and you will come back to your Hobbit hole a whole new Hobbit. Push yourself and if you still don’t make it you have the assurance of knowing you gave it your best shot –Sauron will likely take over the world, but at least you gave it your best shot…

-Happy Hiking-

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