Forget the gym, go backpacking!

Many students need a break from their studies as the semester comes to an end. A great way to escape the hustle and bustle is to take a weekend break to explore and experience new things in the area. Being located near the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Smoky Mountain National Park, WCU offers different recreational opportunities for students, including backpacking.

WCU’s Base Camp Cullowhee takes on the trail with a group of students on the “First Ascent” five day backpacking trip.
Photo courtesy of WCU

Backpacking takes more commitment than your average hike as it involves setting up camp for at least one night. The journey is worth considering for all of the benefits it provides. Just from trekking out in nature, there are many ways it can help boost a person’s physical and mental health.

“Backpacking allows you to take a step away from reality and take a breath of fresh air. Backpacking is so relaxing and being off your phone really helps you to get to know the people you’re with,” said Base Camp Cullowhee student worker, Mary Kindred.

This exciting venture allows you to leave your stress behind and focus on your mind as it requires a hiker to clear their thoughts to face the challenges of the trails – crossing riverbanks and maneuvering boulders. Being outdoors can even help you in the classroom! Connecting with nature while you disconnect from technology boosts creative problem solving according to a psychological study.

In addition to this mental relief, experts say backpacking is known to boost a person’s memory, functionality of the brain and can improve a person’s happiness as it releases endorphins.

Trekking up and down through mountainous paths improves cardiovascular strength as well. Covering large distances creates a higher need for oxygen and our hearts work hard to pump quickly to keep up with that demand.

Backpackers looking out on a panoramic view along their travels.
Photo courtesy of REI.com

Backpacking serves as an alternative to the gym as it helps to shed weight, build cardiac muscles and helps to build strong bones through small bursts of exercise at regular intervals.

Backpacking isn’t necessarily a vigorous or intense virtue, but it is always providing the body and mind with these benefits.

“I’ve never backpacked before but I would definitely be open to experiencing it. I enjoy short hikes and camping,” said senior, Jessica Wooten. “I think it would be fun to go on a trip with a bunch of friends in an environment that is not centered around technology.”

For students who want to experience the mental and physical benefits of backpacking, check out the following video, showing the basics of how to pack for a weekend backpacking trip in the WNC mountains.

Packing varies from the route you choose, the length of the journey, the weather you will encounter and how many other individuals are with you that help share the load. The video below reflects a lighter load overnight trip in an area that will not have any extreme weather conditions.

Video produced by Kayla Minion

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