Slackpacking – The Way to Go or a Slacker’s Way Out?

We’re going to the Wild Coast! Next week will see Passepartout leisurely walking the Wild Coast Amble, slackpacking in style.

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Some travelers are in their element when roughing it, and indeed take pride in how rustic their travel conditions are. Whether it’s schlepping sans porter along the trails of Tibet or wearing the same clothes for the duration of a trek to Machu Picchu in the name of traveling light, hardy travellers base the success of their trip (and the inevitable post-holiday braai stories) on how much discomfort they endured.
Others however, find it unnecessary to suffer on holiday, and while they enjoy hiking and would like to see the same sights as their smellier counterparts, would prefer to sleep on a mattress at night and eat meals consisting not entirely of bully beef. Herald the birth of slackpacking, a relatively recent trend designed to add comfort to your outdoor experience.
The term slackpacking originally referred to the hikers of the Appalachian Trail who attempted to complete the whole 3 440 kilometres as slowly and easily as possible. A 1994 issue of “Appalachian Trailway News” described slackpacking as an “attempt to backpack in a manner that is never trying, difficult, or tense, but in a slowly free-flowing way that drifts with whatever currents of interest, attraction, or stimulation are blowing at that moment” and that it also meant escaping from “our culture’s slavish devotion to efficiency” and banishing “the gnawing rat of goal-orientation” by relearning how to play.

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Today however, it has loosely come to mean hiking without a large pack, and often with some level of comfort or luxury. As well as taking care of your luggage, many companies now offer top-class cuisine and luxurious accommodation after your day of walking, carrying only your camera, some water and perhaps a gourmet snack.

The pioneering slackpackers of the Appalachian Trail have apparently caused quite some consternation in the world of walking, with questions on various internet sites posing puzzlers such as “Is slackpacking morally wrong?” There are valid arguments on both sides of the question, with some people insisting that external support for walkers leads to ecologically damaging infrastructure to be established in remote areas. True hikers also believe that the more you carry and the more distant from ‘civilization’ you become, the closer to nature and more in tune with the wilderness you will be. Others believe that hikes should not be rushed or uncomfortable: part of the slackpacker philosophy is that hikers should wander where their curiosity takes them, not necessarily towards a single destination.

On the other side of the slackpacking coin and — and developed in its defense — is fastpacking (also called powerhiking). These disciplines merge into trail running so that fastpackers (which so sounds like a dirty word if you say it fast) run along their trails as much as possible, taking as few breaks as are absolutely necessary.

Most people, even hardcore hikers, would admit that there is nothing wrong with eco-friendly, responsible slackpacking, and it can even impact the area around the trail beneficially by creating jobs, heightening awareness of a region and opening up areas of beauty to people who might not have been able to experience it. Companies such as Slackpacker SA help local businesses by utilizing regional hospitality. Especially in South Africa, a developing country which places much emphasis on tourism and community development, the trend is having a positive impact and going from strength to strength as it caters for both international tourists and South African holidaymakers excited to see more of their own country.

Visit the following sites for more information on slackpacking: www.slackpacker.com and www.slackpackersa.co.za.

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