Backpacking Science and Privilege: Shelter/Heat (draft)

On long-distance backpacking trips we don’t take the same things for granted that we do at home and as a result we can gain some insights into our privilege and how it affects the way we hike our hikes, and pack our packs. This is the third post in a series of three in which I  discuss how science and privilege influence the way I pack my pack.

  1. Food: Our ability to regulate blood sugar levels (glycoregulation).
  2. Water: Our ability to regulate water and minerals (osmoregulation).
  3. Shelter/Heat: Our ability to regulate body temperature (thermoregulation).

Unfortunately I’m not going to have time to polish this third section in the series before I start my next adventure (PCT here I come!), but I’ll share with you what I have so far along with some of the resources that I’ve found for figuring out the science…

Unpacking my invisible knapsack: Shelter/Heat.

In 1989 Peggy McIntosh wrote a famous essay in which she likened privilege to “an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.” What follows is a list of shelter-based privileges that hiking the trail has made me more aware of:

  • I have a home.
  • I have a consistent address.
  • I can sit on a bench in the park without people assuming that I am: a drunkard, a bum, a vagrant, stupid, lazy, irresponsible, on welfare, or plagued by psychological disorders.
  • I can sit on a park bench without anyone calling the police.
  • People do not assume that I am a criminal.
  • I have a private space where I can engage with my emotions without constant interruption and observation by strangers.
  • I can choose who sleeps beside me.
  • I have regular access to water for bathing and laundering.
  • I have a place to go where I can be isolated/protected from the weather outside (I don’t have to be cold, wet, hot).
  • I have a place to sleep if I am tired.
  • I do not have to carry all of my belongings with me wherever I go.
  • I will be welcome at any commercial establishment that I walk into.
  • People will make room for me to join them at campsites and in shelters.
  • I have enough money to stay in/buy the shelter that I want.
  • I have never had a mouse run across my face while I was trying to sleep (I don’t have to interact with local wildlife while I sleep eg . bugs, scorpions, bears, rattlesnakes, mice).

Packing your pack: Shelter/Heat

The minimal amount of shelter that you need to carry with you on a backpacking trip depends on the weather that you are likely to encounter, the terrain, and whether or not there are options for shelter that you do not need to carry with you.

Once again, the military seems to have the best reference data and guidelines for dealing with appropriate insulation and shelter while hiking and or sleeping in different wilderness situations. The Northern Warfare Training Center’s student handout contains detailed information about dealing with cold weather situations and has an awesome slogan:

Battle cold and conquer mountains

For the science behind picking out the right sleeping bag for the conditions that you are hiking in check out the EN13537 standards. For my personal experiences with sleeping bags and tents on the Appalachian Trail check out my thru-hike sleeping bag review and my thru-hike tent review.

If you have more thoughts about the privilege and science associated with shelter and staying warm on the trail please share it in the comments!

3 thoughts on “Backpacking Science and Privilege: Shelter/Heat (draft)

  1. Pingback: Things that have been weighing on me… | Patches Thru

  2. Pingback: Backpacking Science and Privilege: Water | Patches Thru

  3. Pingback: Backpacking Science and Privilege: Food | Patches Thru

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