Before Facebook, before CD Roms, and before the internet as we know it, was a game called Oregon Trail. Oregon Trail resided on floppy discs in computer lab Macintoshes all across the US. The game, while very elementary and quite pixelated, was a defining activity in American educational history. But did you know that while you playing, you were actually learning valuable backpacking tips? Yes, the Oregon Trail was a crash course in backpacking, hiking, and outdoor recreation in general. Not convinced? Let me break this analogy down for you:
The first decision you make in the Oregon Trail is your profession and net worth, much like the way you get to choose how much money you have in real life, too! While the easiest route is to be a banker, who can afford to buy a plethora of food and supplies, you can attain a higher score by starting off as a farmer, who can only afford to make the cross-country journey with a few oxen and a crap-load of bullets. This may be very similar to your backpacking trips of today. Sure, you can buy a bunch of fancy gear and make it through the trip comfortably, but the feeling of satisfaction from under-packing and making it out alive is totally worth it – even if your friend’s camp chair is looking really comfortable.
Your second choice is what time of the year to leave. Of course it’s safest to leave when the weather is nice, just like real camping. Is that too obvious? Maybe this analogy isn’t as brilliant as I initially thought.
Upon leaving Missouri, you set your pace and food consumption. And again, you will be able to achieve maximum points (or, in the real world, personal satisfaction) by setting a “grueling” pace with “bare bones” consumption. Do you go backpacking to enjoy the majesty of the outdoors, experience beautiful views, and get in touch with nature? Of course not! Backpacking is about proving that you are a bad-ass. This is why you didn’t bring any food, either. It’s more frugal to hunt for your food without a trail mix safety net.
The rest of the game is peppered with nuggets of backpacking wisdom. Hunting for any kind of animal smaller than bison is a waste of time. Walking through rivers is fun and easy. And last but not least, don’t approach strangers, as they’ll probably give you cholera. And…you know, this is all starting to sound like pretty bad advice. Maybe your expertise in this nostalgic video game does not directly translate into real world backpacking success. That’s up to you to figure out. But until a better simulation of outdoor recreation is created, just remember to overwork yourself, not eat, and ford as many rivers as possible on your next camping trip.