The Freedom to Follow

By Renee Tougas
March/April 2014

The first time our family went backpacking our kids were 6, 8, and 9 years old. It had been our goal, for a few years, to do family backpacking. And over the years, we had slowly acquired the basic gear we would need. We started with car camping and worked our way to backpacking. After an initial investment in the basics - a tent, sleeping bags, pads, and a Coleman stove - each season we dialed in our gear more and more.

We carefully evaluated each purchase we made. Does this item of clothing or gear meet our long term goals? Can this item do double duty? (For example, buying our children's quick-drying pants instead of jeans for everyday wear.) Is there somewhere we can find this item on sale or discounted?

It took a couple years of purchases and upgrades to finally equip our family for lightweight backpacking. Each new camping season we would evaluate our budget, take a look a what we owned, identify what still worked, and finally determine what new pieces of gear we needed. Always choosing the lightest option possible within our budget.

Sometimes we would sell heavier stuff to buy a lighter equivalent. Often, we gave our "used, in excellent condition" gear to another family just starting. Seeding another family's dream of outdoor adventuring. At the same time, our family started going through another "lightening up", the lightening of our earthly goods and possessions.

Maybe it was because we had been bitten with the lightweight hiking and backpacking philosophy. The more we lightened our outdoor gear the more freedom it gave us to go places, literally. The lighter our packs were the further we could go with our young children. We started to translate this truth into our everyday lives. If having a lighter pack gives you more freedom in the outdoors, it could be said that having a lighter household gives you more freedom in life at home.

At least that has been our experience.

Our family is hiking the Appalchian Trail this year. We're starting at the end of March at Springer and are going north. We're aiming for Katahdin and we're producing a video series while doing it. We have three kids so you better believe we're going as light as we can.

In order to do this hike we had to free ourselves from as many financial obligations as possible. Many years ago we got off the consumer debt cycle. We have no car or credit card payments that keep us in bondage. But there's still housing costs. We're renters right now and so this month we finish our lease, will pack up and store our diminished earthly goods, leave the cat with friends and head to the trail.

Three years ago we had a big out-of-country move. We purged and packed and since then we've moved a couple more times. Regular moving is a huge incentive to downsize, to "clean house" in a big way. As much as we have downsized and lightened up our lives, one of the reasons we want to hike the Appalachian Trail and live out of our backpacks for six months, is to learn to how to lighten up even more.

Not in the gear-head way ("how many ounces is your spork?) but in a more spiritually-focused way.

When Jesus called the disciplines the pattern was to leave worldly possessions behind. We don't know exactly how that played out, or what that looked like for the disciple's families (what I always wonder is what did their wives think?). What we do know is that the early church, as recorded in the book of Acts, were of "one mind" with regards to possessions. Selling what they owned to distribute the proceeds for those in need.

We live in a culture of fear and excess. The fears are expressed in our financial insecurities, our culture's desire to own and amass goods and wealth to protect ourselves from the unknown. We'd rather rely on wealth than on our relationships with each other. Choosing to make do with less, yes, even less gear, goes against the very grain of our society. And your comfort in doing so rests on how much you can trust. Trust in God's abundance and trust the people around you. Trusting in relationships is the opposite of a scarcity mindset.

As related to backpacking and evaluating your gear, I'm not suggesting foolishness, paring down so light you can't manage a backcountry emergency for example, especially when you are responsible for someone else's well-being. But ultimately security comes from our relationship with God, not in having the best lightweight equipment.

Our kids are fifteen, thirteen, and eleven. They like their stuff and so do their Dad and I. The kids like their toys, the well stocked art cabinet, and computers. I like a well stocked kitchen with my nice pots and blender. We like having a home to host friends and family and a table to sit around and share a meal.

But we don't really need all of that now do we?

People ask us why we're hiking the trail with our kids. There's many reasons. We love the mountains and the outdoors, we've been hiking and backpacking for years and this is the next step, etc. However, one of the key reasons we're doing this with our kids, now, while they are still at home, is because we want to have an experience together of learning to live with less and being ok with it.

We want to build security in relationships, with each other and God, not stuff. We want our children to know they can not just survive, but thrive with only one change of clothes, and a tent for a home.

The trail will be hard, we have no doubt about that. But I also have no doubt we'll be happy and satisfied with our hike. We'll be together. We'll have enough food, and we won't die if we run low some days before the next town stop. We'll have shelter and the clothes on our backs. We'll even have iPads with e-books, art apps, and music.

Honestly, what more do we need?

We are sometimes apprehensive about the unknowns we will face. But we are excited also because doing a long distance hike like this will take our light living philosophy to the next level. When we get off the trail I'm sure we'll look at all those things in storage through new eyes, with a different perspective on needs vs. wants.

The trail will be awesome in and of itself, but we also hope and pray the experience of hiking it will help us be less attached to things - to possessions and routines; it will teach us how to drop our nets, leave our boats, and follow when and where we're called.


About the Author

  • Renee_Tougas's picture

    Renee is a hiker and homemaker; a mother and wife; a writer and photographer. Renee and her family make their home in Quebec, Canada where they create, work, adventure, and learn together each day. With an encouraging voice and beautiful photography, Renee tells the story of interest-led learning, intentional, and adventurous family living at her blog FIMBY. To follow the family's hiking adventures visit Beyond our Boundaries: A Family Adventure on the Appalachian Trail.

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