Pick One: Fast, Easy, or Cheap – backpacking edition

Originally written for all types of goals on my blog in January 2021 and then updated and republished for Garage Grown Gear

Want a recipe for disaster? 

“I’ve never slept in a tent before but I’m going to get a FKT on the PCT* next season. I also don’t have the time and energy for this to be hard to prepare for. Does someone have an easy to follow template for a couch to FKT plan? It also needs to be free. I don’t want to spend money on new gear, or guides, or training.”


Fast + Easy + Cheap = 😭. The goal doesn’t get achieved, or your body breaks, or your relationships break, either in the short or long term. Taking all the shortcuts at once rarely yields success. 

This is the best scenario for pursuing goals that will be fun, safe, and successful:

✅ I’m able to be patient and spend seasons and years developing the fitness and skill for ambitious thru hiking. 

✅ I’m ready to commit effort and time to research, learning, planning, and training.

✅ I’m willing to invest money in equipment and professional services.

Understandably most people can’t check all those boxes. 

Pick just one shortcut and be willing to go all in on the others. Let me explain:

If you choose fast, be willing to put in the work and invest your money. A really big ambitious goal that you give yourself a short timeframe to accomplish means the research, preparation, and training are going to take over your life. It also means you have less time to make gear, test gear, and wait for deals. When you don’t have time to learn things the hard way by trial and error, season after season, it often means paying for classes, guides, coaches and more. 

If you choose easy, it may mean investing the money and being patient. You can do big ambitious adventures and have it be fairly easy. For example you could hire a coach and trainer and body worker so all you have to do is show up for the workouts. Then hire a guide to do the food and route and gear prep as well as help keep you safe on trail. You can also make it easier simply by distributing the cost and preparation effort over years. Turn that one year goal into a three year goal. 

If you choose cheap, it’s going to take elbow grease and take more time. You can make gear and find used gear, both of which take way more time than loading up the shopping cart. You can create your own strength workouts and design your own training plan. You can read all the guides, reviews, and stories to plan your trip. You can create and test all your own recipes. It’s rewarding and affordable, but it does take a lot of time and effort. 

This is simplified to illustrate a point. Can you be just partially fast, easy, and cheap? Sure. Just realize that you can’t shortcut everything and have stellar results.  

Are there successful people who seem to be doing it the fast, easy, and cheap way?  Sure. Those are fantastic best selling stories. But for every one of those there are hundreds of sad failures that don’t make the news.  

Pick your path. Know what trade offs you’re making.

*FTK = Fastest Known Time (AKA record breaking) PCT = Pacific Crest Trail (2,650 of very rugged miles)

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