Bread Crumbs – How much information is enough?

As my outdoor “career” has progressed, I’ve learned new,  or enhanced existing, outdoor skills…mainly through trial and error!

Among them..

  • Map reading and compass use became more efficient.
  • Learning to plot out a route by looking at map.
  • Picking a good campsite.
  • ..and so on

All skills that were refined the more time spent outdoors. 

But there are other skills I had to learn along the way, too, as this website has gained more readership.

Mainly, striking a balance between giving information and sharing a place without giving so much detail it is less of a wild place.

I learned the hard way that if a person gives detailed instructions on a backpacking trip (what maps to take, trailhead directions, trails to follow and other specific information) , the law of unintended consequences may kick in.

(It was also a  lesson in that more people read this silly little website than I realized at the time!)

And it is a trend I’ve noticed. If a person gives out an exact way of doing something, even if the route existed in one form or another for a long time, the route  becomes popular.  Throw in  an acronym for some alphabet soup hiking, and the popularity is insured.

Giving detailed instructions ala a guidebook is not necessarily a bad thing. There is an obvious niche where people want very detailed information on how to spend their outdoor time. 

But, at least for me, I’ve realized giving detailed instructions is counterproductive in some ways.  In the increasingly busy mountains of Colorado, trying to keep certain spots, routes or camping locations a little obscure is important for me.  

Older posts of mine won’t be edited. However, some astute readers have written me. They noticed that for reports written within the last year or so, I’ve been vague in giving specific details of the places where I’ve been. Guilty. 🙂

As Aaron of TrailGroove magazine succinctly puts it:

“There also seems to be a big difference between saying “Here’s the route I took, here are some photos, and check out my trip on this map” and something like “Here is THE route, this is the map, here are the coordinates and campsites“, and then critically, giving it a name… “

I think it is important for these areas to be known. Without some use, it is hard to justify protecting the wild areas in my opinion.

On the other hand, giving the exact way of doing something can turn the wild areas into something to check off a list.  Less of a wild area and more a city park with limited cell service.

Give the person the tools (overall area and information)  and a wild place can be experienced. Give them the bread crumbs? A lot of people are lead a certain way,  and in many ways, have the experience as done by someone else…

Of course, the advantage of OTHER people placing breadcrumbs means I know to avoid those specific places and do something on my own.  😉

Update 2017: I wrote a follow-up article about Social Media Ethics.  If I had to sum up the article, I’d call it “Obscurity, not secrecy” as the overriding principle. 

How to get your own ideas for your trips? This article gives some ideas. Some additional Trip Planning articles are instructive as well.


6 Replies to “Bread Crumbs – How much information is enough?”

  1. I was just thinking about this very thing last week as I was working on a LNT post. We seek to leave our wild places wild, leaving no perceptible imprint of our time there, but when trip reports and guidebooks draw new users to the area, we have essentially failed in our reach for ethical travel in the backcountry. Doesn’t take long for an area to be devastated once boots are present.

  2. I finished a hike in Lost Creek Wilderness last month, a nice out and back where my nephew and I got to introduce my sister to backpacking. We ate at Zoki’s(?) on the way out, and we saw you and Liz Thomas. I only know about Lost Creek because of you, and I’ve introduced more than a half dozen people to backpacking there. It cuts both ways. I’m populating the wilderness area with hikers a few times each year. But, I’m looking at another 30+ years of hiking here if I’m lucky, and I’m eager to help protect and preserve the areas I love. I’ll make a positive impact over time, and the rest of us newcomers will too. You’ve made my life better by sharing your knowledge, so I hope you don’t feel too badly about it.

    1. It is the balance I am trying to strike. Sharing an area without getting too specific. AS I said, we need to know about the wild areas. I personally feel a responsibility to not give the exact way of doing something. Knowing about Lost Creek is cool. Giving the exact campsites? Leaves out some of the exploration process. Again, a balance (Aaron of TG really puts is well) We will see if I succeed… And thank you for the kind words!

  3. To me it’s pretty simple – people are fundamentally lazy. If we can find a “canned” route for which someone else has already done the legwork, we’re much more likely to choose that option over a scratch-built option.

    Furthermore, because canned routes don’t require as much prep, the average person can do more of these kind of routes per year. I prepped for a big week in the Winds this summer using Pallister’s book, Skurka’s notes, Wilson/Dixon, and hours upon hours staring at a map, trying to figure out the best route across the spine of the Winds. This was intensely rewarding, however it took months of prep. The other 15 or 20 trips I’ve gone on this year have been either on-trail or off-trail routes that other people have done the legwork for.

    So it’s a fact of life that, for those of us who have jobs and lives and work as [occupation] monkeys in Corporate America, canned routes allow us to get out and spend time outdoors that we’d otherwise never have time for. But even within that spectrum, there are varying degrees of information (and I think this gets back to the core of your message). I shouldn’t need somebody to tell me where to camp; I shouldn’t need someone to prepare an analysis of the climate I expect to face. And I sure as heck shouldn’t need someone to validate my route by giving it a formal name, so that everyone else can follow in my literal footsteps.

    My buddy and I did a hike that we in jest called the “Wind River Fun Route”. There’s been much to-do about “THE Wind River High Route” in the backpacking community recently, and I find the whole discussion kind of silly. We were out there to hike off-trail from south to north, and to have fun. We achieved that goal, even if our route may look different from anybody else’s choice.

    When you think about it, isn’t information overload a natural precursor to the whole “purity” movement on the established trails?

    1. Pretty much how I feel. Though, as I think you are alluding to, this fascination with what I call Alphabet Soup hiking is getting a tad ridiculous. It is not enough to go out and hike. Has to have a name for it. A few years ago, I did an about 60 or 70 mile loop in the Winds I strung together. Some off-trail, some using the CDT, some using other trails. In retrospect, I should have called it the PBR – Paul’s Backpacking Route. 🙂

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