Why Go Guided? How Guided Backpacking Enriches the Experience of the Wilderness

If you are into day hikes more than likely you have a friend or acquaintance that goes the extra mile when it comes to going into the wilderness. They are out every weekend hiking and they go backpacking at least once a month. They have the newest lightweight technical backpacking gear for their adventures, constantly showing it off every time they get back from their weekly shopping trip to R.E.I. 

For those who would like to begin backpacking and don’t know where to start the task of gear purchase, route planning, food prep, and packing it all up for the trip can be daunting; let alone the logistical workload of trailhead drop off and pickup.

Would it surprise you if I said that the amount of time an average backpacker spends in the wilderness after the purchase of their gear is around 6 days per year? The cost of buying the gear for that 6 days per year is high. 



A fact that most people are unaware of is that guided backpacking trips are less expensive and more earth friendly than mounting your own expeditions, especially if you fall into the 6 days a year category that most backpackers fall into. 

At American Wild Trekking our Smoky Mountain Backpacking trips are tailor fit to each guests desired trip length and physical abilities. All group gear is provided ( Lightweight tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, backpacking packs, stove, food, water filtration, and group water storage). Taken at just the cost of the gear alone each member of a backpacking trip is provided with 950 dollars worth of high end gear. This doesnt include the cost of emergency contact systems. Base weight plus food is under 20 pounds per person on a 5 day backpacking trip. 

One of our 3 day Smoky Mountain backpacking trips are 650 dollars. In order to justify the expense of the gear alone you would have to go on more than 3 trips on your own. The total cost for food, permits, and shuttling for the 3 personal trips would come out to 2020 dollars. Going on three of our guided backpacking trips, that expense is brought down to 1950 dollars. 

A Narrative Experience

Human history and collective experience is narrative in nature. It is through this lens that American Wild Trekking weaves a personal experience for each guest that comes on our guided backpacking trips. We truly believe that the experiences of individuals are more valuable than material possessions. When hiking in new wild places it is difficult to gain a full understanding of the impact that human history has had on that area. Going with a guide insures gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of the natural space in which you are traveling.

The Great Smoky Mountains are rich in history, natural wonders, biological diversity, and remnants of lost human cultures. The way that American Wild Trekking provides interpretive information is through narrative structure. As humans, we look back and see our lives like books. It is the goal of American Wild Trekking to connect the narrative history of the Smoky Mountains to the narrative history that resides within each guest we take into the wilderness. Where most guiding companies falter is in the arena of spectacle vs. narrative. There are deeper threads of meaning behind the stories in these mountains. Pointing at a tree and identifying it is cool and all, but that does very little to connect guests to the area around them.

When you go on personal backpacking trips to new areas the scenery is beautiful, but very little if any of the history comes to life. Going guided changes the entire experience. 


This may seem like a minor issue to those who haven’t yet had the opportunity to eat dry Ramen for days. Food in the back country means everything. When most people think of backpacking food they invariably think of freeze dried pouches that you add water to and energy bars. At American Wild Trekking we prepare all group meals ourselves. The weight of the food is kept below 2 pounds per person per day and is delicious! All meals are prepared by the guide and all of the cleanup is done by the guide as well. 

Backcountry Expertise

When going guided each of our guides has years of experience in back country travel. They are competent when handling issues that may arise on the trail. Reading weather, knowing proper layering technique, crossing streams, and at mitigating back country risks overall. If our guides are in the field, they know the Smokies like the backs of their hands. 

Tips For Choosing A Guiding Company

1. Make sure they provide group gear for their guests. Tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and Backpacks. Some companies do not do this or only provide one of the items but not all. (REI Adventures in the Smokies is notorious for this. They want all of their clients to buy gear before they go out. The cost of one of their trips is high as well. Compare our trips to REI’s.)

2. Make sure that they have emergency protocols and carry satellite communication devices. You would be surprised at how many companies neglect this. 

3. Ask if the guides are Wilderness First Responders.

4. Ask if transport is provided to and from the trailhead.

5. Ask if every meal is provided.

In Conclusion

Not only does going guided ultimately save you money if you go backpacking an average number of times per year, it also provides a deeper and more enriching wilderness experience. American Wild Trekking is in the business of creating relationships with our guests. One of the best ways to get to know other people is to go backpacking with them for multiple days. When you combine the cost, narrative experience, food quality, and back country expertise of a guided trip it only makes sense to go guided.

Check out our trip offerings here.

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