MY wife dropped me at the edge of the forest and as she drove off I felt a momentary pang of mild panic. I was on my own, in the grey drizzle, and would be self-contained and totally self-reliant for the next three days.

As has happened countless times before, as soon as I picked up my pack, slipped it on to my back and began to walk, the anxious thoughts vanished. In one sense I was pleased that my childhood bogies had not yet fully died in me, and in another I was aware that I was still, even after a lifetime of backpacking in the wild areas of the world, playing it carefully, weighing up the risks and responding to them by bringing into play skills and habits that I’ve learned over the years.

I was on my own, and that’s the way I like it. A rough trail ran through the dripping forest and carried me upwards towards the tree-line. It was good to know that the lightweight kit I carried on my back wasn’t a burden — too often in the past I’ve backpacked with heavy loads and I always felt it was slowing me down, making me work harder, taking some of the pleasure from the experience. As I get older I work harder at keeping the load lightweight and with the recent influx of some really featherlight tents, stoves and sleeping bags into the outdoors market the backpacker doesn’t really have to be a beast of burden any longer.

My pack felt comfortable, but more importantly my feet felt good, largely because I gave up cumbersome boots some years ago and walk for much of the year in lightweight trail shoes. I don’t like my feet to become too hot and I don’t like the notion that they have become encased in leather, overprotected to the degree that the bones and muscles fail to respond to each footfall as they were designed to do. Like a growing number of backpacking enthusiasts I probably prefer wet cool feet to dry overheated feet. Of course, such a distinction differs in winter when the temperatures fall, but even then I prefer to walk in relatively lightweight boots, or sturdy trail shoes.

It took me a good hour to reach the edge of the forest. Beyond lay the open hill and a rounded ridge that would lead me to a high and wide plateau. My afternoon would be spent visiting several mountain-tops that raised their heads from the surrounding massif. All going well I would find a good camping spot by late afternoon, preferably somewhere with a view but sheltered from the breeze that invariably picks up in the later afternoon on these high places.

A fallen log looked like a good place to sit down for a few moments and check the map. I like to know more or less exactly where I am at any given time and a regular map check allows me to do that. One of the curious anomalies of backpacking is that while we often take to the hills and wild places to escape many of the complexities of modern life, it is one of those complexities itself, technology, that we carry with us in the form of modern fabrics, super-lightweight equipment and the most technological of all — GPS systems. For some time now I’ve downloaded Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 maps on to my mobile phone, utilising the device’s in-built GPS to show me on the map where I might be at any given time. It’s a wonderful invention, although I still carry a paper map and compass with me. It took me years to learn how to navigate accurately on the hill so I’m not going to give up those hard-earned skills now… Happy in the knowledge that I knew where I was and where I was going I left the gloom of the forest and started climbing, the resolute, purposeful plod of the backpacker. By now the tangle and jumble of thoughts that had been racing through my mind for the first hour or so of the day were beginning to thin out and I was suddenly aware of the simplicity of backpacking — to walk, to eat and to rest. Such simplicity gives you a mental space to think things through to some kind of conclusion and in my case it often gives me the opportunity to contemplate fundamental issues that concern me.

As I approached the crest of the ridge with its distant views of hills, rivers and glens — a local microcosm of the planet — I considered one of those issues. I recalled the wisdom of the noted American ecologist Aldo Leopold, who wrote: “We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see the land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

For me that quotation from Leopold is wholly significant and backpacking for several days, away from the structures of modern society, removed from the artificial constraints of 21st century living, offers the opportunity to come close to that community once more, to “connect” with the natural world, to remember that we are part and parcel of it and not separate.

My afternoon on the high plateau was a delight. The early morning drizzle had evaporated and was replaced by a wind-torn sky that gave the sun an opportunity to cast its spotlight over distant hills, the cloud shadows moving over the landscape, filling every scoop and hollow in a chequerwork of black and gold. Far and wide, under the infinity of this domed sky the land stretched away, ruffled and tumbled, ridge over ridge, horizon over horizon, rolling moors and shadow-stained glen, clear-cut land and glistening lochans.

Greatly enjoying the theatre of it all I walked into the early evening, into the upper reaches of a wild and beautiful mountain corrie. I camped on a little patch of rough turf, sheltered by a low moraine. At times like these I go into automatic pilot — the well practised procedures of setting up camp have become so ingrained that I could probably do it with my eyes shut. Which is as well, for so often I find myself at this point of the day tired and thirsty and there have been times when that well-oiled routine has meant the difference between a comfortable night and a grim one, especially in bad weather.

This evening was easy. The pack came off and I pulled the tent from its stuff sack, leaving everything else I’d need for the night in the pack so I didn’t lose anything. The tent poles and pegs live in the same stuff sack as the tent so I pulled them out and connected the pole ends together. I then staked out one end of the tent so it didn’t blow away if a gust of wind should catch it. The poles then went through the sleeves, I pulled the tent panels out firmly to avoid any creases in the groundsheet, then staked out the corners and the guylines. Once the tent was erected it was time to pull out the sleep mat, inflate it, and lay it inside the tent. Next came the sleeping bag. I pulled it out of its waterproof stuff sack and gave it a shake or two to allow the air to inflate the downy feathers, before I laid it on the sleep mat.

Next job, before I finally crawled inside the tent, was to take my two water bladders and fill them. On this occasion there was a stream of fresh water only a few metres away, so I filled the bladders, using my mug to take the water from the shallow stream.

I then took out my stove, pots, knife and spoon and the rest of the things I would need for the night ahead — a bag of food, a book, tomorrow’s map and headtorch. By this time I was ready to lie down. After a day’s backpacking and all the bending down involved in putting up the tent I find my back tends to stiffen up, so it’s great to lie down inside the tent for a few moments, just to stretch it.

Next came the best moment of any camping experience. Lighting the stove, putting on a pot of water and anticipating the first brew. After that the evening passed like so many of them do, in a fuzz of eating and drinking, between long periods of simply gazing out of the open tent door. I always carry a book, and in more recent times a Kindle, but I’m forever amazed at how little reading I do.

A wee dram as the sun vanishes over the horizon is a delectable luxury and after the last brew I snuggle down in the sleeping bag, re-arrange my pillow and drift off to the sound of the breeze and the musical tinkle of the stream, into the deep sleep that only a hard day’s exercise in the fresh air can provide.