Naked Backpacking



We were backpacking on the Big Island of Hawaii along the Mulawai Trail. The first night out, we camped in Waipio Canyon. Then, the next day we headed toward Waimanu Canyon and stopped for the night to camp on a rustic camping platform provided by the state’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife. The shelter was conveniently located on a mountaintop within a day’s walking distance of the trailhead and was a welcome sight after our long and hot climb through the jungle and up the Z Switchbacks. We reached the elevated platform in the middle of the afternoon, and since there was still plenty of daylight left and we were all physically drained, everyone picked a spot and stretched out on the shaded and relatively clean plywood for a quick nap. As I dozed off, I thought contentedly of gentle breezes, juicy Lilikoi fruit, and thick clouds. Josh and I were the guides for the group of 8 teenage boys, a fact that would eventually come into play. But for the moment, we all just slept.

Our group was alone when we arrived and settled in for our naps. I was aware that things were more straightforward and easier to deal with if there weren’t outside influences/people intermingling with our groups, and so being by ourselves was a good thing.

About 30 minutes after entering REM sleep, I was awakened by the sound of voices coming our way from down the trail in the same direction that we’d just hiked. I stayed prone and just glanced around and noted that none of our group was stirring and for the moment they stayed out of sight. Oh well, so much for keeping to ourselves, I mused.

I figured it would likely soon be loud and bustling as more people showed up. I wondered how many of them there might be and whether there’d be room for everyone on the platform, assuming they planned to share the shelter with us for the night. Recognizing there would be plenty to deal with soon enough, I decided to let our guys keep sleeping while they could.

And then, the people came around a corner, and some of my questions were answered. My first recognition was that there were only two of them, which meant that if they were planning to share the shelter with us for the night, there would be plenty of room. But I was bewildered by another situation and knew that it would be an especially tricky one to deal with—and it was that they had no clothes on. Yes, they were indeed buck-naked except for their hiking boots

I was increasingly flabbergasted by the events as I watched the nude backpackers continue to get closer. The first thing I did was close my eyes and see if the situation would just go away, like a bad dream- which it did not. I was careful not to stare as the hikers kept getting nearer, but did observe that they were carrying well-organized backpacks and their footwear was state-of-the-art. I looked around at our team and noted that thankfully, they were all still asleep. None even stirred when the nudist backpackers climbed the platform steps while talking back and forth about how many of us there were. And then, the man and woman walked my way, as they noted my wide-open eyes. They had questions, or at least things to say, and immediately began directing their talk toward me.

I wasn’t at all sure about how the whole situation was going to unfold. At that moment, I was thankful that the teenagers were continuing to sleep through it all. Maybe, I held out hope, the couple was just passing through and would move on and be long gone before any of our guys woke up and realized we had new campmates and that they were unclothed.

“Hot trail. You’re a big group. Where ya’ going? How many days are you all out for? Do you like those boots?” the naked man was full of questions.

I’d sat up when they arrived and tried to act normal while answering but couldn’t figure out where to look and found my mind wandering between his various queries and appendages. I kept glancing over at the group and noting that even after all the talking and commotion, there was still no movement. And I kept hoping they were planning to move on.

Three more minutes, just give me long enough to let this all pass, I silently hoped.

Then, the man asked me about our stoves. Before I could even answer, he looked over at the woman and just said, “I guess this’ll do. We can set up our stuff right over there. You don’t mind if we stay here for the night, do you?”

I was once again dumbfounded, but simply answered, “sure, there’s plenty of room.”

The worst-case scenario happened in the snap of a finger, and I accepted the reality that the nude couple was going to camp alongside us that night. I had plenty of unanswered questions but came to grips with the fact that the camping part was going to happen and would just be what it was. And so, with the man’s attention turned toward setting up camp and other normal backpacking things, I just sat back and amusingly watched the situation unfold.

I like to think that I would’ve done a better job of dealing with the developing situation faster, or at least more naturally if it hadn’t happened so suddenly and unexpectedly. I decided that at least it was going to be entertaining to watch each of the young men awaken and see their various reactions. I speculated that some of them would likely think they were still in the midst of some sort of dream– one with a very eerily lifelike tone.

For a short while, there was no stirring. But, within a few minutes, the teenagers began to regain consciousness and drift back into reality. As each began to come to, they initially kept their eyes closed. Likely hearing the talk and commotion and assuming it was just normal backpacking trip noise.

I knew that the moment of peace and quiet wouldn’t last for long, and as expected, it didn’t. The first young man opened his eyes, and immediately looked in the direction of the couple. His glance lasted less than a second before he closed his eyes again, undoubtedly trying to figure out if he’d seen what he thought he saw. Then, his moment of stillness was abruptly broken by a strange sort of upper body and head jerk that ended with his eyes appearing to open up into a locked position. I could almost feel his brain spasming to struggle with the facts. He sat up, looked me square in the face, and kept his back to them. I could see his need for direction and his intention of not turning around to face the facts. His eyes implored me for help, but I had nothing to offer, except for a “you’ll figure it out” sort of look. And so, he did what he needed to do and immersed himself full throttle into changing out his shoelaces.

Just then, another began to roust, which was almost immediately followed by yet another. The two sat up simultaneously, did second takes at the sight of our camping mates, and then turned to each other and began a nonchalant discussion of Hawaiian ornithology.

Eventually, the rest of the group awakened. Each person watched to see what the subsequent reactions would be. In the end, we were all curious about the right way to act, and everyone watched to see what the other group members did. I realized that while it was an unusual situation, the answer to how to handle it was mostly nothing different from what we were going to do anyway. And so, we spent the rest of that day and evening working to keep our gear under control, cooked supper, and argued about who was going to clean the pots. Before going to sleep, we all organized our packs for the next day’s hike down to Waimanu, speculated about the beach, and ended our day counting snacks.

Things were mostly normal by the time the next day came around and our two campmates had little to worry about regarding clothing choices. Our group members had moved beyond the unexpectedness of the previous afternoon and evening and were focused on the five miles of trail that awaited. I was pleased to see that but Josh and I did make sure to get ahead of the nude couple for the day’s hike.

The Backcountry

Author: David Appleton

I was born and raised in Texas and currently live in the Texas Hill Country, spent some 30 years living in the smack dab middle of Colorado, and have spent a lifetime adventuring and leading others on adventures in many parts of the wild world.

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