Being Alone With Style

February 3, 2013

Backpacking, Style, Wilderness

Being Alone With Style

I used to think having style was about how one appeared to others, something that extroverts needed to know about, not nerdy introverts like myself. However, style is more than just fashion, it’s the total way we express our inner being outwardly, whether it be clothes, accessories, speech or how we carry ourselves. Strangely enough, I only started to realize the importance of style after spending some time alone, backpacking in the wilderness.

While solo hiking a section of the John Muir Trail a few years back, I came across a snowfield which obscured the trail and I made the classic mistake of asking someone else where the trail was. Two exhausted hours later I found myself off-trail, disoriented (the word has less finality than lost) and summiting Donahue peak (12,023 feet) with a full pack instead of hiking leisurely through the Pass. However, I remembered to do all the correct things, stifling a rising feeling of panic by sitting down, rehydrating, eating a snack and getting re-oriented. The point of the story is that, at the end of the day I felt that, despite my initial foolishness, I had extricated myself from a difficult situation in a way that matched or exceeded my self-image. On this occasion at least, I had acted with style.

On another occasion I broke one of my climbing poles on a multi-day backpacking trip. There was, of course, always the option of leaving it where it broke or burying it in the ground. Nobody would know and I wouldn’t have the hassle of schlepping an awkwardly shaped worthless piece of metal around the High Sierras. However, I knew I could not do this as I have always followed the ‘leave no trace’ wilderness ethic, so schlepp the worthless piece of metal I did. At the time I never thought of this having anything to do with style, but on reflection it has everything to do with it. Part of having style is having a generalized code of ethics that guides our actions in particular cases. This is what enables one to act confidently and decisively in a variety of circumstances without having to think through all the issues before every difficult choice.

Of course style can also have something to do with clothes and gear but again, not in the strict fashion sense that most people associate with the word. For example, most experienced backpackers believe you should stow all your gear inside your pack rather than having things hanging on the outside.  Packing all your gear away leads to both economy of motion and thought, as there is no need to worry about anything catching as one walks. Having style, in this case, has to do with being functional. In the wilderness a piece of gear or clothing is stylish largely to the extent that it functions well.

The closer one gets to civilization the looser becomes the attachment of style to function. Meet someone in the wilderness and what you see tends to be what you get. In civilization, it is much easier, using the trappings of affluence, to convey an impression of who we would like to be rather than who we actually are. However, as most of us know, it doesn’t take too long to figure out whether someone is really what they appear to be. Sooner or later something always gives away the truth. Knowing that style has its roots in function, which is related to authenticity, should help us remember that wisdom lies more in working to make oneself closer to one’s ideal, than in manipulating one’s environment to bring it into alignment with one’s vision of the ideal.


“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”  Gore Vidal

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About Malcolm Greenhill

Malcolm Greenhill is President of Sterling Futures, a fee-based financial advisory firm, based in San Francisco. I write about wealth related issues in the broadest sense of the word. When I am not writing, reading, working and spending time with family, I try to spend as much time as possible backpacking in the wilderness.

View all posts by Malcolm Greenhill


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41 Comments on “Being Alone With Style”

  1. A Gripping Life Says:

    This was great, Malcolm. You’re a man of integrity and to me, that’s the “style” that we should all be trying to achieve. It’s about self-approval and living your life according to your own set of standards/values, looking inward, not outward. If you do this successfully then you’ll never be subjected to the random whims, trends and questionable changes in our society. Using your own inner compass makes you solid and self-confident. That’s a style everyone finds very attractive but not everyone knows how to achieve.
    Great post – I think it could be applied to a lot of things.


  2. NicoLite Великий Says:

    It is also my style to acknowledge other people’s insights. Even if you don’t want to flaunt this on your page, know that I consider you a “real” Blogger


  3. John Paul Turnage Says:

    Wonderful piece, Malcolm! I would offer that—even in the city—form can follow function, and the inward standard can be transmitted by the outward standard. If we want to be better people, arranging our trappings to match our ambition is often a necessary step on that path. People who take the trouble to do this will distinguish themselves. I wrote about this in more detail here:

    Keep up your excellent writing!


  4. Gregory Zaretsky Says:

    Malcolm, I find most of your writing pretty cool.



  5. The Sicilian Housewife Says:

    Another beautiful piece of writing.
    Are you going to collect your thoughts into a book? I’d love to buy it.
    BTW just spotted your “freshlly pressed” badge, well done!


    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Veronica, thank you. The answer to your question is “maybe”. However, if I do write a book I would love to exchange a copy for the book that you are writing. I never leave your site without a deep wholesome chuckle.


  6. The Savvy Senorita Says:

    Hello Malcolm,

    Great post once again, and a joy to read as always! Oh, congratulations on the WP badge by the way!

    I couldn’t agree more with you regarding a sense of style, and the many guises it may take.

    I especially think that people often ‘buy’ their style merely to cover the tracks of the real them. As you have mentioned in your post; the truth will always out though, regardless of the glamour applied and careful hand of concealment!

    Style is definitely who you are, and indeed how you act or react. No one can purchase style off any shelf; it cannot be feigned either.



  7. Mish Says:

    Thank you Malcolm. In my experience as a hiker or on a bicycle trip the art of packing was very important. One time on the Appalachian trail in New Hampshire on a shimmering morning near a creek I was arranging and fixing my belongings and can never forget that state of bliss that happened all of a sudden.



  8. aaforringer Says:

    Posted a link at my site to this article, what can I say except I wish I had written it.


  9. unfetteredbs Says:

    hey where did the teenager post go.. haa haa. I so wanted to read it.. but I am also glad someone else hit the delete key for a change 🙂


  10. Kavita Joshi Says:

    really liked the post as this is what exactly used to think and this made me confuse as well at times whether to care to dress when no one is looking ….thanks for sharing 🙂


  11. Harold Knight Says:

    I expected something completely other than this delightful read when I saw “financial and wealth related issues.” Thank you for liking my blog so I was directed to yours. Your writing is thought-provoking as well as calming.


  12. Hanne T. Fisker Says:

    What a beautiful take on style! Your posts shows the profound importance of introverts having the gift of reflecting upon the thought that nothing really is what it seems and share it with the world in a quiet, yet powerful way…

    Solitude and honest style has a simplicity to it that is like balm for the soul, our very being and our surroundings… a pure and unattached way of walking in the world (not to be confused with being detached)


    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Hanne, thank you for this thoughtful reply. I never thought about the difference between “a pure and unattached way of walking in the world” (a beautiful turn of phrase) and being “detached” but you are correct that they are very different. Perhaps the subject for another reflective post 🙂


      • Hanne T. Fisker Says:

        Malcolm, I just realized what I so deeply appreciate in your posts. You have a way of expressing and reflecting upon the world and everything in it in the way you quoted, pure and unattached. You do not judge (you might think you are, but it doesn’t feel like that) instead you are shedding light into all these areas and rich topics. You open up for perspectives instead of narrowing it down to personally judgments of right and wrong, which can have a very ‘closing’ effect. Hence your posts doesn’t bring up a need to defend a personal view, it simply invites us in and leaves the space open to reflect upon our own perceptions with fresh eyes. It’s a rare gift. Thank you.


        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Hanne, thank you. I just wrote what I thought was going to be a very unappreciated post. I’m so glad you see so much in it.

        • Hanne T. Fisker Says:

          It counts for all the posts I’ve read so far. Somehow, the most unappreciated things can be spoken and still be heard when it doesn’t come out as a projection from a personal lack within…

  13. Lena Says:

    Malcolm, wonderful post. Great food for thoughts. Thank you! Your post inspired me to write an article about personal branding and image vs. style!


  14. benvenutocellini Says:

    Good morning, Malcom…I’m starting today searching around your blog the elements that might let me “see” something more than I was able to see yesterday…Human speech is the most complicated form of communication in the world…and you have so many ways to express dreams, feelings, ideas, suggestions, intents, personal thoughts…
    Instead of “sensuos” which were your definition….For now, about your blog I might say: Extremely well articulated writing…Extremely interesting..

    Have a nice day,


    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Luana, thank you. I just wanted to clarify my use of the word sensuous. Sensuous in English means extremely gratifying or aesthetically pleasing to the senses. Your blog is rich in wonderful images of food, nature and people in glorious color. I could almost smell and taste some of the dishes portrayed.



  1. Being Alone With Style « Stories from the Mind* and Keyboard of A. A. Forringer - February 9, 2013

    […] Being Alone With Style. […]

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