Backpacking is inspring for those who love camping and hiking. But remember, even the most advanced backpackers can find the outdoors challenging. Below is backpacking advice for beginners to ensure their experience is smooth and avoid common problems.
What is Backpacking
Backpacking is a very loose term. Before you set off on an adventure understand that backpacking is basically the combination of hiking and camping. Generally backpacking is done in the backcountry or in the wilderness. Backpacking trips can vary in length, and can be done solo or with a buddy.
A backpacker has an essential list of gear to bring on his/her trip, including a tent, sleeping bag, cookware and appropriate clothing and shoes.
There are many guides on the best sleeping bag, best kitchen set, best backpack, etc on our blog that are essential for your next trip. However, most important item to begin with is – shoes! Nothing hurts more than hiking for a few hours and then peeling off shoes that don’t fit and have ached your feet the entire time. Don’t overlook this main item. Buy appropriate shoes, not running shoes, not sandals and not casual (but my feet look good) shoes. Buy shoes that are meant for hiking so you don’t end up with blisters and swollen feet after one day!
We can not stress enough how many first time backpackers over pack and weight themselves down with items they don’t end up using. Ensure you pack the right stuff! We have created a Beginner Backpacking Checklist highlighting some of the more important items to pack. A rule of thumb before packing is to review all the items and assess each item critically. Review each item to see if it is needed based on the length of your trip, the location and if you are going solo or with friends. Tip – when backpacking with others, everyone does not need to bring cookware.
You should be at a certain level of fitness before you take on new trails or larger routes. The more fit you are though, the easier time you’ll have.
For beginner backpackers you will need to take your time and build up your endurance. Many overestimate how challenging backpacking is, so don’t make that mistake! Start by walking around your local neighborhood or park with your fully loaded backpack. Start small by walking two or three miles and then try a slightly large route and keep moving up the distance. Also try walking in bad conditions, during the rain, at night so you are comfortable and aware of what it may be like when you set off on your backpacking trip (incase the weather changes or if you underestimate the route length and have to hike during the evening).
Most forget that backpacking is more difficult than hiking, because you are carrying the added weight of your gear. So remember to pack light or only pack the essentials.
Find a Buddy (Avoid Solo Backpacking)
It is always recommended to go with a buddy on your first few backpacking trips. It’s even a bonus to go with an experienced backpacker. If you are having a hard time finding a buddy, find an online community that is close to you and that might have others interested in buddying or partnering with new hikers and backpackers. Also visit your nearest outdoor store or nature organization (ie. Sierra Club) for postings of group outings that you can join. Local parks departments, meet up groups might also have backpacking outings planned, so don’t forget to check out those resources.
How to plan a backpacking trip
Before planning extensive, advanced type trips, start small. Most beginner backpackers might not be experienced with the outdoors. Start with a few day hiking trips, to get yourself mentally and physically ready. Work yourself up from a 5 mile trail to a 10-15 mile hike. If you have never been camping before, the easiest place to try that is in your backyard. But consider spending the night in a local campground so you have the experience with setting up a tent, creating a fire, using your kitchen/cookware. These suggestions might seem easy in theory but can become challenging to those who are experiencing it for the first time.
When you are ready to go, follow the steps below
1. Plan a route
– Time: consider how long the entire route will take, so you are not rushing to hike during the dusk, so you are comfortable and setup with your tent/sleeping area before it gets dark.
– Trail conditions: make sure you pick a trail that meets your fitness level and review the trail conditions before leaving (no closures, part of the route is off limits, etc)
2. Pack efficiently
– Once you know where you are going and roughly how long it will take, pack appropriately. Bring only the gear you need for your trip. For example, if you are travelling with a buddy, they may bring the cookware, so don’t pack that and weigh yourself down. Discuss with your partner who is bringing what to avoid duplication. Read our beginner backpacker’s checklist of what is some essentials to take on your trip.
If you are bringing a map, compass, GPS – make sure you know how to use them. No point of getting lost and then discovering you don’t know how to read a compass. Tell family or friends of your backpacking plans, your routes and time frames. And don’t forget to call them once you return to tell them all about your experiences! Check what emergency resources or wilderness emergency options are available in the area you are going to backpack. It is good to know the park ranger’s number incase there is an emergency. Lastly, pack a small first aid kit. Read more about backpacking safety.
Most backpackers agree that you should “leave no trace” and “pack out what you pack in.” The Leave No Trace core principles include:
- Dispose of Waster Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors