Are you ready to embark on your first backpacking journey but are unsure of how to prepare, what to bring and how to get hp that mountain? Backpacking is an excellent adventure that opens up a lot of the world, as there are loads of amazing and beautiful places you can only get to by backpacking or trekking.
In order to survive a multi-day backpacking adventure doesn’t require you to be the fittest person on the trail or the most experienced one. You just need to have endurance, willpower, a sense of adventure and to know the backpacking essentials.
If this is your first time carrying gear and backpacking, you just need a little preparation to start your journey and adhere to a few rules. Follow these guidelines and have a great first backpacking experience.
Find a Skilled Partner
If you have friends who are experienced backpackers, ask to join them on a one or two-night backpacking trip. Most likely they’ll be happy to share their experiences and expertise with you, can give you gear recommendations and will have their own gear which you can share.
None of your friends are backpackers? Find a like-minded friend and sign up for a backpacking class with you. It’s a smart choice to not take a solo backpacking trip your first time, and it’s definitely more fun to share the journey with someone else.
Choosing a Backpacking Route
The route you choose depends on several factors:
- Time: The amount of time you have available for your trip. If you only have a weekend, pick a short route.
- Fitness level: Assess your fitness level and how much time you have to prepare and train before heading off.
- Distance: Think about how many hours and miles you’re comfortable hiking in one go, bearing in mind that your pack will be heavier than usual. For beginners, a comfortable travel distance is around four to nine miles round-trip.
- Elevation gain: Know how much elevation you can handle. If you’re an experienced hiker, you should be aware how much elevation gain you’re comfortable with. If you’re not sure of how much elevation gain you can handle, then it’s best to stick to a relatively flat route.
- Weather and time of year: If you are backpacking in autumn, where dusk falls quickly, make sure you plan your route to avoid hiking in the dark. Be aware of weather conditions and cancel your trip if severe weather is forecasted.
Choose Your Backpacking Gear
Group Backpacking Gear
One of the best things about backpacking with experienced friends is that most likely they will have the group gear that you need, such as a multiple person tent, kitchen supplies, and a stove. Your experienced friends can also give you advice on what you shouldn’t bring so you don’t end up with a super heavy backpack. Some of the group gear that you’ll need is the following:
- Tent: Backpacking tents weigh less than car-camping tents, as they are more compact and are made with lighter poles and materials. It’s more economical and practical to bring just one four-person tent than four one-person tents.
- Stove: A small stove with fast water boiling capacity is an excellent choice for group dining, and you can cook freeze-dried meals quickly.
- Water treatment: Instead of carrying all the water you think you’ll need, consider a water treatment device which will save you some weight. You can filter or treat water from lakes and streams.
- Kitchen supplies: If you’re not using an integrated system with a built-in cooking pot, then you’ll need a pot or kettle for boiling water. Each member of your party will also need a bowl and a spork. Your kitchen gear should have some essentials such as a stirring spoon, a knife and salt, and pepper.
Personal Backpacking Gear
Your clothing should be made out of moisture-wicking and quick-drying materials. Pass on cotton, as it takes ages to dry when it gets wet, possibly leading to hypothermia.
If you’re hiking in tropical weather, bring along breathable fabrics as your hike will get pretty sweaty and hot. Bring some layers to cover yourself in case it rains, and if you’re gaining elevation, as the weather will get colder the higher you are.
For hiking in colder months or cool weather, then bring lots of layers. If there’s a chance of snow, use at least two layers on bottom and top. Some essentials are a waterproof jacket, such as a ski jacket, wool hat, and gloves.
Your shoes are one of the most important items on your backpacking trip, as healthy feet are crucial to an enjoyable journey. The type of shoes you bring is a very personal choice, as some backpackers prefer running shoes while others are more partial to waterproof hiking boots. Before you choose your shoes, think about where you’ll be going and what the ground will be like – dirt or rocks? Make sure that you wear your shoes for walks around the neighborhood to break them in beforehand. Some other considerations are to have shoes that are a bit big so there’s extra room for your thick socks, and your feet can swell.
It’s a good idea to borrow a pack for your first trip, so you start to get to know what you like and what feels comfortable. Your backpack should have a 50-liter capacity, and it’s smart to fill it up with about 30 pounds of weight and take it out for a test hike. Your pack should be comfortable on your shoulders and your hips.
Your sleeping bag should be compressible and lightweight. Before purchasing your sleeping bag, do some research and get acquainted with the differences and pros and cons of synthetic vs. down, as they are better for different temperatures and weather.
Having a sleeping pad with sound insulation and cushioning is crucial to having a good night’s sleep. There are three types of sleeping pads: air, closed-cell foam and self-inflating. To find the best one for you check out the insulation factor, weight and packed size.
If you want to carry a light load, then it can be a good idea to take with you freeze-dried meals, which only require boiling water. If you don’t mind carrying some extra weight, then you can have more gourmet meals such as pasta with powder sauce or oatmeal. Always make sure to carry along high-protein and high-calorie snacks and energy bars to snack on during the day.
Don’t bring liquid sauces, canned goods of food that takes a while to cook as they will add unnecessary weight to your load.
Training and Preparing
Before setting on your backpacking hike, it’s best to prepare with – hiking. This is especially true if you are going to be backpacking at an altitude, so prepare by using a stair climber or stationary bike and do some endurance training. This will give you more strength, so you’ll be more capable of climbing hills while carrying weight.
It’s important that you remember that you don’t need to be the fittest or most experienced person on the trail, as hiking is mostly about mental endurance. Maintain a positive attitude, even if your friends seem to be having an easier time when hiking. Honor your body and your pace, and take breaks when you feel you need to.
Personal Safety and Health
You need to bring more than just a first-aid kit. In order to have a successful backpacking trip you need to be aware of how to properly handle food, and keeping your hands as clean as possible. Bring with you a small bottle of hand sanitizing gel, and use it before preparing a meal and after going to the bathroom.
Backpacking with Dogs
If you have a dog and you’re comfortable hiking with them, you can always consider taking them along backpacking. Dogs make great companions, especially if you’re backpacking alone or with a small group of friends. If you’re ready to take the leap and want to bring your dog along with you, find out if they allow pets where you’re going, and if they do, ask if they need to be kept on-leash all the time. Bear in mind, dogs and tents are not always the best combination as they can claw their way through the mesh door quite quickly if they’re eager to get out.
Some additional things to consider when you are taking your dog backpacking are:
- Have them carry their own water and food in a dog pack
- Take breaks often for water and snacks
- Pack out or bury your dog’s poop
Now that you’ve read all about what you need to do in order to venture out on your first backpacking trip, you can now learn what you shouldn’t do. Problems will happen, and you will have some blunders, but it’s important to remember that the good times will always outweigh the bad, and we all learn from our mistakes.
Don’t Cook in Your Tent
It might seem like a very good idea to cook in your tent, especially if it’s rainy and cold outside. However, cooking in your tent brings with it several consequences, as it means you’ll be lighting a stove in an enclosed area.
The most visible danger is the risk of burning down your tent, which will definitely ruin your trip. However, there is the not so visible risk of carbon monoxide fumes. These fumes coming out of your stove are poisonous and even deadly.
There may be a few times when you need shelter in order to cook your food, especially if you’re camping during winter or get caught in a snowstorm. In those occasions, if you need to cook, do it in the vestibule of your tent and make sure the area is well-ventilated. If neither of those things is possible, stick to uncooked foods, such as granola or a protein bar.
Don’t let your sleeping bag get wet
This tip definitely won’t surprise you, as every experienced backpacker can tell you that sleeping in a wet sleeping bag is the worst. Still, it seems that this blunder is a rite of passage for all new backpackers, as it appears to be difficult to really drill the point home until the person has experienced for themselves what it feels like to climb inside a slushy sleeping bag. It’s at that time where the wisdom really sinks in.
You should become obsessive about figuring out how to keep your sleeping bag dry. If you think it’s going to rain during your hike, or at the first sign of dark clouds, pack your sleeping back inside of a waterproof container before placing it inside your bag. Your backpack may say that it’s waterproof, but very few of them actually are waterproof enough to keep your belongings totally dry. Therefore, having an extra layer of protection between your sleeping bag and the rain is pretty much essential.
Don’t punish your feet
There are a few things that can ruin a backpacking trip, and one of the quickest things to do so are severe blisters on your feet. When you’re using your feet as a mode of transportation, and you are experiencing pain with every step that you take, it’s going to be very difficult to enjoy your surroundings.
Friction is what causes blisters, by wearing shoes that are too rigid, too tight or shoes that rub against a particular area of skin. Blisters are more frequent and appear more easily when you have soft and/or clammy feet.
We previously talked about you wearing shoes that feel comfortable and are right for your hiking conditions, but we really recommend packing light and wearing trail running shoes instead of boots if you can get away with it. They will keep your feet comfortable, ventilated and blister free even through very long hikes.
However, if your trail conditions require you to wear boots, make sure that you take a lot of time to break them in before you take them out on a hike. No matter what footwear you decide to wear, stop immediately if you feel a blister developing. It may be easier to ignore a blister when it first appears and hike through the pain, but by ignoring any potential problems, you’re damaging your feet, and that small blister will become loads more painful over the next few days.
Don’t Pack Too Much Stuff
While testing out your backpack’s weight in the comfort of your own home before your trip, it’s wise to remember that walking one mile requires around 2,200 steps, and you’ll rarely be walking on flat surfaces during your hike. Your backpack may feel at a comfortable weight on the flat surface of your living room, but once you’re on the trail, its weight can become very uncomfortable very quickly.
It takes some time, experience and confidence to gain the skill of cutting weight from your pack, as the more experience you have and the more times you’ve been out there, the more you’ll start to get to know what you need, what isn’t necessary and what items need to be upgraded.
Some of the most common overpacking blunders are packing too much food, too many clothes and unnecessary gear such as camp shoes, camping chairs, and extra cooking gear. In order to cut weight when you’re not sure where to start, start with The Big Three, which are your backpack, your sleeping bag, and your shelter. There is loads of lightweight gear available in today’s market, and you can find that you’re able to have a backpack, tent and sleeping bag that weigh around five pounds in total. A lighter bag will bring you that much more enjoyment.
Don’t Swamp Your Tent
When you’re looking for a place to set up your tent, you always need to ask yourself this question: Where will the water go when it rains? It may seem appetizing to set up your tent and pitch camp on a flat area, but this is where the water will pool if it rains. If you’ve set up on a flat surface and it starts to rain during the night, you could very likely wake up with some inches of standing water flooding your tent, which is never a fun way to be woken up.
Look for proper water drainage when you’re setting up your shelter, and avoid locations that look like they were once a puddle. To reduce your chances of getting soaked, you should set up camp at least 250 feet from any water sources, to minimize your impact on the environment choose established campsites, and to avoid cold temperatures and reduce condensation don’t set up your tent in low spots in valleys.
Don’t Feed the Animals
Storing your food properly is not only essential for your own health and safety, but it’s also necessary in order to protect the wildlife. When you feed wild animals, this creates a change in their foraging habits, and they learn to associate humans with food. This is very dangerous for wild animals, as they can often need to be relocated, retrapped and sometimes even put down when they link humans to food sources.
You know you shouldn’t feed wild animals your scraps of food, but it’s just as important to properly store your food. By storing your food properly, you are keeping wildlife wild, and it’s not hard to do. There are many options for storing food properly, including ursacks and bear canisters.
Don’t Fail to Test Your Gear Beforehand
We’ve mentioned this before, but it’s important enough that it bears repeating. You must check your gear before heading out on your backpacking trip, and never bring items you’ve not tested, as something will definitely go wrong. You might not realize your headlamp needs different batteries, or your stove needs different fuel until it’s too late and the nearest store is hours away. You also don’t want to struggle to put up your tent in the darkness or during inclement weather.
Some things are bound to go wrong, but avoid as many mistakes as possible and make sure to test your gear beforehand. Another simple way to avoid mistakes is to use a packing checklist, to ensure that you do not forget anything critical.
Don’t Scrimp on Planning
Not all aspects of planning your trip are always fun, and it can be time-consuming, but careful planning is vital for a successful trip, especially if you’re just starting out. When you carefully plan your trip, you’ll be able to avoid countless blunders that will ruin your trip and possibly put you off backpacking forever. When you’re planning your trip, you need to make sure you have the right maps, learn about weather conditions (upcoming storms, snow, etc.), get the necessary permits and learn about fire bans or tail closures.
If you are not aware of any of those things, your trip can easily be ruined or stopped before it even starts if it turns out the trail is closed. It might seem a good idea to wing it until you’re hopelessly lost, find out you need a bear canister for proper food storage or realize that you failed to get a required permit.
Don’t Ignore the Weather
Weather can be unpredictable, especially in the wilderness. Mountain temperatures can drop quickly, and conditions can turn from pleasant to perilous in the blink of an eye. If you don’t have the proper equipment and you’re exposed to inclement weather, it can turn into a hazardous scenario, so make sure to be prepared for everything.
No matter the weather forecast, always bring a lightweight rain jacket. Pack a hat, gloves and a warm jacket as mornings and evenings are usually chilly.
Don’t Leave a Trace
Make sure to employ leave no trace backpacking skills. The further we venture into the wilderness, the bigger the impact that we make to the area’s flora and fauna. Therefore, you need to do your part and minimize your impact so those pristine wild areas are not ruined and can continue to be enjoyed for years to come.
Some simple tips you can follow are:
- Pack your trash and dispose of it in designated areas
- No using biodegradable soap in or around water sources
- Dig a hole to bury your poop
- Follow proper food storage habits
- No feeding the animals
- Follow fire regulations
- Know the area’s regulations, and follow them to the letter
No matter how much work you put into planning, the chances are that something unexpected will happen. When it does, learn from the experience, adjust accordingly and get back out there, as the fun times will always beat out the unfortunate scenarios.