Backpacking for Beginners

Backpacking is a great activity that gives you the opportunity to spend time outdoors! If you're a hiker that loves being outside and one with nature, backpacking could be a great next adventure for you. It takes time and experience to get the hang of backpacking, even for avid day hikers. So, read this article for our tips for backpacking beginners!


Find Your Backpacking Crew

If you’ve never gone backpacking, we don’t recommend backpacking by yourself. Since you’re just starting out, the best thing you can do is find a buddy (or a few) to head out with you! By immersing yourself in a community with other backpackers, you can learn the ins and outs from more seasoned folks. Most backpackers are usually happy to share their experiences and expertise with you!

If you know a backpacker personally, you could consider asking them to take you on an overnight or weekend trip. That way, you can get a taste of what it’s like to backpack with someone who knows what they’re doing before heading backcountry for a longer adventure.

If you don’t know any backpackers, but you have a few people that you usually hike with, see if they would be interested in taking a backpacking class with you. Or, if you usually hike solo (or don’t usually hike at all), browse social media sites for different backpacking groups or threads that you can join. Facebook and Reddit are great sources for finding specific activity forums in your area.

Got your squad? It’s time to decide what the plan is for your next backpacking trip!


Plan your Trip

Like any adventure, there are some important factors to consider before heading out the door. Here are the things that you’ll need to determine before you can get out there (especially if you’re a new backpacker):

  • Trail difficulty
  • Hike time
  • Distance
  • Elevation gain
  • Fitness level
  • Time of year and weather conditions
  • Water sources

Most of those factors can be addressed by determining one thing first: location. Since you’re a beginner, you probably don’t know where to start – that's okay! Let’s return back to that network of backpackers that we were talking about at the beginning of this article. If you personally know someone that is a more experienced backpacker and they’re taking you out for your first trip, it’s as easy as letting them do the deciding! If they’re not coming along with you, you can still ask them for recommendations. Since you know them personally, there is a good chance that they probably know great backpacking spots in your area. Alternatively, you can take to the internet and do some research. Remember those hiking groups and forums we were talking about? Those are great resources for finding good backpacking routes! Or, you can use an app like AllTrails to discover trails in your area. You could also contact local hiking organizations or call a ranger station in your area to get recommendations and see if trails that you’re considering are fit for beginners.

When narrowing down on which area to backpack, you’ll want to decide whether you want to take a loop trail (out and back on the same section of the trail) or whether you’ll take a point-to-point route (start at one location and end on another). If you’re taking a point-to-point route, you’ll need to consider transportation at either end of the trail. Someone from your group will need to leave their vehicle at the end point so you can get back home or to the other backpackers’ vehicles. If you’re backpacking in an area that is patrolled by rangers, you should let them know that you will be leaving your vehicles overnight and tell them how long you intend to stay. That way, if something happens out on the trail, they know to come looking for you if your car is left in the parking lot for too long.

Once you check these logistical questions off your list, it’s time to start packing!

Backpacking Gear and Essentials

Backpacking trips take a bit more planning and packing than regular day-hikes. So, be sure that you think through every detail and that the other backpackers in your group are on the same page about who is packing what. If you’re out with an experienced backpacker, the good news is that they will likely be willing to bring along gear that you might not already have on hand to share.

Let’s start with the essentials: shelter, fire starters, food, dishes/utensils, a water vessel and a filter so you can make drinkable water out in the wilderness, tools, a first aid kit, and of course a durable, spacious backpack! It’s also a good idea to bring with you something to make your sleeping arrangements more comfortable – there’s nothing worse than trekking along after a terrible night’s sleep! You want to be well rested for the adventure ahead. A sleeping bag and tent are must haves. But you could also consider a sleeping platform or pad to make sleeping outside a bit more comfortable.

Sustenance is a very important part of preparing for a backpacking trip – you won’t get very far without energy! Planning your snacks and meals before you head out on the trail is super important. Remember, you’re going to have to carry all your gear and supplies on your back throughout this trip. So, be sure to pack things that are lightweight, calorically dense, and easy to eat on the go. Protein/granola bars, jerky, and trail mix are great things to snack on or have for lunch. If you’ve already made camp for the night and have access to fire and some cookware, you could make instant ramen, a dehydrated meal, pasta, or instant mashed potatoes – anything that you can make with heat and a little water is great to bring along!

Water is also very important to think about before you get out there. Since you’re carrying everything on your back, you’re not going to want to bring tons of water bottles with you if you can prevent it, that would be too heavy! If the route that you’re taking has access to a natural water source, preferably a moving water source like a river or creek, you can filter or boil that water to drink. Get a water bottle or pack with a filter made for hiking to make drinkable water out on the trail before setting up camp for the night. If you’re not going to have access to a natural water source, you could get a hydration pack that holds a large amount of water and fill it up before you leave home. This will be more space-efficient than carrying multiple water bottles.

Don’t forget about what you’re planning to wear on your backpacking trip! You’re going to need proper clothing made of quick-drying, moisture-wicking fabrics like Merino wool or other synthetic fibers to keep you comfortable and dry. It's a great idea to dress in layers, so you can be warm at night and take additional layers off during the day to keep cool. Of course, you’ll also need to think about your feet! Backpacking can put a lot of stress on your feet as you put in those miles – so set yourself up for success! Wear a good pair of broken-in hiking boots or shoes. Pair those with a great pair of Stego trail socks and your feet will thank you! If space permits, you could bring a few different pairs of socks and shoes/boots combinations, depending on how far you’re backpacking and how long you will be gone. This way, if your shoes are rubbing the wrong way or your socks get wet, you can rotate them out!

Finally, the last thing to do is to pack that backpack! Now that you know the basics of backpacking, all that’s left is to get out there. Happy trekking!

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