If you’ve enjoyed both hiking and camping, it might be time to combine the two and try out backpacking. If this is something you’ve always dreamed of but didn’t know where or when to begin, now is the time.
Some backpacking buffs have shared tips from their years of backpacking trial and errors, to save beginners from making the same mistakes and getting a bad taste for backpacking due to some common errors and oversights.
So what are the best backpacking tips from those in the know?
Go with a Pro
The absolute best and number one tip for a beginning backpacker is to go along on a trial trip with an experienced backpacker. Not only is this much safer than going alone or with another backpacking newbie, but it’s also the best way to learn from the experience of others. On the job (or on the hike) learning is the best way to go.
An expert trailblazer will help you to avoid mistakes, teach you important safety tips, and show you all the helpful hacks they’ve learned through years of backpacking trips through many terrains.
Going with a pro is an ideal learning experience for you, and also a chance for the expert trailblazer to feel good about sharing their own hard-earned knowledge.
Start Small Before Going Big
Be sure to learn how heavy your equipment is by taking it out on a simple hike before planning any backpacking trip. Only after you’ve trained a few times in day hiking with your backpack, it’s time to really break it in.
The best way to break your way into backpacking is to start with a small, one or two day trip. If you’ve never backpacked before, you don’t want to start with a long, two-week hike through the Appalachians. A much smaller, beginner’s trip is the best way to find out if you even like backpacking before you make a huge commitment. It’s also a good way to break in new equipment and learn how to use it. You may find that you need better boots or lighter equipment. Or you may find out that you are a natural and you can handle heavier equipment and longer trips, and you can’t wait to plan big! Either way, be careful not to overestimate your ability on the first day. Leave yourself plenty of time to get to your first night’s camping spot in case your first attempt is slower going than you thought. Remember, you might need a little more experience before you can pack and unpack and set up camp quickly.
Go Light or Don’t Go
Well-traveled backpackers will tell you that weight—or rather, lack of it—is the critical consideration in backpacking equipment. This means you may have to spend more money for ultra-lightweight gear, but it can literally make or break (your back!) your trip. Get a super light-weight tent and a very lightweight, lined sleeping bag. Bring a hot water bottle to make up for any lack of warmth in your lightweight bag to ensure a good night’s sleep.
A great travel neck pillow is ideal for backpacking. They are lightweight and made to be portable and support your neck and spinal alignment while sleeping on the ground.
A backpacking trip is not the time to count calories, unless you plan on counting big. All day hiking with heavy equipment burns a lot of calories—as much as 6,000 calories per day. You should plan to bring along meals that pack in a lot of calories for their weight. Ideally, you want ready-to-eat, freeze-dried or easy to prepare meals that can be warmed in the bag or all-in-one pot.
Back-packing buffs recommend ready to eat oatmeal packets (just add hot water to the packet and use it as a bowl!), powdered eggs, beef jerky, tuna packets, bagels, tortillas, hard cheese, peanut butter, ready-to-eat meals, instant noodles, instant flavored rice envelopes, dried fruits and nuts, and dried seaweed for super lightweight greens, are all a backpacker’s best friends on the trail.
Don’t go Solo!
As adventurous and appealing as a long, lonely trek through the woods might sound, you should never go solo on a beginner’s trip. Choose to go with an experienced trailblazer or a group. Make sure that someone knows where you are, the route you plan to take, and a timeline for all your stops.
Bring along a good compass and learn how to use it!
Check Your Checklist
Before beginning your trip, be sure to check out some backpacker checklists and be sure you have everything you might need, in the lightest weight form possible. A basic backpack checklist might be something like this:
- Backpack (duh)
- Sleeping bag with liner
- Sleeping mat
- Neck pillow
- Hot water bottle
- Camp stove
- Water treatment
- Sun/bug protection
- Food and water
- Clothing (plan to wear only a couple of outfits)
- Toilet paper/toiletries
- Navigation and emergency gear
Always double-check your checklist before you hit the trail.
Leave No Trace
Follow the important backpackers’ code of ethics, which includes the “leave no trace” principles. That means leave no trash. Pack up and pack out anything you bring with you. Use biodegradable, eco-friendly soap, or no soap at all. Use the bathroom at least 200 yards away from water sources and bring zippered bags to carry away your used toilet paper. Make sure human waste is deposited in holes at least six to eight inches deep and buried before you leave. Carry water away from water sources for bathing, doing dishes and laundry. Never bathe or clean dishes or clothing in water sources like rivers or lakes.
When abiding by the leave no trace principles, you should always be especially careful with campfires. Campfires pose by far the biggest risk for leaving not only a trace of your presence, but leaving destruction behind you. Use fire only where permitted. Always use fire rings, mounds, or fire pans. Burn all wood and coals down to ash, put them out completely, and scatter them once they are cool.