Do you enjoy the outdoors? Are you looking for a new great adventure? Or, are you looking for a way to convince yourself to spend more time in nature? Backpacking might be just what the doctor ordered.
Backpacking is a super fun sport that allows you to really escape and enjoy nature at a different level. It can be a fantastic mix of relaxing, invigorating, and adventurous. But before you strap on a pack and hit the wilderness, there are some things you’ll want to know — especially if you’ve never gone backpacking before.
1. Start Short and Comfortable
Backpacking is an extremely rewarding outdoor experience, but there is a level of risk involved that needs to be taken seriously.
You are about to carry everything you need to basically survive in nature for a few days on your back, and you’re walking away from society. You’re also walking away from your car, from restaurants, from emergency services, from reliable cell phone service, and from the protective structure that is a house.
For beginners, we recommend choosing a destination that is close to your home and that is short — just an overnight trip or two to get started. You’ll learn a lot about your comfort level, your gear, and your level of preparation during these few days.
2. Do Your Research and Invest in Your Gear
There are a ton of backpackers in the world, and there are thousands upon thousands of how-to guides, blogs, gear reviews, and entire stores like REI that have experts available to help beginners. Don’t be afraid to ASK QUESTIONS!
Backpacking involves hiking for miles upon miles each day in all sorts of weather and across different types of terrain, so you want clothing and gear that’s appropriate for your hiking trip.
Two essential gear investments are going to be the backpack you want to carry and your shoes.
You’re also going to want to think about the level of shape you’re in and how much weight makes sense. When you’re carrying food, water, overnight gear, etc. that adds up quickly and you’re going to feel those pounds as you’re hiking.
A general rule of thumb for beginner backpackers is that a loaded backpack should not be more than 20% of your body weight.
3. Plan Your Trip and Create Checklists
If you’re a beginner, one of the most important aspects of backpacking is actually making a plan. Making a plan though is not just figuring out where you want to go, where you’re going to park, how long you’re going to be gone, and how far you’re going to hike.
Planning also includes the following aspects:
- Weather predictions
- Water access throughout the hike (and the gear you need to ensure clean drinking water)
- Meal planning (this is not just how many calories you’re going to consume during your backpacking trip, but ensuring you have the cooking gear, including a heat source)
- Touching base with a service like the National Park, for example, to see if your hike needs a permit for being in the backcountry (for example, parks like Yellowstone have limited backcountry permits for safety reasons and tracking, so you just cannot show up)
- Purchase a physical trail map if needed because things like cell phone batteries are not always reliable
This is just a set to get you started thinking through things.
4. Find Someone to Go With You and Always, Always Let Someone Know Where You’re Going and When You’ll Be Back
We’re not trying to intimidate anyone, but backpacking is one of those things that you should communicate to your friends or loved ones. Shoot them a text or an email or even leave a physical note explaining what you’re doing, where you’re going, what your timeline is, and text them when you get to the trailhead and when you’re back to your car. Simple as that.