The Ultimate Guide for Beginner Backpackers
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Backpacking is an adventure that blends hiking with backcountry camping, allowing for a more immersive experience in nature. Maybe you’ve been wanting to get into backpacking for a while, or you think it looks fun, or maybe you just want to spend more time outside or get further from the crowds. No matter why you’re interested in backpacking, we’ve got you covered! We’ll be going over everything you need to know to get started this summer.
How to Chose a Backpacking Trail
When it comes to backpacking, you'll want to start small. If the hike is too hard, it can make for a miserable experience. Whereas if it's too easy, you'll simply have more time to explore around camp. Chose a short overnight close to where you live, that's only a few miles, is relatively flat, and is well-traveled. This will give you the opportunity to feel what it's like having a heavy pack on without putting yourself in a strenuous situation. The final consideration for selecting a trail is water! Check the trail conditions ahead of time to make sure rivers or creeks aren't dried up so you have drinking and cooking water.
The Backpacking Gear You'll Need
Besides the 10 Essentials, which you should always carry on you, and your day hiking gear (shoes, water, etc), there are a few more things you need for backpacking.
Backpack that can hold all of your gear (50 - 65L)
Day hiking clothing (quick-dry, not cotton)
Changes of clothes from your day hiking clothes if you want
Tent footprint (to protect the tent floor)
Sleeping bag liner (for warmth or to keep your sleeping bag cleaner)
Pillow (or a pillowcase stuffed with your clothing)
Mug or cup
Quick-dry towel for dishes
Collapsible water container
Bear canister, hang bag, or food sack for your food and scented items.
Food (meals and snacks)
Bag to pack out trash
Toothbrush and toothpaste
Anything else you use before going to bed or after getting up
Emergency repair kit
Permit for where you’re hiking or backpacking
Download our free printable checklist here!
How to Plan Your Backpacking Meals
For a two-day one-night trip, you'll need to plan for one dinner, one breakfast and two lunches. Here are some ideas and tips:
Pack meals with lots of calories so you’re not going hungry.
Freeze-dried backpacking food is your lightest and easiest option (just add water), but it’s also expensive.
You'll want to avoid canned food as it's too heavy. Opt instead for easy carbs like pasta or boxed rice meals. You can measure out how many cups you need, and then just place it in a ziploc bag for the trip.
For breakfast, prepackaged oatmeal is always a great option paired with instant coffee mix or tea.
For lunch, bring premade sandwiches or snack on high protein bars and trail nuts. On day one you can opt for lunch meat since it will only be sitting a few hours. However, for day two, you'll want to switch to something non-perishable like peanut butter. If you need some fruit or veggies, apples and carrots are great to bring as they keep well.
Bring one extra meal's worth of food! In the event you are delayed and or are extra hungry, it's helpful to have an extra meal.
Be bear aware! In many places, a bear canister is required to store your food. You can find out these requirements by visiting your local state forest website. Many gear shops offer bear canister rentals for $10 a night.
Now on to our tried and true tips for backpacking for beginners!
Set up your tent, blow up your air mattress, and test your stove before you head out. You want to make sure they’re in good condition, have all their parts, and you know how to use them before you’re ten miles from a car.
Train up for your trip. Wear a weighted vest around, or put extra weight into your pack for day hikes to train up for an overnight trip.
Split the weight among the people in your group. There’s no reason one person needs to carry the entire tent. Give parts of it to others to split it up.
Bring car clothes and shoes for you to change into once you’re back at your car. You’ll be glad you have something else to wear!
Make sure that you have a physical map, or a saved screenshot of the trail details. Downloading an app like Gaia GPS is helpful as well. You'll likely lose service, so you want to be prepared for not having internet access.
There you have it! All of the gear and tips you need to go backpacking! Be sure to leave no trace when you’re out there and to have fun! Once you’ve had a taste of backpacking, you’ll probably be out again for more, and can even graduate to snow camping and mountaineering. It’s an amazing world to get out and explore!