So you are thinking about embarking on your first backpacking trip? Well, it is a great journey to undertake. You will see all sorts of incredible, wondrous things on your journey. Breathtaking scenery will abound; the calls of nature will wake you up in the morning; and you will see wildlife scamper about. Every night your campsite will change. You will share food with friends and develop a bond that only backpacking can give. It truly is an experience like no other.
Go it Alone or with Friends?
If this is your first time (and it likely is), travel with friends. You probably know someone who is a backpacker. Otherwise, you can find a group of backpackers online. They will serve as your mentor. If you make mistakes, others will catch you. They’ve got your back. They will give you advice, tips, and tricks in action.
If you are considering traveling alone, you need to be experienced and prepared. A lot can happen and only you will be able to help yourself. As such, you will need to be much more skilled and knowledgeable. Take wilderness training classes to prepare.
Planning Your Trip
Before going on your trip, there are a number of questions that need answering. Doing so ensures that you will have a great and memorable trip.
Firstly, where do you want to go? Do you want to go to the desert? A forest? The snow? Each environment is going to have its own unique benefits and aspects. If unsure, you can search up great destinations online. As well, check out google images to get an idea of what you will see. Choose whatever you think you would enjoy the most. Online research and books are great tools to research trip locations. Use google images to get an idea of what you will see.
Secondly, when do you want to go? Each place varies with the time of year. Some are scorching hot during the summer, but frigid in the winter. Other times of year will feature overcast skies with plenty of rain.
What is the weather I want to deal with?
Thirdly, where will you camp each night? With backpacking, you are the master of your own fate. You have near absolute freedom to succeed, but also for failure. Being sure where you are going to sleep each night will guarantee a good trip. Make a point of highlighting your trek on a map and marking your campsites.
Fourthly, what are permits and rules I need? Each area will have different specifications that you will need to meet. You will have to follow leave no trace principles and get permits if need be. Sometimes these can take months to get depending on the demand for permits.
Fifthly, what are your goals for the trip? What do you want to see? What do you want to do? What is the outcome I want from this trip? Each place you backpack to will be different and you may never go there again, so really consider what it is you want out of the adventure you are about to take.
When packing an item in your bag, consider these questions. What can I do to make this item smaller? Is there anyway I can get the same outcome I want with a smaller item? If you can share an item with fellow backpackers, do so. Everything that you bring, you will carry. To find out the weight of your items, use a scale. You want to maximize utility while minimizing weight.
As such, you will need these essential items to make your backpacking trip a great one.
- Backpack, this is by far the most crucial item for your trip. Depending on the size you choose, it will guide you for what you can and cannot bring. The longer the journey, the bigger backpack you will need. Consider the features that the backpack offers. It is important that you choose one that is comfortable and fits well.
- Sleeping Bag, you want one that fits in a compact bag. When choosing one, be aware of the temperature range, insulation type, weight, roominess, and features. Each one will work in a different environment.
- Sleeping Pad, if uncomfortable with just sleeping on the ground (I am too), choose a sleeping pad. For backpacking, you will want either a self inflating pad or a foam pad. A foam pad can be a bit more bulky, but offers more comfort. A foam pad is more compact, but less comfortable. It comes down to personal preference.
- Food, for each meal, you want a regular, planned meal. Choose high calorie food items as you will burning plenty of them while hiking. Freeze dried backpacking meals are simple and easy to make, but are nothing compared to a fresh cooked meal. Cooked meals, though, offer the challenge of cooking in the wild.
- Footwear, proper boots are crucial. Improper shoes will give you blisters. You want shoes that give a lot of ankle support. Choose ones that are comfortable. Doing so makes for an enjoyable trip.
- Clothing, for cold weather, you want clothing that sticks to your skin and wear layers to keep warm. Additionally, wool socks will work because they will keep you warm and dry quickly. Be prepared for rain. Either bring a waterproof jacket or a poncho. If hiking in the rain, get a large rain poncho to put over yourself and backpack.
- Water Treatment, if there is one thing that you are going to need while backpacking, it is going to be water. That is one thing you do not want to run out of. Iodine, boiling, or distillation will clear the water of bacteria.
For most backpackers, distillation works best. If in the desert, you will have to carry all your own water.
- Tent, if traveling alone, you will obviously need a single person backpacking tent. But if you are in a group, consider a three person tent for one person to carry; it is more efficient and saves space. Be wary of bringing poles as they can add unnecessary extra weight.
- Cooking, bring a compact stove if you have the room. It is great for getting quick meals. Water and freeze-dried meals are great if you do not want to cook. If you do plan to cook though, allow room for basic cooking supplies.
- Sanitation, at some point, you are going to have to go number two in the wild. Go somewhere that is at least 25 feet away from a water source to prevent it from washing up later. You can dig your hole either with a compact shovel or a rock nearby. A rock works best.
A note on rain, if you are worried about your gear getting wet, a large black trash bag in your backpack can keep your food and gear waterproof.
When it comes to hiking and camping, proper skills beat out everything. If you can think your way out of a problem, then you have an advantage. Here is a list of important skills for backpacking.
- Compass and Map Skills, while it may be hard to learn initially, this is a critical trait for locating yourself and navigating where you need to go. Once you learn how to work with a topographical map, you can choose paths that conserve energy and save you backpack weight as you will not need a GPS.
- Campsite Selection, the most basic thing to remember about camping is to not camp at the bottom of a gully or place where water can pool. In the event of rain, you will get water in your tent. On top of that, you can minimize damage to the local environment and camping in cold air pockets.
- Conscientiousness, because you are entering into the environment, you will have to pay attention. You are stepping into realm of nature. For this reason, you have to listen more, see more, and be more. The moment matters most in nature. Be attune to your surroundings.
While out in the wild, it will not always be easy. There will be a few things to worry about.
- Wildlife, when traveling to a national park or the wilderness, you will not be alone. There are squirrels, bears, mountain lions, raccoon, and deer nearby. To prevent them from getting into your camp, make sure your food supply is not easily accessible. As well, you want a near odorless camp; this prevents animals from being drawn to the smell.
- First Aid Kit, this is mainly for simple cuts and scrapes. If you get blisters on your feet, you can wrap them with bandages and put neosporin on them. Getting on top of your minor injuries will prevent them from slowing you down and stop them from becoming bigger problems than they need be.
- Give your itinerary to friends and family beforehand, once you get back, call them to let them know that you made it home. If you do not return after a day or so, they will be able to call the proper people to find you if need be.
Your first backpacking trip will probably not be perfect. That is okay. Just take a note of your mistakes and correct for them the next time around. Otherwise, I am sure you will have a great time. You will see majestic scenery and stunning wildlife. You will forge profound friendships and experience insightful introspection. A greater understanding and appreciation of the world will emerge within you. I hope you make it a great backpacking trip.