Backpacking is a great activity to get you in the outdoors and gives you a glimpse of independent, minimalist living and survival. While it takes time and experience to know how to backpack the right way (the way that best suits you), we have some tips to get you moving out the door for your first trip.
If you've never gone backpacking and you know someone who has, it might be wise to ask them to take you on a weekend trip so you can get a taste of what it's like before hitting the backcountry for a longer stay. Whether it be family, friends, acquaintances, or even strangers, any backpacker is usually happy to share their expertise with you.
If you don't know any backpackers, you should find a friend to take a backpacking class with you. You can also do your research online and talk to local organizations, but you can first start here with our backpacking tips for beginners.
Find a Backpacking Buddy
First, you're going to have to determine the number of people going. Are you going alone or in a group? We don't recommend backpacking by yourself, especially if you're just starting out, so make sure to find a buddy or two (or more). You should especially find someone who is a seasoned backpacker so they can help you navigate and share their knowledge.
Choose a Backpacking Location
Like any trip, you need to consider some important factors before you head out the door.
After you’ve decided how many people will be backpacking with you, you’re going to need to choose a location. You can start out by asking around for recommendations, or take to the internet and do some research. Contacting local hiking organizations or calling a ranger station in the area where you want to go can give you a lot of insight on trail conditions and more.
What to Consider (especially if you’re a new hiker): Trail Difficulty, Time, Distance, Fitness Level, Elevation Gain, Time of Year, Weather, Water Sources, Trail Features, and of course, the Logistics.
You’ll need to decide whether you want to hike a loop trail, go out and back on the same section of the trail, or take a point-to-point route, meaning you start on one side and end up on another, which will require you to also leave a car at the end point. Once you decide on the trail logistics, then you can get to proceed with the next planning steps for your trip: packing.
Backpacking trips take a bit more planning than hiking trips, so make sure you have every detail planned, and that your fellow backpackers are on the same page, especially when it comes to gear.
You should also check out our 5 tips for planning a backpacking trip for further guidance.
Backpacking Gear and Essentials
The best part and a major advantage of hitting the trails with an experienced backpacker is that you will likely save money and space on gear, as most of it can be shared (tents, stoves, water filters etc.). If they’re a seasoned and experienced backpacker, they should no doubt have all, if not most of these items.
You’re definitely going to need the ten essentials, which includes: shelter, fire starters, food and water, tools and utensils, and a first aid kit.
Clothes and Footwear
You’re also going to need proper clothing made of quick-drying, moisture-wicking fabrics like Merino wool and other synthetic fibers to keep you comfortable and dry, as well as a good pair of shoes or boots. Depending on the weather, you should bring layers and jackets so you can keep warm and comfortable. If space permits, seasoned backpackers also try to bring multiple pairs of shoes or boots, depending on how far they’re backpacking and how long they’ll be gone.
Check out How to Choose Hiking Clothes and the Best Backpacking Boots and Hiking Shoes for further guidance. You’re also going to want to invest in a good, durable pair of moisture-wicking hiking socks to keep your feet comfortable too.
Food and Water
Food and water are also a must on the trails. Make sure you have enough to keep you hydrated and some food to give you the energy you need to keep on trekking. For camp, you should also bring along a stove and good, hearty, easy-to-make camp food to keep you full and energized when you’re hungry and need a boost.
To keep you hydrated, bring along a travel water bottle or a hydration pack. Just in case fresh, clean drinking water is limited out on the trails, it might be wise to also bring along a water filter.
You’re also going to need a durable backpack so you can carry all the essentials!
Sleeping Bags, Tents, and Platforms
Sleeping bags, sleeping platforms, and tents are very important when you’re out backpacking in the backcountry because you’ll need a good night’s sleep to trek and explore the next day ahead.
Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace is widely known amongst any outdoorsman (or outdoorswoman). Just like you should be mindful and respectful of others on the trails, you should do the same for the environment and wildlife. More specifically, there are 7 best practices people should follow to enjoy and protect our land and natural spaces that you should learn and always keep in mind while you’re spending time in the outdoors.
On any trip, you should also leave your trip itinerary with someone you trust. That way, if anything were to happen and you don’t return when you had originally planned, they can take the proper steps to try to locate you. Better to be safe than sorry!
Etiquette is super important when you’re out on the trails, especially because you’ll most likely be sharing them. Check out Trail Etiquette 101: Who Has The Right of Way?, as well as our 10 Backpacking Etiquette Tips so you know how to be smart, mindful, and respectful while you’re out there.
Backpacking with Kids and Dogs
Bringing along the young ones for a family trip, or your furry friend for a comforting companion out on the trails is great, but they do take some extra planning.
Family backpacking trips can be a blast if they’re planned and prepped right. They can be an eye-opening experience for kids learning to love nature and an eye-opening experience for parents when it comes to the gear they’ll need (or won’t need). Check out our Tips for Hiking and Camping with Kids to get the full rundown on what to do.
If you’re bringing your dog along, make sure to check if dogs are permitted where you’re going. Your dog should also be trained on simple commands. Check out our Tips for Backpacking with Dogs.