Some of us are lucky enough to be rather versed in the art of backpacking, but we were all newbies at one point. Which is why we’re here…to help you dip your toes into the wonders of backpacking! We want you to feel confident on your first trek into the woods, so we’re going to cover a few basic ways to properly prepare for your first backpacking trip!
Get Creative with Gear
There are a million different tactics to take on when packing your gear — lightweight, durable, colorful, etc — but at the end of the day there is one thing that is important with gear. What you have needs to be comfortable + functional. It would also be ideal for your basic gear to have more than one function.
For example, you don’t necessarily need a camp pillow. Rather than use that valuable pack space for a single use item you can use a dry bag to stash your clothes, then adjust the inflation to make it a pillow at night. You can also use your tube of chapstick to wrap duct tape around to avoid packing a whole roll of duct tape [highly recommended for gear repair]. Obviously there are a lot of areas you can get creative with gear + you’ll get better at these strategies with each trip into the woods.
The biggest takeaway here is that each item you pack, especially if you’re thinking ‘hm, will I need this’, should have at least two uses.
Pack Extra Snacks
You’ll find that food takes up a lot of space [+ weight!] in your pack. This may lead you to thinking you can leave behind snacks. No…don’t do that! Snacks are crazy important on the trail. For starters, you’ll be hiking all day + you’ll work up an appetite! A long day of hiking is taxing enough without a growling stomach.
Also, snacks can be used a great bribery — either for your self or for others. You can use that bag of M&M’s as an excuse to get over that one last crest or the last strip of beef jerky as an excuse to keep hiking another 30 minutes. Better yet, if you know what your hiking partners love…pack it! You’ll get bonus points + they’ll be more willing to share their own treats so you can have some trail snack variety!
Research the Area + Regulations
Now, let’s get a bit more serious…the comforts of gear + food are nice, but the truly important aspects of backpacking is the planning. If you’re headed out with some experienced backpackers who know the area this will be a bit easier for you. Honestly, we strongly recommend that so you can learn from their methods. That said, there is something crazy rewarding about heading out on your own. If you’re going solo [or as a group of first timers], please be sure to consider the following aspects of the trip while planning…
...Route Finding: What will you do if the trail becomes hard to follow? How will you find your way back to the trail head if you get off trail? Do you have a backup plan for your campsite if your initial site is inaccessible or unavailable?
…Rescue Plan: Do people back home know where you’ll be? Do they know when to expect to hear from you? Have you given them your expected route so they can direct Search + Rescue is the right direction if needed? If you get hurt, do you have a way to contact help?
…Local Regulations: Where are you allowed to camp? Are campfires allowed in that area +/or at the time [campfire bans are not uncommon as they pose a major fire risk]? What are the boundaries of the public land you’re hiking/camping on? Can you park overnight at the trail head?
That sounds like a lot of questions + worst case scenario planning…which it is. In the perfect world you won’t need to worry about any of the rescue plans + you won’t get lost. However, you’ll be very, very thankful you worked out those details in advance should you need them. When we’re planning we like to think about how this information could not only save us, but also help save someone else. No one wants to be the helpless trail user when someone else is in need!
Give Yourself Down Time
When we’re preparing for a backpacking trip a ton of time goes into the logistics, packing + hiking aspect of the trip. However, that’s not the only reason we get out there. Nature is beautiful from the trail, as we hike by…but it is also incredible to experience nature from the comfort of a hammock or while lounging on a rock near a stream.
As you plan your epic backpacking trip be sure to leave some time to just take it all in while you’re out there. Don’t plan three 20 mile hiking days. Sure, you’ll cover a lot of ground, but you won’t have time to soak up the beauty of your lunch spot or relax at camp as you watch the sun rise + set. Be sure to plan time for these things. The easiest way to do this is to give yourself shorter hike days with attainable campsites.
Oh + don’t forget to bring something to take photos with! A phone works great — you can use it to navigate to the trail head, potentially to contact help [depending upon how remote you are, never depend on cell signal!] + to snap photos along the way…so it definitely fits into the multi-purpose rule! Photos are great to show off to friends [meaning you can convince them to join your next time] or as inspiration as you’re planning your next trip into the wilderness!
Keep Your Eyes + Ears Open
If you’re headed out on your first backpacking adventure with someone a bit more experienced…ask questions. No, seriously. All the questions! Ask them + do your part to retain as much information as possible. You’ll learn so much as you watch others plan + explore. If you have the opportunity to get involved in local groups, do so. Even if you don’t feel like you have much to contribute [yet!] you’ll be able to learn a lot from just listening to the conversations of others.
Even while you’re out on the trail, keep your peepers peeled. If you notice another hiker doing something interesting…ask them about it. You may come across new ways to use your gear, discover new campfire recipes or just make a new friend for future adventures. In generally, all of us trail users love sharing our passion…being outside!
Of course, these are only a few of the things to consider when you’re planning your first backpacking trip. If you have any other ideas or tips/tricks…let us know! We’re always looking for ways to make our own backpacking trips better + we love talking about the great outdoors!
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