How do you go backpacking for the first time?
You’re ready to make the jump from a hiking excursion to a backpacking trip, but where to start? There are several different criteria to consider before you embark on this new type of adventure. For beginners, we have a simple four step plan to get you on the right path. (Pun HEAVILY intended.)
1. PICK A TRAIL
While backpacking itself can be challenging, the easiest part of it is selecting your adventure.
For your first backpacking outing, we would recommend sticking to a familiar area, ideally somewhere you’ve day-hiked before. Not to worry, you’ll still be challenged. Inherently, backpacking is harder than hiking. You’ll be carrying more gear, you’ll be moving slower, probably experiencing some new aches and pains than you’ve haven’t been familiar with while hiking. By choosing a familiar hiking trail, you’re allowing yourself to acclimate to your new relationship with the trail, while building up the skills necessary to take on a larger challenge in the future. In fact, this would be the perfect opportunity to move a little further into the trail and explore areas you may not have come across yet!
A lot of people can get held up on choosing their first destination, so much so that it prevents them from actually starting to backpack. Don’t get too much in your head about it. The trail is ultimately not important, it can be two miles or ten miles, you’re still backpacking either way! Just be sure to check if camping is allowed on the trail.
2. DO YOUR RESEARCH
Park policies can vary. You should never assume that one park will run a certain way because a previous park ran that way. Some will require permits, some will cost money, some will have camping restrictions depending on the time of year. These are the things you’ll need to familiarize yourself once you pick a trail. Other things to keep in mind are parking. Are there spots for parking, and if so, will you need a permit? All this, and we’re not even on the trail yet!
Once you get out there, you’ll want to know what the flora and fauna situation is, as well as wildlife concerns. Are there areas to stay away from? You’ll need to know if you can have fires, if you can use stick and fuel stoves, and how you should store any food you bring. Also, water. Water is a big one. Where in the park can you get water is something you’ll need to know. Also, pro tip, mark those water locations on your map. Last, but not least, weather. Check the weather in the days leading up to your trip so you can make adjustments, and no matter what, pack a rain jacket. If you don’t have a rain jacket, It. Will. Rain.
A smart idea is to make an alternate plan as well. Last minute situations can come up. If you make an alternate plan, your trip won't go to waste. Even if you don’t use your alternate plan, you can keep it in your back pocket for later. So do your research. Most state parks and National parks will have websites that you can go to for information, and even those sites will have reviews by fellow backpackers. Read them! So much real-life, useful information!
3. PACK YOUR GEAR
Checking your gear and packing your bag. Do you have all the essentials, and do you know how to use them? If you have any new equipment that is still packaged, open it up! You’d hate to open your tent on the trail, only to learn they forgot to include the stakes.
For your own safety, just taking the time to take everything out and try setting it up will help ensure you have a good time. It’s not enough just to have the equipment, but you’ll also need to be sure that the equipment is in proper working order, AND that you know how to use it.
Check your base weight. Your base weight should be the total weight of everything you’re carrying, minus your consumables (food, water, fuel) as those can vary depending on how long you’re planning your trip for. Ideally, you will want to keep your base weight at 25 lbs or under. One way to ensure your base weight is at a minimum is to consider using a Littlbug Junior Stove, weighing only 5.1 ounces. Littlbug Stoves can also utilize alcohol burners or sticks or twigs helping to keep your pack lighter.
Bring something to do, but only one thing to do. Bring a book, a crossword, maybe a game if you’re going with another person or a group of people. It’s important to have something you can do during a rest, or at camp itself, but remember, you’re backpacking… keep it minimal. No need to bring the whole game shelf with you when a deck of cards will suffice.
Lastly, pack your food and water. You should pack plenty of calories. More than you would normally eat while at home. An extra day’s worth of what you were planning is a good gauge of the amount of food you should be packing. As for your water, you’ll want to make sure you can carry your water, filter your water, and where you can do that.
4. MAKE A PLAN AND SHARE IT
If your backpacking trip is going to be for multiple nights, you should make a plan on where you’ll be setting up camp each night. This is partially because of restrictions in the park. If you’re looking to get a certain amount of miles in per day, you’ll need to be sure you’re ending your day at an appropriate place to set up camp. Plan it out, and mark it on your map.
Now that you’ve made your plans, you should share that itinerary with a couple different people. This is super important, especially if you’re going solo. If no one knows you’re out camping, no one will know if you’ve gone missing. Let them know where you will be parking, where you will be camping, and what time you expect to be home at the very latest. Give them some resources, or let them know who to call if you aren’t home by then. The other half of this is letting those people know once you make it home. No need to have search and rescue called if you’re already safely back on your couch. Speaking of search and rescue, if you are not home by the time you’ve said you’d be, a couple more things to do: leave a copy of your itinerary in your car. If they find your car, and have your itinerary, it’ll help narrow down that search, and make you much easier to find. Another oddity, but one that makes sense. Keep a dirty sock in your car. If they bring out the dogs, having that scent can make a huge impact!
Take it slow. You’ve likely taken up hiking and backpacking to alleviate the hustle and bustle of everyday life. So allow yourself to slow down and enjoy the journey.
Make eye contact with people you cross paths with on the trails. No need for a full conversation, it’s not always wanted, but you will want to make sure you make yourself memorable incase they need to identify you and what time they saw you, or vice versa.
"When it comes to outdoor skills the more you bring along, the less you have to carry. Skills don't break and they're never left behind. They don’t leak, they don't tear, and they don’t get wet!"