Backpacking for the first time is one of travelling’s most rewarding and eye-opening experiences. Whether you are heading on a hike through an exotic national park or taking a trip somewhere closer to home, backpacking offers the chance to get off the beaten trail and away from typical tourist hotspots. However, it can also be daunting for a beginner. Everything from choosing the correct type of tent and sleeping bag to planning the length or your route and making sure you take the necessary safety precautions can throw up unexpected questions. Fortunately, these backpacking tips for beginners will put your fears to rest by offering pieces of advice and things to do that will make your trip all the more enjoyable.
1. Choose A Backpacking Destination That Suits Your Ability
While you may have become interested in backpacking by imagining arduous multi-day hikes in pristine wilderness, when planning your first backpacking trip, you need to be realistic. You should remember that you will be hiking with a heavy backpack so you may not be able to manage the same number of miles or gains in elevation as you otherwise would.
The key piece of advice is that if you plan a trip that is too long for your abilities, you probably will not have the best backpacking experience. What’s more, if you plan a hiking route that ends up being too short, you can always explore other routes nearby so there is no real loss. For the best experience, you should consult with local hiking clubs and trail maps for recommendations of well-established routes that suit your ability level.
2. Pick Up The Best Camping Gear For Your Ability
One of the most daunting aspects of backpacking is the high cost of high quality backpacking gear.
However, for beginners, there is no need to shell out a small fortune on cutting edge backpacking gear. While you may want to invest in a pair of your own comfortable hiking boots and a rucksack that is the best weight for you, much of the other gear that is needed can be rented from outdoors shops and national park visitor centers. Also, they can be borrowed from friends who are already backpacking enthusiasts.
It is crucial to remember that everything you bring on a backpacking trip will be carried on your back. So you should pack a lightweight pack. Also, save space for unexpected encounters.
Whether you buy or borrow a tent, ensure that it is ultra-light and is rated for three seasons; Spring, Summer, and Autumn. Four-season tents are much heavier and it is unlikely your first trip will take place in the winter. For sleeping bags, make sure that it is filled with synthetic material as this is generally lighter. Also, it’s more space saving and suitable for a wider range of weather conditions.
3. Choose The Correct Cooking & Water Purification Equipment
You will also need to be able to prepare food and purify drinking water when you are backpacking. If you plan on buying your own stove, opt for a gas-canister model. It is lightweight, affordable, and easy to use. To save money, scrounge around your kitchen for a lightweight cooking pot that you do not mind getting dirty.
Purifying water is one of the most important aspects of backpacking, as even crystal-clear water can hide unpleasant surprises. While hi-tech water filtration systems are available, for beginner backpackers the best things to use is liquid chlorine dioxide solution. It’s space saving, affordable, and effectively kills bacteria and viruses.
4. Prepare Yourself Physically For Backpacking
Even though you are not planning a mammoth trek through the unknown, backpacking for even a short trip remains physically strenuous. Once you have chosen your route, make sure to complete a number of day trips of similar length and elevation gain while wearing a fully loaded hiking rucksack to make sure you are physically prepared for your first backpacking experience.
5. Know How Your Equipment Works
It is also best to mentally prepare yourself for the backpacking experience by testing your gear out beforehand. Before you set out, make sure that you know how to pitch your tent and light your stove with ease, as this will help make your first backpacking trip as stress-free as possible.
6. Learn The Basic Skills Of Backpacking
Beyond knowing how to use your equipment, it is also worthwhile learning the basic skills of backpacking before setting off. It is a good idea to learn some rudimentary first aid skills. For example, it’s good to have knowledge of how to bandage and prepare a tourniquet. Also, it’s wise to know the number of the local emergency services or mountain rescue in case of injury.
Another valuable skill is the ability to use a GPS device or read a traditional map and compass. Using a GPS device is straightforward and makes navigating a breeze, as it provides directions via pre-determined waypoints. However, you should always be familiar with using a map and compass to navigate in case of technical problems.
7. Plan Your Food Supplies
For a one-night backpacking trip, you will need at least enough food to cover breakfast, dinner, and two lunches. However, it is advisable to take more food with you in case you end up spending another night in the wilds.
While the lightest and most space saving option are the freeze-dried meals that can be found in all outdoors shops, these can be prohibitively expensive for a beginner backpacker. Moreover, canned food is not advisable as they are heavy and will weigh your backpack down.
The best options for dinner are pre-made meals like stews, rice dishes, or pastas that can be easily reheated over the stove. If these come boxed, you can also remove them from their original containers and place them in zip-lock bags for ease of storage.
While you may want to sit down at dinner, most backpackers will want to eat their lunch on the go or during a brief pit stop. It’s best to take high calorie protein bars or trail mix, both of which are great ways to replenish your body’s metabolic energy.
For breakfast, the best options are those that do not require much cooking. You can eat breakfast bars, granola, or hot oatmeal. They are perfect and are all excellent sources of slow release energy that will keep you going throughout the hike.
It is also important to remember that wild animals will be attracted to the scent of food. It is advisable to keep all the goods in zip-lock bags. When you’re done, hang them up a tree using a nylon guy line well away from your campsite.
8. What Clothing To Wear For Backpacking
For a beginner backpacking trip, there really is no need to invest huge sums of money on hi-tech clothing. If you’re already a pretty active person, it is likely you will already have clothing that would be ideal for the experience. The best items will be those made from nylon or polyester. They are lightweight, fast drying, and moisture wicking, which means they draw sweat away from the body—leaving you dryer.
For footwear, it is up to your personal preference but over-ankle boots provide the best support on uneven terrain. Just make sure to break them in before your big hike.
Most importantly, you should make sure you can layer your clothing. This allows you to deal with any type of weather from warm summer days to frosty autumnal nights. Key items of clothing that you should take with you on a backpacking adventure include: base layers, such as thermal leggings (even hot summer days can turn chilly in the evenings); sun hats, and rainwear. You never know what the weather will throw at you. You certainly don’t want the rest of your clothing to get wet.
9. Watch The Weather Before Heading Off
Before setting off on your first backpacking adventure, make sure than you check reliable weather forecasts. While these can be found online, it is also worthwhile to check with forest or national park rangers. Especially so because they usually have more detailed forecasts. More so if you are hiking at high altitudes or in mountain valleys that have changeable weather and microclimates. If the weather looks bad, there is no shame in postponing your trip until the storm passes.
10. Get The Necessary Permits For Camping
Sometimes backpacking is not as simple as just packing your bag and hitting the trail. It is likely that if you are heading to a popular national park, you may need to get your hands on the necessary permits for camping. Sometimes permits are needed for using a gas stove or lighting a campfire.
This information is usually found on national park websites or at local tourist information offices. You can also get help in completing the paperwork there. During the summer months, some areas may also prohibit the use of stoves or campfires to reduce the risk of wildfires.
11. Make Sure Your Family & Friends Know Your Plans
While the chances of something going wrong on your backpacking adventure are minimal, it is better to be safe than sorry. Make sure to let your family and friends know where you are going. Inform them of your route and when you expect to be back home so that they can alert help if needed.