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Backpacking Tips for Beginners

Posted by Jessica Windell on

Are you ready to leave behind your big cozy bed, hot showers and Netflix list to venture out into the wilderness this summer? Backpacking can be an exciting and memorable experience, especially with so many great places to explore, a few probably in your own backyard.

But, for the novice outdoorsman (or woman), it can be a little overwhelming to head out on a weekend hiking adventure with little-to-no previous experience. Knowing how to navigate the great outdoors can not only come in handy, it’s also a fun activity that allows you to explore some of the most beautiful spots Mother Earth has to offer. Before you hit the trail, check out these tips to help your first backpacking trip go as smoothly as possible.


1. Use the buddy system, even before you go:

The quickest (and safest) way to approach your first outing is to find a friend who’s done it all before. Learning the ropes from an experienced backpacker can give you real-life situations to learn from, as well as first-hand tips that most hiking websites won’t cover. Don’t have a friendly brain to rack for tips? Join a hiking forum online, such as TrailGroove, to ask questions or read others’ inquiries and start taking notes.

2. Map it out:

If it’s your first time out, be sure to acknowledge the distance, altitude and potential weather issues, then plan accordingly. For beginners looking for a day-trip, we recommend no more than 10 miles, round-trip, to make sure you make it back down before nightfall. That way, you can travel lightly and get a feel for how your body reacts in that altitude or weather.

Half the fun of hiking is the sights! Be sure to take into account the things you want to catch, such as waterfalls, snow-capped mountain peaks, etc. A great app to plan your hike and see what others have said about it is MapMyHike. There are also plenty of well-respected magazines and guidebooks (check at the local ranger’s station), which are great resources.

3. Gear up:

Be sure to review this handy checklist from REI. This list is uber comprehensive and its items are based on various weather and hiking conditions. While you may not need everything on this list for your first adventure, it’s a great place to start.

With all the necessities to bring, try not to over-pack! It may be tough to limit yourself, but it’s only a day. Make sure to bring these 10 essentials and take notes on what you didn’t use or what more you needed. One more tip: before heavily investing in a lot of gear, see if you can borrow from a friend or rent the fancy stuff like a tent.

4. Weather-up your wardrobe:

When it comes to clothing, layers are always your best bet. However, being aware of the weather is a must, as you don’t want to end up with a back-pack full of clothes that weigh you down. Try to stick with athletic, moisture-wicking fabric to absorb sweat and keep you dry. Choose the best footwear for your plans – water-proof boots if you’re walking through streams or hiking shoes for rough or rocky terrain. Headwear is essential to keep cool (or warm) and protect against the harsh sun, so make sure you have a hat, bandana or visor handy.

5. Find your fare:

Food shouldn’t be complicated for a one-day adventure. Stick to light-weight snacks, such as dried fruit, trail mix or Perfect Bars to keep you energized throughout the day. Be safe with your food and don’t leave it unattended without proper, critter-proof containers.

6. Speak up:

It is imperative that you leave an itinerary of your backpacking plans with a friend who can act if you’re not back in time. While there’s some thrill in disappearing into the wild for a little bit, someone needs to know where you are. If you’re parking somewhere, you can also leave a copy of your plans in your car or with the nearby ranger station when obtaining your permit.

7. If you get lost, S-T-O-P:

It’s a helpful acronym to help you get control of your bearings.

  • S – Stop, for real. Don’t go any further once you realize you’ve gone off the path. (Unless, of course, you’re in immediate danger.)
  • T – Think. Take a breath and try to remember: Where did you last know where you were? Can you get back there? Did you take note of any landmarks? Consider your options before moving forward — or backward.
  • O – Observe. Start paying attention to everything – is there a trail nearby? Examine your surroundings to determine what your best move would be.
  • P – Plan. Once you’ve collected yourself, make a plan. Talk it over with the others you’re with, or if you’re alone, plan out loud to get a better grasp on your thoughts.

8. Nurture Mother Nature:

The wilderness is one of the few things that modern man has left untouched and we need to do our best to keep it that way, so be sure to clean up everything you bring — even if that means more trash to carry. Some trails have very specific rules, which you should become aware of prior to your hike. When exploring, remember that nature is unpredictable – it was not designed with your safety in mind. Stay sharp and adaptable to whatever Mother Nature has up her sleeve.


Ultimately, backpacking should be an adventure – and a great one, at that. But if it is your first time, there’s a lot to consider. Following these guidelines should help you feel prepared to take on the mighty wilderness and all its beauty. And, don’t worry – Netflix and your hot shower will be there when you get back.