Backpacking for Beginners: Everything you need to know, do and buy before you start

Backpacking for beginners

Backpacking for beginners

Aaaah, backpacking. Enjoying nature, unwinding, exercising. It’s a fantastic way to get in touch with the wild. Camping is a great way to relax, but organized camp sites can easily become overcrowded with people. It’s a way to turn down the knob on everyday living, but to really enjoy sometime away from it all it’s all about strapping on a pack and hiking into the wild.

Some benefits of backpacking for beginners (and experts!):

  • Some of the most fun exercise you’ll have
  • Freedom
  • Gaining tolerance
  • Solitude if you go alone, or grow a deeper bond if you go with others
  • Real world experience
  • See beautiful landscapes
  • Clean air and starry skies
  • Self-reliance

The list goes on and on. There is no better way to discover nature, and in the process, yourself. The emotional and mental benefits of backpacking are enough to fill a whole other article, so we’ll keep this one to the physical.

Together, we’ll go over everything a new person will need in order to start their adventure. From planning, to gear, to food, by the time you’re done reading this, not only will you know everything you need to in order to plan your first trip, but you’ll feel confident doing so.

Let’s jump in!

Backpacking for beginners: PLANNING THE TRIP

It’s a common mistake for new backpackers to simply jump in. Grab a pack, shove some food in it, and head out. That’s the whole point, right? What else is there to do? This is especially common in folks who regularly camp or hike. It’s just an extended trip, you’re just walking with some extra weight on your back, right?

Wrong.

Backpacking for beginners is a whole new game, and without the proper research and planning, you can quickly find yourself lost in the wilderness without everything you need to survive. This may sound scary at first, but that’s why backpacking is an adventure. With proper planning, however, the danger and risk of this ever taking place drops dramatically.

For your first trip out, a single overnight stay would be best. You get some experience under your belt with the reassurance that civilization isn’t too far away. As you become more comfortable with everything involved in backpacking, you can venture out into deeper territory, staying out for days at a time

The Right Spot when backpacking for beginners

When planning your trip into the country, be it a day hike or a multiple night stay, there are a number of things to keep in mind:

  • Goal: Every trip should have a clear purpose in mind. Are you planning some light hiking to a lake, or climbing a mountain? Knowing what you want to accomplish with your trip will help you choose where to do it.
  • Location: How far is it from your home? How remote is the trail or landmark from ranger stations or any major roads?
  • Weather: Out in the wilderness, it’s easy to get caught in surprise weather. Still, knowing where you are and what is around you can help you know what to expect. Will you be at high altitude? Plan for cold weather and potential snow, even in surprisingly warm weather. Are there rivers nearby that could flood, or a lot of open area in stormy weather season? These aren’t things to avoid, but knowing what could happen helps you better plan for an efficient pack.
  • Population: Are you going out to be alone in nature, or to meet other hikers? Some locations are specifically designed to have a number of hikers along the trail. While this may seem troublesome to anyone looking to enjoy some solitude, it could also be a comforting reminder for new backpackers that the chances increase of them being found if lost.

Once you’ve painted a clear picture of what you’re looking for, backpacking for beginners becomes a snap.

Call Ahead 

You’ve found the perfect place to go. Before you do anything else, call ahead. Ask the rangers about trail conditions, closures, or any permits required to hike in that area. It may seem obvious to do this before anything else, since a closed trail means a canceled trip, but I’ve known people that only think to call ahead the day of the trip. While this is good as well to double-check before heading out, it shouldn’t be the first time they’re called.

The areas covered by ranger stations can vary, so it may take a bit of research to hunt down the number for your local ranger station, but with the magic of the internet it should be a breeze.

Communicating with the rangers about the location is important as they would have information you wouldn’t normally discover until it was too late.

If you want to take your precautions one step further, we recommend checking in with backpacking forums to hear from backpackers recently in the area. Ranger stations cover a massive area, and often backpackers will discover blockage or danger before the rangers have had a chance to identify it. A quick search on the internet produces dozens of forums, so it should be a cinch to find one for your area.

Trip Distance

The rangers say it’s all clear. Now it’s time to actually plan your trip. This part is crucial and should not be underestimated in its value. Some despise the math involved, but I prefer to think of it as knowing exactly where you should be at what time. As a very goal oriented person, I strive to push myself a little bit each time. Going just a mile farther, or covering the distance a bit faster. However you feel about it, it needs to be done.

Why is it so critical the trip distance and path are planned out?

  • It helps you track where you are on your map.
  • Knowing when you should see a landmark and not seeing it can be an early warning to getting lost, saving time and effort retracing back to your last known location.
  • Prevents over-exertion and extending the trail out. My first backpacking trip ever, my father failed to plan the distance on our three day trip and “winged” it. We went five miles the first day, and three the second. This meant that after two days of heavy hiking, we had to make the eight mile trip back.
  • For the goal oriented, set goals, meet them, and set new ones for the next trip.

When planning your trip, it’s best to take it one day at a time. Conditions can vary from location to location, so don’t pick your spot and figure how much you would have to hike per day to get there. Instead, look at the map, determine elevation, trail conditions, and hours per day you want or can spend hiking. It won’t all be hiking. This is a trip, and you should allow yourself time to enjoy yourself. Take pictures, explore your camp site a bit, rest if you need it. When judging your time, allow flexibility for changing conditions. This will become more intuitive with experience, so far now it’s best to err on the side of caution and preparedness.

First, use a piece of string to figure the trail distance you want to cover. Lay it next to the map scale. This will give you the best estimate of distance you have to travel. The average hiker can walk at a steady 2 mph with a full pack on groomed, flat (or mostly flat) trail.

Of course, it’s not always flat, so now we have to determine how much to add for contour lines of the landscape.

When planning the trail and judging the distance, count up how many descending and ascending lines there are, and add up the distance. Every 1000 feet of vertical gain adds an hour to your hiking time. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that descents are faster. It’s easy to be slowed down by rock ledges or other obstacles.

Once this is done you’ll have a solid idea of the time it’ll take to cover the ground you want to. During your trip, keep a log of weather conditions, how long you take setting up camp, breaking it down, eating, and resting. This will help you track your pace, and knowing this will better help you plan future treks through the country.

Tell People

The chances of anything going wrong are slim. With proper planning and a flexible mentality, along with the proper gear, even an inexperienced backpacker will have little to be concerned with. This, however, is a precaution necessary for the one rare instance something does go wrong. Some view this as superfluous, but again, always best to err on the side of precaution. As I like to say, better to have it and not need it, then to need it and not have it.

Sit down and think of three reliable people. They will be responsible to contact the rangers, so be sure you choose people you can count on to do this.

Before you leave, sit down, and go over your course. Discuss when you’re leaving, the course, and how long you plan on being gone for. In the unlikely event something has happened, you’ll have setup everything needed to find you.

Your trip is planned and you have all the information you need to feel confident.

Now comes the fun part: the toys!

Backpacking for beginners: GEAR

Gear and packing are the toys of the backpacker. It’s never as simple as tossing some clothes into a pack, strapping on a sleeping back, and setting off. Even just an overnight should be given the proper attention, lest a broken tent rod or stove ruin what would’ve otherwise been a perfectly good trip.

When it comes to packing your gear, there are a number of things to keep in mind to prepare for, and those involve individual items to ensure you have everything you need without being weighed down. A number of factors play into how much your pack should weight, excluding food and water. Remember, you’re carrying this thing up hills and around paths. After a few hours, it starts feeling as though it weighs far more than it does. Think about how far you’re going, how physically fit you are, and the size of the group you’re with. Staying overnight? You can likely get away with a 12lbs-15lbs pack. Staying a few days in an area with potential weather? Extra supplies such as first aid and warm clothes can easily increase the weight closer to 20lbs. That should be your limit for now. Once you have more experience you’ll have a greater understanding of exactly what you’ll need and when.

Don’t Go Cheap 

Find a great deal on a tent at Walmart for $20 that you think would be perfect? What about a sleeping bag for $15?

Do me a favor: don’t.

That tent or sleeping bag may be a bargain, but I guarantee that you’re getting what you’re paying for. That may be well and good for a family camping trip in the backyard, but when you’re hiking up a mountainside, miles away from anyone, the last thing you need is your $15 sleeping bag leaving you freezing in the middle of the night. No sleep means easy mistakes are made, and it’s all downhill from there (pun intended).

That’s not to say you shouldn’t get anything from there. Trail mix, small medical supplies, that’s all well and good. When it comes to your shelter and warmth, however, head to a wilderness specialty store. You’ll be paying more, but the quality will by far and away exceed anything else. Buy quality, and you only have to pay for it once.

Clothing Tips 

Now, specifically what clothes you should bring with you is entirely dependent on the season, weather, and where you live. This is pretty straightforward stuff, so we won’t necessarily need a checklist—though you’re welcome to make one if you wish.

Instead, here’s just a few helpful tips on backpacking for beginners :

  • Denim: Don’t do it. There is a misconception that cotton is what you want when out doing rough and rugged things. “Cotton breathes,” people have said. Keep in mind that cotton also retains moisture. In a rainy or cold weather, that means any amount of moisture from walking through a stream, snow, or even lightly drizzling rain will enclose your limbs in heat stealing moisture. On top of that, if the weather is cold enough, that moisture will freeze. A summer hike is one thing, otherwise stick with wools or polyester as those are more moisture resistant.
  • Hiking Boots: You’ve researched, hunted, and purchased the perfect pair of durable, comfortable hiking boots. You’re all set to go! Right? Wrong. Personal opinion, but I believe hiking boots are some of the hardest shoes to break in. Hiking boots fresh from the box will destroy your feet if not properly worked out beforehand. Go shopping, do some yard work, mow the lawn. Give them a solid week or two before taking them out for a spin in the wild.
  • Layers: When planning what clothing to take, make sure you account for each of three layers: Outerwear, insulation, and underwear. Outerwear should consist of waterproof fabric if hiking in the fall, spring, or winter months. It should repel water completely, while also allowing breathability to vent off body heat and perspiration as you work up a sweat in the cold mountain air. If hiking in the summer, you should be able to get away with a jacket, but any time there’s a chance of cold or wet weather, best to pack waterproof pants as well. You’re insulating layer should be synthetic fleece or pile. They’re lightweight, durable, easy to wash, and keep you warm even when wet and breathe better than most other materials. Underwear when hiking in colder weather should consist of a high-performance material. This will keep you dry even as you work up a sweat, thus ensuring you don’t lose body heat to wet clothes. There are a ton of options here, so the best bet is to visit athletic shops or outdoor specialty stores and see what they have for this purpose.

Gear Lists

With so many things to pack, and the need for keeping your pack as light as possible while also being prepared for anything, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the amount of items you’ll need. The worst thing is to realize you need something you don’t have when in the middle of your trip.

First, a repair kit. Nothing can ruin your trip more than your tent pole snapping or the sleeping bag getting a hole. Cold air, moisture, all once mild things quickly build to titanic levels of uncomfortable. When planning for your repair kit, be certain to have these items:

  • Duct tape
  • Wire
  • Spare parts for your backpack
  • Needle and thread

Next, survival gear. A few items, but they can make the all the difference out there. When packing, be sure to get:

  • Whistle
  • Safety Matches
  • Fire Starter (in case you run out of matches)
  • Avalanche Beacon
  • Space Blanket
  • Signaling device

Out in the wilderness, cleanliness can be difficult to come by. Some of this may seem common sense, but when packing for so much, it’s easy to miss the little obvious things. Be sure to include the following in your toiletries kit:

  • Toilet trowel
  • Toilet paper
  • Soap (make sure it’s biodegradable)
  • Towel
  • Sanitary pads/tampons
  • A comb or brush
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste

Other than clothes, your tent, and your sleeping bag, most of the weight and space you’re carrying will come from your food and kitchen supplies. Without food, you’ve got nothing, so it’s best to not skimp on what you need to cook! When planning and organizing your kitchen kit, be sure to include the following:

  • Cup(s)
  • Spoon(s)
  • Stove
  • Windscreen
  • Cook pots and lids (frying pan is optional)
  • Fire starter (can be the same one used for your survival kit)
  • Fuel bottle
  • Stove repair kit (without your stove you can’t boil more drinking water)
  • Pot gripper
  • Small scrubber sponge
  • Small sieve for straining dishwater
  • Bowl
  • Condiments
  • Dishcloth
  • Extra plastic bags

Last but not least, we need to put together a first aid kit. The general rule is to not pack anything you can’t use. Don’t know how to suture a wound? Don’t pack a suture kit. The idea is not to weigh yourself down with items you can’t use when it’ll just be extra weight, or if it’s in place of more bandages and painkillers that you could put to better use. When putting together your first aid kit, be sure to include the following:

  • Antiseptic towelettes (I can’t tell you how useful these are)
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Wound closure strips
  • Moleskin for blisters (duct tape works in a pinch)
  • Bandaids
  • Ace bandage
  • Bandanna (can be used for splints or as a sling)
  • Safety pins
  • Tweezers
  • Ibuprofen
  • Antihistamine
  • Gatorade powdered drink (great for an emergency need for electrolytes and energy)

Organizing and Packing when backpacking for beginners

Now you’ve got all of your kits ready and situated, it’s time to fit it all in. By using small waterproof sacks or baggies, you not only speed loading and unloading, but you also ensure everything stays safe and dry, ready for you when you need it.

When loading the actual pack, be sure to put the heavy items like the stove near the center and pressed against the frame. This will keep the weight of your back flush along your spine and prevent an uneven load. An unbalanced pack can cause back pain or even injury in a surprisingly short amount of time.

Place the tent and clothes along the sides of the pack to keep the heavy items stable and cushioned. This keeps the heavy weight from shifting too much during the hike.

Easy and light stuff like sun screen, snacks, and so forth can go in the top flap. Sleeping bag at the bottom and the gas for the stove in an external pocket on the side, in case of a leak.

Cinch the straps to stabilize the whole thing, and you’re good to go!

Lifting the Pack when backpacking for beginners

Why is there a separate section just for this? Too often do you see new hikers snag up a 20lbs or even 30lbs pack and swing it around onto their back. This is the best way to wrench your back and injure yourself. Chances are this will happen after a couple of times, as the muscles get tired and can’t resist the pressure anymore.

For the sake of yourself and those you’re hiking with, we’ll discuss some alternate methods of lifting your pack. Your back and your friends will thank you.

One method involves propping your pack on the ground with the harness facing you. Grab the straps, put your knee into the back of the pack, and slide the pack up to your thigh. Now that the weight is supported by your leg, you can slip one arm through the harness, swing it around and do the same with the other. Fasten the hip belt, tighten it up, and you’re ready to go!

The above method requires you to use a big of lower back and upper body strength to life the pack in the first place. Another way to do it, which is just as common, is to set the pack on a low support, like a tree stump or flat boulder. Then you simply squat down and strap it up, then lift the weight of it off the ground using your legs.

These are just two of the most common methods, one utilizing your upper body strength, the other your lower. Try them both, and give your fully loaded pack a test lift a few times at home to see what works best for you.

So you’ve got your gear and your toys all situated. You are ready to survive in the wilderness! But what’re you going to eat?

Backpacking for beginners: FOOD

When planning how much or little to carry, it’s never a bad idea to take a bit more than you think you’ll need. One of the ten essentials for any trip that goes overnight is an extra supply of food. At least 1 ½ to 2 ½ lbs. of food per day is reasonable. You want to maintain a solid calorie intake of anywhere from 2500 to 4000 or more, depending on the level of exertion.

Of course, on the other hand, don’t overdo it. Packing too much food means you’ll be carrying unwanted weight at a time when you don’t need to be. The more trips you take, you’ll learn exactly how much food you tend to eat under the strain and learn to pack accordingly.

Consider This…

Too often people think that the backpacking trip is the time to change it up. When you’re already discovering new locations, focusing on your personal survival and enjoying the freedom of living off only that which you carry on your back, it’s not the time to limit your food options.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning your food:

  • Calories:Not the time to start a diet! You’re going to be putting yourself under a lot of strain, burning a ton of energy. Not only is hiking a fantastic exercise alone, but lugging a 20lbs pack on top of it all puts your body under a great degree of exertion. You need the calories and water to fight fatigue, which can also bring on headaches if not managed properly.
  • Taste: Again, you’re not on a diet. There’s no reason to think you need to grow accustomed to bland dry oats or something crazy. You’re out here to enjoy yourself, and that includes eating food you like.
  • Nutrition: This may sound a bit hypocritical on the heels of the above, but whereas the occasional candy bar is fine, it’s called “trail mix” for a reason. When pushing your body and making those muscles work, you need all of the complex carbohydrates you can get for energy, and protein for the rebuilding of muscle while you sleep. This will prevent cramps and keep you going strong even during day three. For quick snacks during the day, stick to nuts and dried fruits (less mess).
  • Ease of prep: Camp cooking can be a complicated thing. Until you get more experience doing it, it’s best to keep it simple. There are a ton of “three ingredient” meals on the internet. It’s always a good idea to include food that doesn’t need to be cooked in case something happens to the stove (but you brought the repair kit, right?)
  • Weight and Bulk: This should be a no-brainer, but never leave anything unsaid when it comes to precaution: stick to food items that are both lightweight and low bulk. This is especially true on longer journeys. Freeze-dried meals are great for this, and a lot of them can be separated from the original packaging and repacked into plastic bags to save on space and minimize garbage that needs to be packed and hiked out.
  • Fuel: This is an easy one to overlook. You bring fuel for the stove, and food. Everything is taken care of! Not exactly. Certain foods can take a deceptively long time to cook, and if you’ve brought a number of these meals to eat over a number of days and didn’t account for the fuel expenditure, you could end up without a stove and uncooked food. Be sure to take the time and calculate how much fuel you’ll need for each meal and plan accordingly.
  • Water: This ties into understanding your course and destination. Are there a lot of streams and rivers? Perhaps snow? If not, you’ll need to factor in bringing water with you, and if you’re doing that, you may not want to use a lot of it for cooking.

What to bring when backpacking for beginners

When planning your meals, keep in mind that you’re not carrying a refrigerator on your back. Fresh food is great, but don’t take any unless you plan to eat it on the trail during the first day. It won’t keep and sitting in your pack under the hot sun will not only quickly ruin the food, but could potentially spread any juice or strong odors to your clothes and tent.

Dry foods like pasta, rice, and soup mixes are light and take up very little space. Dehydrated food as mentioned above can lean a little on the pricier side but they fit the bill for weight and taste as well as nutritional value for very little effort.

What about canned goods? Personally, I never have. The bulk and weight just doesn’t justify what the food itself brings to the table. If you absolutely have to have a favorite food with you, consider repackaging it if possible. A freeze-dried meal becomes a crumpled piece of paper that needs to be carried out, but a can is still a can, only now it’s open, leaking, and smells.

Just because you’re backpacking doesn’t mean you’re limited to bland, tasteless food. Any number of spices can boost the appeal of almost any backpacking food, and come in conveniently small packages. It’s obviously up to your own tastes, but bringing along a collection of salt, pepper, garlic powder, crushed red pepper (my personal favorite), and anything else you’d like. A little cinnamon and sugar brightens an early morning oatmeal, and even some packets of flavoring for water like hot chocolate can be a nice treat on a cold morning.

Meals when backpacking for beginners

Here are some easy ideas of what to pack for each of your meals throughout the day. While it may be tempting one way or the other to either pack as light and small as possible, or to take as many luxuries as you can with you, a more balanced approach is usually best. You don’t over pack, but you also allow yourself a treat after a long hike, or during a mid-day rest.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so the saying goes. Whereas some hikers enjoy starting it off with a full meal of eggs, bacon, coffee, and sometimes even pancakes, you can get away with just an energy bar and a cup of water. The full meal is a solid way to start the day, but there’s far less cleanup with the smaller one.

For lunch, rather than a long break, most hikers choose to eat small snacks frequently during the day. This keeps your body from experiencing the drowsiness of a full stomach. Even after that point, there is still the typical mid-day crash so common in normal life. Instead, try munching on jerky strips, nuts, or any number of granola or energy bars.

Dinner is a time to relax and enjoy the meal. If you’ve gone light on the first two meals of the day, I recommend making dinner something special. Otherwise a simple meal of dehydrated soup can do you just as well. If you’d like to cook something more lavish, the internet is filled with backpacking recipes to enjoy.

You’ve got everything you need. Pack is ready, food prepped. Let’s talk etiquette.

Backpacking for beginners: LEAVE NO TRACE

If you’re new to backpacking, or even just outdoor outings in general, there’s a good chance you have no idea what Leave No Trace is. We’ll go over the basic information here, but it’s highly recommended you visit their website (www.lnt.org) to learn more.

So what is it?

Leave No Trace is a member driven code of ethics to teach people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. With so many people coming and going through the wild, if certain steps aren’t taken to preserve the natural wonder, any area can quickly become riddled with litter and an altered ecosystem when backpacking. Even seeming small things can poison a water supply or upset the balance of wildlife. The idea isn’t to avoid doing big changes, but to be mindful that everything you do can add-up. When put together with those same actions taken by countless others, what seems like a careless but small act quickly becomes a massive problem.

Seven Principles

Leave No Trace teaches what they call the “Seven Principles.” Again, visit the website to learn more and join up to see what you can do to help, but these are the principles to keep in mind while out on your trip. Learn them, follow them.

Plan Ahead and Prepare

  • Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.
  • Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
  • Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
  • Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
  • Repackage food to minimize waste.
  • Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
  • Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
  • Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
    • In popular areas:
      • Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
      • Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
      • Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
      • In pristine areas:
      • Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
      • Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.

Dispose of Waste Properly

  • Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
  • Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
  • Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
  • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.

Leave What You Find

  • Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  • Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
  • Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

  • Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
  • Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
  • Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
  • Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.

Respect Wildlife

  • Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
  • Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
  • Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
  • Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

  • Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
  • Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
  • Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
  • Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
  • Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.

Backpacking for beginners: MORE TIPS AND HINTS

Skills

  • Practice: Don’t wait until you’re out in the country to try out your gear for the first time. Practice a bit in the backyard! Setup your tent, get comfortable digging a cathole, and try out your stove. Practicing now will remove any doubt or uncertainty about exactly how it’s to be done. The trip itself is there to hone your skills. Learn them in a safe environment.
  • Map and compass: If you keep track of yourself from the beginning, you greatly reduce your chances of ever becoming lost. Understand the map and track landmarks as you go to stay oriented.
  • Good Manners: Camping is like being a guest in nature’s house. You wouldn’t walk in, set fire to the couch, and poop next to the dinner table, would you? Don’t do it here, either. Setting up camp on bare rock, not doing the dishes in the stream or river (or just don’t do them at all!).

Pack Quality

  • Storage: How easy is it to load? Are the pockets easily accessible while wearing the pack, or do you have to take it off to get to anything? Every pack worth its salt has a compression strap system. Does it cinch easily?
  • Weight versus Organization: If you have a need to keep everything neat and separate, a pack with multiple pockets and stashes will work for you. Keep in mind that this extra material carries with it added weight. When trying to pack as lightly as possible, the little things count. There’s no right answer here, only to keep it within your comfort level.

Pack Size

Get the right pack for the job. With weight as the constant concern, you want to make sure you’re not buying a journeying pack for a daytrip.

  • 5500+ cubic inches: This is the journeying pack. These are for trips lasting more than a week with no resupply in sight. If you go out in snow country frequently, or if you’re just the one stuck carrying the heavy stuff for your family, this is the one for you. A concern is that with all of the space this pack provides you’ll be tempted to load it up as full as it’ll go. A warning: just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Pack it only with what you’ll need and food that’ll get lighter as you eat it instead of voluminous, bulky items. These packs can get heavy, so be sure you’re supporting and cushioning your shoulders and hips at the straps or risk injury.
  • 4000 to 5500 cubic inches: These are still for longer trips, but are a bit more manageable. Ideal for outings that won’t last more than a week. A balanced pack and good for most situations.
  • 3000 to 4000 cubic inches: The weekender, perfect for a (usual for me) Friday to Sunday trip. They can hold everything you need without any major risk of over-packing and weighing you down.
  • 2500 to 3000 cubic inches: Use a pack in this range for day hikes or overnights during the warmer weather months where there isn’t a great need to pack a lot of waterproof or insulating clothing.

Tents 

Growing up, we had one massive tent the family used when camping. Multiple rooms, tall enough to stand in, the thing was a behemoth. Since my father didn’t believe in spending money he didn’t feel he had to (one tent per family was enough), he felt that some twine and a plastic tarp was good enough when we went backpacking.

Don’t be my dad.

Nowadays, backpacking tents are specifically designed to be lightweight, compact, dry, comfortable shelters for your time out in the great outdoors.

  • Three Season: These are your most common tent. They get their name because they’re meant to be used during the three seasons people most like to camp or backpack: spring, summer, and fall. Whereas they can handle some surprise snow or rainfall, they’re not meant to be used during full winter.
  • Summer only: These feature a ton of netting to protect you from the onslaught of insects while at the same time giving you the open freedom to take in the starry night. Surprise rain cloud? No worries! They come with a rainfly that’ll protect from most light drizzles. Just be aware of strong storm winds as those can force water under the fly. Also great for traveling through deserts and can be used as sun shelters.
  • High Altitude: These bad boys are the sturdy four season tents. If you’re trekking up a mountain in the middle of winter, this is what you want to take with you. Generally the added durability makes them the more expensive option, so be prepared to pay for quality. In addition, the extra toughness adds to the weight. Most are designed to be deployed with four or more poles in a crisscross pattern for strength. While this adds incredible stability, it also makes packing the tent bulkier. Great if you need it, but there are other, lighter options if you don’t.

Backpacking for beginners: THE WORLD AWAITS

We hope you’ve enjoyed this guide on “backpacking for beginners” and getting started in the wild world of backpacking. You now have all of the tools and advice you need to plan your first trip. Remember to be safe, be respectful, but most of all, have FUN! That’s what backpacking is all about.

It’s time to give nature a visit.