Backpacking is a great beginner sport. It just takes a little motivation, some outdoor gear (many people already have these things at home), and a sense of adventure. It doesn’t have to be an expensive sport. Use what gear you’ve got and know that if you enjoy it enough, you can invest more money into high tech items later. You really only need the basics. We’ve put together some great tips to help you get off on the right foot.
Location, Location, Location
- Know before you go- Pick something that is within the ability level of everyone in your party. If you’ve got someone who has never been backpacking before, don’t pick an 8 mile uphill grind of a trail. Pick something a bit mellower that still provides an adequate sense of adventure. Talk with your group beforehand to gauge their ability levels.
- Maps- Get familiar with the area you are traveling to. Look up trail maps, previous trip reports, as well as the weather forecast. Know where you are headed, and know where to go in case of an emergency.
- Emergency contact- Tell others (who won’t be on the trip) where you’re going, who you will be with, and when you expect to be back. This way in case anything goes wrong, it will be easier to find you.
- Backpack- Pick something that sits comfortably on your back. This can be either an external or internal frame, whatever fits your fancy (and budget!). The most comfortable packs will have both hip and sternum straps to help evenly distribute the weight of your pack. Once loaded, your hips should bear most of the weight. Choose a pack with lots of pockets and zippers. The more organized you can make your pack, the easier it will be to grab that CLIF Bar or sunscreen when you need it most. Just remember to put the heavier items on the bottom.
- Sleeping bag- Choose a sleeping bag appropriate for the climate you hike in. The most versatile bags in our arsenal are rated anywhere between 25-40 degrees. Just choose what bag you are most comfortable in. If you tend to sleep on the warm side, buy a cooler bag. If you sleep on the cool side and don’t want to buy a lower rated bag, a sleeping bag liner always works well to increase your bag’s rating by a few degrees.
- Shelter- This can come in the form of a tent, tarp, ground sheet, or bivy sack. A tent is great for larger more established campsites or bigger groups. They provide ample room for everyone and do a superb job of protecting you from the elements. A tarp is a bit more minimalist and will require an area that has some tie down locations. They are a great option for areas where the chance of precipitation is low and you won’t need as much protection from nature, just be sure to lay a ground sheet underneath you to keep the moisture from the ground off your pack. A bivy sack is a lightweight single person tent and can also serve as a great back up emergency shelter. If you’re more into sleeping under the stars, go for it! Again, just make sure you protect your gear by laying down a ground sheet first.
- Clothing- You know the old saying cotton kills? Cotton should not be worn while you’re hiking because it absorbs moisture and holds it against your skin. A sweatshirt however, can make for a great layer once you get to camp and can double as a pillow. You should always stick to the 3 layer principle. Make sure that your outerwear will keep you warm and shed water if necessary. Also, packing an extra pair of socks and underwear never hurt anyone.
- Footwear- Your feet are your wheels when you’re backpacking. If you’ve got blisters and pinched toes, it’s a surefire recipe for a bad time. Try your boots/shoes out beforehand by wearing them on short day hikes and around your house. Make note of any potential problem areas and be ready to counteract them. Pack some moleskin to protect hot spots. Duct tape will work in a pinch.
- Light- bring along a flash light, headlamp, or lantern. Just be sure to pack extra batteries.
The Three F’s: Food, First Aid and Fire
- Food: A good rule of thumb is to bring 1.5 to 2lbs of food per person per day. If you’re hiking in a colder location, or hiking something extra strenuous, you’ll want to pack extra food to fuel you. Choose your food type according to your trip length. If you’ll be out for a weekend, go ahead and pack fresh veggies and cheeses. These foods will spoil on longer trips and you’ll need to look into other types of foods. Dehydrated meals can be prepped ahead of time at home in the oven or with a food dehydrator, or you can choose to purchase readymade dehydrated food from your local grocery store or outdoor specialty store. Pasta is always a great option if you’re looking to cut costs. Just remember to always bring extra food and water.
- First Aid- People fall. They scrape up their knees, get stung by bees, and slice themselves with their knife while making a quick PBJ sandwich. Be sure to pack along a first aid kit that’s appropriate for the number of days you’ll be out and the number of people who are going. Staples of a first aid kit include bandage materials, fracture and sprain supports, wound and blister care, as well as OTC pain killers and allergy medication.
- Fire- Fire can be used as a heat or cook source, but it can also be used to send emergency signals. Just be sure that when you set a fire for cooking or heat that you fully extinguish it and never leave the fire unattended. Only light fires in designated fire pits and never during a burn ban.
Remember that back packing is a fun thing. Don’t get too caught up in making sure you look cool, have the newest gear, or that you’re doing something wrong. Be sure to bring along the 10 essentials and follow our tips to make your trips go smoother.
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Originally Published: May 13, 2014