Backpacking for Beginners: The Essentials for Enjoying Your First Big Hiking Trip

If your prior experience with backpacking consists of toting a Hello Kitty pack on and off a school bus, you should probably learn a bit more about the activity before you head out for your first long hike. There are only a few things you need to know about. Learn them, and you’ll be well on your way toward the wonderful world of backpacking.

First steps of your backpacking life

The initial steps of learning to hike with a pack don’t take place on a trail. First, you’ve got to find an experienced backpacker who’s willing to show you the proverbial ropes. Second, you need to plan an easy first time route. Your experienced guide can do this, and they might also be able to assist with step three: obtaining the right sort of backpack and related gear. Most of your backpacking pals will be thrilled to tell you how and where to pack. If you don’t know any other backpackers, enlist an enthusiastic friend to attend a packing class with you, recommend backpack pros at REI.

Planning your first hiking route

Your first hiking route should be based upon several factors, including your fitness level, the time of year, the elevation gain and distance, and the time you have to devote to the hike. Don’t forget to factor in the time it takes to go from your home to the trailhead in your Jeep Patriot or other roadworthy vehicle. Bear in mind that when you’re carrying a heavy backpack, elevation gain will affect you more and you may experience fatigue at a shorter distance than you would without a pack. Generally, a first time hike of three to eight miles is ideal. If you’re backpacking with kids, you’ll probably wish to take a shorter route.

Obtain a regional guidebook and study up on nearby trails, campsites and backpacking routes that are of interest to you. Most guidebooks offer helpful hints for first-timers and experienced hikers, too. A good guidebook gives plenty of reliable info about weather, wildlife and any passes or permits you might need to hike a particular route. As a general rule, printed guidebooks are more reliable than online websites, notes Section Hiker magazine. If the guidebook is exceptionally heavy, just photocopy and tote along the pages you’re likely to need on your hike.

Camping with a backpack

A backpacking tent weighs considerably less than a typical camp tent. Bring one, and don’t forget a lightweight stove and as much sterno as you’ll need for morning coffee and a hot evening meal. Lightweight, freeze-dried meals are easy to tote in your backpack and provide tasty nutrition for on-the-go hikers. Bring a water filter and refillable bottle so you don’t hike with heavy water bottles.

When you backpack, leave your phone off and just enjoy the view. Don’t leave anything behind but footprints, and pick up any litter you find along the trail. Leave the place pristine and hopefully, other hikers will follow your trailblazing example.

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