Are you wondering about backpacking for beginners? Have you considered hitting the trails but need more understanding?

blue backpack

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Backpacking gives adventurers of all levels an incredible feeling of freedom. They have their set of entire belongings on their backs while seeing new and beautiful sites every day. On popular trails you may meet a variety of different and interesting people, though they all share the enjoyment of backpacking.

If you’re thinking about backpacking, we hope to provide you with everything you need to know to take the trails.

Backpacking For Beginners: What Is Backpacking?

Backpacking is an outdoor journey ranging from deep wilderness to national parks. It requires self-sufficiency because you must account for and carry everything you need to be safe and have fun. It can be rigorous and requires great thought and planning, but if you are up for the challenge, it is a rewarding and healthy endeavor.

Backpacking is not a simple hike with friends. It is not a picnic in a scenic area. Backpacking is a multiple-day adventure where you sleep, eat, and survive based on the contents of your backpack.

Backpacking is also not camping. Campers have the privilege of piling an array of items into the back of a minivan and driving to a campsite. Backpacking is more intense and self-sufficient. Some people go camping and then hike from their campground. This is a great activity, but it is not backpacking.

A Backpacking Loop

Beginning with only the contents on their backs, backpackers essentially travel a loop. Based on a predetermined course, backpackers aim to travel a certain number of miles per day until completing the loop and returning to the original starting point.

hikers

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Such a venture can vary from overnight trips to multiple weeks away, depending on your experience and adventurous nature. In that time you have to be sure you everything you need to survive in the wilderness, that it fits in your backpack, and that your backpack is light enough to be carried for the duration of your trip.

Why Is Backpacking So Great?

group of hikers

Image Source: flickr

For starters, backpacking is a great way to keep your body healthy. It builds endurance and stamina while burning calories. Different terrains and elevations can be quite challenging. Think about carrying a backpack up a steep hill for a mile or more.

Backpacking can also improve mental health. There is something very therapeutic about enjoying the marvels of nature in an arena where the distractions of the busy world are removed. A backpacking trip can leave you with a feeling of joy.

Improved self-esteem is another benefit of backpacking. The rush of conquering your first loop and the overall sense of accomplishment is a great moral booster. Despite the challenge of the adventure, studies also demonstrate that backpacking is a stress-reducer.

Many of us do not have time to spend four or five days backpacking, but a simple overnight trip can still provide an array of cathartic benefits.

When Should I Go Backpacking? 

a person hiking through a trail covered in snow

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The peak season for summer adventure, usually May through September, is a common and good time to go backpacking. There are advantages to backpacking in the “offseason” too.

The very early spring or late fall is are good times to avoid a lot of hikers on common trails and depending on whether your backpacking location requires a fee, it can also be cheaper in the offseason.

If you want to venture on a more tourist-friendly area, think about whether particular sights or attractions will be open in the offseason. Most outdoor sights remain open, and the smaller crowds can be a benefit.

Other interesting benefits to offseason backpacking include cooler weather and less sweating. We are considering backpacking for beginners, but as you become a more advanced backpacker, some like to travel to distant locations to enjoy a backpacking adventure. In that case, travel and hotels may be cheaper as well.

On the downside of offseason backpacking, you may need to pack more clothes to deal with a wider variety of weather. The common backpacking months of May to September can be more crowded and more demanding in midsummer heat, but they also offer the chance to interact with more backpackers.

Advanced backpackers can enjoy cheaper transportation to distant locations while backpacking for beginners in mid-summer offers sunbathing and swimming as possible recreational options on your summer adventure.

How Do I Pick My Backpacking Location? 

man sitting on grass

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If you are convinced you want to make a lifelong commitment to backpacking, consider your early trips as the foundation to longer and more adventurous outings.

For many, a long-term goal is to backpack overseas. This can serve as an adventurous and comparatively cheap vacation. Overseas backpacking adds an entirely new level to your investment, safety, and planning.

While the preparations are beyond simple backpacking for beginners, there are a few locations to keep in mind that are backpacker friendly and favorite destinations for many serious backpackers.

Nepal

Thailand 

Costa Rica 

tent

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From national forests to state wilderness areas, there are many good backpacking options for a variety of backpackers. Backpacking for beginners requires some research and planning to have the best experience.

Consider whether your interest in backpacking is based on the peaceful solitude of backpacking or the desire to have a challenging adventure. Do you want to be away from civilization, or would you like to meet other backpackers?

Remember, on your first few trips you will need to learn and stay safe.

1. Don’t Go Alone

2. Begin With An Overnight Location

3. Choose For Convenience 

What Do I Wear Backpacking?

While backpacking for beginners, having the right clothes on a backpacking adventure can make or break your experience. Before considering specific garments, think about the materials you will pack.

Materials 

Underwear 

Shirts 

Pants

Rain Clothes 

Jackets 

Footwear 

Accessories

What Materials And Supplies Do I Need? 

When packing for your trip, there are some essentials you will need to have.

Other Backpacking Considerations

Depending on the simplicity of your trail, you may want to be sure you have a map in your backpack that clearly identifies your loop and the areas surrounding it. If you are in an area with reception, have your call phone GPS available.

a hiker using gps, one of the things that backpacking beginners may find handy

Image Source: Pixabay

Water Purification

If you are on a trip that is long enough, or if you are not on a trail with designated water sources, you may need to think about how you can purify water. Some backpackers invest in gravity filters, pumps, or chemicals to purify water for drinking.

How To Pack

Backpacking for beginners begins with packing your bag. If done wisely, backpacks can hold more than you ever realized. However, if not done with thought, you can waste valuable space and contents.

Many backpackers divide their packs into three layers in addition to extra pockets, eyelets, and straps.


Back Layer

Middle Layer

Top Layer 

Pockets 

Fuel 

Cooking Meals While Backpacking 

Backpacking for beginners means ensuring you have meals to eat. Those using a backpacking stove most commonly boil-soak their food. This is usually accomplished by packing dry food with your stove.

You will need to be sure your stove is on level ground and sheltered from any significant wind. Add water in a camping pot and bring it to a boil. Stir the dried food in quickly and close the lid before too much heat escapes.

grilled sausages

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Other backpackers sometimes have an insulated container. Once the water boils, they pour the boiling water into the insulated container where it covers the dried food.

Turn the stove off but keep the lid on your pot. You may even want to use a jacket to cover and further insulate the pot. The dried food needs time to hydrate while the water says hot.

Let the food rest for 10 or 15 minutes with the lid still closed. Your supper should be ready to go!


No-Cook Options 

If you don’t feel confident cooking a meal on the trail, you can choose no-cook options. It is always a good idea to have no-cook items available in case you have difficulty with your stove malfunctioning or your fuel running out.

Aside from prepackaged sandwiches, nutrition bars, and trail mix, there are dehydrated foods that can be prepared in cold water. You can prepare traditional oats in cold water in about 15 minutes.

Though it takes a little longer, you can also prepare instant noodles in cold water. Instant mashed potatoes, instant rice, and instant pudding are also great choices.

What To Do When Backpacking?

Much like choosing your backpacking location, choosing your most enjoyable activities while backpacking depends on the sort of trip you are seeking. Some backpackers like to curl up at their campsite with a book, and a few of them even pack hammocks. More adventurous backpackers sometimes bring very basic fishing supplies (line, hook, and split shot) to catch their supper.

play cards

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A deck of cards is a great small item to pack. You can play solitaire on your own or poker with your friends. Other backpackers will venture far and long to get the best pictures and video on their trip.

The best thing about backpacking is that you are totally in charge of your time and enjoyment. You should try a lot of things as you backpack more until you know your favorite ways to spend time while backpacking.

Safety First

Backpacking can be a great adventure and a healthy pursuit, but safety should always remain at the forefront. Do not just assume that food and water will always be available no matter what. Plan by always making sure your most basic needs are accounted for, then move on to other necessities.

Know Your Location

You should have substantial familiarity with your backpacking location and the surrounding areas. By studying maps, you should always have your bearings straight.

Keep a map of your area with you while backpacking. In a national or provincial park, maps are easy to come by and trails are well marked. You may even be able to get information on the area’s features.

Even if you have maps on your phone, do not forget your paper map. When cell phones die and GPSs lose their signal, a paper map will still serve your needs.

First Aid 

You should always backpack with a first aid kit, but learning first aid can go much farther in keeping you and those around you safe.

First aid kids can help with cuts and headaches, but heat stroke or a broken bone should be addressed in a specific way until the backpacker can be taken to a hospital. In the meantime, trip killers such as blisters and chapped lips can be addressed with a quality first aid kit.

Don’t Lose Communication

If at all possible, you do not want to lose all contact with the world. A cell phone is good to keep with you, but two-way messaging products can be substantially more reliable. Using inReach technology, a satellite network allows you to send and receive preset messages from almost anywhere.

These devices require a monthly fee and may not be a wise investment in backpacking for beginners, but if you get to the point where you are backpacking in more distant or obscure locations, they can help ensure your personal safety.

The final aspect of maintaining communication is a simple matter of letting others know you are going backpacking. Individuals who live alone may not bother to tell others about a three-day backpacking trip, but if you run into serious difficulty and you are not home by day three or four, you will want somebody to know where you went.

Know The Weather 

Weathermen never know for sure, and neither do we, but you should be sure you know the expected weather before backpacking. There is no reason to duel with Mother Nature if you don’t have to. Backpacking through electrical storms is not a safe or pleasant way to be introduced to backpacking for beginners.

Tips And Tricks 

Backpacking for beginners involves learning what and how to pack. You need to end up with a backpack that has all your needs and is still light enough to carry. Since we strongly advise going on your first backpacking outing with an experienced backpacker, consider consolidating your packs.

You only need one stove. You can probably both fit into one tent. Communicate with your backpacking partner so you do not burden yourself with double supplies.

Drink Much 

We already talked about knowing where your water sources are on your intended route. Be sure to take full advantage of them when you arrive. It is wise to drink as much as you are able to keep yourself hydrated and healthy.

Also, be sure to fill your water bottle to the brim at every stop. If something happens and miss a water source or did not find one where you thought you would, you will be glad you stocked up at the previous one.

Dental Floss 

Dental floss is easy to fit into your pack, and it can serve as a stronger line than thread. If you are going to be roughing it long enough, you may need to repair or stitch and can use dental floss. If you buy the right brand, it is actually strong enough to tie items to your back and use in a pinch for anything that requires string.

Duct Tape

It is common to make fun of duct-tape as the fix-all for those not mechanically inclined, but there is a reason duct tape has that reputation. It can be used for any mid-hike repair.

Duct tape can also secure items to your pack or body in a pinch. Some backpackers even use it to prevent blisters. Backpacking for beginners should always involve a roll of duct tape.

Bandanas

Whether or not you are into the habit of wearing bandanas, consider making part of your backpacking for beginners tool kit. Aside from wearing it on your head, it can also serve as protection from the sun’s rays on the back of your neck.

Some backpackers have used it to filter their slow-drip coffee. Others use it to wash their dishes. As a dishtowel, it can be used to handle the hot utensils on your backpacking stove. Other times you just need to wipe the sweat off your face and put it back on your head.

Fire Starters 

If you want a nice fire at your campsite, how will you start it? There are a few easy ways to travel with cheap fire starters that take up very little space. Consider cotton balls.

A bag of cotton balls is cheap, and they catch fire very quickly. Lint from your dryer will also blaze up wonderfully. In order to light the cotton or lint, keep a couple disposable cigarette lighters in your pack. Lighters are pretty small to begin with, and they even make micro versions.

Resources  

Beginning with only the contents on their backs, backpackers essentially travel a loop. Based on a predetermined course, backpackers aim to travel a certain number of miles per day until completing the loop and returning to the original starting point.

Backpacking for beginners opens the door to a great new pastime that can provide a great way to stay fit and healthy while exploring nature and enjoying the peacefulness of your surroundings.

It is a great way to maintain and improve your mental health while escaping the stressors and distractions of life for a time. Celebrate your accomplishments as you learn to backpack longer and farther.

Learn more about backpacking for beginners from the following resources:

Backpacker Magazine (www.backpacker.com): Get the latest gear reviews, expert advice on cooking, repair, ultralight camping, videos, how-to slideshows, and more, all beamed right to your inbox every Tuesday.

Lightweight Backpacking and Camping by Alan Dixon, George Cole, and Ryan Jordan: This book offers insight into gear selection and techniques that can be used to reduce pack weight and decrease the margin of risk that occurs by taking less weight in the backcountry.

Lighten Up! A Complete Handbook for Light and Ultralight Backpacking by Don Ladigin: This is a short, to-the-point, and humorously illustrated by famed outdoor illustrator Mike Clelland. This book presents everything hikers and backpackers need to be safe, comfortable, and well fed while carrying a very small and lightweight pack.

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