Beginner’s Backpacking Guide

Beginner's Backpacking Guide

Ready to go backpacking?

Are you a first time backpacker?

When you plan for your first backpacking trip, you need to consider a lot of factors.

The same goes for hiking, camping, and exploring trips.

Well, never fear.

Because I’ve put together this beginner’s guide that will get you on the trail quick and easy.

You’ll spend less time worrying and more time enjoying your trip!

– Updated 2/9/2020

Your First Backpacking Trip

You’ll have to bring all your gear, plan meals, treat your water, and keep going even if there’s bad weather. All of those things can be difficult to do if you don’t have support and a buddy to go with. Sometimes these details are hard to remember, which is tough for new hikers.

There are so many different situations that can come up, and two people working together can be better than one person trying to work through things alone. Instead of making lots of mistakes when you head out for the first hiking trip, see if you can learn from people who are older and wiser, because that can save you time in the long run.

Pick a Great Backpacking Friend

Make sure to work with an experienced backpacking friend so you know what to expect. That way you can go with someone and still learn as you explore. There are so many different opportunities to have while you’re out and about, so you want to cover the basics and enjoy your time in the outdoors.

From things like knowing where to get water, how to pack food, and when to stop for the night, you’ll start to get the hang of trail life. You’ll learn the most when you are out in the woods and not just sitting in front of your computer, so make sure you spend time actually practicing outside!

Read on for more of our suggestions before you start your adventure.

First of all, think about hiking with an experienced friend. If you go with someone who hikes a lot, you’ll get to benefit from his or her expertise. Plus, you’ll learn all the rookie mistakes to avoid! You can even go with a small group if you find people with similar interests and plans.

Pick the Right Trail For Your Needs

Make sure you’re choosing the right trail for your level of experience. Think about the length of your trip, and don’t pick something too long for your experience. For example, don’t try thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail when you’re new to backpacking. Keep these resources in mind when planning your trip:

  • Friends: if you have any mature hiking friends who have been on lots of trails, ask for their recommendations on things to do and places to visit. You might be surprised by how helpful their information is.
  • Park services: the rangers and park officials at any national park will have plenty to tell you, and they can help you stay safe and hike at the right times.

Backpacking Checklist

Make a checklist and stick to it. In fact, I’ve created a backpacking checklist for you already. Click here to access the backpacking checklist.

Stock your backpack with enough items to keep you safe and healthy during the trip. Try not to over pack. Rent equipment before buying if you can, so you know what’s best for your needs and can choose accordingly. Make sure that you look at your checklist as you pack, because you don’t want to bring extra things that aren’t necessary for your trip.

Also think about how tough you’ll be on yourself: do you want to bring sleeping bag, a pillow and a sleeping pad, or are you planning to sleep on the bare ground? Unless you’re used to rough conditions I suggest bringing a light sleeping pad and lightweight pillow (both types of items are in the checklist).

Aim for a reasonable weight based on how long you will be gone. Remember that you can rent equipment before buying it, so try renting different things and seeing what is the best fit for you.

Choosing and Packing Your Backpack

Before heading off on your trek, you have to ask yourself a question. Do you have the right backpack? Make sure you grab one that has a large enough capacity and fits your torso.

I strongly recommend trying on several backpacks before purchasing one. A backpack that fits right is critical. If it doesn’t sit right on your body you’ll be miserable the whole trip. After you find the perfect backpack you can usually save some money by buying it online.

When you pack your backpack, place heavy gear near your back and shoulders, with lighter gear filling the rest of the pack.

Choosing Backpacking Clothing

Pick the right hiking clothes. Avoid cotton, since it takes forever to dry!

Do bring:

Get the full backpacking checklist here, but in general, think about the following list to make sure you have all the essentials:

  • Clothing base layer: make sure to choose an athletic fabric that dries quickly and can keep you warm
  • Hiking Pants and/or shorts: there are many different options for your lower half, but think about pants that zip off into shorts when the weather is nice. They may not be the most stylish choice, but you’ll stay warm late at night.
  • Hiking boots or hiking shoes: some people love hiking boots, others like sneakers, and others still like trail shoes. Eventually, you’ll have to pick what feels best for you, but make this choice about comfort and not about weight.
  • Socks: again, skip the cotton since it won’t keep you warm in bad weather. Go for wool socks or synthetic socks in a thick weight.
  • What’s going on your head? Do you want to bring something to keep your scalp safe from the sun? Think about it before you leave.
  • Outerwear: no matter what the weather is like when you head out, there will be wet and chilly days. Think about a windbreaker, or some other long layer to keep the weather and the bugs off.

Choosing and Storing Your Food

You can’t forget your food! To cut down on weight, look for dehydrated food or freeze-dried choices. Sometimes premade bars or trail mix can work too. As always, make sure to pack out your trash and to keep food away from animals.

Think about what you will make at different parts of the day:

  • Dinner can be a great time to sit down, boil water, and have a hot meal. If you only use your grill or stove during dinner time, you will have much more time to cover ground on your outings.
  • Breakfast changes based on the hiker: some like to get going right away, but others like to eat first and enjoy the morning. No matter which kind of hiker you are, make sure to create a schedule you like.
  • Snacks: pack lots of ready to eat things like trail mix, bars, dried fruit, jerky, and so on. You’ll be able to grab a snack and go when you are moving, which saves you from stopping and wasting time.

You also have to think about your storage choices. Try to hang up your food when not using it, or store it in a bear can, or keep it out of the way so it stays safe from animals.

What About Kids?

Are you taking kids? If so, make sure to go slow, explain the trail rules, and respect the land. Teach those principles to the kids with you.

Even if you think you know your schedule, going on these adventures with kids will completely change your pace. Leave extra rest days and build in extra hours for going slower on your adventures with kids.

Staying in Touch

Think about realistic ways to stay in touch. You may get cell service sometimes, or you can get a satellite phone or radio.

In general, you will get at least some cell service at different points during the day, so you should not panic about falling out of touch with the whole world. However, it can be smart to have a communications backup plan in case people don’t hear from you in a while.

Before Leaving on Your Backpacking Adventure

Make sure to practice before signing off on a long excursion. You don’t want to hit the trail and then feel miserable!

What If You Get Lost?

Remember, your safety is important. If you get lost, remember to S.T.O.P. (stop, think, observe, and plan). That way, you won’t panic and you can make a clear plan to get back to the trail.

Essentially, you want to avoid panicking, because panic leads people to make bad decisions and end up in even worse circumstances as you’re backpacking, hiking, camping, or doing some other outdoor activity.

The Ethics of the Trail

During the whole adventure, bring out your trash. Don’t leave a trace. Enjoy the nature around you on your trip.


The most important principle when you leave for a backpacking trip is staying safe and having fun. That means prepping so you are ready, and also being realistic about your goals. Use the backpacking checklist located here to prepare for your trip.

Don’t start a month long hike if you’ve never put on boots before. Don’t plan on fifty miles a day. Do plan on seeing interesting creatures and views, and appreciating the outdoors more.

Taking it slow and enjoying the sights will help you appreciate your experience. That way, you’ll have the best backpacking adventure ever.

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