Backpacking Basics

First-time backpacker looking forward to hitting the trail? If you're ready to leave the campground behind, but don't know where to start- we've got you covered! Whether you're going on a week-long trip or a weekend-warrior adventure, having the right equipment and the proper education is the best thing you can do to ensure your trip goes smoothly.

Before you hit the trail:

  • First thing's first:  Pick a partner.
    There's safety in numbers! One of the best resources to have out on the trail is your hiking buddy. During a medical emergency, animal encounter, or navigating tricky terrain- having someone there to help can make a world of a difference. If you're lucky enough to have an experienced backpack or outdoor enthusiast friend, that can be the best way to learn hands-on. If that's not an option, pick a partner who is equally excited or interested in learning as it'll make the process easier for both of you guys.  Sharing is caring! Send each other interesting blogs, forum postings, websites, whatever you can find about your upcoming trip.
  • Pick a destination
    This is the best part! Find somewhere inspiring to you.  Not only will it make all the hiking worth it, but it'll help keep you motivated on the trail.  If someone recommended a certain trail, start by googling it.  Read the park website, check blogs and forums, and see what people have to say about it.  If you're needing to pick a destination, keep the following parameters in mind: your physical skill set (athletic ability and technical skills), budget, time of year, remoteness, and time restraints. Make sure that you're picking a trail that is challenging, but not beyond your capabilities.  Picking something beyond your physical abilities can lead to quitting the trail early, injuries, or worse.  Before you set out on the trail, you should know the answers to the following questions: How many miles will I need to hike each day? Is there access to clean water? Are campfires allowed? Is it a loop trail or do we need a shuttle car? Are there parking/camping fees?  How long will I go without being able to restock on food?
  • When are you going?
    It's smart to know what you're up against.  For instance, if you're wanting to travel through the Rocky Mountains, it's good to know area's last frost and heavy mud season.  If the Appalachian Trail calls your name, the early fall months are your best bet.  Weather is one of the biggest factors while on the trail. This is where doing your homework will pay off.  Understand what animals are active that time of year, insect and plant life you'll encounter, and what extreme weather you could be facing. One thing is constant: prepare for moisture.  Buy some high-quality waterproof gear, rainproof some of your other stuff, and bring a rainfly.  Moisture can ruin your food, clothes, gear, and worst of all - your moral. 
  • Bringing gear that makes sense
    If you can think of it, there's probably a gadget to do it.  The important thing is to not get bogged down by all the options. Those campsite wine glasses can probably skip the backcountry trip. Though you want to be prepared for the unexpected, it can be deceivingly easy to overpack which leads to unnecessary fatigue on the trail. As far as clothing goes, it's a good idea to invest in quality items.  It's best to bring good layering pieces so that you can add or remove layers as the temperature changes. For gear- you can rent, buy (consignment or retail), or borrow anything you might need out there. 
  • Refuel with food
    Food can be a tricky area of backpacking for some.  Your main objective should be properly fueling your body so you can keep your energy and spirits up.  Nothing boots a hiker's mood more than a hot meal at the end of a long day.  There are plenty of products today that make campsite cooking easier than it has ever been before. Dehydrated foods are the easiest and lightest to carry on the trail - but they do come with a price tag.  Plan your meals carefully before you leave, know what you will eat which day to help organize your trip. Utilize dry foods such as instant rice/noodles, dehydrated eggs, dehydrated milk, beef jerky, dried fruits, nuts, and power bars.  Bring a small selection of some spices to help kick up meal time.  Instant coffee, tea, and powdered drink mixes are great to have on hand as well.  On the trail is not the time to implement a diet regimen! You need to consume hearty meals to keep you going.
  • Have an emergency plan
    Before you leave, make sure you share your travel plans with friends and family. Give them details of where you should approximately be each night.  If something is to go wrong, they'll have a good idea of where your last location could have been.  Make sure you have plenty of firestarting equipment, a little extra food, and a good first aid kit.  If you're in truly remote or dangerous location, bring a Personal Location Beacon (PLB) which tracks your location via GPS and is equipted with a distress signal you can send out if something were to go wrong.

It may seem like a lot of work, but doing your homework and making sure you have the right equipment will make your trip enjoyable and memorable. As you learn more, preparing for these types of trips will become more and more fun. However, having the right gear is just the start of it.  Backpacking will be challenging, but with the right attitude - it can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.

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