Backpacking is a great way to exercise and have fun whilst exploring the outdoors. It allows you to get amongst the trails, forests, mountains and lakes giving you a more immersive outdoor experience. We’ve put together this guide on backpacking for beginners so no matter what your experience level, you can enjoy the activity.
What is the difference between backpacking and hiking?
Hiking can be carried out without any backpack or extra gear. Usually a hike might last a few hours whereas a backpacking adventure can take all day, and if you take along means of shelter you can stay overnight.
Whilst backpacking your backpack must carry all of your life’s essentials to keep you fed, warm and safe. We’ll go over what to pack in this article.
The main steps to a successful backpacking trip:
We’re going to cover each of these steps in depth throughout this article.
Choose your destination – If you are just starting out then I would opt for a shorter route, which isn’t too far away from home in case you need to turn back. Always remember to check the weather for your chosen location so you can pack accordingly.
Pack your gear and clothing – Borrow or purchase some hiking gear and clothing. Remember to always wear your clothing in layers, so you can easily adjust your body temperature whilst doing activities in the outdoors.
Plan your meals – It’s always worth planning your meals ahead of time. You can usually pick up some quick camping ready meals which take up little space in your pack from your local camping store. And remember to pack some snacks for the hike – Breakfast bars which are high in energy are a great choice.
Pre-trip research and conditioning – The last thing you want is to set out on a backpacking trip and realise you can’t support all of your gear on your back. Start small and work your way up to the longer distance to condition your body. Once you know where you are heading, double check online if you need to take permits with you for camping overnight and if you’re allowed campfires (should you want one).
If it’s your first time backpacking, it might be a good idea to take someone more experienced along with you, they can act as your guide and teach you the ropes. You can opt to do backpacking on your own, and the main focus of this article is to give you the knowledge to do so but taking a friend can give you the reassurance that you’ll be safe.
1. Choosing your backpacking destination
Choosing your destination is often easier said than done, especially for first-timers. We always recommend that you opt for a slightly easier hike than a hard one. If it’s too challenging you just end up miserable, whereas if it’s an easy hike, you can spend more time working on your camp area and exploring the surroundings.
Here are some tips to help you decide where to go backpacking for the first time:
2. Packing your backpacking gear & clothing
Because you’ll be carrying all of your gear and tent on your back, it has to be lightweight and compact. That’s why most people struggle to backpack when taking all of their generic camping gear you would pack in a car, for example, your comfy camping chair. If you don’t have a backpack check out our review of the best choices under $100.
What gear should you take?
What clothes should you wear?
If you are just starting out in the world of backpacking, then there is no need to buy a bunch of specialized hiking clothes. Find some sports-wear and clothing made of moisture-wicking fabrics like nylon and polyester. (Moisture-wicking pulls sweat away from your skin to keep you dryer and prevent you from getting damp and cold). Remember to always layer your clothing, let’s explore that in more depth.
You should plan out your clothing in layer:
Base Layer: Base layers are often referred to as your ‘second skin’. It has the ability to keep you both warm and cool depending on the climate you are in.
Base layers provide a layer of warmth via the air trapped between the fabric and your skin, whilst at the same time, absorbing any excess moisture and sweat away from your skin. This is referred to as ‘wicking’.
Mid Layer: As the name suggests, the middle layer is worn over your base layer and underneath the outer layer. The mid-layer is where you should focus all of the main insulating duties. It’s also the piece of clothing you’re most likely to take on and off depending on the weather conditions.
In cold weather, most people will opt for a thicker mid layer like a down or synthetic filled jacket. In moderate and warmer weather, you could opt for a thinner synthetic or lightweight fleece.
Outer Layer: The outer layer’s main purpose is to protect you from the elements, whether it be high speed winds or a torrential downpour. It’s always worth packing an outer layer that can handle the most extreme weather as you never know what you might encounter!
Learn more about layered clothing here.
What shoes should you wear whilst backpacking?
Regardless of where you are heading, your feet are important! Especially when you might be hiking over rough terrain and carrying extra weight on your person. Shoe buying ultimately comes down to personal preference and the climate you are in. Some backpackers will opt for lightweight hiking trainers which are nimble and comfy. Whilst others will opt for more supportive high ankle boots which are more protective.
Your boots or shoes should be well worn and broken-in before you go. The last thing you want is a blister!.Wool and synthetic socks will keep your feet warm and comfy. If you have space, a lightweight pair of sandals or trainers can be great for wearing when you get to your camp.
3. Plan your meals
If you are backpacking overnight, then you’ll want to plan a few meals for you to consume throughout both days and over night. Dinner, breakfast and a couple of lunch meals should do the trick, and any snacks you will enjoy!
Freeze dried backpacking food is the lightest and easiest option. You usually just add boiling water and then eat. If you prefer freshly cooked food options, then head to your local grocery store but be cautious that you do have to pack and carry the food/drinks. Also remember that you won’t be carrying a cooler with you, so opt for non perishable goods.
Canned food seems like a great option initially and one or two cans spread amongst your group will be fine, but a lot of cans can get very heavy in your pack.
4. Pre-trip research & conditioning
If you aren’t mentally, physically or logistically prepared for your backpacking trip then you might not have the best experience outdoors and we would hate that! Follow the following steps to prepare for your backpacking trip and ensure that you have an awesome time.