If you are researching the basics about camping, I’m sure you are somewhere looking for a change in your mundane life - physically and mentally. Isn’t it? Backpacking tips for begineers guide will help for the same.
Well, trust me, it all starts with that one curious thought, one tired schedule, one travel experience for you to fall in love with camping and then, without even realising this sport becomes your companion, of wilderness, exploration, peace and finding yourself and spending time with your friends and family.
I started my camping because I was looking for a change of pace. Working 9 to 7 for a job, my legs started living most of the time under a desk. I’m sure you feel the same way! But, when I started camping it felt amazing to use them for what they’re meant for. Even after draining myself to a tiring activity, I never felt zonked rather it left the mind and body rejuvenated and it helped me see things of daily life with better and brighter perspective. We are always surrounded by humans but it was during my camping expedition where I actually experienced the growth of a natural relationship - slow and steady.
Have you ever imagined building bonds over stargazing and BBQ during a camp?
Well, I have gained some of my best relations during my trails without phones and work, amidst nature, in the wilderness.
Backpacking isn’t just a healthy and strenuous full-body sport, but it’s also an escape where you create memories that you’ll cherish for a lifetime. Whether you’re just someone who’s curious about hitting the trails or you are a travel-freak, backpacking is a great option, and soon-to-be your favourite activity to get fresh air and experience nature on foot because there’s nothing like absorbing picturesque views and immersing yourself in a lap of nature away from all the chaos.
But before I start, let me warn you - To enjoy backpacking, you do need a few basic skills in order to keep yourself safe and sound while still cherishing nature. And, that’s what I learned through my various expeditions. Helping you avoid the same mistakes that beginners usually make, and that I surely made, this list of do’s and don'ts, tips and hacks will save your first few camps from ruining and later you will learn few of your own lessons through your personal experience, which by the way, don’t forget to share with me later on!
Gradually, let’s build a community together where we still value the relations built naturally, where we still enjoy a life besides our computer and phone screens and use our legs for some strenuous activity for which they are made for!
From safety tips to gear suggestions, this guide covers everything that you need to know to tackle your first time on the trail. Infact this is a mini-guide for How to go for Backpacking.
Remember, it’s your first time. Proper planning and strategizing the camping trail will not only prepare you for what’s coming but it will also help you enjoy your first trail to the fullest. From guidebooks to experienced campers to camping groups, don’t shy away from taking advice and guidance.
First decide the destination of your camp to plan further details. Understand the area you are planning to hike. Every place specializes in some or the other thing - for instance, some camping grounds are suitable for summers and some are winters. Check out before finalising the destination. As a first timer, you would believe that things would be more fun if they are spontaneous. But, you are certainly wrong!
Always keep in mind that the better and crisp the planning, the better the fun and exploration. So, research on how to get to the trailhead, how long and strenuous the hike is, the best season to hike, what should you expect and what not, and plan accordingly.
Sure, you can choose to backpack alone but it comes with extreme risks. Especially as a beginner, it is safe and better if you take a friend along in case things go south. Think about it! What happens if you lose your way back or if you slip and break your leg? A partner-in-crime can find help in case of trouble. Also, my experience says that backpacking is a whole lot fun with a friend or a group.
If possible, choose a partner who is more experienced than you. This will help you learn a few tricks along the way with well-defined routes and short trips and hacks.
Don’t shy away from making shorter plans. As a beginner, build your expertise gradually, that way, you’ll be able to test your skills and gears without wandering too far. Little by little, when you start feeling comfortable, plan for longer trails and venture further afield.
There are many things that you should consider while planning your camping for the first few trails. Don’t be impulsive and exert yourself to tackle the toughest terrain. No! You can select a shorter and easier one for a better and comfortable camping experience. For example, if reading topographic maps is new to you, stick to trail with campsites for beginning and gradually, as you gain confidence, challenge yourself by setting out into the trail-less wilderness.
Except your experience, there are few other things that will make your camping easier just by keeping these things in mind -
Know yourself. Know what you can handle and what is excess for your body and plan accordingly. It is advisable to train yourself and test your limits for comfortable hikes.
Track and plan beforehand how many hours per day you can hike. This will help you lay out miles that you can reasonably cross in that time.
Allotting 20 minutes per mile for flat and easy terrain is the thumb rule for hiking. Remember that and add in a hefty backpack, difficult topography and time for meals and breaks to plan out your entire trail.
What many beginners forget to check while planning their trails is keeping in mind elevation. Some trails will have uphill - both ways. In such cases, it is important to be more cautious of any injuries you may have while climbing uphill.
One such trick that I learned after a few trails is to check how quickly the elevation changes than checking elevation over the whole distance of the hike because an elevation gain of 1,000 feet over a distance of 5 miles is still easier to trek than climbing the same elevation gain over 1 mile.
It is good to be prepared about the obstacles that are on your path. Challenges such as river crossing may seem fun but if there has been heavy rain or snowfall in recent days, even crossing a small stream can be hard.
Yes! You know this. Checking weather is really important for a comfortable and safe trail. It’s okay to change route if there’s a weather challenge in the forecast.
Always choose to be safe and sound!
Time of year
We all know this, right?
After weather, it is quintessential to keep in mind the time of the year you are planning because the season can drastically affect what the landscape is like. If you are planning a hike during fall and winter, keep in mind that you won’t have much daylight as compared to summers. Also, check if the trail or the national park is open year-round. You don’t want to prepare everything and then realise that the ground is closed for camping at the point of time. Be, well prepared!
Backpacking means you need to fit all your gears in the bag that you carry around on your shoulders all throughout the trail. Contrary to car camping, during backpacking, you need to make sure that your gear needs are lighter, smaller, and more durable. You cannot excuse yourself with reasons like ‘I’m generally a heavy traveler’ or ‘I am the person who carries 10 pairs of extra clothing, just in case!’ No. It doesn’t make sense to set up a bulky six-person tent just for you and another friend. That’s not how you camp. Understand the connection between the camping gears and your comfort. Choosing the right gear takes a lot of patience, research and consideration. Consider proper pros and cons of each gear and invest accordingly.
Below is an introduction to the camping gears that you need for any backpacking trip.
What’s better - Taking one two-person tent or two one-person tents?
Camping teaches you how to share. Think about it this way - carrying a two-person tent weighs less and is more economical than two one-person tents. So, what’s your decision now?
While buying also keep in mind the set-up process and ventilation. You don’t want to spend all your time setting up the complicated tent on your first trail. Or you don’t want to suffocate inside your tent while it’s raining outside. Also, as you are a beginner investing in a three seasons tent (spring, summer and fall) is a better option rather than the four-season tent. You can also check out our guide to buy the best pop-up tents.
What everyone tends to ignore while purchasing the backpack is the right fit. Ordering a backpack online is not a good option unless you’re prepared for the possibility of making at least one return. Even if you borrow a bag, make sure that you first try and fit everything perfectly. Don’t hesitate to go to various stores to try on several backpacks and ask for advice from your experienced friend or salesperson to help you adjust the pack to your body so that the pressure doesn’t just come on your shoulders and hips.
Don’t settle for anything less than comfortable!
These are the three characteristics that you should look into an ideal and comfortable sleeping bag or pad. If you are planning to stay overnight on your trail, contoured, mummy-shaped sleeping bags are ideal for backpackers. Lighter than the rectangular-shaped bags, these bags are the perfect option to keep you warm throughout your trail.
While investing in a sleeping bag, apart from shape also consider things like if they are goose-down or synthetic insulated, if they fit perfectly the temperature you are traveling in and if they are lightweight or not.
You can also experiment with self-inflating pads which only take a few breaths to fully inflate after unrolled and takes less space in the bag.
Well, when I started my camping I didn’t really know what a sleeping pad was. So to let all the other beginners know - a sleeping pad is an extra layer of insulation between you and the cold ground which increases the effectiveness of the bag you are in.
Before buying a pad consider the pros and cons of each type from closed-cell foam pads to insulated air pads and self-inflating pads according to your trail.
Choosing a stove can be tricky. A single-burner camp stove that weighs less than a pound, is the best option for your first few backpacking trips. It’s safe, affordable and lightweight.
But, if you choose to buy another one, the first thing that you should consider is fuel type and then make your stove choice.
When I first bag packed, I chose a gas-canister stove because they were super-affordable and easy to use. But what I forgot was to pack along a bottle of full canister for my stove. So, when you pack don’t make such mistakes, it can ruin the fun of camping.
Planning to carry a lot of water will only weigh you down because water does weigh! Carry with you some water, and gather water from natural sources such as streams and lakes along the way. But, every pristine source is not safe. So, choose your point of water collection carefully. Avoid colorful water and water that has a powerful “organic” smell.
To make the collected water safe, you may consider investing in purifier or filter. You will find many options online, each type of filter or purifier has its pros and cons, so don’t choose randomly.
You don’t want to die out of hunger because you forgot to pack some utensils. Pack just enough pots, pans, plates, cups and utensils so that it’s easier to cool and eat. Also, carry a small sponge and some biodegradable soap for washing dishes and a tiny towel.
You don’t want to get lost in the wilderness on your first camping trip. It’s better to carry a paper map even if you know the trail. Also, invest some time and learn how to use compass and topographic maps. They help you understand earth’s surface in a better way and help you a lot during your trail.
Keep in mind that technology can fail, so don’t trust your GPS device blindly!
Right kind of clothing will make your first camping comfortable. But that doesn’t mean that you need to buy special hiking clothes. Rather go for your fitness wear. Pack clothes that are made of moisture-wicking technology such as nylon and polyester because that will keep you dry from sweat and moisture.
Even if you have planned a camp for a sunny day in the middle of summer, carry layers and be prepared for the weather to change.
Pack these essential clothing items to get you started -
Always carry a set of long warm layers which can save you on cold nights and convert into pajamas on warm days.
While packing focus on taking fabrics that soak sweat away from the body very easily.
Pack at least one pair of light and comfortable pants. Check if you can wear zip-offs that can turn into shorts at a moment’s notice.
Jeans are a big no-no! They are heavy, limit your movement and take a long time to dry.
You cannot always trust the weather forecast. It’s safe to carry a lightweight rain jacket and pants that will keep you dry from sudden downpour and keeps you safe from hypothermia.
It’s always advisable to carry a sun hat and a warm beanie with you during your camping plans.
If you are planning your trek during winters, carrying waterproof, windproof, and breathable gloves are a must!
It is always advisable to add a few pairs of socks. You get special lightweight and midweight wool socks for backpacking. Add that to your list!
Finding perfect hiking boots are tricky. You need to try on several styles to find the pair that fits you perfectly. Remember, you are not walking on the ramp for a fashion show. It’s okay if the boots you are finalising are not pretty. Also, don’t go on your trip wearing new shoes. Break through them before going on a long trip until they feel more flexible and comfortable.
Don’t forget to carry another pair of shoes to wear after you set up camp for late-night bathroom runs.
Camping is a strenuous activity and requires lots of energy. It is advisable to pack go-to food that are lightweight, tasty, energy-rich, and nutritious.
Here are some basics:
Also, don’t forget that things that you are packing in also needs to pack out, so make sure to remove any excess packaging at home to limit your trash.
Camping needs you to be ready physically, mentally and logistically. Get ready for backpacking by following these tips -
Be physically ready
Camping requires you to be physically fit and ready. You don’t need to train heavy but doing plenty of pre-trip hikes of similar kind would do the trick.
Get mentally ready
Camping and trails are new for you. Familiarize yourself with gears and tools ahead of time. Learn how to set up a tent, fire your stove and filter some water before the final hike. Also, studying about the basic first aid and familiarising yourself with maps and compass will help you enjoy your backpacking trip, even more.
Figure out your logistics
You also need to be prepared logistically. Calculate everything well in advance including to and fro of your trail, and make sure you have all of the necessary permits, if they need any.
Leave a trip plan with a friend or family member
It’s important to share details about your trip, including about where you’re going and when you expect to be back.
Do your packing early
Yeah, yeah, I know! Who packs early! Right?
But, don’t make this mistake when you are going on your first camping trip. Make a checklist and pack beforehand to be sure you didn’t overdo it.
Keep in mind that your bag doesn't weigh more than 20% of your body weight. It’s a thumb rule! Make a checklist and see what you can jettison.
Anyone who has spent some time in the woods, knows that no matter how ready you are, you always make new bluders and learn new things. Infact, most of the time that I have been on camps, I came back with better learning and understanding of this sport.
Below are the few blunders that usually beginners make because no one really told them how it should be!
But, don’t worry! I have my own experience and research to save you from the common blunders.
When you have to travel around 2000 steps on rough terrain, it is advisable to carry a lightweight bag - a bag that weighs only 20% of your body weight.
Sometimes, you will think that there’s nothing to cut-down but no! Cutting weight down is an art which you will learn with experience. But the common mistakes beginner backpackers usually make are - packing too many clothes, too much food, unnecessary gears, tools and equipments.
It is a big deal!
It’s time that we stop being the person who turns the wilds into pets. Don’t be that person, the person who easily feeds wild animals. Let us leave our wild animals wild and for that you also need to learn the proper way to store your food. Because when you feed them, they learn how to associate with humans for food and which often ends them being trapped, relocated or killed.
Instead, use bear canisters, ursacks or hung bear bags to feed the animals.
As I have mentioned before, it’s important to test and try your new gears before you bring them to the camping trail. Never bring brand new gears that have not been tested as it can lead you to dangerous situations and ruin your experience.
Rather practice and test your gears at home and use a checklist to make sure that you aren’t forgetting critical items.
Weather in the wild is unpredictable and no matter how much the technology has advanced, you can never trust them blindly. Rather always carry a lightweight rain jacket for the sudden drizzles & downpours and warm jacket, hat & gloves for the cold nights. Be fully prepared for every scenario before you enter the woods.
Currently, we are facing critical environmental conditions and we as campers are responsible to learn how to leave no human trace behind. We need to learn how to decrease our impact on the wild or we will ruin our precious wild for our hobbies.
Steps that you should take to learn LNT (Leave No Trace) backpacking skills -
Don’t take the navigational skills for granted. If you don’t know how to use compass and maps and how to contact when in emergency, you are putting yourself in a serious position. Before going for a backpacking trip, it’s your responsibility to learn basic navigational skills. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you are truly lost!
When you set up your tent, you need to ask that you are not really setting up a tent where the rainwater will pool. It’s not fun to wake up in the night with a few inches of water in your tent.
Make sure to look for a proper location to set up your tent and avoid low spots in valleys to avoid condensation and cold temperatures.
I know that you know this point but still, it’s better to be informed that to be in danger.
Never, and I say NEVER cook dinner in your tent. Why?
Because either your tent will catch fire or the poisonous carbon monoxide fumes from your stove will kill you!
It’s advisable to cook in the vestibule, if shelter is required to cook a meal.
No matter what you try, you are always going to make some blunders. Learn from them and make adjustments accordingly.
This guide is just an introduction to the backpacking gear. Remember, this is not your checklist, so create a list according to your needs and plan. Also, the list below are the few things that I take with me to all my backpacking
trails. This might help you as well!
A locator or messanger for the times when you are lost or in danger to send a signal or location coordinates to the outside world.
Yeah! I know it’s weird but it comes in handy for emergency repairs on damaged gears.
Carry dry for the times when you need to store your products or you need to protect electronics and other sensitive items from rain.
A small, lightweight blanket can be used for multiple purposes such as retaining your body heat in cold weather, acting as a brightly colored signal in emergencies, or functioning as a footprint for your tent when rain is heavier than expected.
When you are in the wild, you need to follow the rules of the wild. You need to respect the wild and trust your intuitions.
Relax! It’s not as difficult as it may seem. But once you start camping, you will realize that away from all the chaos and technology and options and hatred and selfishness, life is actually much simpler out on the trail. It is one of the most fun, exhilarating, and peaceful experiences you will ever have as far as you keep in mind all the tricks.
So, what do you think?
Are you ready for an outdoor adventure? If so, what are you waiting for?
Go on, step away from the screen and prepare for your memorable first backpacking trip.
But, if you think that you ain’t ready for this now, no worries! You know the drill now. Go on, work out, prepare yourself, take an off and try it out. You won’t be able to enjoy the thrill of backpacking guide by sitting on your couch.
Mountains are calling, quite literally!