Hiking is a great way to experience the outdoors, and one that doesn’t require a whole lot of planning or preparation. Many town are full of local trails, or at least have some nearby, allowing you to take some time out of your day to hike a short trail and enjoy some time in nature.
While hiking is a great activity, it may eventually leave you wanting a bit more. Backpacking is in the same family tree of hiking per se’, but on a much different level.
While the two both feature traversing on foot across terrain at their core, backpacking is a much more intensive activity than a jaunt on your local trails for a few hours. There are little to no actual trails, you are often in backcountry and wilderness conditions, and you don’t have the luxury of going back to your car to drive home when you’re done for the day. Nature is your home for the duration of the trip.
Making the leap from day hiking to overnight or multi-night backpacking trips is quite big. Here are a few tips to help you handle the transition, and get the most out of your journey.
This might sound a little more dramatic than it is, but if you want your first backpacking trip to go well, doing a little training leading up to it beforehand can be very beneficial. While you don’t need to go into full Rocky Balboa Mode for months leading up to your first excursion, a little extra cardio exercise can go along way, even more so if you aren’t as active as you should be.
While you may be feeling confident due to your experience with day hiking, do keep in mind that a backpacking trip is not only more intensive due to the length you’re traveling, but the terrain as well. You don’t have the luxury of groomed trails.
A few weeks before your trip, start out by jogging around the block a few times, gradually increasing the distance as your trip nears. By the time it’s ready to go, your cardio ability should be higher than it was before, allowing you to better handle the trek each day on your trip. This will certainly make your trip go smoother and be more enjoyable for you.
If you've never gone backpacking before, doing research beforehand will give you an idea some of the things to expect, and some of the things to look out for. If you don’t have an intermediate knowledge of things like first aid, poisonous plants, what to do when encountering certain animals, spend some time on that as well.
The research can also include survival skills, and all the different uses for various gear items. If you have your backpacking area picked out (you probably do already,) take time to research some the highlights in the area, points of interest, and any things you should avoid or be weary of.
The more you know, the better it will go.
Don’t dive in head first with your first backpacking excursion. While it may be tempting to undertake a long journey through a well known state or national park, easing your way in gradually with longer and longer trips is recommended. This will acclimate you while also providing experience and knowledge in dealing with any number of scenarios.
When choosing a route for your trip, you will likely have several options to get from point A to point B. Try to avoid any treacherous terrain, such as steep cliffs, long ascents, and crossing multiple bodies of water. Instead, opt for clearer paths, with plenty of ideal areas to camp.
As for length, starting off with anywhere from 3 to 8 miles total is best. You’ll also most likely want to keep your first few trips under three nights total. Even starting with a simple overnight trip can give you a good idea of how the process goes.
Regardless of length, don’t try to prove too much by attempting to conquer a path that you aren’t ready for. Not only could it lead to a potentially miserable experience in general, it might risk your safety as well.
Day hiking does have the potential to require some limited amounts of gear, but it’s usually not essential. Simple hikes during the day on a local trail often require a decent pair of hiking shoes or boots, water, and maybe a few basic tools just in case.
With backpacking, gear is the name of the game. Your gear is what sustains you, keeps you safe, and keeps you comfortable. There are a lot of core items that are required on any type of backpacking trip. Items such as a tent, sleeping bag, cookware, extra clothing, first aid kit, tools, food, water filters, and more are just a few of the many things you’ll need to bring along.
In addition to determining the gear that you’ll need to take with you, it’s also important to know how to pack your bag, and properly hoist it as well.
Experience plays a huge role in how your trip ends up going. While you may be experienced with hiking and have some basic outdoors knowledge, it still isn’t enough to full prepare you for some of the things you may have to deal with along the way.
Having an experienced backpacker on your first few trips can help you avoid making mistakes due to your own inexperience. This doesn’t mean your inept or anything, there is a just a certain level of wisdom and knowledge that comes along from having the experience of multiple backpacking trips in various conditions.
If possible, seek out any friends or acquaintances you know who have experience and are available to go on a short one or two night trip. You may even be able to borrow some gear from them as well.
If none of your friends are available, ask around at your local outdoor gear store. Many of the employees will likely be regular backpackers, and would be glad on letting you join their next trip, or even provide a class that teaches you essential skills and tips to know beforehand.