1) Backpack with friends who have experience.
Always go with someone for your first backpacking trip. Not only will the “pros” show you how everything is done and can give you extra tips, but you will have great company. Friends can help show you how to pack your pack, give advice on lowering your pack weight, and encourage you to keep going when you your lowest. Backpacking with friends gives you people to not only share and adventure with, but an experience. So often when you get home from an epic trip, you’re other friends or family aren’t that interested in your adventures because they can’t relate; your girlfriends understand the excitement and bond that came from that trip and can help you relive that experience.
2) If you have new gear, such as a tent, practice setting it before hitting the trails.
Use your living room, your yard, a garage – wherever you can to practice using your gear before you head into the wilderness. Not only does practice make perfect but you won’t run into any surprises while setting up camp. Setting up a tent at dusk in the woods, when everyone is tired and hungry, is not the best time to learn. Also learn to pack up your tent when it’s time to head out, so you know exactly where each piece of the tent is, including the stakes.
3) Only go for one night.
Going for one night will allow you to see what gear you will actually use versus what gear you think you’ll use. It’s a good time to get used to your pack weight without causing the usual hip bone bruises or shoulder rub (well, that’s what I get anyway!). The first night hiking in you may have your pack set up a certain way, but on the way back, you can move items around to be more comfortable or organized better.
4) Make sure you bring & wear all the necessary gear.
While backpacking The Bright Angel Trail at Grand Canyon National Park, we hiked ALL day (19 miles) in pouring down rain. This wasn’t a little sprinkle – it was a full blown rain storm with thunder and lighting. I was very thankful I had packed the necessary rain gear to help keep me dry and comfortable. This backpacking trip was 2 nights and 3 days, and was very glad I brought a 2nd dry wicking t-shirt and long sleeve to warm me up after taking off the wet stuff.
5) Pick a destination under 8 miles.
Carrying up to 40 lbs is hard on your body and will slow you down. My ideal mileage per day with a heavy pack is 8 miles or under. That’s not to say I’ve done longer in one day, but around mile 7-8 I definitely am ready to set up camp and eat hot food. As a beginner, you don’t want to overdo it on your first day or ANY day for that matter. Pace yourself and your mileage and you can really go the distance!
(Photo from Cooking Light)
6) Don’t survive on granola bars alone.
When I first started backpacking I survived on granola bars, and boy did I get sick of them quickly. Not only are there a lot of unpronounceable ingredients in most of them, they don’t provide enough calories or me, and they all end up tasting the same after day 2. I’ve come up with several snack ideas that are more filling and tasty (and sometimes cheaper!) than granola bars. Besides the basic Mountain House meals for dinner, here is my snack list:
Bagel with Avocado
Bagel with Peanut butter
Bacon cooked at home, then placed in a ziplock baggie
Cheese and Crackers
Tuna Packets (only $1 at walmart!)
Honey Stinger Waffles or ShotBloks
7) Be prepared to backpack on your period.
I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I HATE when I head out for a backpacking trip and BAM! my period decides to arrive. I stopped using Tampons long ago – not only did they hurt, get dried out easily, and start to slip out, but they smelled! A few years ago a girlfriend told me about Soft Cups and I haven’t used anything else since then. You can leave Soft Cups in for 12 hours, they don’t smell (blood is not exposed to air like a tampon), they stay in place, and I can’t feel them! I always keep a few in my pack, along with baby wipes to clean my hands and area if needed, and a ziplock just for that trash, since all trash needs to be carried out.
8) Leave No Trace.
Every backpacker knows that what you carry in will need to be carried out. I bring several ziplock baggies to store trash in. They are easier to put in your pack compared to a full sized trash bag which may end up leaking in your pack, then nobody is a happy camper!
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Here’s my list of everything I carry for a 2-3 day backpacking trip.
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