How To Start Backpacking

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Backpacking: How To Start and Be Fearless in the Wilderness

 By Lucy Gomez

Imagine leaping into a fresh-water stream, feeling the icy shock as you plunge in and the buzz as you warm back up again… the most energizing feeling in the world! Stepping into the wild opens the opportunity to discover the world’s stunning beauty, and maybe even encounter rare wildlife too! On top of that, it’s proven to boost your body and mind. So what are you waiting for?

OK, so maybe that all sounds terrifying. Don’t worry though, it did to me once too, you’re not alone!

That’s exactly why I’ve gathered all the useful tips that we here at getcampingwild.com have learned so far about how to start backpacking. So, before you know it, your inner intrepid-explorer will be unleashed!

backpacking 2You’ll need:

  • A Trail Map
  • A Compass

Before grabbing your backpack, pick up the map instead. The easiest way to work out what you’ll need is to know where you’re going.

My best advice for getting started is to stay local, because discovering how easily you can access the wild wonders on your doorstep instantly gives you a native feel for how to start backpacking! If you still need some more inspiration, check out our post on The Most Famous Seasonal Campgrounds and see if you can spot one near you.

We’ve been asked a lot of questions about how to start backpacking over the years, like….

 

Backpacking – will it be hot or cold?

In the wild, this decision is totally up to Mother Nature, and she’s famously unpredictable. But you can get one up on her, and here’s how…

  1. Check your weather forecastbackpacking 3

We bet you’re super familiar with the seasons in your region, but keeping an eye on the forecast means you’ll be aware of any freak storms threatening your trip!

  1. Use your map to estimate your altitude

The temperature drops 3.5°F for every 1000 ft you climb, and mountainous areas are known to have a climate of their own, too. When a warm sunny day becomes a hailstorm in minutes – don’t get caught without a raincoat, it’s not fun!

 

So, What should I wear?

When you are a five-hour trek into the wilderness, there is no hiding from the elements. If it’s cold, you need to stay warm in it, and if it’s boiling you need to be able to cool down. The solution? It’s all in what your wear…

  • backpacking 4Base layers – long johns and thermal vests are designed to keep your body heat in and the cold out. They’re cheap and easy to find in the underwear section of your closest shopping mall
  • Sports shirts – made from lightweight, breathable and fast drying fabric, you can get a bargain in discount sports stores
  • Long pants – either jogging or light trekking ones to protect your legs from stings, scratches and bites.
  • Small sweater – one of your ‘layers’ for intricate temperature control
  • Fleece – as warm and cosy as four small sweaters!
  • Raincoat – make sure it’s a strong, lightweight and breathable one
  • Plastic poncho – yep, just like those ones you get at waterparks and festivals, they’re unbeatable in sudden downpours!
  • Hiking shoes – you’ll need fairly firm ones to tackle the undergrowth, but don’t get the heaviest, as they’ll slow you down
  • Socks – specialised walking socks are vital for your first backpacking trip because they’re made from a silky fabric, so they keep your feet both dry and blister-free
  • cotton undies/sports bra – your most comfy pairs!
  • Swimsuit – ready for that freshwater dip!
  • Hat – be sure to protect your head in sun or snow!

How can you actually carry your whole life on your back though?

backpacking 5None of us are secretly snails. The trick is to simply bring all that you need and ABSOLUTELY nothing more. No really, or you’ll regret it – this is one of the biggest and hardest decisions for how to start backpacking! Especially when experts recommend carrying 30% of your body weight with you. For me, 30% of my body weight is 42 lbs, which is 19kg or litres, and I know I’ll be whining if I walk for five hours carrying that much! So I usually aim for just 15%.

Top tip – weigh your bag after you pack, then weigh it again when you’ve repacked!

Another mistake beginners make is shouldering all their weight. If you do that, we bet you’ll never want to go backpacking again! For a happy and healthy hike, make sure your backpack has a waist strap to carry the load, and an adjustable back to fit you.

Top tip – borrow from a friend for your first trip to keep costs down!

What do you eat and drink?

Bear Grylls might be happy to tuck into meals of bugs and berries, but we reckon you’ll be craving something a little less squirmy! After all, you’ll be burning plenty of calories, so make sure you get three square meals a day, plus a few snacks to sweeten your rest stops!

Here’s our team’s top trail menu, and all you need is a mini campstove, a metal cup with a lid, and a spork…

Breakfast: Instant oatmeal (add honey and raisins for extra goodness!) and a sachet of instant coffee

Morning snack: packet of mixed fruits and nuts or cereal bar

Lunch: Saltines, spread with Nutella or peanut butter, plus your favorite chips and a piece of fruit (apples and oranges have good backpack survival rates)

Afternoon treat: your favorite sweets, whether it’s gummy bears or fizzy worms, they’ll give you the boost you need (marathon runners do it!)

Dinner: Freeze dried packet meals are available in camping shops and just require a little heating, but a packet of instant noodles or pasta will also replace those much-needed carbs!

Top tip: Whatever you decide to bring on your first how to start backpacking trip, and every trip after that, make sure it’s sealed, lightweight, packed full of nutrients and doesn’t need refrigeration. Check out our post 7 Easy Foods For Camping’ for more ideas!

What about water?

Well, it’s a fact that you’ll need to drink much more than you can carry on day one, and another reason why your map is so important. When planning your route, trek via water sources like fresh springs or streams, then purify the water before you drink it.

Top tip: Boiling water for at least a minute kills the bacteria and saves you carrying a fancy filtration kit!

 

How does the sleeping part work?

There aren’t likely to be organised campsites in the wilderness, so you get to decide which patch of nature to call home for the night!

Step 1.    Choose a spot

It is generally advised to sleep near the trail, but not on it – about 100 yards away should be fine. Make sure you don’t block a water access point!

Step 2.    Check the terrain

There’s nothing worse than bedding down on spiky rocks, so choose somewhere peaty or leafy

Step 3.    Pitch your tent

Be sure to check you have all the parts before you leave home!

Step 4.    Get out your sleeping gear

Don’t leave home without a sleeping pad (I use my yoga mat). I’ll let you into a ‘how to start backpacking’ secret; although this is the most important insulating layer between you and the cold ground, some experienced campers don’t realise it!

You should also take a small pillow and sleeping bag to cosy up in. They come in sizes for each season – but the warmer the bag, the heavier it is. When choosing, estimate your nighttime temperature and match it to the range of the sleeping bag. Sleep tight!

Backpacking Need to know

Now that you’re bursting full of top tips about how to start backpacking, there are a few more things to bear in mind (get it?!)

Did you know that you should:

  • Always give way to people going uphill
  • Never light a fire unless it’s allowed in your area
  • Bury your poop with a spade
  • Know the phone number for mountain rescue
  • Let others know your planned route
  • Pick up any rubbish you see, to save the landscape for future visitors, and for the creatures who call it home

For your first ever backpacking trip, we recommend going with a friend or a guide who knows their fauna from their flora. But if you go it alone and you get lost – don’t panic. Retrace your steps to the last place you recognise.

It’s also really important to make sure you’re in good shape before the trip – going running, swimming or working out in the gym is great for you anyway, but it can also be the difference between a good trip or an incredible trip!

And finally, you’ll be glowing with the accomplishment of having earned every single one of those fantastic views! So, take these steps towards how to start backpacking, and get out there to begin your own fantastic original adventure!

 

Multiple Contributor at

Lucy Gomez is a camp editor at Getcampingwild.com. She has been camping her entire life and Getcampingwild.com is a place where campers can share everything we’ve learned along the (sometimes prickly) way in the wilderness.

35 thoughts on “How To Start Backpacking

  • June 29, 2017 at 11:19 pm
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    You give the best backpacking and hiking tips! I agree with all the points that you listed! It is good that we can check tips online from blogs like this. 🙂 my next hike would be in August, if we go camping, id definitely follow this guideline!

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  • June 29, 2017 at 3:56 pm
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    This is an awesome comprehensive guide. You have covered everything so well in it. We are planning for another trek, so will be really requiring it. The backpack weight has to be 30% of your body weight, is really new to me. Will Bookmark your post for future reference.

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  • June 29, 2017 at 6:15 am
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    OMG this is something I will be saving forever lol, I am always confused on what to pack and what not and due to that I start packing at least 15 days before my trip lol. This is really helpful to a person like me, thanks.

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  • June 28, 2017 at 10:40 am
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    *thumbs up* for such a great list of tips and tricks for trekking! I admire the real work you put into backpacking! ?

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    • July 2, 2017 at 2:29 pm
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      yes, you should put it into your bucket list

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  • June 28, 2017 at 6:01 am
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    I have not tried trekking but I am eager to know some guides and tips that I can probably use when I travel. You have mentioned a lot of helpful tips. I do not think that I can carry 30% of my body weight. I really try my best not to pack so much because I am worried about my back.

    Reply
  • June 28, 2017 at 5:17 am
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    This is like my ultimate guide to backpacking. Already bookmarked it. Since backpacking is high on my bucket list and I want to do it sometimes soon. Would you have some more tips or different tips if I were to say that I might want to go backpacking with my 4 years old daughter?

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  • June 28, 2017 at 4:52 am
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    This is such a comprehensive article! Amazing details into everything one needs to start, and I myself have wondered about all these things. Most of all about the food too, but it seems that I won’t have to be doing it Bear Grylls style. Definitely key for me was the tip about packing according to the map instead of jumping in straight with essentials!

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  • June 27, 2017 at 11:59 pm
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    Backpacking terrifies me but this post is such an amazing resource for anyone taking the plunge! So thorough!

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  • June 27, 2017 at 9:17 pm
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    Something I wondered about on a long trek was, what to eat. I guess a mini gas stove is very necessary, I like the idea of instant oats in the morning, this food is super healthy and with water, filling too. Checking out where natural springs and water sources are before setting out is a good idea, I remember when I was in Patagonia, in the mountains you could drink the water straight out of the river and it was clean (I survived anyway).

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    • July 2, 2017 at 2:35 pm
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      I think you shouldn’t drink water staight out of the river. You should bring a water filter

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  • June 27, 2017 at 7:45 pm
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    I went camping on top of a mountain once with some friends, that’s just as far as wilderness as I could get. We didn’t need a map though because the trail is pretty established and the hike only took an hour and a half. But these tips are great, reminded me of the few things that we’d forgotten during that camping trip like checking the weather. Oh my we endured the cold the entire night.

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  • June 27, 2017 at 4:57 pm
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    I like the way you write this guide. It’s simple and very informative. I love backpacking too. Being raised in a tropical country where in we don’t have winter, your tips on what to wear is very helpful when we going to a cold weather esp. During winter.

    Reply
  • June 27, 2017 at 3:26 pm
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    That’s a very good guide! I’ve been to quite a few hikes and at max it included one night in the wilderness! It would be awesome to stay days together camping but never got to do it yet. Hope I’ll do it in future!
    Great tips esp on the food and water part!

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  • June 27, 2017 at 12:47 pm
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    These are great tips! My family and I love to hike.

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  • June 27, 2017 at 10:20 am
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    I haven’t properly camped since I was a child, and besides from a few small 1-2 day hikes while travelling, I’ve never really backpacked as described. I would seriously love to, though, and actually have some plans to make my first trip when I visit NZ later on in the year, so these tips could not be better timed 🙂

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  • June 27, 2017 at 9:58 am
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    This is a very detailed guide. Will use these tips for my future hiking adventures. Thank you for sharing! 😀

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  • June 27, 2017 at 6:40 am
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    The great outdoors is like a wonderland, exciting, beautiful and also there is an aura of the fear of the unknown. This is what makes it such an addictive and magnetic place. Of course to minimize risks and discomfort, one needs to be prepared, you have listed out some really sensible and practical suggestions which will ensure that one is fully prepared and can enjoy the outdoors to the hilt.

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  • June 27, 2017 at 6:09 am
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    This is a great guide. so hand for those on the fence about getting into backpacking. I love the helpful guide what to wear and how to know how hot or cold it might be according to altitude

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  • June 27, 2017 at 6:04 am
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    This is a great guide on backpacking in mountains and forests. I always had a doubt on what to eat and thanks for all this information. It would be fun to cook all meals. I and my partner would go backpacking here in the mountains in Sri Lanka soon. The only thing is, what clothes would you suggest if it’s kinda hot during the day?

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  • June 27, 2017 at 4:49 am
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    I love this guide and how simple it is. I’m always amazed with my friends when they talk about going backpacking through the mountains. I’m a city girl at heart and am trying to get out into nature and experience new things. I’m not sure if I’m up to a long trek just yet, but it’s something to work towards for sure!

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    • July 2, 2017 at 2:39 pm
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      I think you should go out, and explore amazing places

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  • June 26, 2017 at 11:38 pm
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    This seriously sounds like SO much fun! I love anything outdoors. When my kids are a bit older maybe we’ll try out backpacking a beautiful area.

    Reply

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