If you’re the type of person that likes spending a lot of time outdoors, backpacking may be for you. Since you’re staying out all night, it takes more gear than day hiking. However, it slows you down and really does take you away from day to day routines and stresses of life. You are the one in control. Just you and nature.
My top three backpacking tips for a successful trip are plan, plan, and plan. Get prepared. Research your destination and gather information upfront. Get organized so you’ll have all the gear you need. What food will you need and how much? Where will you get water? How will you make it safe to drink? You’ll need a change of clothes and weather appropriate hiking gear. All the planning will insure you an enjoyable time away from your day to day routine. Time to contemplate the simpler thinks in life.
So you say you’re just getting started? You really need to read and learn. Even if you’re experienced, read and learn more. If you’re not in condition, learn how to get in shape to carry a heavy, 40 pound (18 kg) backpack for hours over rough terrain. Learn the tricks of first aid in the woods. Know some basics about outdoor survival techniques. Pay attention to your body and its need for frequent water, food, and rest. Know the signs of hypothermia (too cold) and hyperthermia (too hot) and how to treat it.
How do you know where to go? There are many places in national forests and state parks. Backpacking national parks such as Shenandoah National Park is very popular. Many offer backcountry camping. You will often need to obtain a permit at a visitor center or ranger station. Do a little research and you’ll surely find a suitable destination close to where you live. Wherever you go, do your homework and be sure to bring a trail map. Make sure friends and family know your plans, where you’re going, and when you expect to return.
It’s important to bring the all equipment you need, while trying to keep the pack weight to something less than five large boulders. The backpacking checklist below is an extended version of the day hiking checklist. Use this list to help plan your outing into the backcountry.
- Map or Trail Guide
- Water – Enough to get to your first water stop.
- Water containers
- Water Filter and/or Iodine
- Waterproof Matches and/or Lighter
- Food – Bring plenty for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks because you’ll be burning calories.
- If Cooking bring Stove, Fuel, Pots, Utensils
- Bear Proof Container
- Clothes – Dress in layers. Dress for the expected weather at your hiking destination. Bring multiple changes of clothes.
- Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Soap
- Toilet Paper
- Mirror – Can also be used as signal mirror.
- Footwear – Rugged hiking requires serious boots. Comfort is a must.
- Plenty of Socks – The ones you’re wearing may get wet.
- Rain Gear – Weather can change quickly in the mountains.
- Hat – For protection from sun or cold.
- Tent with poles and stakes
- Sleeping Bag
- Sleeping Pad
- Ground Cloth
- Rope and Straps
- Flashlight or Headlamp with extra batteries
- Compass or GPS
- Insect Repellent
- Sun Screen
- First Aid Kit
- Backpack to carry your gear
Binoculars and camera are optional, depending on space and load. Clothing will vary based on expected weather and the length of time you’ll be hiking. Food will vary based on whether you plan on cooking and how long you’ll be on the trail. Check out your hiking equipment ahead of time to be sure you know how to use it.
You can never know too much. Read and learn more about backpacking in general. Research the trails you will be hiking. Realistically assess your own physical capabilities. Train ahead of time if needed, perhaps with short trial hikes with your backpack. Be organized and plan, plan, plan for a successful backcountry trip.