Tips for First Time Backpackers
So, you have decided that you're ready to embark on your very first backpacking trip? An excellent decision – a whole new world of adventure awaits you!
Before you go, however, you should really ensure that you are appropriately prepared.
Fortunately, this guide will talk you through everything you should know before you strap on your boots and start studying your compass.
Make sure your pack actually fits, and wear it properly.
First thing's first, and while it may appear obvious it's something is a golden rule when backpacking – make sure your pack actually fits, and wear it properly.
You might think that you can cope with the waist pole that digs into your spine and straps that are tight against your armpits, but eight hours into a hike it will become a pretty miserable experience.
The staff of outdoor stores will always be more than happy to help with this, and never be shy about obtaining their advice.
They are more than happy to load up an empty backpack with all the essentials, giving you an idea of weight and comfort.
Multiple pockets are a good idea so you are not rummaging through your entire pack while quickly looking for something in particular, possibly throwing all kinds of dry clothing into a damp and wet ground.
Next up, another obvious suggestion but a common mistake of novice backpackers – pack light.
You will be living with this thing weighing on your spine for however long your excursion lasts, and as you start to get cold, tired or wet it's only going to feel heavier.
If you grunt when you pick up your pack on the first attempt, it's far too weighty; you should barely know it's there if at all possible.
Getting the right backpack can be great for helping your trip more enjoyable. Check out some of the best travel backpacks before you first trip.
Just in case shouldn't enter your vocabulary
Stuffing your backpack isn't a situation where 'just in case' should enter your vocabulary, especially when it comes to non-essentials such as certain clothes – if you have plenty of underwear, socks, waterproofs and a hat and sunglasses (you will be outside for hours!) you should be covered.
The rest you can do without, even if you are a fashionista.
The internet is not always right.
Next up, a truth that may shock you. With the exception of this site, the Internet is not always right.
It can get overwhelming to rely on reviews and suggestions online that tell you a hundred and one places that you must visit and things you must do, but you know what's best for you.
Have a broad plan and share it with others
It's important to have a broad plan (and to share it with others before and during your trip, so people know how to get hold of you should an emergency arise), but it's also OK to trust your own instincts and learn to go with the flow at times.
You will find that you discover all kinds of nooks and crannies that you may have otherwise wandered straight past if you were following very distinct directions, and ultimately this is your experience, nobody else’s. Take your time, and enjoy the great outdoors.
Take your time.
Taking your time is important, as is listening to your body and resting wherever necessary.
You may have decided that you were going to cover X amount of ground in Y amount of hours, but sometimes life just doesn't work out that way - don't push yourself beyond a point that you are comfortable, and consider taking some hiking poles along with you if you're entering potentially treacherous terrain.
It's also advisable to ensure that you have a good base level of fitness before you set out, and your body is in decent, supple condition; a workout at the gym is no comparison for a hike while carrying a backpack, but it's certainly better than nothing!
Take plenty of water.
Also, make sure you have plenty of water and the ability to get more, such as a small water purifier that you can use in a river or lake, and a lot of small, dry, high-energy foods.
You should intend to eat three times per day while backpacking, as you're going to need those calories to keep moving and you can't afford an energy crash – especially seeing as convenience stores can be in short supply in the woods, and there is nothing worse than finding yourself short of the most basic essentials that any backpacker needs.
Drink plenty before you set out too, and even in the days and weeks leading up to your excursion – if you are operating on a good level of hydration to begin with, you won't find yourself gasping for water at an inopportune moment.
Wait for an appealing time of year.
If you are backpacking for the first time, you should also wait for a comparatively appealing time of year.
Being soaked by a torrential downpour is no fun at the best of times, and that goes double when wandering around a forest.
In addition to the safety risks that come with wet ground and restricted visibility, getting wet will make your clothes and backpack much heavier.
Plastic bags are your friend when it comes to the elements – keep at least some of your dry clothes inside one just in case, encase any important paper documents such as maps in protective plastic, and even consider wrapping the top of your backpack with a bag if the sky starts turning gray and cloudy – rainwater will then run down the top of the pack rather than soaking in.
Naturally reversed precautions apply to the summer; if you’re hiking in the sun, ensure that you are well protected from the sun’s UV rays and are dressed in breathable clothing. A cap or hat is also a pretty useful necessity for rain or sunshine.
Take a flashlight or lantern.
Let us now take a moment to stress the importance of a flashlight or lantern. Novice backpackers often find themselves stunned by just how dark things can get when the sun drops suddenly, and even the most experienced hiker will struggle to erect a tent, hydrate, nourish themselves and fully comprehend their bearings when they can barely see their own hand in front of their face.
Wearable tech can be hugely beneficial when backpacking (provided it's light) as it is less to carry on your back, so consider investing in something like a headlamp.
Under no circumstances should you rely on your cellphone, or anything else that is not operated by external batteries that can be quickly and efficiently replaced on the spot.
There are also certain hiking etiquettes that you should observe that you may not be aware of.
For example, should you encounter fellow backpackers whilst negotiating a hill, those moving uphill have the right of way – if you are heading downward, step off the trail and let your new friends pass.
When pitching up a tent for the night outside of an established campsite, also make sure that you are at least 100 feet from the closest trail so nobody stumbles over your tent during their own walk, and check the fire regulations of your location before firing up a stove or barbeque.
In terms of food, do think of the fact that you may not be able to ‘light up’ due to poor weather conditions, or even finding yourself without firewood – take some, if only a little, dried goods will save the day.
The odd (non-chocolate) energy bar won’t go amiss either. Be prepared!
This may sound like a lot of rules, but the most important thing to remember is, of course, to stay safe.
Ensure that people know where you are going and can reach you, have a method of getting a message to request help if necessary, and stay calm when things don’t go strictly according to plan – that’s all part of the fun.
Which brings us to arguably the most important rule that all first-time backpackers must abide by – enjoy yourself.
Chances are you’ll find that this is not your last experience of the outdoor life.
For more travel tips check out our main guide.