Although we love hiking and have done some backpacking, it’s a continual process of learning how to do it better. No matter how much you read up on it to prepare, there is no better teacher than the trail itself. You will learn so much more as you go. I still remember how nervous I was the first time I went backpacking, and I still stress out every time and doubt what my mind and body can handle. In case you’re about to go on your first backpacking trip, here is some advice I wish would have given myself the first I went!
10 Tips to Prepare You for Your First Backpacking Trip:
1. Be Flexible
You are going to be in the wild. Whether it’s getting lost or not accomplishing as many miles as you planned, a lot can happen on the trail. Be flexible and understand that you may need to change your itinerary from what you initially planned.
2. You Don’t Need Gourmet Food, But Bring Food That You Like
We’ve hiked with people who cook up multiple courses and others who just eat Cliff Bars the whole way. Find what works for you. I personally hate the taste of Cliff Bars, but have found that Kind Bars (almond & apricot is my fave) combined with Honey Stinger Energy Waffles give me the energy I need and taste much better. The Honey Stingers remind me of the Korean dessert Yakgwa I used to eat growing up. We like to keep moving during the day, but like to sit down for a hot Mountain House (Lasagna is my favorite flavor) for dinner. That means the only cooking gear we need is our Jetboil. We don’t like cooking at home, so it’s no surprise that we don’t like to cook while backpacking.
3. Slowly Build Your Gear Collection
If you’re anything like us, we were excited to go buy a bunch of gear for our first backpacking trip! Not only will it cost you a lot, but you might end up with a bunch of stuff you never use again. Ideally you want to get the lightest, most compact gear, but ultimately, it takes time to find out what works best for you. Everyone has a different style of packing and hiking. Plus, gear will fit differently on different body types. If possible, borrow your friend’s gear or rent equipment first. If you’re looking to buy, we highly recommend REI since they have an amazing return policy. We tried almost everything in their store. Check our 15 backpacking essentials of the practical backpacker.
4. Test Your Gear
Don’t wait until you’re on the trail to try your gear! You should always try it out at home, so you’re familiar with how it works. You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of the trail or in the dark trying to learn how to use your gear or realize it’s missing pieces.
5. Take Notes on What You Pack
More likely than not, you are going to over pack on your first few trips. That’s okay, but make a note of what you pack and remember what you don’t use, so you don’t make the same mistake again. We all have a few comforts we may not want to give up, and these comforts will be different for everyone. However, the more miles we log, we find more things we’re willing to give up.
6. Buy and Wear the Right Clothes
Don’t just look for clothes that look good, but pay attention to the material that it’s made of. Cotton will make your hike miserable and hold in your sweat. We recommend you get some wool socks and solid hiking shoes that fit your feet (they will thank you), and some high performance underwear like these (his and hers). Otherwise, be sure to pack layers and a raincoat if there is even the slightest chance of rain (check out Carhartt for some light and durable rain gear).
7. You Will Be Tested Not Only Physically, but Emotionally
Our very first multi-day hike was the Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu. We were tired, hungry, sore, and all kinds of uncomfortable so we were both on edge. If you’re traveling as a couple, it means you might fight more than normal. We definitely fought A LOT, and I even broke down crying one of the days I felt hopeless. With all that said, you will also get the highs of knowing you just accomplished all of that on your own two feet, and there is nothing like seeing an amazing view that you can only reach by hiking.
8. You Will Learn to Poop and Pee Outside or in a Bag
This still has me squirming, but you will learn to poop and pee outside whether you like it or not. And yes, that involves digging a hole and burying it. Or if it’s a park where you need to carry out all your waste, you will learn to poop in a bag and carry it with you the rest of the way. For you ladies, try one of these to make peeing easier. It can be awkward at first learning to pee standing up, but once you get used to it, it’s so much better than popping a squat! Don’t forget your hand sanitizer!
9. Go With Someone with Experience
Backpacking can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. And since you’re in the wild, you may not have cell service or a way to contact anyone. If someone gets hurt, you also won’t be able to hop in a car and drive to the hospital. For your first trip, it helps to go with a guide or even a friend who has been before. It will help you learn the ropes. Also, you can coordinate with them when packing and share gear to lighten both your loads.
10. You Will Be Dirty and Stinky
This might be a given, but as much as you try to avoid it, you will get dirty and stinky. We typically take wipes with us to get some of the stickiness off, and sleep in clean clothes that we’ll be wearing the next day to protect your sleeping bag from sweat and oils. Other than that, just appreciate that hot shower when you get home! If you’re extremely OCD like me about showering before you sleep, you can try a pocket shower. It will be a pain finding a water source and carrying the extra weight, but it’s up to you how much it matters.
Lastly, have fun! You’ll quickly learn whether or not you’re cut out for backpacking. It may be something you completely fall in love with after a few tries, or you may decide that you prefer just going on short day hikes. Whatever it may be, enjoy every moment and be proud of what you accomplished.
What would you find the most challenging? What backpacking trip are you hoping to try first / next? Are there any other tips for beginners that I’m missing? Let us know in the comments below!