Are you wondering what it’s like to go backpacking? Maybe you’re thinking it would be a great way to disconnect from everyday life. Maybe you’ve fallen in love with day hiking or camping and see backpacking as a natural next step.
No matter how you’ve come to be curious about backpacking, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. Set yourself up for backpacking success, by starting with small steps. The three steps below will help you steadily build confidence in your backpacking skills, leading you to your first 1-night backpacking trip.
1. Day Hikes
Day hikes are the first step to backpacking. Day hikes help familiarize you with the great outdoors. Day hiking will also give you a chance to work at lengthening the distance you hike. But don’t worry, there’s no need to be able to hike very long distances to try backpacking. Being comfortable with a 4 to 5 mile hike is a good starting goal. So how do you use regular day hikes to help you backpack?
Hike More Often
How often are you hiking right now? Try to increase the amount of day hiking that you are doing. Can you increase your hiking to once a month? What about twice a month or once a week? If at all possible, try to increase your day hiking in the same area that you plan to try to backpack in for the first time. This way, you’ll become familiar with the weather, sights, sounds, and wildlife of the area.
As you begin to hike more often, you’ll be able to increase your distance. Increasing the distance you hike can help prepare your lungs, muscles, and mind for backpacking. At the same time, you’ll be able to gauge what level of sun protection you’ll need in the area you’ve chosen for your first backpacking trip. You’ll also be able to see how the weather changes in the area throughout the day. This will give you a good idea what layers and clothing you’ll need to be comfortable.
Comfortable shoes are also very important. As you hike longer distances in your area, you’ll be able to judge if you’d like to upgrade to hiking shoes or hiking boots. If you already have hiking shoes, you’ll be able to break them in and make sure they still feel comfortable when you hike longer distances.
2. Day Hike With Your Backpacking Gear
One major difference between day hiking and backpacking is the amount of gear you’ll be carrying with you. Fight the backpacking gear overwhelm by using day hikes as a chance to practice using backpacking gear.
If at all possible try day hiking with a friend who can bring along their gear for you to practice with. Bonus points if they know how to use the gear and can teach you. Whether borrowing from your friend or using your own gear, focus on 1, no more than 2, pieces of gear per day hike. You’ll familiarize yourself with your gear, one piece at a time, without the pressure of being dependent on it.
A good place to start is your hydration solution. Practice using your water filter on a day hike. Get comfortable with how to use the filter and where to find water in the area you’ve chosen to backpack in.
Once you have water covered, what are you going to do for food? Chances are as a day hiker you’re snacking, not preparing meals. On a few day hikes practice cooking a meal and using a small stove or burner. Make sure you’re comfortable boiling water. Choose some freeze-dried and dehydrated backpacker meals to try. Get to know what you like ahead of time. You don’t want to find out at the end of your first day backpacking that you hate the meal you’ve chosen.
Your first backpacking trip will just be overnight. So, at first you can also still fill much of your food needs with energy bars, protein shakes, and trail mixes.
Tents are tricky. Bring the tent you’re planning to sleep in along on a day hike. Practice finding a suitable campsite and setting up your tent. If you won’t have any help on your first backpacking trip, make sure you’re able to set it up on your own! You might also want to set your tent out in your backyard during some rainy weather to make sure it doesn’t leak.
Putting it Together
After you’ve practiced with individual pieces of gear, it’s a good idea to practice carrying all of your gear on a hike. Four miles hiked with a small day pack, water bottle, and a couple of energy bars feels quite different from hiking with a full-size backpack and all of your gear.
You’ll be carrying some of the items above as well as a sleeping pad, sleeping bag, first-aid kit, a lighter, head lamp, first-aid kit, a camp multi-tool, small camp chair, and anything else you need to be self-sustained overnight in nature.
Try not to stress too much about what the exact right weight for your pack is. You’re going to refine what you pack and how as you practice and begin to take backpacking trips.
3. 1-Night Backpacking Trip
Once you feel comfortable with the area and gear you’ve chosen to begin backpacking, you’re ready for your first trip! To continue to ease into backpacking, first find a weekend with perfect weather. Perfect weather being comfortable temperatures, and no chance of rain.
Plan on hiking in 4 to 5 miles in and back out. On your first attempt, keep it simple by only spending one night in your tent. Keeping the both the distance and the stay short will set you up for success.
If you don’t have much experience sleeping outdoors, try to plan your overnight stay somewhere that still has cell phone reception. This isn’t a must, but can give you an extra bit of confidence as a beginner.
During this first backpacking trip, the only new experience will be not going home at the end of the day. You know how to prepare a meal which you like. You’re familiar with filtering your water and setting up your tent. You know the sights and sounds of the area you’re in. And, you also know what it feels like to hike the distance you’ve chosen while carrying your gear.
Backpacking can be a very attainable outdoor adventure. It’s possible to practice as much as you like before really jumping into it. And once you have, you can begin to build up your backpacking skills. Before you know it you’ll be hiking longer, staying longer, and backpacking in brand new places.