What do you need to know before you go backpacking?

Before you set off on a backpacking trip, there are a few things you need to know. This includes what backpacking is, how to dress, what gear to take, how much weight to carry, what ultralight backpacking is, how to stay safe, how to backpack with kids, tips for female backpackers, how to take care of hygiene, how to stay hydrated and feed yourself, how to backpack with a dog, how to learn necessary skills and find partners, how to train, how to plan, and where to go.

What is backpacking?

Backpacking is a recreational activity that involves hiking for multiple days whilst carrying all of the gear required for independent backcountry travel.

What is the difference between backpacking and camping?

Backpacking usually involves staying at different camping spots over multiple nights and traveling between these on foot. This means you have to limit what you bring to what you can carry on your back. Going camping, on the other hand, entails staying at the same campsite and arriving there either by vehicle or after a short journey on foot.

What is the difference between hiking and backpacking?

The difference between going hiking and backpacking is the duration of the trip – hikes are completed in a day while backpacking trips are multi-day hikes with overnight stays.

When backpacking, therefore, you must carry all of the food, gear and clothing needed for overnight stays and multi-day trail travel.

How should people dress for backpacking?

This ultimately depends on the weather conditions you are facing. And because you may be facing different conditions on different days of your journey, you will have to carry clothing that will keep you comfortable in everything from torrential rain to blazing heat.

How many clothes do I need for a 3-day backpacking trip?

When packing for a three-day backpacking trip, focus on taking three outfits: one for hiking, one for afternoons in camp, and one for sleeping.

For hiking, we recommend one or two short-sleeved t-shirts, a pair of shorts or pants, and a long-sleeved shirt. You’ll also need a change of socks and underwear and may need rain gear and a midlayer if hiking in wet or cooler weather.

For nights in camp and sleeping, the main focus is on comfort and recovery. This means a warm jacket, cozy sleepwear, and comfortable footwear. Recovering from your day’s exertions, however, also depends on what camp gear you’ve brought along for the trip.

What equipment do you need for backpacking?

Draw up a backpacking gear checklist that covers shelter, sleep system, cookware and kitchen supplies, hydration, R&R, hygiene, and safety. In practice, this list should look like the list below.

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Pots and pans
  • Water bottle
  • Water purifier or filter
  • Camp chair
  • Extra clothing
  • Wash supplies
  • Hygiene products
  • First aid kit
  • Bear spray (if needed/legal)
  • Headlamp

What are the “big 4” backpacking items?

In backpacking, the “big four” refers to the four most important (and heaviest) pieces of gear you need to carry – your tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and backpack.

What are the 10 backpacking essentials?

The ten backpacking essentials are navigation, illumination, first aid, sun protection, fire, knife, shelter, food, water, and clothing.

What are some useful backpacking accessories to have?

The list below contains a few accessories that can enhance comfort and convenience when backpacking.

  • Camp chair
  • Lantern
  • Dry bags
  • Compression sacks
  • Solar charger
  • Inflatable pillow
  • Packing cubes
  • Backpacking saw
  • Power bank
  • Microfiber towel
  • Camp slippers
  • Mosquito repeller
  • FUD (Female Urinary Device)

What does a typical 3-day backpacking gear list contain?

For a three-day trip, your backpacking checklist should include the items on the list below.

  • Footwear
  • Rain gear
  • Sun-protective hiking pants and hiking shirt
  • Midlayer
  • Hiking jacket or puffy jacket
  • Quick-drying underwear
  • Two or three pairs of hiking socks
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Camp stove
  • Lighter or matches
  • Cookware and cutlery
  • Gas
  • Multitool
  • Headlamp
  • First aid kit
  • Bear canister and bear spray (when hiking in bear country)
  • Trekking poles
  • Hat
  • Trowel
  • Toiletries (soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, FUD)
  • Sunscreen
  • Food (around 7,500 calories’ worth)
  • Water purification system
  • Water bottle or hydration reservoir

What is the ideal backpacking weight?

Your backpack should not weigh more than 20% of your body weight when fully loaded. If you weigh 170 lbs, therefore, your maximum pack should weigh 34 lbs or less.

When choosing which gear to buy or take on any trip, the goal is to ensure you have everything you need without making your pack load too heavy.

What is a “base weight” for backpacking

Base weight is the weight of your backpack excluding food and water.

What is “total weight” in backpacking?

Total weight is the weight of your backpack including food and water.

What is considered ultralight backpacking?

For ultralight backpacking, your pack’s base weight should be under 10 lbs.

What are the benefits of ultralight backpacking?

The main benefits of ultralight backpacking are the ability to go further and faster, reduced strain on the muscles and joints, and increased comfort.

What does an ultralight backpacking list look like?

An ultralight backpacking list essentially has most of the core items you’d find on a regular backpacking list but won’t have any “luxury items” such as a backpacking chair, elaborate stove, lantern, or pillow. The main difference between the two is that each item on the ultralight list will be significantly lighter than those on a standard list.

Is ultralight hiking worth it?

If you’re an occasional backpacker, it probably isn’t worth splurging on the most cutting-edge ultralight gear because it tends to cost a pretty penny. If you spend a lot of time hiking long-distance trails, however, this gear is a worthwhile investment. It will make your time on the trail more comfortable and enjoyable, and let you cover more miles in a shorter time.

Needless to say, we don’t recommend scrimping on weight to the detriment of safety.

How can I stay safe when backpacking?

To stay safe on overnight trips, keep the following backpacking safety tips in mind.

  • Learn how to use a map and compass.
  • Stick to the trail and learn how to read trail signage.
  • Bring a well-stocked first-aid kit.
  • Pack and store food carefully.
  • Carry a bear canister and bear spray.
  • Leave a note and route description with someone at home.
  • Bring adequate clothing.
  • Research your route.
  • Make a detailed plan before setting off.
  • Have a ‘Plan B’.

Do you need a first aid kit for backpacking?

The most fundamental rule of backpacking is that you need to be entirely self-sufficient. As such, carrying a good first aid kit is essential.

What to have in a backpacking first aid?

The most essential items to have in your backpacking first aid kit include antibacterial ointment, antihistamine, antiseptic wipes or cream, assorted band-aids, butterfly bandages, gauze pads, insect sting treatment, medical tape, moleskin (or other blister treatment), non-stick pads, pain-relief medication, safety pins, scissors, tweezers.

Is it OK to backpack alone?

Yes, it is perfectly okay to backpack alone, as long as you are prepared and fully aware that you are solely responsible for your own safety. 

What to do when backpacking alone?

When solo backpacking, you don’t have the luxury of a companion to help you out if trouble should arise. This being so, you need to take extra safety precautions, prepare thoroughly, and be able to take care of yourself. Below, we’ve listed some tips that will help you stay safe.

  • Learn to navigate
  • Get trained in first aid
  • Share your route with a friend
  • Create a plan and stick to it
  • Pack all of the ten essentials
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew
  • Carry a phone or two-way messaging GPS
  • Trust your gut
  • Don’t take any risks

Can you backpack with kids?

Backpacking with kids takes a little more planning and effort, but it’s certainly feasible with the right mindset and a little extra elbow work.

The main things to bear in mind are that you’ll need to carry extra gear for your child and choose a kid-friendly destination. 

Can you backpack with a baby?

Yes, backpacking with a baby is perfectly doable as long as you’re willing to carry some extra weight. You’ll have to invest in a good child-carrier hiking backpack and hike with a partner who’s willing to carry the rest of the load (baby supplies included!), but other than that it’s not too different to backpacking with a larger kid. 

What are some tips for female first-time backpackers?

For women backpacking, you will require a little extra planning and caution than for men. We recommend you backpack with a friend if possible, carry some form of tool for self-defense, trust your gut at all times, and be prepared for backpacking on your period. 

How to manage menstruation while backpacking?

Being on your period when hiking or backpacking doesn’t have to ruin the fun. Just be sure to bring a menstrual cup or plenty of tampons/pads, and a Ziploc bag so you can carry out your waste. It’s also a good idea to bring some antibacterial hand wipes and pain-relief medicine.

Is it OK to backpack while pregnant?

Backpacking while pregnant is fairly common and doable if you take just a few extra precautions, which are summarized in the tips below. 

  1. Speak to your doctor to check how much weight you can carry on your back and ensure your specific circumstances make it safe to be hiking and carrying loads. 
  2. Do not purify water with iodine as this can lead to health complications.
  3. Use trekking poles to improve your balance.
  4. Opt for a mellower trail. 
  5. Expect to cover less distance.
  6. Bring a cell phone or two-way messaging GPS device if you’ll be out of signal range.
  7. Ditch the hipbelt on your pack to avoid discomfort.

How to deal with hygiene during backpacking trips for women?

To avoid urinary tract infections or yeast infections, bring plenty of extra underwear and wet wipes to stay clean on the trail. Make sure you take a Ziploc bag to dispose of the wipes and use antibacterial gel to sanitize your hands.

How do you keep yourself clean while backpacking?

Backpacking hygiene is a tricky issue. Unless you’re on an established trail with mountain huts en route, then you’ll have to be resourceful. This means carrying biodegradable soap and washing yourself in rivers, creeks, ponds, or lakes, or “dry showering” with wet wipes.

We also recommend bringing dedicated pajamas in order to keep your sleeping bag clean, sanitizing your hands frequently, and setting aside a few hours every few days to wash your clothes.

How to go to the toilet when backpacking?

Pee or poo? For the latter, dig a “cathole” that measures 4 or 5 inches wide and around 8 inches deep, take care of business, and then fill in the hole. Pack your TP in a Ziploc bag and carry it out. For the former, find a good tree blocking the line of sight from camp or any trails and get the job done. 

In both circumstances, make sure you are at least 200 feet from any campsite, trail, or source of potable water. 

How much water should I bring backpacking?

As a general rule, you should aim to drink one to two cups (250-500 ml) of water per hour of hiking. This quantity, however, may increase depending on the temperature, altitude, your personal metabolism and absorption rates, and how much you are exerting yourself.

What do backpackers do for water?

Backpackers typically carry some kind of water purification system or filtration device to treat “wild” water from creeks, streams, or rivers along their route. These systems help to kill or remove bacteria, pathogens, viruses, and parasites like cryptosporidium (“crypto”) and giardia.

How do you purify water when backpacking?

You can purify water from wild sources like rivers or streams using purification tablets, a sterilizing pen, or some form of filter.

In addition to purifying water for hydration, backpackers also use these purification systems to treat water for food prep and cooking.

How much food should I take when backpacking?

A good general rule of thumb is to take 2 lbs of backpacking food (calorie dense, nutritious) per person per day. However, this may vary depending on the terrain and distance covered – if you’re hiking 15–20 miles per day in challenging terrain you’ll need more than if you’re hiking only 5–10 miles per day in easier terrain. 

How many calories do I need backpacking?

Most backpackers will need in the region of 22-25 calories per pound of body weight per day. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, you will need 3,300 to 3,750 calories per day. 

What is a good meal to make when backpacking?

According to nutritionist and long-distance backpacker Dr. Brenda Braaten, a good backpacking meal should provide a healthy balance of protein (15-20%), carbs (35-50%), and fats (35-50%). Because the goal is to keep pack weight to a minimum, calorie-dense foods are the way to go. 

If you have a stove with you, there are plenty of great freeze-dried foods for backpacking out there. These are not only nutritious but also a great way of saving weight without compromising on taste. In cold temperatures, you could opt for a hearty, satisfying stew or roast, and in hot weather you can go with a lighter quinoa, couscous, or stuffed pepper dish.

What kind of weather conditions are ideal for backpacking?

The best backpacking conditions are moderate ones. This means not too hot and not too cold, and neither too windy nor entirely windless. A light breeze helps keep bugs away and minimizes sweat, while moderate temperatures mean you can hike without overheating or worrying about sun exposure.

How can I check trail and weather conditions before a backpacking trip?

To check trail conditions in a national park, check the National Park Service website, which will provide info on all trail closures and current conditions. For other locations, check online hiking group pages (Facebook or Reddit hiking groups, for example) or do an online search for trail conditions in your area. Some examples of search results include the New England Trail Conditions, New Hampshire (trip reports), Wisconsin Hiking Trails Report, Adirondack Trail Conditions websites.

If you’re a beginner backpacker, err on the side of caution and only set off if the forecast is good for the intended duration of your trip.

What basic expertise do I need to start backpacking?

The following list includes the most essential backpacking skills to have in your arsenal.

  • How to navigate.
  • How to build a campfire.
  • How to purify or filter water.
  • How to pitch a tent.
  • How to use a camp stove.
  • How to follow Leave No Trace principles.

How can I improve my navigation skills for backpacking?

To improve your navigation, start by practicing using a topographical map and compass in a familiar area. Once you have learned the ropes, test yourself in an area you are less familiar with. 

The basic skills you should master are triangulation, taking and following a bearing, and understanding the symbols and legends on a topo map.  

Can I backpack with my dog?

Taking your dog backpacking is logistically feasible and can be lots of fun, but dog owners should be aware that many backpacking destinations – most U.S. national parks, for example – do not allow even leashed dogs on hiking trails.

How much can my dog carry backpacking?

This varies depending on the breed, but a good rule of thumb is 25% of their body weight. So, if your dog weighs 40 pounds, their max pack weight should be 10 lbs.

How to go backpacking?

If you are keen to get into backpacking and starting from scratch, we recommend taking the steps on the list below. 

  • Get trail fit and boost confidence by hiking.
  • Learn how to navigate and use your camping gear.
  • Research potential first trips and choose an easy one.
  • Buy or borrow backpacking gear.
  • Plan your route.
  • Share your plans with a friend at home.
  • Pack carefully.
  • Keep an eye on the forecast.
  • Check trail conditions.
  • Hit the trail!

What are some useful tips for a first-time backpacker?

The list below summarizes our top tips when it comes to backpacking for beginners.

  • Go with an experienced friend.
  • Don’t overpack.
  • Pack well in advance – don’t rush it.
  • Create a backpacking checklist.
  • Familiarize yourself with how your gear works.
  • Learn the basic skills: how to use a map and compass, how to pitch a tent, how to use a camping stove, how to pack a backpack, how to purify water, and wildlife safety.
  • Pick a trip close to home.
  • Research your route.
  • Leave an itinerary with a friend at home.
  • Make sure you have a good weather forecast.
  • Practice hiking with a heavy backpack.

What are some common beginner backpacking mistakes?

The following is a list of the most common mistakes made by beginner backpackers.

  • Overpacking.
  • Overextending yourself by trying to hike too many miles.
  • Failing to practice using your gear before setting off.
  • Not taking care of your feet.
  • Not keeping your food safe from wildlife.
  • Failing to learn navigation skills.
  • Underestimating how long it will take to hike your trail.
  • Disregarding Leave No Trace principles.

A good way to learn about other backpacking mistakes (and how to avoid them), is to get involved with a local backpacking community and learn from others.

Where can I learn from the backpacking community as a beginner?

Numerous organizations offer beginner courses that aim to give newcomers the skills and know-how needed to get into backpacking. 

These include nationwide organizations like REI, NOLS, The American Alpine Institute, The Sierra Club, Women Who Hike, and Outward Bound or regional groups like the Appalachian Mountain Club.

Alternatively, you could learn from the backpacking community by joining a backpacking group, either in your local area or online. 

How can I get involved in the backpacking community?

The following list summarizes the various ways you can get involved in the backpacking community.

  • Join a club
  • Take a course
  • Ask colleagues and friends
  • Join Meetup or Facebook groups
  • Join a college backpacking group
  • Ask at your local outdoor store

Are there specific etiquettes or unwritten rules in the backpacking community?

Yes, the backpacking community has a handful of unwritten rules and pieces of etiquette, the most important of which we’ve listed below.

  • Stay on the trail
  • Respect wildlife and plantlife
  • Yield the right of way to uphill hikers, horses, and pack stock
  • Greet other hikers
  • Keep the noise down
  • Never litter
  • Never feed wildlife
  • Take nothing and leave nothing
  • Keep your dog on a leash

What is Leave No Trace backpacking?

Leave No Trace (LNT) is a set of best practices hikers, campers, and backpackers are encouraged to abide by in order to protect and preserve natural environments and wildlife populations.

How do you train for backpacking?

The best way to train for backpacking is by hiking. Ideally, you should hike consecutive days and gradually build up your mileage and pack weight to let your body get used to hiking greater distances with a heavier load.

If there are no hiking trails near where you live, you can do some general conditioning for backpacking at home or in the gym with exercises like jump squats, step-ups, KettleBell deadlifts, squats, lunges, and calf raises.

How long does it take to get in shape for backpacking?

This depends on the type of trip you’re preparing for and what kind of shape you’re in at the outset. Generally speaking, however, it should take the average adult in the region of 3 months to get trail fit by gradually extending mileage and upping pack weight on day hikes. 

If you’re preparing for a longer thru-hike like the Appalachian Trail or Continental Divide Trail, however, it may take as many as six months of regular hiking to be physically prepared for the challenge ahead.

How do I start planning a backpacking trip?

Planning a backpacking trip is often both exciting and overwhelming. When choosing a route and preparing for your backpacking trip, we recommend you follow the steps outlined below.

  • Know your limits, assess your skills and fitness levels honestly, and define your aims before choosing a trip/trail.
  • Find a reliable partner.
  • Research the route thoroughly.
  • Choose your gear.
  • Identify any specialist skills you may need and learn them.
  • Gradually increase fitness levels by day hiking greater distances with heavier loads.
  • Make a food plan (where and how you will restock along the trail).
  • Buy a map and get familiar with the “lay of the land”.

Do you need insurance when backpacking?

If you plan on traveling abroad, it’s wise to invest in a good insurance policy. Standard travel insurance will protect you in the case of illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. Activity-specific insurance, on the other hand, could save you thousands of dollars in the event that you require a search-and-rescue team or helicopter evacuation, or injure yourself or fall ill in locations not covered by standard travel insurance.

What are the pros and cons of joining a backpacking tour versus going solo?

Some of the advantages of joining a backpacking tour or group are companionship, learning skills from peers, and safety in numbers.

Some of the disadvantages are not choosing your own route, less privacy, and not being able to go at your own pace.

The main advantages of solo backpacking are peace and privacy, freedom to choose your destination and change itinerary, being able to go at your own pace, and boosting your self-confidence and independence.

Some disadvantages are more planning, loneliness, and the lack of anyone to help if needed.

How to find backpacking trails?

The best way to find backpacking trails is through local outdoor forums and national or state park websites. You can also ask local backpacking groups or in outdoor stores for tips, or simply search online for backpacking trips in your state. 

What are the best backpacking trails in the US?

There are a myriad of great backpacking trips to choose from in the US. Our top picks are listed below.

  • John Muir Trail
  • The Narrows, Zion National Park
  • Rim-to-Rim Trail (South and North Kaibab), Grand Canyon National Park
  • Wonderland Trail. Mount Rainier National Park
  • Teton Crest Trail, Grand Teton National Park
  • Thunder Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Half Dome, Yosemite National Park
  • Long Trail, Vermont

What is thru-hiking?

Through-hiking or “thru-hiking” entails backpacking a long-distance trail from end-to-end continuously.

How long is the Appalachian Trail?

The Appalachian Trail is 2,198 miles long, running from Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine.

How long does it take to hike the Appalachian trail?

Most thru-hikers take 5–7 months to hike the full AT.

How long is the Pacific Crest Trail?

The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT) is 2,650 miles long.

How long does it take to walk the Pacific Crest Trail?

Most thru-hikers take around 5–6 months to hike the entire PCT.

How long is the Continental Divide Trail?

The CDT is roughly 3,100 miles long.

How long does it take to walk the Continental Divide Trail?

Most thru-hikers take five and half months to six and half months to hike the entire CDT, averaging between 16 and 20 miles per day.

Where can I backpack in Colorado?

There are dozens of great backpacking trails in Colorado. Our top picks are listed below.

  • The Colorado Trail
  • Buffalo Peaks Loop
  • Devil’s Thumb to King Lake Loop
  • Lost Creek Wilderness
  • Gore Lake
  • Lone Eagle Peak
  • Mohawk Lakes
  • Rito Alto Four Pass Loop
  • The Continental Divide Trail (CDT)

Where can I backpack in California?

California is rightly acknowledged as a mecca for backpacking – here you can enjoy everything from long-distance coastal hikes and desert hikes to serious odysseys in alpine terrain. Our top picks for backpacking trips in the state are listed below.

  • Mount Shasta via Clear Creek
  • Sky High Lakes
  • Canyon Creek Lakes
  • The John Muir Trail
  • Lost Coast Trail
  • Glen Camp Loop 
  • Little Five & Big Five Lakes Loop, Sequoia National Park
  • Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest