October 14, 2020 26 min read 0 Comments

At the core of the human spirit, there has always been a nomadic streak. We hunger for new frontiers. No matter how enticing our vision of a dream house is, there is something inexplicably thrilling about the idea of packing only what you need for survival in a single backpack and setting off into the unknown. The Beginner's Guide to Backpacking will help you to enjoy this thrill in full.

The comfort and familiarity of the walls of a home could never beat the excitement and valuable experiences the unpredictability of the outdoors brings. If you are just about to unleash the adventurer in you, you might want a brief introduction and good advice on backpacking.

We can guarantee your backpacking tent is about to become your favorite new home, as every day calls for brand new views and sceneries. As exciting as it is to discover new territory and untouched wilderness, if you are only just starting to explore those nomadic urges and plan to make it your lifestyle, there are several important lessons you need to learn.

Gone are the days when roaming the land meant survival. Today roaming the land means exploration, but it should be planned with safety in mind. The unforgiving wilderness imposes a certain danger, however, with the needed fitness, professional gear, and expert guidelines, a trip to the unknown can be a rewarding feat.

If you’re ready to graduate from the easy day-hike to first time backpacking and back country camping, here is a comprehensive guide on what you need to know and bring, and how to prepare yourself for the challenge.

Returning emotionally fulfilled with the mind of a wanderer and cool stories to tell, is worth the time and money invested.

Table of Content:

1. Getting Started - Getting yourself in good physical shape and working on your stamina to endure the challenge.

2. Ultralight Backpacking - the importance of choosing light weight gear that is appropriate for a beginner.

3. Backpacking Essentials - the 10 essentials, the 10 basic items that are a staple of safe backpacking and every backpacker should bring on the road. Tips on how to make the right gear choices for yourself.

4. Backpacking Checklist - the checklist that will help you gather and pack each and every item you need before heading off on your journey.

5. Backpacking Meals - How to choose store-bought food appropriate for backpacking journeys, how to cook and dehydrate food + tips on what food to pack, and how to pack it.

6. Backpacking Safety - The importance of being extra cautious, informed on the possible risks, and how to prepare for unexpected problems and circumstances.

7. Beginner Mistakes - Why suffer when you can learn from others’ mistakes? A list of most common beginner backpackers' blunders.

8. Wrapping Things Up - Pick the best company and learn from your experiences, but never hurt the environment.

Backpacking for Beginners - Getting Started

backpacking essentials for beginners Living in concrete jungles and uniform suburbs has heavily disconnected us from our natural environment to the point where we more often fear it than take an interest in it.

As intimidating as it is to start preparing and familiarizing yourself with survival skills in the outdoors out of your comfort zone, there is always a starting point.

Preparing for your first backpacking trip should begin by testing your physical ability and improving your fitness with the appropriate exercises.

The last concern you want to have when heading off on your first backpacking trip is to discomfort, let alone facing serious health risks and challenges.

That being said, your very first backpacking challenge requires you to cope well in many circumstances, not to reach the highest summit. Choosing a familiar trail or an easy, several-mile trek that you’ve possibly already conquered or one known to be suitable for beginner backpackers, is the best way to start your backpacking career.

Despite the trail and the terrain of choice, you are likely about to sport a heavy load on your back that will make the hike twice as hard. Carrying more than just the essentials in your backpack on a long walk or hike for the first time can be challenging.

To prepare yourself for the upcoming journey, practice a daily running or walking routine, and perform exercises like step-ups, squats, and sit-ups. The ultimate goal is to strengthen your legs and get your heart rate up to increase your heart and lung capacity.

It’s advisable to eventually start walking uphill with a weighted backpack to achieve the stamina needed to endure the difficulty of the trail with the added load on your back.

Although you might have to carry a large backpack on your trip, it doesn’t mean that you’ll have to lug along a heavy load. After years of evolution and innovation in the design and development of backpacking gear, modern solutions have enabled lightweight backpacking often known as ultralight backpacking

Carrying only the lightest essentials of professional gear is crucial for successful backpacking. With each piece of gear being ultralight, backpackers can use this to their advantage and travel further and faster, avoiding any limitations caused by a heavy load.

What is Ultralight Backpacking?

ultralight backpacking

There is no set definition of what light or ultralight backpacking is. It is a rather individual perception that depends on the gender, height, and weight of the backpacker. A total gear weight can be too heavy for some and ultralight for others.

Nevertheless, if you are a beginner, keep in mind that what seems like a lightweight when put on your back at home will not necessarily feel light while hiking or walking. When you get tired and are facing an uphill challenge, the load always feels heavier.

Therefore, it is advisable to weigh your gear on a luggage scale, packed with all the essentials needed for your backpacking journey. You might find your sweet spot between 10 and 22 pounds on the scale.

Beginners may find their load weighing near the upper parameter as they may feel the need to carry more gear and accessories, while an experienced backpacker often carries a lower weight as they rely more on experience over items.

While you can’t make your much-needed food and water supplies weigh less than they do, you can choose the lightest variants for the essential trio: your sleeping bag, tent, and backpack.

Being mindful about the weight of your backpack may help lessen the load you’ll need to carry and may or may not make a difference in your overall experience.

However, some backpackers go too far down that rabbit hole by studying the weight of certain gear materials, cutting the handle off of their toothbrush, and even getting rid of “unnecessary” straps off a backpack. It seems as though backpackers are constantly looking for creative ways to cut down on weight.

However, it's unnecessary to focus too much on weight as a beginner. They should instead focus on packing a backpack that is comfortable to carry and includes the gear that they’re confident using and are assured will perform as expected.

For a beginner, safety is far more important than carrying a lighter backpack.

Light Weight vs. Comfort and Convenience

ultra light weight backpackingContrary to popular opinion, ultralight backpackers do not have to miss out on critical pieces of gear or sleep uncomfortably, and do not have to travel unsafely. Choosing to pack as light as possible means reducing weight by choosing gear that is tailored to offer maximum comfort, safety, and convenience while being ultralight.

Any backpacker can bring a comfortable sleeping bag, spacious tent, backpacking kits, and food, and still have room for extra luxuries for the road.

Thanks to cutting edge design, quality fabrics, ultralight insulation, and prudent detailing, there is professional backpacking gear available that weighs as little as possible and packs well in small backpacks.

Therefore, one shouldn’t and won’t have to compromise the importance and convenience of essential gear at the expense of weight.

When it comes to packing for backpacking, less is more. Choosing to go ultralight enables you to enjoy more freedom and reduces the pressure on your body and legs, which should certainly be a priority for a stress-free and hassle-free adventure.

Your list of backpacking essentials may vary depending on the season, i.e. the weather conditions and temperature you expect. Two or more different variants of the same item might be needed to cover all the different weather conditions, climates, and temperatures in different areas and seasons.

In any case, there are a few items that are a staple in essential backpacking gear, including one that is universal for all of your trips and is quite important - the backpack. Aside from the backpack itself, here is a list of things every backpacker should carry regardless of terrain, trail, season, or level of experience, that include the absolute outdoor essentials.

#1 Navigation Equipment

There are a lot of navigational tools available today, from maps to digital devices intended to help you navigate your surroundings. It’s advisable to always have a topographical or relief map and know how to use it. A compass is also an essential tool, along with any additional gadgets such as a GPS, or a mobile phone with GPS.

#2 Sun Protection

Wearing sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen, are necessary to protect yourself from harmful UV rays. Long sleeve clothing can also minimize your sun exposure, all in favor of keeping you safe from sunburn, heatstroke, and dehydration, which may result in a fatal outcome in some cases.

#3 Insulation & Warm Clothing

Having the right clothes for harsh weather conditions such as strong winds and low temperatures is important to keep you protected, safe, and warm. Unpredictable and sudden changes in weather may require you to put on extra layers of clothing for protection and to avoid hypothermia.

#4 Light Sources

A flashlight or headlamp is another essential tool that will help you navigate the outdoors. Without any conventional light sources in the wild, make sure you have an extra pack of batteries to enjoy uninterrupted trekking in the dark.

#5 Fire-Making Items
Fire is a great heat and light source in the wild that can be used to keep you warm, cook, or in some cases, send an emergency signal. You can choose to bring along matches, a lighter, or any other fire-making device you prefer.

#6 Knife & Toolkit

A knife, scissors, or a multi-tool, as well as duct tape and a screwdriver for longer journeys, are essentials that can come in handy in many situations. A multi-tool that includes a knife, a screwdriver, can opener, and scissors is the ideal tool as you’ll have all the tools you need in a small and convenient package.

#7 First Aid Kit

A backpacking trip requires you to carry a first aid kit at all costs. It’s best to prepare a custom kit with items you are familiar with. Ensure you have the essential items needed to patch up a wound (iodine, gauze, and tape), antibiotics, antihistamines for bites and allergic reactions, etc.

#8 Food

Depending on the duration of your backpacking journey, you can choose to take ready-to-eat meals or bring along a small backpacking stove to prepare hot meals. You should plan ahead and take a sufficient amount of food in the form of packaged snacks, sandwiches, and fresh fruits to keep you full and energized.

For first-time backpackers, it’s advisable to bring along extra food - you might be surprised at how many calories you’ll burn and the increased amount of food your body requires to replace what’s spent.

Having a lightweight backpacking stove that uses fuel or gas is a good choice for back country camping. Opt for a stove that can function well in cold weather, is easy to use, and takes less time and fuel to heat things up.

But always remember that food is one of the most important backpacking essentials.

#9 Water

Bringing enough drinking water with you is important in order to stay hydrated and avoid dehydration from long walks and higher altitudes. Depending on your chosen backpacking route, you might want to bring a water purifier or attach a light hydration reservoir to your backpack.

Ultimately, a light and compact water purifier or water reservoir should be included within your collection of ultralight backpacking gear when planning a longer and more intense route.

#10 Shelter

A tent, sleeping bag, space blanket, and anything else that can offer protection in harsh weather conditions is part of essential gear for backpacking trips. You should choose a shelter according to the weather conditions and duration of the trip.

Backpacking Essentials

backpacking essentials

Choosing Essential Backpacking Equipment

Finding the right backpacking equipment is the most daunting task for a beginner and a critical part of the backpacking experience and overall success of it.

Getting together the proper equipment and ensuring you choose professional gear can be quite expensive, especially if you find out you’ve made the wrong choices. To help you avoid that, we’ve compiled a list of the most important backpacking essentials items you need and how to choose the right ones that deliver immense functionality and quality and do not cost a fortune.

Backpack

Backpacking requires bringing all you need for survival in just your backpack. Going on an adventure for several days means you’ll need a large enough backpack to carry all of the essentials, i.e. you need the right size regarding capacity and fit.

There are three main factors to consider when choosing your backpack:

  1. Fit: The backpack you choose to carry should fit your specific torso measurements. Make sure you know your torso length as it is crucial for determining the size of a backpack that will fit you. Do not forget this very important aspect of backpacking essentials as you will be carrying this your entire journey
  2. Capacity: This is predetermined by the number of items and their bulkiness, as well as how much they weigh. You may want to consider choosing your backpack first (before picking your items) or last (after picking your items).
  3. Backpack features and personal preference: The design, details, and how the backpack is manufactured affect its functionality. You should choose one that has your preferred features.

Sleeping Bag

Choosing a warm insulated sleeping bag is of utmost importance regardless of the weather conditions. Although there are sleeping bags tailored for different temperatures, they are all made to keep the body warm. When choosing a backpacking sleeping bag you should consider:

  1. The insulation: You can choose a goose down or advanced synthetic insulated sleeping bag. Although they are both tailored to deliver maximum comfort, warmth, and protection, down insulated bags might be warmer and lighter, while synthetics are easier to maintain and better performing in wet and harsh weather conditions.
  2. The length and width: Depending on its shape and size, a sleeping bag can be spacious or slim fitting. The length should be chosen according to the person’s height and shape and width depending on preference.
  3. Temperature rating: Depending on the projected weather conditions, you should choose a sleeping bag that is intended to suit lower than the typical low temperatures you anticipate in the area you are planning to go backpacking. You can always vent a warmer sleeping bag but can’t warm up your body if it gets too cold.
  4. Weight: It’s advisable to opt for an ultralight sleeping bag. You can find a quality sleeping bag for lower temperatures weighing no more than three to four pounds.
  5. Features: Different models and designs feature details like pockets, adjustments, and different zipping styles. You can even choose a hammock sleeping bag that can be used both as a regular sleeping bag on the ground and as a hammock sleeping bag.

Backpacking Tent

Your humble home that can be packed and carried in a backpack will act as your shelter in the wilderness. The backpacking tent you choose greatly affects backpack weight and bulkiness, so it should be chosen wisely. To round out your collection of lightweight backpacking gear, you should choose an ultralight tent that will align with your needs and requirements. When deciding consider the following:

  1. Capacity: The first factor that will help you narrow down your choices is whether you plan to sleep alone or share a sleeping bag with someone else. You should choose an appropriate tent for the number of people staying in it. If you strive for comfort, or you are not particularly crazy about sleeping with someone who hasn’t showered for days, you can choose a two-person tent for individual use to enjoy some extra room.
  2. Season/Climate: As mentioned previously, you might need two of the same item, in this case, tents, for different weather conditions. You should ultimately choose a tent construction that suits the expected weather conditions or a tent designed to be suitable for all seasons.
  3. Weight: With modern solutions and well-designed models there are tents available that are comfortable, spacious, high-quality, and weigh less than five pounds. As important as it is for the tent to be ultralight, it is important for it to also fold down to a small size for convenient packing.
  4. Features: You can choose from tents that feature different styles of interior space, components to allow for ease of setup, extra space for gear and comfort, or additional details and elements for better utility.

The best ultralight backpacking gear consists of ultralight variants for all three components of the essential gear trio; a backpack, tent, and sleeping bag.

Being the bulkiest and most space consuming of the essential items, it’s important to choose very light and compact variants of tents and sleeping bags in order to have space for other important backpacking items and kits.

Backpacking Checklist

backpacking checklist

Our backpacking gear guide presents the absolute essentials of gear required for survival in the wild. However, getting ready for a backpacking journey calls for more thoughtful planning. Before purchasing your essential backpacking gear, it’s advisable to compose a backpacking checklist.

By following a checklist you can make sure you consider all the components and aspects of backpacking to gather the appropriate items and accessories needed for a safe and successful journey. As a beginner, composing a backpacking packing list will ensure successful packing completion and help you avoid forgetting key items that will ensure a smooth backpacking journey. 

Clothing

Despite the season, it’s always a good idea to wear lots of layers. Each clothing item should be lightweight, moisture-absorbing, and made with breathable and quick-drying materials. Your clothes should offer sun protection as well.

  • Lightweight raincoat
  • Fleece jacket for cold trips
  • Hiking pants
  • Sturdy hiking boots
  • Fleece hat or sun hat
  • Long-sleeved shirt
  • Underwear
  • Socks (+ wool socks for cold weather)
  • Gloves
  • Sunglasses + case
  • Hiking buff or bandana
  • Shoe gaiters
  • Small towel

Backpack & Storage

  • Backpack
  • Backpack rain cover
  • Trash compactor or zip-lock bag
  • Camera strap pocket

Outdoor Shelter

  • Backpacking tent
  • Rainfly
  • Tent groundsheet
  • Tent poles
  • Tent chair

Sleeping Setup

Sleeping equipment will probably take up most of the space in your backpack. However, if you are going hiking or heading on a longer backpacking journey, a good night’s sleep is very important. Being in optimal shape and feeling energized greatly depends on the quality of sleep you get, and your quality of sleep greatly depends on the type and amount of items that make up your backpacking sleeping equipment.

  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Adjustable pod attachment straps
  • Pillow
  • Foam pad

Cooking & Kitchen Utensils

  • Lightweight backpacking stove and fuel
  • Cooking pot and lid
  • Spoon and fork
  • Small knife
  • A lighter
  • Cup, mug, or plate
  • Soap
  • Salt and sugar

Tools & Accessories

  • Trekking poles
  • Headlamp
  • Multi-tool or a pocket knife
  • Phone and waterproof phone case
  • Camera and waterproof case
  • Headphones
  • Extra camera and phone battery
  • Power bank
  • Cash money and ID
  • Surgical gloves
  • Notebook + pen

Navigation Equipment

Having sufficient navigation tools as part of your backpacking essentials is of utmost importance. You should be proficient in reading maps and using a compass. Even when you are planning to rely on GPS, it’s always advisable to have manual navigation equipment available in case of unexpected situations.

  • Topographic map
  • Guidebooks
  • Waterproof bag (ziplock) for the map
  • Compass
  • Watch (GPS included)
  • Phone (GPS and weather forecast app available)
  • Maps for offline usage
  • Contact with local rangers
  • Several copies of your itinerary
  • Backpacking permits

First Aid Kit

Your backpacking gear checklist must include first aid and emergency kits. Even the smallest of items in these categories can help you deal with dangerous situations, heal wounds, and survive in the wild. Put in the time to learn the various ways to use the items in the kit that can assist you on your journey.

  • Medicinal alcohol or iodine
  • Band-aids
  • Gauze pads and medical tape
  • Safety pins
  • Tweezers
  • Antibiotics
  • Antidiarrheals
  • Antihistamines

Emergency Kit

  • Duct Tape
  • Whistle
  • Firemaking tools (stormproof matches)
  • Water treatment pills (chlorine dioxide)
  • Personal locator beacon

Food

  • Meals and snacks depending on preference (around 2500-3500 calories a day)
  • Waterproof food bag
  • Supplies for cooking
  • Wine or any liquor in plastic bottles or flask
  • Extra day’s supply of food for emergencies

Water

  • Several liters of water in water bottles (amount depends on the duration of the journey, climate, and personal needs)
  • Collapsible water containers
  • Water filter

Personal items/toiletries

  • Insect repellent spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm with SPF
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Toilet paper and wipes (in a waterproof bag)
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Feminine menstrual products
  • Small comb and hair ties
  • Medications and vitamins

Entertainment

  • Bluetooth speaker
  • Book or Kindle
  • Playing cards and dice

Backpacking Meals

A beginner backpacker will certainly have a lot of questions about what food to pack, the food choices available, and how one can eat and cook in outdoor conditions. Backpacking meals should be well-considered, taking into account several aspects.

Firstly, the food should be packable, long-lasting in changing temperatures, nutritious, calorie-dense, and tasty. As it is in any circumstances, the food brought on a backpacking journey is chosen by preference among suitable food for backpacking.

The type and amount of food you’ll take is predetermined by the length of your trip. A shorter backpacking trip may allow for several more lavish meals, however, a longer trip calls for more planning and smarter choices.

Keeping your backpack weight to a minimum is very important, but a good balance of meals is even more crucial. Backpacking is an endurance sport, thus the body requires plenty of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to support body recovery.

To make sure you have the right foods, you can choose from store-bought dehydrated meals and freeze-dried meals that are convenient and lightweight. Another option is to prepare your food at home and use a food dehydrator to store them conveniently.

Ultimately, you can choose to combine both methods to ensure you have chosen the best backpacking meals you can enjoy on your journey.

Store-Bought Meal Choices Suitable for Backpacking

If it’s your first time backpacking, you are probably planning a shorter route. In any case, you should aim for your meals to be lightweight. If you opt for store-bought food and do not plan to cook or prepare meals at home, here is a list of backpacking food ideas that are convenient to carry and nutritious.

  • Instant oatmeal or cereal - portion packed
  • Powdered milk
  • Coffee & tea in single-serving packets
  • Protein powder
  • Trail mix
  • Dried fruit and vegetables
  • Instant rice, couscous, noodles, pasta
  • Hummus
  • Sliced meats
  • Sliced cheese
  • Almond or peanut butter in foil packets
  • Tuna or chicken in foil packets
  • Dried tortellini
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Instant soup
  • Instant mashed potatoes
  • Tortillas
  • Crackers
  • Meal bars

Cooking and Dehydrating Meals

If you enjoy cooking and want to be sure that you’ve chosen the best backpacking food that is healthy and nutrient-dense, you can prepare all of your backpacking food at home. A food dehydrator will help you reduce weight and pack in bulk while still allowing you to enjoy a nice home-cooked meal.

You can choose to dehydrate the ingredients separately and assemble them while on the road. Or, you can buy and dehydrate your preferred fruit, and cook your vegetables and meat, then dehydrate them. Pack everything in separate ziplock bags to save space.

Some of the best backpacking meal ideas can be prepared at home, dehydrated, and eaten as a hot meal later. Prepare your favorite spaghetti sauce, stew recipe, or combine dehydrated ingredients and pack it along with your lightweight cooking stove.

You can rehydrate your food with a sufficient amount of water over heat, using your backpacking stove to enjoy a hot and tasty meal in the wild.

Additional Tips:

  1. Repack the store-bought food in ziplock bags to reduce bulkiness and for safe resealing.
  2. Avoid canned foods. Canned food is heavy and consumes a lot of space. It is additionally not nutritious or calorie-dense and it ends up producing bulky trash.
  3. Bring spices and condiments to enhance your meals - you might want to increase the quality and taste of your meals by adding various flavors. Small packets of salt, pepper, olive oil, and sauces can help do just that.

Backpacking Safety

Safe backpacking relies on having excellent backpacking gear, but the key to safe outdoor trips is sufficient preparation and experience. A first-time backpacker should choose a more experienced backpacking partner and pick an easy, well-mapped route. Because backpacking safety is the most crucial part of the entire adventure.

Similar to any outdoor adventures, backpacking poses risks. While you may have an impeccable plan, there are a lot of things that are not in your control, and any day can be unpredictable.

Being extra cautious, informed, and prepared by being equipped with the right gear, will help you have a safe outdoor experience, even when things go unexpectedly. Following sound advice and safety tips when backpacking is of utmost importance for all adventurers, especially for beginners. 

Have a checklist

Even the most experienced backpackers compose a checklist when preparing for their trek. With all the items you should be taking, chances are you might forget something that is essential for safety and survival. To avoid that, make a thorough checklist and include a meal plan and the amount of food you need/will take. Make sure to include extra food for emergencies.

Many are on the same quest to pack a light backpack, and there are endless ideas on the internet. If you want to follow the footsteps of backpackers that know how to pack ultralight, it might be a good idea to make a list of hacks you find to inspire your next trip. 

Always do your homework

Regardless of how experienced or trusted your backpacking partner(s) are, you need to be aware of the terrain and trail you are about to encounter. You should take a good look at the trail map and go over the planned route. This includes having a good idea of what the weather and temperature will be like. Having all that in mind, make sure you have the proper clothing.

Something to keep in mind is that you want to stay healthy and in optimum condition, therefore, avoid getting too cold or too hot. Familiarizing yourself with the wildlife will help you take a cautious approach while in the wilderness. Make sure to keep your distance and make no noise, especially in areas where bears can be encountered.

A good homework is crucial for backpacking safety and your life.

Have a plan and stick to it

Having a strictly planned itinerary is important for the success and safety of your backpacking trip. This will help you plan your meals and water supply accurately, which is extremely important. While you don’t want to pack extra food you won’t eat, you want to make sure to take more than enough for a day if it is your first time backpacking. You’ll burn a lot of calories so a detailed food plan is essential to keep you energized.

Additionally, you should share your route plan with someone you trust that is not going with you. If anything goes wrong, they will be able to reach you and help you whilst knowing your route plan.

Stay hydrated is the thumb rule for backpacking safety.

Dehydration can lead to serious physical illness resulting in disorientation and exhaustion. Make sure to pack enough water for the trip. If you are going on a long journey, you might end up using river or spring water so it’s advisable to take a water purifier with you.

Pack all types of navigation available

Today, many backpackers rely on GPS apps or smartwatches with GPS included. GPS is an amazing navigation tool, however, having a compass and solid map skills is a must. With technology, anything could go wrong. Phones and automated navigation tools can be broken, lost, lose battery power, or malfunction at high altitudes. You should learn to read a topographic map and carry a physical map of the area including your route and a compass.

Following all safety tips for backpacking can help you have a smooth journey and avoid problems or injuries. You should always be prepared for the worst. A first aid and emergency kit with all the essential medication and tools may save a life. It’s always good to come back with exciting stories to tell, but without physical or psychological wounds that need to be healed.

Most Common Beginner Mistakes in Backpacking Safety

Whether you’ve left behind important gear, or you’re frustrated as you’re unfamiliar with how to use some of the items you brought along, remember that we were all beginners once and no beginner is experienced enough to avoid mistakes.

Not all beginners make the same mistakes but there are certainly ones that are common among newbies. If you are reading this before heading off on your first journey, well, it might not make a difference as all backpackers are stubborn enough to ignore valuable advice without experiencing troubles themselves. Here are several situations where the wisdom truly sinks in.

#1 Wearing Brand New Hiking Boots/Shoes

Preparing for a first trip is very exciting indeed, and most backpackers can’t wait to finally wear their newly-bought shoes for the first time on the day of, a mistake as old as time. New shoes or hiking boots, in most cases, will feel too tight or too rigid and cause blisters.

Feeling uncomfortable at the beginning of your journey is just part of the disaster. The worst part comes after ignoring the problem while the pain becomes more intolerable. Soon enough you’ll be in pain from the damage caused by ignoring the pain that becomes worse over time once the blisters become deep wounds that bleed!

Therefore, you should always wear older shoes that you are sure are comfortable enough and keep your feet ventilated, or hiking boots that are well broken in to enjoy pain-free trekking. If you do feel pain regardless of the condition of your shoes, address the problem immediately by covering areas prone to blisters with an adhesive bandage or moleskin. It’s also advisable to wear non-cotton socks that wick away moisture and change them regularly.

#2 Packing a Lot of Unnecessary Stuff

You know that one activewear shirt in the back of the closet you’ve never worn? That is certainly not one you’ll want to pack for your first backpacking trip. That shirt and a lot of other items that you might, but probably won’t need, will be unnecessary to have in your backpack.

Although it’s recommended to have enough tools, gear, and accessories when it comes to backpacking safety. But, as as a beginner you are likely to pack too much stuff. You could compare it to being excited for a trip where you want to have options and end up packing eight different shades of denim - probably not a good idea.

It’s great to get advice from an experienced backpacker on what to leave behind and weigh your backpack before heading off. Start by avoiding camping extras, like chairs, excess cooking equipment, or too many clothes, you’ll stink anyway!

Another aspect of packing that you’ll want to keep in mind is not making the mistake of packing chaotically. You need to know where to put things in your backpack and in what order, to avoid having trouble finding what you need. Imagine being on the trail and suddenly needing your compass or map but they are somewhere in the depths between your fuel and sleeping bag.

To avoid taking everything out and putting things back at the most inconvenient time and location, it’s best to organize everything at home. Pack everything following an order you think is convenient and make use of pockets and compartments to improve your packing.

#3 Not Familiarizing Yourself With Your Gear

While trying to figure out the perfect packing order and structure, make sure to also familiarize yourself with your gear. Pitch your tent at home. Simulate a time where you’ll have to reach into your backpack for something. You do not want to encounter obstacles and have to figure out how to do something on the fly, especially when sunset approaches where you’ll need to be fast and deft.

Testing your gear, especially your cooking equipment, to see that they function properly is crucial. You’ll certainly want to avoid bringing a faulty cooking stove that might even be dangerous in some circumstances. Needless to say, check the batteries on your headlamp, power bank, make sure you know how to read your maps, etc…

#4 Not Planning Your Trip Thoroughly

The worst things that can happen to backpackers that head out without a solid plan are getting lost or getting caught up in the dark, or worse, both. To avoid these situations, it’s best to familiarize yourself with your route and find information on how other people have navigated the area and where they take breaks or set up camp for the night. Use that as a guideline to make sure you plan the distance you cover daily and have sufficient time for breaks and setting up your tent.

Additionally, people often make the mistake of aiming for too far a distance. It’s important to have a realistic goal according to your abilities. Taking the distance and elevation gain into consideration, make a realistic plan, and use your better judgment to make sure you stay safe.

Another problem that comes with a lack of planning is getting lost. If you are trying to avoid crowds on a certain trail and choose to go off the beaten track, you may easily get lost and disoriented. If you take such a risk, you need to be proficient at navigation and have a solid plan.

#5 Ignoring the Weather Prognosis goes against the safety tips when backpacking.

Ignoring or completely forgetting to check the weather report for changes and information on the weather throughout their journey, is a huge mistake, as in the wild and especially in higher altitudes, the weather changes drastically. Many beginners plan and pack for their trip only taking into consideration the immediate weather where they are based.

Bringing the proper clothing and most importantly, wearing layers of clothing, is a must to keep yourself protected in both lower and higher temperatures. Wherever you plan to go backpacking, keep in mind that temperatures drop at night, so do not forget to take warm clothes.

Also, checking the forecast for rain will allow you to prepare and bring clothes that have the needed insulation and protection for harsh conditions.

#6 Forgetting Something Important

The best thing about forgetting an essential item you can’t go without is that it will likely never happen to you again, especially if that thing is toilet paper. Jokes aside, forgetting crucial items happens to all beginners and even experienced backpackers.

This is why it’s advisable to create a backpacking checklist and check you have everything more than once. Experienced backpackers are often resilient and can find solutions quickly, so as a beginner, don’t be shy - ask someone from your group for whatever it is you need.

#7 A Lack of Navigation Skills is not good for backpacking safety

Another mistake that you would probably learn your lesson quickly from, is dodging the need for navigation skills after you’ve found yourself in a life-threatening situation. A beginner backpacker that hasn’t experienced the sheer size of the mountains or a trail on which every turn looks similar and confusing, might not realize the importance of navigation skills.

Before heading off into the wild, even on a marked and easy trail, you must get familiar with how to use a compass and read maps. Getting lost in nature is no joke and shouldn’t be taken as such. Do you know how to signal for help if you get lost or split from the group?

Every backpacker, especially a beginner, should know basic navigation skills. If you don't, you really shouldn't be out in the back country, even if you are backpacking with a large group. 

#8 Feeding Wild Animals

Feeding wild animals should not be done to ensure full backpacking safety. Giving food to animals on your way is a bad decision.

Primarily, feeding them with food that is not appropriate for them may cause them harm and even have fatal consequences. When offering food to animals, they end up associating people with feeding and perceive people as easy access to food. In this case, you put other backpackers and yourself into a risky position of being attacked by animals.

It’s unethical and dangerous to feed wild animals. If you are backpacking through a national park, make sure to familiarize yourself with the rules regarding the protection of all flora and fauna within.

The Beginner's Guide to Backpacking - Wrap up 

In this guide, we talked about essential backpacking gear, kits, items, and the physical capabilities one needs in order to be prepared not only to survive but to enjoy a trip in the wild.

Enjoyable backpacking in any circumstances and conditions mostly relies on experience. It is important to be well-informed and well-equipped, but going into the wild and actually spending a night under the stars is a great lesson that will eventually prepare you for bigger challenges, together with your mistakes, of course. 

As with almost anything in life, you should go backpacking with a good company of people and friends you enjoy being with and whom you trust. Most importantly, you should be mentally and physically prepared for what you are about to encounter and experience.

Be aware that the circumstances will vary and you should be adaptable and resilient. Additionally, when backpacking in a group, be prepared to help and support each member and remember that you are a team player - you can’t put yourself or your needs in front of what is better for the group.

Another precursor that will prepare you physically and mentally, is familiarizing yourself with your gear and how to use the items from your backpacking kit.

Pitch your tent at home, make sure the stove and the fuel you are about to use are functioning properly, learn first-aid practices, and build up your navigation skills. It’s a good idea to start packing early enough to have enough time to go through your checklist more than once and weigh your backpack to make sure you can handle its weight.

Be kind to nature

lightweight backpacking

The more we travel through wild areas and penetrate deeper into untouched areas of nature, the more impact we make on the living organisms there. If we want to immerse ourselves in nature and enjoy the hidden gems of the wild, we need to make sure we minimize our impact on these precious and pristine areas.

It’s important to be a mindful backpacker that packs and carries all your trash back home. Do not use harmful chemicals, and even when using biodegradable soap, make sure it’s away from water springs. Follow the fire regulations and do not feed any animals.

Always inform yourself of the rules you need to follow in a particular area. Remember, you will return to what you’ve left. #LeaveNoTrace

Learn as you go

It’s important to keep in mind that no matter how hard you try to prepare and inform yourself, chances are you’ll be learning as you go along your journey.

Making mistakes is worth it if you are open to learning from your blunders and gain the proper backpacking experience. Have fun, explore, make mistakes to laugh or cry over, but stick to good practices.

Remember, backpacking is all about the journey, the destination, and the company!