Backpacking 101: The 3 P’s You Need to Know
So, you’ve decide to develop a backpacking hobby. You do a simple Google search and find pages upon pages of content about gear, destinations and tips. You find blogs and websites advising you on everything from how to avoid a bear attack to how to properly defecate in the wild. It can be exhausting to filter through. That’s why we created this simple backpacking 101 beginner’s guide. We break down the backpacking basics into three main stages: Plan, Pick and Prepare.
The 3 P’s of Backpacking 101
Plan your backpacking trip
The first item on the agenda is planning your trip. Before you can begin buying gear or making preparations, you’ll need to figure out where you’re going and how long you’ll be there.
Choose when to go and for how long: Are you looking for something to do over the weekend or a week over spring break? Do you need to get time off from work? Deciding on a time and duration for your trip will make it easier to decide where to go.
Choose your destination: Where do you want to go? If you’re a backpacking beginner, you’ll probably want to go somewhere close to home your first time. But once you get the backpacking thing down, the sky’s the limit! Branch out to week long trips in neighboring states, or even other countries if you’re feeling especially adventurous! Do whatever fits in your life and your budget. But get creative and step outside your comfort zone too.
Choose your trail: Now that you know where you’re going, it’s time to pick a trail. The trail’s distance and difficulty level will depend on time. Be realistic about how quickly you can finish a trail. Give yourself plenty of time, especially if you’re a newbie.
Pick your backpacking gear
Gear! Every outdoor enthusiast loves gear. It’s just a fact. But before you go out and spend your savings at REI, it might be a good idea to go on a trip first. You might decide you’re not that interested or that you won’t be able to get away often enough to justify buying everything yourself. Either way, here are some things to consider before picking out gear.
Renting: A cost effective alternative to buying all new backpacking gear is renting. If you’re a college student, your school may rent you outdoor equipment at a minimal cost. If your school doesn’t offer rental services – or if you aren’t a student – check your nearest sporting goods store. Also, if you’re planning on trekking somewhere that’s a common backpacking destination (national parks for instance), it’s likely there will be gear rental shops nearby. Find and reserve your gear beforehand! Another alternative to renting or buying is borrowing from a family member or friend who already has the equipment. Obviously, this is the most cost-effective route.
Start out small: If you’ve decided backpacking is for you and want to start buying gear, consider starting small. Begin buying just what you need and gradually expand your collection as you go. You might also consider buying what you can afford and renting the rest. This will also give you the opportunity to try out different brands and styles to decide what you like and what you do not before making a commitment. We made this backpacking checklist with the essentials you will need to get started.
Buy nice or buy twice: This mantra is especially true of backpacking gear. There is a significant difference in cost between high-end and low-end gear, but it’s comparable to the difference in quality. Buy backpacking gear that’s made to last. You don’t want your equipment to fail on you while you’re in the middle of nowhere. Trust me, it’s not fun. Make sure to buy gear that’s dependable, comfortable and will make you want to get outside!
Prepare for your backpacking trip
Make meals: Depending on your budget, you may need to make your own meals. Store bought freeze-dried meals are lightweight and convenient, but can get pricey. A great alternative is making your own. If you have a food dehydrator, your meal prepping just got easier. But if not, don’t worry, there are plenty of recipes on the internet that don’t require one. Here’s a post we wrote with four breakfast backpacking recipes you’ll love! While it may be tempting to take the easy way out and bring granola bars for every meal, you’ll likely find yourself craving a hot meal on the trail. Some hikers have no problem planning delicious, gourmet (and lightweight) meals for the trail, but some of us just want to add water, eat and then lie in our hammocks until we fall asleep.
Get fit: Backpacking is no cake walk no matter which trail you choose, although some are more vigorous than others. Consider your current fitness level and, if necessary, start implementing a fitness regimen. Obviously, the most applicable fitness program involves a lot of hiking. But other cardio or muscle training can certainly help your endurance and improve your overall trip quality. Carrying a heavy backpack over rough terrain for 20 miles can put a lot of strain on your back and hips (or shoulders if your backpack doesn’t fit perfectly). It can’t hurt to start strengthening these parts of your body, as well as the obvious legs and heart.
Learn necessary skills: With all the equipment options available in your local sporting goods store, you don’t have to be a Boy Scout to trek in the backcountry. But it does help to know some survival skills, just in case. You can buy fire starter and some matches to make a fire to cook your food on, but if something unexpected were to happen and you ran out of fire starter, would you be able to start a fire? If the answer is no, you might want to consider learning. Additionally, it’s a good idea to keep a small survival kit in your pack with things like a flint and steel, a compass, a whistle, and other basic survival equipment. Hopefully you won’t have to use this kit, but you never know what problems you’ll run into in the backcountry.
Hopefully this guide gives you a basic idea of backpacking 101 and will make Planning, Picking, and Preparing for you trip a little bit less intimidating! For more backpacking tips and tricks, visit our backpacking guide page.
Do you have more tips for backpacking beginners? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below!