Backpacking For Beginners: How to Get Started on Your First Overnight Backpacking Trip

Backpacking Tips

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If you enjoy the outdoors, backpacking is certainly something you might enjoy. Backpacking or multi-day hiking is the perfect opportunity to enjoy the full scope of the outdoors without being encumbered by technology or expectations.

Backpacking or multi day hiking is not the same as Day Hiking, though it does require a lot of preparation much like hiking does!

I’ve been on hundreds of backpacking trips on every continent except Antarctica. I’ve learned the hard way and have many mistakes and even had to be rescued when the mountain weather made progress impossible. So learn from someone who has been there and done that. I’ve hiked well over 10,000 miles and spent thousands of nights sleeping in a tent.

If you’ve never been on a backpacking trip before, you may not be aware of how you can best be prepared for the trek of a lifetime. Let’s get ready for your first backpacking trip.

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Common Beginner Backpacker Mistakes

It’s only natural – when you first start out with backpacking, you may be prone to making a bunch of silly mistakes that you may later regret. It makes sense if you’ve never been backpacking before.

You will want to do what you can to avoid making these mistakes. With that in mind, here are some of the common mistakes that beginner backpackers tend to make when they first start out.

Too Much Stuff or Poorly Suited Gear

You may think of backpacking and assume that you need to pack a lot of stuff but this isn’t the case. In fact, packing too much is likely to be to your detriment.

You may think that you will have a need for a heavy tent that can house 4 people when there are only two of you going, but this isn’t always the case. Carrying too much weight is likely to just make you feel uncomfortable as you walk.

In most cases backpackers will try to ensure that their whole pack weight is less than 12 lbs / 5 kg in total. This is not always easy and requires minimalist thinking. For that reason, it’s an especially bad idea to carry just one item that weighs that alone.

When you are backpacking, you are going to be traveling long distances with weight on your back. If you carry too much weight then it can easily take all of the joy out of your trip because you are struggling to carry it all.

Make sure that the gear that you bring with you is designed for backpacking use and don’t pack more than you actually need.

Best Ultralight Backpacks

Not Using Trekking Poles

Lightweight Trekking Poles are a must when you are backpacking. Many newcomers to the hiking and backpacking world may not realize just how useful these things are and will embark on their journey without having them along with them.

Trekking poles are something that you really need to bring with you when you are doing any kind of long distance walking over rough terrain, however.

Trekking poles come with a number of different benefits. Perhaps the biggest benefit of all is that they help to reduce the amount of strain on your knees, making the whole experience much more enjoyable since you aren’t going to be in pain the whole time.

You will be much more efficient when you are walking, and the trekking poles can also help you to feel much more stable as you are walking too. This is important when you are also trying to manage a heavy backpack as you are walking.

Of course, it’s not the end of the world if you do choose not to bring trekking poles, but when you try them out you can never go back to how it was before. They’re just too important for backpacking comfort for you to fail to bring them on future excursions.

Trekking Poles

Forgetting To Consider Elevation

Before you go on your backpacking trip, you are likely to want to have some idea of how long it will take. As such you may try to calculate the distance of the route that you are going to be taking in order to work out how much time it will take.

You may come up with a rough estimate based on the length alone. Here’s the problem – you forgot to think about the elevation of the route in the process.

You may think that it will take the same amount of time regardless of the elevation, but this is most certainly not the case. If you are going to be backpacking on steep terrain, then it will be a lot harder for you to walk up it.

As such, it will take you longer to complete the journey because it requires more physical effort. 45 minutes on steep terrain is not the same as 45 minutes on level terrain.

The best thing to do is to double check the elevation profile on the map before you embark on your journey. It will help you to fully understand what you’re up against, too.

HIking the Continental Divide Trail Montana with warm hiking pants

Beginners Guide To Backpacking: Planning Your Backpacking Trip

Now you know what to avoid, what should you do next? One of the most important things to do before you embark on your backpacking trip is to plan it. This will help you to make your trip even more enjoyable! Here is how you do it.

Identify Your Objectives

The first thing you need to do is work out what your goals are before you go backpacking. For instance, would you prefer to visit some trendy National Parks? Perhaps you want to challenge yourself with a difficult hiking trail?

Whatever the case, setting a goal will help you to stay motivated when you are on your backpacking trip. It will also help you to figure out where in specific you would like to go.

In the process, it’s a good idea to think rationally about your level of fitness and how much experience you have with backpacking, as that’s going to dictate what you can and can’t do.

In addition to this, if you are going on your very first backpacking trip then it’s a good idea to start off small. If you start off with something too challenging it may cause you some issues when you are actually on your trip. Only do what you feel capable of doing until you get a little bit more experience.

Do Your Research

It’s also really important to make sure that you do a little bit of research before you leave for your trip. It’s best not to just choose a trail at random when you are first getting started with backpacking as you may not be adequately prepared for what lies ahead.

It’s really not difficult to research either – just hop on the internet and look into the hike further to see what you are up against.

For instance, are you going to need to have things like backcountry permits? Are there any campsites on the way that you can go to for a pitstop for the night to relax?

Consider things like the altitude and weather conditions to help you to determine what kind of thing you are going to need to wear, and if there are any hazards out there that you need to be aware of before you embark on your trip.

By making yourself familiar with all of these things, you can minimize the risks on your trip and enhance the chances of a fantastic time!

Suggestions For Coordinating With A Friend

You have a few options when it comes to backpacking. For starters, you can go backpacking alone, though this may be a better idea when you have gained a little bit of experience and you know how to keep yourself safe out there on your own.

You could also join a local backpacking group and go with the group on your trips. By far the most popular thing to do though is to go backpacking with a friend.

Bringing a friend with you on your backpacking trip can make a lot of difference, especially if the friend in question is experienced in backpacking. If they know what they are doing, you can learn a lot from them about the right backpacking skills and how to keep yourself safe.

You can ask them questions as you go and observe their behaviors in lots of different situations that you may encounter.

If you are planning on going backpacking with a friend, then it’s definitely worthwhile to coordinate together before you go. It may even help you to lighten the load that you are carrying.

For instance, consider whether one of you is bringing food. Perhaps the other person can bring the cooking appliances or the tent instead. Work out who’s going to be in charge of what.

Likewise, it’s a good idea to make sure that you plan the trip for a time when you are both free. Don’t just assume that the other person will be available as they may not be. You should both be completely clear about what’s going to be happening and when.

Finally, don’t bring the wrong people with you. You don’t want a person with a negative attitude to bring you down, after all.

You need to bring someone that’s also going to enjoy the experience and stay optimistic with you. It doesn’t matter if they’re experienced or not, having the right attitude is vital.

Choose an Easy Backpacking Destination

You may be tempted to try the really difficult trails right off the bat, but it’s best not to do that. It’s always better to do the easier backpacking trails when starting off on your first backpacking trip.

You’ll have a much more enjoyable time if you do this. You can always tackle the difficult routes when you have more experience!

You may be wondering where you can go, however. Well, it’s a good idea to consult in the right places. For instance, speak to backpackers with experience.

Ask online on forums and social media to see what other people recommend. You may also wish to choose a trail closer to home so you aren’t going to be driving for the vast majority of the day.

When you are looking for your hiking trail, you should be looking for a route that has around a few hundred feet worth of elevation so it’s not too challenging for you.

Choose somewhere that has water near to the camp such as a location where there is a large river or lake nearby.

I know that you may be tempted to bring your dog with you, but it may be best to wait until you are a little more experienced before you do this.

The backpacking experience can be a little more complex with children or pets in tow, so get the lay of the land before bringing dependents with you, furry or otherwise!

Get Essential Backpacking Gear and Clothing

When you’re backpacking, having the right gear and clothing on hand is pretty essential. Make sure that you are only bringing the absolute essentials, or else you can end up feeling weighed down by having too much gear.

You can often rent some of the bigger items when you get to your campsite, such as your tent, sleeping bag and other larger items. That leaves you with more room for things like your hiking clothing.

There are a number of items that are important to bring with you – I’ll dive into this a little later. This will give you an idea of what things you need to prepare. 

Plan Your Backpacking Food

It’s always a good idea to plan what food you are going to bring in advance. Consider your cooking options and base your decisions on that. You will want items that don’t weigh too much that give you plenty of energy when you are backpacking.

Ultimately, it’s a good idea to make sure that you have a few lunches, dinners and breakfasts planned, depending on the length of your trip. If you have shopping facilities nearby then you can often get extra food from there if you need to. I will have more information on this later in the article!

CDT Food

Getting Ready for Your Backpacking Trip

Preparing for your trip isn’t just about choosing your destination and packing your backpack. There are other things that you need to consider too. Before you go on your trip, it’s a good idea to ensure that you are in the right mindset for it and the right physical condition.

It’s especially important to get ready physically for the trip ahead. Make sure that you are exercising fairly regularly – even a walk a day is better than nothing to get you ready for it.

If you can choose daily routes with a little bit of elevation then this will also be handy. You should try to ensure that you can carry the load too, so go for your walks while carrying some additional weight with you.

Likewise, do some things to get yourself ready mentally too. Make sure that you know how to pitch the tent before you go in order to save yourself a lot of frustration down the line. Know how to work your stove and other gear, and make sure that you know some basic first aid, just in case.

Make sure that you are packing your bag well in advance of the trip, don’t rush to do it the night before. It’s also a good idea to make your family and friends back home aware of your trip plans too just in case you need help. It’s always better to consider your safety before you go on your trip.

Essential Backpacking Gear

Here are just a few things that you need to think about when you are packing your bag for your backpacking journey!

Buy the Gear Before Packing

It’s a good idea to buy your backpacking gear before you actually start packing. Work out what items you are going to need to bring with you and figure out how much they weigh. When you have done that you can then buy a backpack that will accommodate all of the gear.

It can be quite tempting to buy the largest backpack size imaginable and to then stuff things into that backpack until it’s full.

In reality though this isn’t the best idea, since you’ll be tempted into packing more items than you actually need which can result in you being weighed down by everything that you are carrying.

Familiarize Yourself With The Big 4 (BackPack, Sleeping bag, sleeping mat and tent)

There are four items that are going to be absolutely essential for every backpacking trip. It doesn’t matter where you are going – you will need to have these items on hand.

Before you go on an overnight backpacking trip, make sure that you have a some lightweight hiking gear such as the following:

  • Lightweight Backpack: I lightweight backpack will be used to carry all your gear so make sure it is durable and big enough to fit everything inside. But don’t go too big or you will just end up filling it up with stuff you don’t need.
  • Lightweight Sleeping Mat: The sleeping pad is the contact between your body and the ground. They will be lightweight, durable and comfortable enough to ensure a comfortable nights sleep.
  • Lightweight Down Sleeping Bag: Sleeping bags will keep you warm, choose wisely and try to keep it light and compact.
  • Lightweight Tent: The tent provides protection from the cold, the wind, and the rain.

These are necessary for your own comfort and safety. They allow you to sleep at night so that you have plenty of energy for the next day.

The problem with these items is that they can take up an awful lot of space in your backpack. This can mean that you are carrying a lot of weight as a result – it’s part of the reason why it’s such a good idea to bring a friend with you so the weight can be distributed between you.

Some sites will allow you to rent some of these items so it’s worth asking about that in advance. If not though, you may want to look for some light, durable options that are designed for the sake of backpacking.

Testing the Zpacks Zip Around Sleeping Bag Quilt and Zpacks Triplex Ultralight Tent

The Essentials For Backpacking

In addition to the big 4 I just mentioned, it’s also a good idea to ensure that you have a few other essentials.

You can break these items into categories. You’ll need something for navigation such as a GPS or a map. You will need a source of light, such as a headlamp.

The next category is protection from the sun, so sunscreen, Hiking Sunglasses, and clothing to protect you from the weather such as an Ultralight Rain Jacket. Make sure that you have some insulating clothing such as an Ultralight Down Jacket too, and first aid supplies in the event of an emergency.

Speaking of emergencies, bring some fire starters with you that you can use in an emergency, such as waterproof matches, dry tinder, or other kindling.

Have a repair kit on hand so you can fix any damage to your clothing or tent and bring enough food and water. You never know when you may need it!

Zpacks Vertice Rain Jacket Review

Practice Makes Perfect

It’s always best to be prepared! For this reason, make sure that you are testing out your gear such as tents and camping stoves before you leave for your trip.

This way you are prepared when the real deal happens and you are far less likely to ruin your trip by stressing out about what you are doing.

Make sure that you wear-in your Hiking Boots or Hiking Shoes with some Hiking Gaiters to prevent rocks, sand and mud from getting into your footwear. Some people including myself also use Trail Running Shoes for backpacking with lightweight hiking socks and Hiking Sandals when at camp.

Best Lightweight Hiking Boots

Clothing for Backpacking

Bringing the right clothing is essential too. When backpacking, look for clothing made out of synthetic materials and natural wool, since they will be appropriate for pretty much all weather conditions. Stay away from cotton items!

Plan your clothing based on the weather that you’re likely to see, and bring some backup in case of a random change in the weather.

Here are some items of backpacking clothing you will need:

Best Hiking Pants

Food for backpacking

Finally, bring the right foods with you. Food for a backpacking trip should contain plenty of calories and take up minimal space in your bag. It should be food that you don’t need to put in a refrigerator too.

It’s worth looking for backpacking meals that are good for suitable for backpacking. Some examples include energy bars and pre-made meals that you can make at home before you leave. Just make sure that you have enough to eat – you need enough energy for your endeavors!

Don’t forget the backpacking stove and cooking pots.

To cook backpacking food you should have the following items:

Titanium stove cooking

Beginner’s Guide To Backpacking: Getting Mentally And Physically Fit

Perhaps one of the most important parts of preparing for any backpacking trip is ensuring that you are mentally and physically prepared for it. How do you prepare in this way, though? Here are some suggestions.

Practice Hiking With Weight

Before you go on the real backpacking trip, it may be a good idea for you to try practicing in your local area with some weight strapped to you. Grab a backpack and put around 20 lbs / 8 kg worth of weight or more in it, and try some local hikes to see how you do.

It’ll help you to work out just how prepared you are, and the practice will likely help you to have an easier time when you’re actually on the trip too.

Strengthen Your Legs

Make sure that you do some work on your legs too. Your legs are going to be going through a lot when you are backpacking, supporting both your weight and the weight of your backpack.

If you prepare your legs in advance by doing some leg exercises then you may find that the trip as a whole is much more enjoyable and less likely to hurt your legs.

Tired while backpacking

Add Elevation Gains Into Training

When you’re training for the backpacking trip, it’s a really good time to add some elevation gains into the equation. It’s very different to walk on flat land than it is to walk on steeper terrain.

Look for routes near you that have a little bit of elevation gain so you’re more prepared when it’s time for the big day. You could try working out on a stair stepper or walking up and down the stairs with your backpack on if you want to!

Mental Flexibility

We all have plans that we want to go smoothly, but sometimes things don’t work out according to plan. You’ll have a much better time if you recognize this and prepare for it in advance. If you have some flexibility then you will feel less dumbfounded if things do end up going wrong.

Backpacking Skills Needed

Finally, it’s time to work on some skills before your backpacking trip! This can be a lot of fun, though it can sometimes be hard to know where to start! As such, here are some of the backpacking skills that you may need before you go.


Sure, you can use your Hiking GPS Device, but you really shouldn’t rely on it. You never know when it’ll run out of battery. Not only that but it can also be a lot of fun to learn how to use a compass and a map. Some people use a GPS Hiking Watch which is also good.

Before you go backpacking, take some time to familiarize yourself with using a hiking compass and a map to navigate. You won’t regret it!

If you do get lost, injured, or have an emergency on the trail, a Personal Locator Beacon could save your life.

Coros Watch Mapping

Food Storage

Knowing how to store your food properly is a good idea too. If you are heading into areas with bears make sure that you know how to hang bear bags in advance or you could get a Bear Canister or Bear Bag in order to ward off animals in the night.

Have some food storage boxes that you can use too, since these are ideal for storing food overnight.

Best Bear Canister

First Aid

Keep yourself safe on the trail by learning a little bit about first aid before you go. For starters, having a first aid kit ready to go in your bag is essential. There are many pre-made versions online that you can buy and just put in your backpack.

Do some research online to work out how you can perform first aid. It could potentially save a life, and there are also classes that you can attend that will teach you what to do. It’ll be one of the best things that you ever do.

The most common issues you will have will be with your feet. Be sure to know how to treat blisters.

Personal Hygiene

Keep yourself fresh, even when you’re backpacking. Bring some soap with you, a toothbrush and toothpaste and be aware of some basic hygiene techniques while you are on your trip.

For instance, invest in a cathole trowel and learn how to get rid of your waste after you use the bathroom. And don’t forget Biodegradable Soap which is safe for use when camping.

Dirty feet with blisters

Get Knotty

Finally, take some time to practice your knots. You may have been taught how to do this in school or in a club as a child, in which case you may already be a few steps ahead!

Knowing how to tie knots is handy for a lot of things, including for setting up your tent, hanging bear bags and more. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with how to do some basic knots before you go backpacking, in any case.


Now you’re all set to go on your backpacking trip! A little bit of preparation can truly go a long way in this respect, so make sure that you pack all of the right gear, that you know how to keep yourself safe and that you do plenty of planning in advance. If you do that then you are sure to have a great time!

Backpacking for Beginners

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About the Author:
Brad is an Australian who has completed the hiking Triple Crown after he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Appalachian Trail. He has hiked on every continent (except Antarctica) and has cycled from Alaska to Ecuador. He is an expert on outdoor gear currently living in Chile.

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