Beginner Backpacking Tips: 19 Things to Know Before you Hit the Trail 0 190

You’ve been staring at the clock in the lower right corner of your computer screen, haven’t you? Backpacking

Impatiently counting down the seconds until you get to bounce out from work for the weekend. That backpacking trip you planned is gonna be SO great!

You’re friggen’ pumped to get out there and experience an adventure with nothing but your pack. But let’s face it, your nerves are starting to settle in.

It’s TOTALLY normal to feel that nervous, jittery excitement you’re feeling right now. And while I agree you should lean in to your feelings, it’s also important to prepare yourself for what’s to come.

So, today I want to share my favorite backpacking tips and all the things I wish I knew before my first overnight adventure into the wilderness. Let’s put your mind, soul, and body at ease so you can enjoy the anticipation and execution of your first (or next) backpacking trip!

Use These Backpacking Tips to Escape Your Mundane

Backpacking can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing or what to bring with you (and nobody wants that).

And because you’re carrying everything with you as you go, being prepared and packing light are key to staying comfortable and safe out in the middle of nowhere.

So… You want to be ready for anything but you don’t want to be that soccer mom who ALWAYS has everything in her purse.

It’s a tricky science to master which is why I created this list of beginner backpacking tips I wish I knew before wandering into the mountains for the first time.

These would have saved me a TON of hassle, pain, heartache, and embarrassment too!

So, let’s get started.

1. Pitch your tent at home Backpacking

Beginner Backpacking Tips

This is one of my favorite backpacking tips that often gets overlooked.

Setting up camp after a long hike is not the time to realize you don’t know how to pitch your tent. Practice pitching your tent at home and make sure you know how to set it up by yourself.

Double check that all the pieces are there and you know exactly what to do without having to read the instructions. It may sound silly but it’s important to make sure you have everything and know what to do.

The last thing you want to do is struggle with frustration and exhaustion on the trail. So, make sure you can set up your tent quickly on your own and that it feels like second nature.

Pro Backpacking Tips – A Funny, Tent-Disaster Story

The first time I went camping by myself, I borrowed a tent from one of my friends.

It was windy AS HECK (because it’s Kansas and warm, calm days don’t seem to exist when you want them to).

Within about five seconds, I realized I didn’t have any tent stakes plus the tent was stupidly difficult to set up on my own (especially with the wind trying to carry it away).

I’m sure it was a great fun to watch for my camping neighbors. But, I could have avoided the whole situation if I took ten minutes to set up the tent at home before I left. Lesson learned!

2. Practice packing and unpacking your pack

Beginner Backpacking Tips

This, like many other backpacking tips on this list, is often ignored by beginners and avid hikers alike. But when you think about it – you’re going to be at your physical limit (or close to it) all the time.

And you’re going to be packing and unpacking your pack several times throughout any given day on the trail. So, knowing how to do it quickly will make your muscles happy and help things run smoothly.

Make sure you organize your pack and have easily accessible items closest to the top or in a separate pocket so you can grab them when you need them without having to unpack everything.

3. Pack as light as possible Backpacking

Beginner Backpacking Tips

Backpacking is different than hiking because you have to carry your pack and all your gear with you. Obviously you want to pack as light as possible. This is why high-quality, lightweight backpacking gear become a requirement for long trips.

However, there are some things you absolutely should not leave at home – you may have heard of them before, but just in case you haven’t, they’re known as the 10 hiking essentials.

No list of backpacking tips would be complete without mentioning them. 

Packing these hiking essentials could be the difference between a fun and adventurous 6-day backpacking trip and a painful, uncomfortable, and possibly dangerous backpacking trip.

You won’t need every single item recommended on the list. Each essential item is approached as a system and your preferred system depends on the length of your trip, the weight of your pack, the weather, and where you’re going.

Simply put, you need a system in place for each of the 10 essentials that’s appropriate for your specific trip. To help you out,

1. Shelter – a place to sleep and escape the elements

  • Bessport 2 Person Backpacking Tent (5 lbs)
  • Teton Sports Mountain Ultra Backpacking Tent (3.8 lbs)

2. Nutrition – fuel to keep your body going all day

  • Peak Refuel Dehydrated Meals
  • Backpacker’s Pantry Freeze Dried Meals
  • Clif Bars
  • Jerky, nuts, granola, or dried fruit

3. Hydration – that good ol’ H2O

  • Platypus 2L Collapsible Water Bottle (1.3 oz empty)
  • Homitt 3L Hydration Bladder (8oz empty)

4. Sun protection – as humans, our skin is sensitive to the sun

  • Sun screen
  • A hat
  • Long sleeves
  • Pants
  • Sunglasses

5. First aid – because what can go wrong… will go wrong

  • Budget lightweight first aid kit (1 lb)
  • Survival first aid kit (3.4 lbs)
  • Bug spray & appropriate foot care

6. Navigation – this one’s pretty self explanatory

  • Water proof map, guidebooks, etc.
  • Compass
  • GPS device
  • Extra batteries

7. Light – you’ll need something to help you navigate at night

  • Black Diamond Revolt Headlamp
  • Internova 1000 LED Lantern (1.5 lbs)
  • Extra batteries

8. Clothing – smart layering is important for staying safe and comfy

  • Base Layer – close to your skin for wicking moisture
  • Mid Layer – to keep you warm in cooler weather
  • Shell Layer – to keep you protected from wind and rain

9. Making repairs – you never know when you’ll need to fix your gear

  • Duct tape
  • A knife or multi-tool
  • Extra cord or rope
  • Repair kit with replacement parts

10. Fire – to cook and provide heat/light

  • Lighters and/or matches
  • Firestarters

4. Plan simple meals

Beginner Backpacking Tips

Before you start planning your first backpacking trip, it is tempting to think about all the delicious and intricate meals you’re going to enjoy on the trail. However, the more complex your meals, the more cookware you’ll have to carry with you.

This is definitely one of the backpacking tips I wish I knew before my first trip. I had it in my mind it would be like car camping, but I was SO wrong. Carrying heavy cooking tools was a silly (and heavy) mistake.

Have you ever carried a cast iron skillet for 10+ miles? Probably not. Those suckers are HEAVY. So is most of your standard cookware. So, packing light and simple meals will help you pack light.

No matter what dietary restrictions (if any) you have, planning simple nutrient rich meals is a lot easier than it sounds. Here are some of my top recommendations.

Pro Backpacking tips: Easy backpacking meals

Peak Refuel Breakfast Skillet: This delicious dehydrated protein packed meal requires one cup of boiling water and about 15 minutes to cook. Simply boil a cup of water (I prefer using a Jetboil MicroMo), pour the water into the pouch, wait 15 minutes and it’s ready to go! Honestly, it doesn’t get much easier than that.

There are a ton of different meals available all requiring 10.5 oz of water or less and generally take less than 15 minutes to prepare. Additionally, they use 100% real meat in all of their meals and they are made in the U.S.A.

Builder’s Protein Clif Bars: These power bars are high in calories (270 to be exact) and contain 20g of protein. They work great as snacks or for breakfast. Note: If it’s hot outside, they will melt but they still taste just as good if not better that way.


Good-To-Go Thai Curry: This delicious dehydrated meal contains 10g of protein making it an excellent choice for dinner. Simply add boiling water, wait 20 minutes, and this meal is ready to be devoured after a long day on the trail.

Good-To-Go meals are all gluten-free, meat-free, and low in sodium. They have 10+ meals to choose from, although Thai Curry is by far my favorite.

Backpacker’s Pantry Risotto with Chicken: With 23g of protein, this freeze dried (and gluten free) meal is a perfect quick and easy go-to backpacking meal. Add 2 cups of boiling water to the pouch, let it sit for 20 minutes, and enjoy!

As you can tell, I’m all about low mess, easy-to-cook backpacking meals. Plus, between my three favorite dehydrated meal brands, you can have just about any meal you’re craving. They’re incredibly lightweight, require next to nothing to cook up, and are packed with essential nutrients to keep you fueled all day.

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