Backpackers Guide

An Extensive Guide to Backpacking And Hiking

When you just can’t get enough of the challenge and fun of hiking, you might like to turn things up a notch and try backpacking. For many hikers, backpacking is a natural progression from their favorite pastime and a great way to see more regions and immerse yourself into the wild.

Backpacking refers to the activity of carrying your gear on your back as you explore outdoor areas on a hike, spanning more than just a day. People choose to backpack if there’s a longer trail they’d like to see or want to incorporate hiking into a regular camping trip.

As you’re bound to be away from home longer than a regular hike, there are many other considerations to keep in mind. Your food and water supplies, clothing, camping equipment, and safety will all require more attention than usual.

Backpacking With Smile

When planned for correctly, backpacking hiking can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Not only does it bring you the health benefits of hiking, but allows you more time to truly experience the wilderness and live amongst Mother Nature.

Benefits of Backpacking

Backpacking enthusiasts will gladly tell you all of the reasons they enjoy this activity, with everything from weight loss to a greater outlook on life possible. Here are just a few benefits to backpacking, and how this fun activity can actually advantage you in other ways.

  • See more of the region: Hiking and backpacking allow you to witness parts of your local area and beyond that are often unseen by others. Backpacking, in particular, allows you to explore further than a single day hike can take you, giving you access to some amazing untouched areas.
Exploring Local Areas
  • Reduces rate of heart disease, obesity, and hypertension: According to the American Hiking Association, regular hiking can reduce your chances of developing heart disease and hypertension, two of the biggest killers in our country. Just an hour of hiking can burn 500 calories alone, so it’s a great workout tool too.
  • Decrease stress, anxiety, and depression: Research has shown that hiking has a positive impact on your mood, and can even be effective in reducing the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Teaches you about wildlife: Being in the wilderness and learning about flora and fauna up close and personal teaches far more than a book or website ever could. Hiking is particularly beneficial for children as it instills the importance of nature conservation in them, as well as knowledge about local wildlife.
Kids Learning In Field

Finding The Best Backpacking Destination

Before you can start ticking off your backpacking checklist, you’ll need to decide on your destination. There will be a few things to consider which determine exactly where you can go, and you should do your research thoroughly before deciding on a place.

Skill level

Your personal experience is the biggest indicator to the type of trail you can tackle, so always do your research on the recommendations for skill on each one. Beginners specifically should be cautious not to choose anything too strenuous for their first trip until they’ve mastered the basics.

Location

Whether you want to stay local or try somewhere new is your next consideration. A great place to start is in your hometown, but there’s nothing stopping you from booking backpacking trips in exciting foreign lands too.

Backpacker Reading Stone Insignia

Weather

Keep an eye on the weather recommendations for your chosen trail, as certain times of the year may be off limits. Some hikers prefer winter backpacking whereas others only want sunny and dry conditions, so choose accordingly.

Closures and Permits

Before heading off, check in with the local ranger or park’s department to see if there are any specific permits required for the area. They can also let you know if there’s been a closure on a trail or conditions have changed somewhat.

Backpacking Essentials

Now that you have your location in mind, you’ll need to get sorted with the backpacking essentials. Since backpacking is a longer journey than a standard hike and one that requires camping equipment too, the list can be more extensive to check.

In addition to the basics, there are some other smaller items you should bring along. These are ideal for both single day hikes and longer backpacking trips, so they’re must haves for hikers of all types.

Backpacking Essentials

  • Insect repellent – this should be applied at all times, and is especially useful for keeping ticks from your skin.
  • Sun protectionstay protected with long sleeved clothing, sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses.
  • Navigation – always have a compass and map on hand, as well as any modern systems you wish to carry such as a GPS device.
Reading Coordinates
  • Illumination – a headlight or flashlight with adequate battery supply should be carried at all times.
  • Repair tools – a simple knife or multi-tool will cover you for any repairs you need to make on your equipment.
Leatherman Multitool in Action

With the basic items covered, you can now focus on the larger things. Everything from your backpack to medical supplies should be carefully planned so that you aren’t stuck far away from home without the necessities.

Finding The Best Hiking Backpack

Compared to regular hiking backpacks designed for day trips, a camping backpack needs to have a larger capacity and more functions. Generally speaking, anything with at least 50 liters capacity is ideal for backpacking as it can see you through a few days of supplies and clothing.

For backpacking trips where you’re planning to go longer than a week, this amount will increase to about 70 liters to accommodate again for the extra supplies. The best camping backpack should be ergonomically designed to cater for extended hiking trips, and have essentials such as a waist strap, padding, and either internal or external frame.

TETON Sports Scout Backpack

Other features favored by backpackers such as sleeping bag compartments and hydration system holders are nice to have, but not essential if you’re looking to save on weight. Consider also how much weight your hiking backpack can handle, as this will impact on exactly what items you can take along. Read our review on the link below about TETON 4000 Backpack.


Sleeping Options For The Backpacker

Another area for consideration you’ll need to make when backpacking is where and how you intend to sleep. Depending on the style of camper you are, you’re likely to have a personal preference on what is most comfortable and adequate for you.

Tent and Tarp

The most common type of camping setup in America, the tent and tarp camper relies on both products to provide shelter and a comfortable place to sleep. The tarp is added protection from the elements which the tent is a dry and warm place to sleep each night. Some hikers might like to add a backpacking chair for resting as well.

2 Person Tent By Coleman

Tarp

This type of camping focuses on getting shelter solely from a tarp. Many lightweight camping enthusiasts choose this method to save on space, but it might not offer adequate protection from wildlife and weather conditions to keep most comfortable.

Sleeping bag

Within your tent or tarp situation, you most likely have a sleeping bag set up as well. Sleeping bags come in many different varieties, depending on size, warmth, and weight, so you’ll need to find one to suit your preferences.

Camping Hammock

More and more people are moving away from the traditional sleeping bag in favor of a hammock, and particularly those who travel light. Hammocks are ergonomic, space saving, and far easier to set up than a tent and sleeping bag, so there are quite a few benefits to this recent craze.

Hammock With Mosquito Neck

Backpacking Food And Hydration

Planning your food supplies for a backpacking trip can be a difficult area, as you’re often unsure about just how much you’ll need for energy. Try to avoid large meals during the day as this can slow you down, and aim for one major meal for dinner time. Your snacks should provide you with fast burning energy and your dinner more gradual energy release.

The main thing to consider when packing backpacking food is to have as little preparation required as necessary. This is the reason why pre-packaged and freeze dried meals are ideal for camping, as you simply add water and enjoy. Whether you buy them or prepare them yourself beforehand, this is the most efficient way to travel.

Dried Chicken With Rice

Your hydration and water supply is just as important as your food and requires forward planning as well. Knowing where exactly on the trail there is a clean water supply reduces the amount of water you’ll need to carry, so you should have this mapped out clearly.

Bring along a water filtering system such as the Life Straw, which allows you to drink even contaminated water through a simple straw which filters out the parasites and bacteria. This ensures that even if your supply runs out, you’re able to source it from elsewhere without fear of contamination.


Communication And Electronics For Backpacking

For an added element of safety when backpacking, many hikers like to take along a communication device. Considering you’re venturing further out than you might usually go and are in danger of becoming lost or encountering other dangerous situations, it’s great to have something for peace of mind.

Using your standard cell phone is a popular choice for many, but beware that you may not always have adequate reception. Most phones have the ability to make emergency calls without service, so attempt this first in an emergency.

Two-way radios are also popular among backpackers, as they can be shared within a group or used to reach outside channels. For emergency communication methods, you can bring along items such as a whistle or SOS light that can signal rescuers to your location in case you become stranded.

Many hikers prefer to go without their communication devices as they feel it allows them to connect with nature better, and this is only recommended for experienced hikers. Provided you still carry along your compass and map, it may not be necessary for anything else.

Safety When Backpacking

Spending time in the outdoors can bring with it a range of health and safety dangers that we don’t normally encounter at home. Part of being prepared as a hiker includes considering all safety precautions have been taken as well, so don’t forget the following.

  • Flora and fauna- America is home to some amazing but frightening flora and fauna, with everything from poison ivy to rattlesnakes posing a risk to your safety. Educate yourself on your surroundings so you can be aware before a hike of what potential dangers are lurking.
Grizzly Bear
  • Fatigue: Fatigue is a common ailment with hikers who push themselves further than they’re equipped to go. When fatigued, a hiker is at risk of becoming lost or being unable to complete a trail on time, so it’s important to stick to the areas that suit your experience level.
  • Dehydration: Water intake is incredibly important while hiking, so ensure you’re taking regular sips of your water throughout the day rather than one large drink every few hours. In hot weather particularly, you will need to consume extra water just to stay hydrated.
  • Sanitation: Personal hygiene and sanitation are huge areas of hiking safety, so it’s important to keep yourself protected from harmful bacteria and illnesses on your journey.
Bad Weather Hiking
  • Trail dangers: Excess precipitation, narrow passes, and rocky trails all pose serious threats to the backpacker so it’s essential to use caution. Having a well-stocked first aid kit can be useful for treating sprains and other injuries if they occur.

The Importance of Hygiene When Backpacking

As one of the most forgotten areas of backpacking safety, but one crucial to both your comfort and health is your personal hygiene. Unlike a day trip where you can retire to your own shower at night, backpacking has its own considerations for keeping clean.

Washing your hands is the most basic but effective way to stay clean, and by using soap and water this is more effective than hand sanitizer. Keep your groin area and armpits clean with soap and water at least twice a day to stay fresh and prevent infection too.

Hygiene is Important On Backpacking Trip

Where possible, you should aim to swim in a lake or take a trail shower once a day for an all over clean. Avoid other hikers, though, and don’t use any soap within the open body of water. Change your clothes once a day, preferably after a bath or shower, and air out your dirty ones when you can.

Finally, using the bathroom on a backpacking trip requires some planning as well. Ideally, you’ll need to create your own hole when it’s time to go and carry with you any waste from toilet paper or other supplies. Always go at least 200 feet from the trail for your privacy and the comfort of others.

First Aid Supplies For Backpacking

Having a first aid kit is essential for hikers on their backpacking checklist, whether it’s a single day trip or a few days’ adventure. Common injuries on the hiking trail include everything from insect bites to sprained ankles, so you have to be prepared for anything.

It’s easy to go overboard with a first aid kit, so always ask yourself if you really need an item and what could go wrong without it. This will help to determine the essentials from those you can probably do without.

Bag of First Aid Supplies

Here are a few must-have items for your first aid kit, giving you the option to add more if you feel they’re necessary for your specific hiking trip.

· Medical tape – a breathable surgical tape used for cuts and blisters

​· Antiseptic wipes – to clean cuts and wounds before applying bandages

· Antihistamine tablets – for treating allergic reactions such as insect bites and pollen​

· Gloves – to prevent contamination and sharing of bodily fluids

· Anti-inflammatory medication – ibuprofen or similar to help with pain relief

· Band-Aids – useful for smaller scratches and blisters

· Gauze – a non-stick dressing for covering larger wounds

· Butterfly strips – helpful for closing small wounds and allowing them to heal

UltralightBackpacking

Evaluating and lightening your load is something that most backpackers obsess over, as having a lighter pack makes for a more enjoyable hiking experience. The practice of traveling with the bare essentials is also known as ultralight backpacking, and it’s becoming more and more common these days.

20 lbs OF Equipment

Ultralight backpacking refers to carrying around 20 pounds or less of supplies, with food, shelter, and clothing all included. This type of backpacking not only helps you move more freely around the trail but allows you to connect closer with nature as you strip away more of your material possessions.

Traveling With Bare Essentials

To go extremely minimalist, you can try to lighten your load down to under 12 pounds, but this is for the hardcore enthusiasts only. The backpackers often travel without a tent and just a few items of ultralight backpacking gear, so you need to be prepared to give up your creature comforts to fit within this category.

Before trying ultralight backpacking for yourself, determine what your skill level is and how much comfort you really require. You need to be fully prepared before attempting to go ultralight, as it’s not for those who like even just a bit of comfort.

Backpacking Tips For Beginners

If you’re new to backpacking, you might feel a little overwhelmed with all of the rules and supplies you need to remember. Just like anything worth doing, a little bit of practice is all it takes to become an expert, so don’t expect to get it all right on your first trip. Here are a few simple backpacking tips to get you started:

Tips For Begginers

  • Start with a day hike: If you’re new to both hiking and backpacking altogether, you should start by building your hiking skills alone first. Never attempt a long hike into the wilderness without at least some experience behind you, especially if you plan on spending the night.
  • Practice in your own backyard: An easy way to see what you might be missing from your backpacking essentials is to do a dry run at home. Pitch your tent in the backyard and camp out for the night, making a note of what items you need and those you can live without.
Train For Your Backpacking Trip
  • Bring a companion: Although some hikers like to go it alone, those new to backpacking should never travel solo. Having someone with you can be great for morale and help you out if you’re in danger.
  • Make a backpacking checklist: This one should be an essential for all skill levels, but it’s particularly important for beginner backpackers. Start your backpacking gear list weeks before you intend on leaving, and as you research the trail and weather conditions you can add or subtract certain items.

Planning Backpacking Trips

As one of the most rewarding activities you will ever experience in your lifetime, backpacking also comes with a lot of careful consideration. While it may not seem fun to plan your backpacking trips down to a fine point, it’s crucial for both your comfort and safety.

Plan Your Trip

Whether you’re exploring the hiking trails on your own doorstep or venturing overseas for more of a challenge, preparedness is the key to a successful hike. While you may not get it entirely right on your first try, each time is a chance to reduce your equipment to the essentials and add any items that you may have forgotten.

When done correctly, backpacking and hiking are some of the best outdoor activities available. Not only can you benefit from the mental and physical improvement that hiking can bring, but you’re also able to share it with friends and family too.

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