As annoying as this is to say, expect the unexpected, I don’t think anyone’s first trip goes exactly as planned or exactly how they thought it would.
My very first real backpacking trip was filled with pure ridiculousness – like just silly trail games to keep us occupied that didn’t use any equipment and then also on the last night of the trip one of the guys busted out individual ice cream cups that he had packed in his bag with dry ice.
Maybe I shouldn’t have shared that with you because now you’ll all be disappointed when there’s no surprise ice cream treats on your first trip.
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Ok, ok, let’s start off with some real tips to get you ready for your first backpacking trip:
Listen to Episode 4: What To Expect On Your First Backpacking Trip
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Before you pack up your bag – set up all your gear! Check it, test it, make sure no pieces are missing or broken, this is not unheard of that you might even receive brand new gear from a distributor that might be a wrong order, as the incorrect item or it might be missing pieces – that’s not super common, but we all make mistakes and I’d rather have you find that out in your living room than after hiking 6 miles to a campsite.
Use a checklist when packing your gear and/or loading it in the car – one time my husband forgot his sleeping pad on a trip, we did have the talk at the trailhead of do we want to skip this one but we went anyway and he slept on the ground!
Never assume your partner packed something – ask them and then check it off the list – when I used to guide trips, typically the leaders would share a tent and share gear, and both I and my co-leader both assumed the other one had checked our staff gear before we left and we found out after we drove from the Catskills to the Adirondacks totally in the middle of nowhere, that we packed a tent without any poles or stakes – that was bad!
Know you’re not going to go very far on your first trip, and that’s ok!
Think of your very first trip as a super fun trial run – take off the pressure of hiking long miles or bagging peaks. The sole purpose here is to just see what it feels like to go backpacking. You could even do a pre-trip trial run in your backyard or a local campground where you practice car camping before your first trip
But plan a short route, ideally with an escape plan! If you can choose a trail that’s easily accessible so worst case, if something goes totally wonky – you can just bail and walk to your car, even if it’s in the middle of the night.
Maybe I’m just a weirdo but I think having that option to get off trail easily can put a lot of people’s minds at ease especially for your first trip.
But one of the ‘dangers’ of planning a short backpacking trip is that you might get bored at camp and you might not tire yourself out so much – which could leave you lying awake at night listening to every rustling leaf thinking a bear is about to attack your tent.
So mentally prepare for that – load up your phone or kindle with ebooks or meditations or music or podcasts or bring a journal or sketchbook – something to keep you busy if you get bored or something to help your mind drift off to sleep more easily, maybe even pack some melatonin if you’re worried about falling asleep
I’m going to pause here to share that this episode is brought to you by the Badass Backpacker’s Bundle – this is where you can get the complete backpacking gear checklist, the ultimate first aid kit checklist for hikers to make sure you have everything you need there plus a list of easy, go-to snack and meal ideas for backpackers.
You can get all of this for free, be sure to download the bundle here before your next trip.
Ok, back to trip planning – try to go during a mild time of year if you can and choose a trail with plenty of water sources and lots of options for camping, so that you’re not dependant on everything going perfectly and making it an exact spot each night – allow yourself some flexibility if at all possible.
Physically prepare as much as you can, but also don’t let not being in good enough shape hold you back – if you don’t think you’re in good enough shape to hike the trail you’re headed for – choose an easier trail!
But in all honesty, the more fit you are, the easier it will be to carry your pack, so any sort of training you can do in the week prior to your trip will do your body good.
That leads to my next tip – if you haven’t hiked with a 30ish pound pack before, chances are that’s probably going to be harder than you thought it would be!
Again, don’t let that hold you back, but be thoughtful when choosing a route – for example, aim for 1,000 feet of elevation gain or less per day vs a trail that has like 3000 feet of elevation gain for your first trip.
And unless you’ve specifically heard otherwise – mentally prepare yourself for a rough trail! My husband and I both admitted that before starting the Appalachian Trail, we had this idea in our heads that the trial itself would be like this smooth dirt path, gently rolling through the woods – but no – it was like straight up the side of a mountain, using your hands to scramble over rocks in some places, and that doesn’t just apply to the AT, unless you’re on an urban hiking trail, anticipate that there might be super rough, uneven or steep patches.
Lastly – always, always, always let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back, and be sure to pack all the essential gear clothes, and food you need to take care of yourself out there.
If you haven’t already, be sure to download the Badass Backpacker’s Bundle for free, where you’ll get my complete backpacking gear checklist along with my first aid kit checklist for hikers plus easy meal and snack ideas for backpackers so go, grab that, and subscribe to this podcast to catch future episodes.
Until then, happy hiking!