One of the biggest questions new backpackers have is – Where do I begin?? What do I do first??
First, close your eyes, and take a deep breath.
Second, let out a big exhale, and put on a big smile while you think about how amazing it’s going to be out there on the trail.
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Ok, now on to the details!
How To Go Backpacking
Let’s talk backpacking gear!
If you don’t have any backpacking gear yet, be sure download my free backpacking gear checklist first so you know what you need.
Then, start with your “Big 3.” The Big 3 are your shelter, your pack, and your sleeping bag. But I like to say Big 4 and also include your sleeping pad in there too.
These are big items because they will be your most expensive, and also the heaviest. Focus on these first and sweat the small items later.
You can absolutely bargain hunt for your gear, buy second hand, or wait for sales, but just know that in general you do get what you pay for. The more money you can spend on gear, the better, lighter gear you will have.
Or just splurge in some areas. For my first long-ass section hike, I already owned a pack, it was a crappy, old, heavy pack, but it was a pack. Instead of buying a whole new pack, I stuck with my old one and splurged on a new, light Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo tarp tent.
Test out all your backpacking gear!
I can’t stress this enough, you don’t want to be stranded on a trail somewhere with a stove that doesn’t work, or a tent with no poles, or a sleeping pad that won’t inflate.
Start out either in your back yard, or car camp with your gear at a camp ground. Then go through all the motions:
- Set up your entire tent, tarp or hammock set up. Do you have all the pieces and parts you need to set it up properly?
*Bonus points for breaking out the hose and testing out if it’s actually waterproof if it’s a new tent*
- Unroll your sleeping pad and lay on it, if it’s inflatable, fully inflate it and make sure it holds air.
- Set up and start your camp stove, both to make sure it works and to make sure you know how to use it.
- Check your pack to make sure no buckles or straps are broken.
- If you use Iodine or Aquamira to treat your water, make sure they aren’t expired. If you use a filter, make sure it’s not clogged or broken.
- Turn on your headlamp, to make sure it works, and maybe bring extra batteries if it’s been a while since they were changed, or you’re going on a longer trip.
After testing out all your gear, make sure it’s relatively clean, dry and pack it away all together, if you can. So it’s mostly ready to go for your next trip.
Pick a backpacking trail to go to.
I recommend buying a good trail map of your area, or an area near by, then you can really look over your choices of what’s close by, and if there any loop trails there. A good map will also show mile markers on the trails, topo lines which will tell you if the trail is flat-ish or if it has some hard climbs or descents, and where the water sources are along the way.
Or you could always search on websites like AllTrails to find trails near you. But once you know where you are going you should also get a good map of the area and carry it with you.
After you have a trail picked out, check local regulations to make sure overnight camping is allowed, if you need a permit, if bear canisters are required, and if fires are allowed.
Then let a trusty friend or family member know your plan, where you’ll be hiking and when you expect to be back. Then let them know that you got back ok!
Plan your backpacking meals.
Count out how many breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks you will need, based on how many days you will be on the trail for. I usually add in one extra ramen packet and one extra power bar, just in case.
Then list out the actual meals you want to eat and cook, and go shopping!
Admittedly, I almost always end up putting meal planning and food shopping off til the very last second. But I imagine it would be way less stressful if you did this a couple days, or more, ahead of time.
Pack it all up, and away you go!
Watch the video below to see exactly how I pack up all my backpacking gear.
Now you know, going backpacking doesn’t have to be overwhelming or complicated if you follow this plan and focus on just one thing at a time.
Check out these how-to posts to learn the backpacking skills you’ll need:
- How To Pick A Good Campsite
- How To Poop In The Woods, The Leave No Trace Way
- What To Do If A Bear Attacks
- Backcountry Camping With Kids
Let me know your favorite backpacking hack in the comments below!