Backpacking is an incredible adventure that rewards you with unforgettable experiences in the great outdoors.
It’s your chance to escape the chaos of everyday life and fully immerse yourself in the beauty of nature.
Why backpacking is worth it
Here’s why you absolutely need to give backpacking a shot:
Embrace nature’s wonders: Picture yourself exploring hidden gems that are off-limits to cars.
You’ll witness breathtaking sunsets, wander through lush forests, and camp under a sky illuminated by stars.
Stay active, stay fit: Backpacking is the ultimate workout.
As you hike with a loaded pack, you’ll challenge your body and keep yourself in top shape. It’s exercise that invigorates both body and soul.
Unplug and unwind: Say goodbye to technology and hello to the simple joys of life.
With no cell service or Wi-Fi, you’ll rediscover the pleasure of being present in the moment and rejuvenate your mind.
Master new skills: Backpacking demands navigation, campsite selection, and first aid skills.
It’s an opportunity to learn and grow, pushing your boundaries and expanding your capabilities.
Forge unbreakable bonds: Backpacking is the perfect bonding experience for friends and family.
Together, you’ll conquer trails, set up camp, and share meals.
These shared adventures will strengthen your relationships and create memories to last a lifetime.
The importance of lightweight or ultralight gear
When it comes to backpacking trips, carrying heavy gear can quickly become a burden.
That’s why it’s important to consider using lightweight or even ultralight gear to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
Check your backpacking base weight
Your backpacking base weight is the weight of all your gear, excluding consumables like food, water, and fuel.
Aim for a base weight of 20 pounds or less, which will make hiking easier and more enjoyable.
To achieve a lighter base weight, consider investing in lightweight or ultralight gear.
For example, you can find backpacks that weigh less than two pounds, tents that weigh less than three pounds, and sleeping bags that weigh less than one pound.
Consider leaving certain items behind
To further reduce your base weight, consider leaving behind items that you don’t really need.
For example, you may not need to bring multiple changes of clothes, as you can easily wash and dry clothes on the trail.
Other items that you may be able to leave behind include heavy cookware, bulky gravity water filters, camp chairs, and unnecessary electronics.
By prioritizing lightweight or ultralight gear and being mindful of what you pack, you can significantly reduce your base weight and make your backpacking trip more enjoyable.
Choosing the right gear
You can’t just bring any old gear on a backpacking trip.
If you’ve done frontcountry car camping before, you may already have some gear, but chances are it may not be very backpacker-friendly.
When choosing a backpack, consider its capacity, weight, and fit.
A backpack with a capacity of 30 to 50 litres is suitable for overnight trips.
For longer trips, choose a larger backpack.
Look for a backpack that weighs less than 2.5 pounds and fits comfortably on your back.
Your tent should be lightweight and easy to set up.
Choose a tent that weighs less than 4 pounds and has a simple design.
Look for a tent with a waterproof rainfly and a vestibule to store your gear.
A sleeping pad provides insulation and cushioning between you and the ground.
Your sleeping bag should be lightweight and warm. Choose a bag that is rated for the lowest temperature you expect to encounter on your trip.
Look for a bag with a weight of less than 2.5 pounds.
Choose clothing that is lightweight, breathable, and moisture-wicking.
Pack layers that can be easily added or removed as the temperature changes.
Avoid cotton, as it retains moisture and can lead to hypothermia.
Your footwear should be comfortable and provide good support.
Choose hiking boots or trail shoes that are lightweight and have good traction.
Look for shoes with a waterproof and breathable membrane.
Your camp stove should be lightweight and easy to use.
Choose a stove that runs on a fuel type that is readily available in the area you will be camping in.
Look for a stove that has a built-in igniter and can boil water quickly.
Bring essential accessories such as a headlamp, a water filter, and a map and compass.
These items are lightweight and can be lifesavers in an emergency.
Don’t forget to pack a lightweight stuff sack to keep your gear organized.
Food and water
When it comes to refueling and rehydrating your body, you have to be smart about it to avoid brining excessive weight.
Best backpacking foods
When packing food for a backpacking trip, it’s important to choose lightweight and nutrient-dense options that will provide you with enough energy to keep you going throughout the day.
Some great options include:
Instant oatmeal: This is a great breakfast option that is easy to prepare and lightweight.
Trail mix: A mixture of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit provides a good balance of protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates.
Energy bars: These are a great snack option that is easy to pack and provides a quick burst of energy.
Freeze dried or dehydrated meals: These meals are lightweight and easy to prepare, making them a great option for dinner.
Best ways to purify water
When backpacking, it’s important to have access to clean water to stay hydrated and avoid getting sick.
Here are some of the best ways to purify water:
Boiling: Boiling water for at least five minutes is an effective way to kill bacteria and viruses.
Water filters: Water filters are a great option for removing bacteria and viruses from water.
Look for a lightweight option that is easy to pack.
Water purification tablets: These tablets are lightweight and easy to pack, making them a great option for backpacking.
They are effective at killing bacteria and viruses, but make sure to follow the instructions carefully.
Planning your route
Planning a route shouldn’t be intimidating.
There are lots of beginner-friendly trails out there that you can hike over a weekend.
Choosing a trail
When choosing a trail, consider the difficulty level, distance, and terrain.
Research the trail beforehand to ensure it matches your skill level and time constraints.
You can also ask for recommendations from experienced backpackers or park rangers.
Creating a flexible schedule or itinerary
Create a flexible schedule or itinerary that allows for unexpected changes or delays.
Make sure to include rest days and time for exploring.
Keep in mind that weather conditions and unforeseen circumstances can affect your plans.
Using navigation tools
Bring a map, compass, and GPS device to help navigate your route.
Make sure to familiarize yourself with the tools before your trip.
Additionally, be aware of trail markers and landmarks along the way.
If you’re unsure of your location, don’t hesitate to ask for directions from fellow hikers or park rangers.
Where to camp
When it comes to backpacking camping trips, you have two main options for where to camp: designated campsites and public land.
Designated campsites are areas of land that have been set aside specifically for camping.
These areas typically have amenities such as fire pits, picnic tables, and restrooms. They also often require a reservation and a fee.
Public land (US) or Crown land (Canada), on the other hand, is land that is owned by the government and open to the public for recreational use.
In the US, this includes national forests, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, and wilderness areas.
Camping on public land is usually free, but it also means you’ll need to find your own spot to set up camp and may not have access to amenities like fire pits or restrooms.
When choosing where to camp, it’s important to consider your comfort level and experience.
If you’re new to backpacking camping trips, designated campsites may be a good option as they offer more amenities and can provide a sense of security.
If you’re more experienced and comfortable with roughing it, public land may be a more adventurous and budget-friendly option.
How to go to the bathroom
When you’re out backpacking, it’s important to know how to go to the bathroom properly so you don’t harm the environment. Here are some tips to help you out:
Always move at least 200 feet (about 70 steps) away from any water source before doing your business.
This will help prevent contamination of the water.
Dig a small hole that’s 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches wide to use as your toilet. This will help contain your waste and make it easier to cover up later.
Use biodegradable toilet paper or baby wipes to clean up after yourself.
Do not leave any trash behind.
If you’re camping with a group, establish a communal latrine area that’s at least 200 feet away from your campsite and any water sources.
This will help keep the area clean and prevent contamination.
If you’re camping in an area where there are no established toilets or latrines, consider bringing human waste bags to pack out your waste.
This is especially important in areas with high traffic or sensitive ecosystems.
When you’re backpacking, it’s important to follow certain rules to ensure that you and other hikers have a safe and enjoyable experience.
Here are some backpacking etiquette tips to keep in mind:
Stay on the trail: Erosion can easily occur, and it’s hard to stop.
If you don’t cut switchbacks, trample fragile ecosystems, and make mud pits bigger by going around them, everyone wins.
Yield to uphill hikers: If you’re going uphill and you see someone coming down, step aside and let them pass.
It’s much easier for a downhill hiker to stop and start again than it is for someone going uphill.
Keep your campsite clean: Pack out all of your trash, and don’t leave any food or scraps behind.
This helps to keep wildlife away from the area, and it’s also a way to show respect for the environment.
Be considerate of others: If you’re camping in a group, keep the noise level down so that other hikers can enjoy the peace and quiet of the wilderness.
If you’re hiking with a dog, keep it on a leash and clean up after it.
Know and respect the rules: Many areas require a backcountry or wilderness permit, and these permits often sell out quickly.
Research the area you plan to visit ahead of time to make sure you have all the necessary permits and information.
Campfire and camp stove safety
When backpacking, campfires are a great way to stay warm and cook food, but they can also be dangerous if not handled properly.
Here are some tips to keep you safe around the campfire:
Choose an appropriate location for your campfire: Look for a designated fire ring or an area with little vegetation and at least 15 feet away from tents and other flammable materials.
Keep your campfire small: A smaller fire is easier to control and produces less smoke.
Never leave your campfire unattended: Make sure to fully extinguish your fire before leaving or going to bed.
When it comes to camp stove safety, here are some tips to keep in mind:
Check your stove for leaks before using it: Mix a squirt of dish soap with water in a spray bottle and spray it on the connection points of your stove and fuel canister. If you see bubbles, there’s a leak.
Keep your stove away from flammable materials: Set up your stove on a flat, stable surface and away from tents, trees, and other flammable materials.
Use caution when handling hot surfaces: Allow your stove to cool down before touching it or packing it away.
Following Leave No Trace principles
When backpacking, it’s important to follow the Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact on the environment.
Here are some key principles to keep in mind:
Plan ahead and prepare: Know the regulations and rules of the area you’re visiting, and plan your trip accordingly.
This helps you to minimize your impact on the environment.
Dispose of waste properly: Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter. Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails.
Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
Leave what you find: Do not remove plants, rocks, or other natural objects from the environment.
Leave everything as you found it.
Travel and camp on durable surfaces: Stick to established trails and campsites to minimize your impact on the environment.
Do not create new trails or campsites.
Minimize campfire impact: Use established fire rings and keep fires small.
Only burn small sticks and twigs, and never leave a fire unattended.
When you’re backpacking, you’re entering the territory of many wild animals.
It’s important to keep in mind that you’re a guest in their home, so it’s crucial to respect their space.
Here are some tips to help you stay safe and minimize your impact on the wildlife:
Keep your distance: Never approach wildlife, no matter how cute or harmless they may seem.
Respect their space and observe them from a safe distance.
If you’re lucky enough to see a bear or a moose, keep at least 100 yards away.
If you’re backpacking through bear country, you may want to carry bear spray with you.
Store your food properly: When you’re camping, make sure to store your food and trash in bear-resistant containers, or hang them from a tree at least 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet away from the trunk.
This will help prevent bears and other animals from getting into your food, which can be dangerous for both you and them.
Respect the wildlife’s routine: Avoid hiking at dawn or dusk, when animals are most active.
This will help you avoid any unexpected encounters with wildlife.
Leave no trace: When you’re camping, make sure to pack out all of your trash and food scraps.
This will help keep the area clean and prevent animals from becoming habituated to human food.
When going on a backpacking camping trip, it’s important to be prepared for emergencies.
Here are some tips to help you be ready for anything that might happen:
Bring a first aid kit: Make sure your first aid kit is well-stocked with items like bandages, gauze, antiseptic wipes, and pain relievers.
Familiarize yourself with how to use each item before you go on your trip.
Know the area: Before you go on your trip, research the area you’ll be camping in. Know the weather patterns, wildlife, and terrain.
This will help you be better prepared for emergencies.
Bring a map and compass: Even if you plan to use GPS, it’s important to bring a map and compass as a backup.
Make sure you know how to use them before you go on your trip.
Let someone know your plans: Before you leave, let someone know where you’ll be camping and when you plan to return.
This way, if something goes wrong, someone will know to look for you.
Bring emergency supplies: Consider bringing emergency supplies like a whistle, flashlight, extra food and water, and a space blanket.
These items can help you survive if you get lost or stranded.
More about backpacking:
- Foam vs. inflatable sleeping pads: Is one better than the other?
- How to set up a tent in the rain
- How long can a down sleeping bag be compressed?
Elise is an experienced backcountry canoe tripper and winter camper from Ontario, Canada. She loves cooking up a storm over the campfire, taking in all the backcountry views, and enjoying a piña colada or two while relaxing at camp. She’s also certified in Whitewater Rescue (WWR) I & II and Wilderness First Aid (WFA).