A beautiful female backpacker drinking water

Backpacking Tips for Beginners: 2020

Are you pondering about the idea of packing everything up and going for a trip out into the wilderness? A Camping adventure is a perfect opportunity to rest and relax in nature for many people. It helps you get away from the stress of day-to-day life.

Camping & Hiking could be a fantastic hobby which can add a lot of value to your life. Being engrossed in nature is a different life experience altogether.

Have you prepared yourself for any kind of curveball that might come up while you are out in the wild? Nature can be quite harsh and forgiving. Hiking for many days is a different ball game altogether than a single day typical hike.

You may find a lot of camping information very basic. Yet, it’s always a good idea to plan and prepare yourself ahead of time.

In fact, 31% of Americans had confirmed in a Camper Report conducted by The Coleman Company, Inc & The Outdoor Foundation in 2017 that they planned their camping more than a month in advance.  

Table of Contents

Source: 2017 American Camper Report by The Coleman Company, Inc & The Outdoor Foundation 

The article below has what you need to know for planning and executing a great trip as a beginner. It will help you prepare to overcome all the challenges and have an incredible experience in the wild.

Planning of Your Camping

Do appropriate planning to choose the right destination. It will determine what kind of experience you are going to have on your trip. You will undoubtedly have a miserable experience if you hike in a difficult place. If the site is easily accessible, then you will naturally have more time to delve into the area around your camp.

Go to a destination closer home

Ask yourself whether you want to drive more or hike more. If your answer is later, then you must go ahead with a place which is not too far from your home. Else you would end up wasting a lot of time driving instead of hiking. You may also want to return to the camp before sunset.

At least 72% of campers in the USA prefers to stay within 150 miles from home.  

Source: 2017 American Camper Report 

Choose the place with less altitude

The route is one of the most critical factors of your planning. You should look for flat trails that do not have much elevation. It will take a few trips before you start understanding your physical limitations.

Some parks have campgrounds within a mile or two from the car campground. One such campground can help you transform into backpacking after your first camping

Book In Advance a well-established camp

Try to find an established campsite at least on your first few trips. The advantage of choosing an established camp is that you would be able to locate it quickly.

The facilities of such camps will make your life more comfortable in the campsite. For instance, you are in a tent that has bear-proof food storage or bear poles. Such a camp will save you from having to figure out where and how to hang the food.

Make sure that you book the camping ground well in advance. Established camping sites tend to be booked fast, and you may not get the reservation. People become lazy when it comes to booking the campsites in advance. 43% of the campers make the reservation on the day of arrival in America.

Source: 2017 American Camper Report 

Do not hike long distance

Let me share the experience of my first hiking. I was so excited that I could not even realize that I had hiked a long distance. I was already exhausted when I thought of going back to my campsite for the night. I had swelling on my feet when I reached the campsite as I was not used to carrying such a huge pack.

I would recommend you not to complicate things by taking up the long hike. Try to start early in the morning so that you have an ample amount of time. Do not hike more than 4-5 miles in your first few camping.

Start your overnight camping with just single night

You can prepare yourself for the best you could, but you are still likely to encounter some surprises.

So, start with just a single night if you are camping out overnight. Any minor issue will not turn out to be much terrible when you are camping for only one night.

For example, if you suddenly realize that you are running out of food, you can still manage it for one night.

Camp near other campers

Trust me; you will feel more comfortable and safer if you camp around other people. It will help you have a better sleep at night.

From the security point of view, it is always better to stay nearby to other campers. So, they can stretch out their helping hand if you run into any trouble.

Seasoned backpackers are generally very hospitable with rookies. You need to approach them. They would be more than happy to give you a bundle of tips and guidance.

Water Supply Nearby

As a beginner, you would like to stay close to fresh water within a mile or even less. It will help you carry the water back to your camp easily.

You shouldn’t worry much if your source of water is a river or a large lake. But you must confirm with the in-charge of the land if it is streams or springs as those are likely to dry up

Check the weather of the place & forecast

The best time for camping is in mid-summer. You can maximize daylight hours unless the place is extreme heat.

Do not forget to check the weather forecasts and cancel or turn back if there is a forecast of storm. You would find the weather of the campsites intrinsically unpredictable.

Temperatures in the hills can expeditiously go down. Conditions can go from delightful to tricky swiftly than you might have thought.

Do not forget to carry a lightweight rain jacket even if the forecast is of no rain. Evenings and mornings are almost always freezing in the forest. So, it is wise to pack a warm jacket, hat, and gloves on every trip.

Do not camp in the forest if you do not like cold and wet weather. It is wise not to camp in the rain when you are just starting. Suspend your trip if the weather forecast is of rain.

Read & Understand the Regulations of country/place before you go

Knowing back-country regulations is very important before any trip. Make it a point to read and understand the rules and regulations before your journey starts.

If you read the rules and regulations correctly, you would be able to find the answers to the following –

  • What is the source of drinking water available?
  • Does the water need to filter?
  • Are you liable to pay any fee for the tent site?
  • Do you need to dig any hole at the tent site?
  • Do they allow open flames or campfire?
  • Do you need bear canisters?

Such regulations will not restrict you from enjoying it. It will instead help conserve the campsite for others to experience its grandiosity.

Do not take the kids in your first camping

Having kids on any trip is always incredibly fun. But it may complicate the things if you are going on first camping. You may consider camping with the kids after 3-4 camping. You will be quite confident to handle it then.

Equipment

As a part of your preparation, you must ensure that that you choose the right kind of equipment I have recently been to New Zealand for camping. There I realized that your trip might turn out to be disastrous if you do not carry along the right equipment with you.

We decided to rent a tent, a stove and a few other types of equipment. We got those tools but with quite a few missing parts. You must invest in some top-notch gear before you set out for any trip.

Source: 2017 American Camper Report 

Backpack

Your backpack must be very comfortable. You know it, right? But let me tell you I have seen most of the newbies end up in the camp with wrong backpacks which are not comfortable.

Load the pack with some weight and walk around with it. Are you finding it comfortable? Are you able to balance it with your body? If your answer is “Yes” you may buy it.

Point is you should not buy any backpack without testing it.

An ultralight backpack is always enticing. Less weight to carry. Isn’t it? Here is the caveat. Ultralight backpacks come with less padding. It is highly likely to be uncomfortable in a fully loaded condition. Don’t save the weight in the bag. Save it in the equipment going to be placed inside.

The size of your backpack depends on the duration of your trip. As a newbie, you should follow my advice and opt for just a one-night trip. A 30-liter pack should be enough for you.

If you are planning for 2-3 nights of camping, I’ll recommend you to go for a 50-liter pack. It is the ideal size if you are considering to buy one. You will start doing more extended camping once you gain some initial experience.

You need 70-liter or more for an extended trip. But beginners or even intermediates shouldn’t opt for it.

Sleeping Equipment

Tent

Tents have been the most popular type of camping structure. 71% of campers in the USA prefers to primarily sleep in tents.

Source: 2017 American Camper Report 

It’s much better to bring a two-person tent instead of two one-person tents. The right kind of tent can save some weight for you.

When choosing a tent, save yourself some weight. Go for a multi-season tent. You don’t have to buy the heavier one made for harsh winter yet –   and pick up a three-season tent.

You don’t need a heavier one rated for harsh winter weather yet – Denali can wait till next year!

Sleeping Bag

It’s not funny to be cold at night!

You may not want to share the sleeping bag. But you cannot ignore the importance of the sleeping bag.

You must understand that the sleeping bag will not make you warmer even if you wear too many clothes. The Heat has to pass through more layers to reach your body. It will make your sleeping bag less effective.

So, investing in a suitable sleeping bag is a wise thing to do.

You would find two kinds of material used for making the sleeping bag – Down and Synthetic.

Down is light in weight and suitable for winter. Synthetic bags are made of synthetics, as the name suggests. Those are best suited for wet weather and dry quickly.

Synthetic is more economical than dawn. Synthetic is a good option to start with. You can avoid winter rated sleeping bags.

Sleeping Pad

Sleeping pads comes with two functions – comfort and insulation.

Are you comfortable to sleep on a hard surface? If your answer is yes, you can go for a closed-cell pad. It will save a lot of weight and money.

Nonetheless, the self-inflating pad comes with a little bit higher price. It’s worth paying as it gives you better sleep. My first upgrade of equipment was this after my first camping

Cooking Equipment

Nothing can refresh your body and mind more than a hot meal after a long day of hiking in the woods. Who does not like the idea of cooking over an open flame? But without a proper plan and right equipment, it has the potential to turn out to be an awful experience for you.

At the planning stage only, you have to decide which cooking method you will be using so that you can pack the equipment and supplies accordingly.  

Stove

You should start with the most straightforward option, a reliable Gas Canister Stove. Pick a lightweight one as stoves are typically made of metal. You may find some stoves with USB points and other elegant gadgets. As a beginner, keep it simple. Check your gas canister and make sure that it is full before you leave for camping.

An Alcohol-fueled ultralight stove is also a good option. You can use soda can for making it.

Cookware & Dinnerware

People usually like to bring utensils, plates, cups, pans, pots, knives, etc. from their home. But you can buy the same in lightweight variety from your local store or order online. Carry enough of those to make sure that you could cook and eat as you had planned.

Do not bring more than one set of cutleries. It is not much difficult to wash after every meal. Just carry some biodegradable soap and a small sponge for the same.

Try to avoid bringing a big towel. You can dry the small towel easily just by hanging it outside your backpack during the day.

Water Filter / Purifier

If your campsite is closer to a good water source, then you can just bring a couple of plastic bottles. Long tubes attached to water bags would be handy while on the go. Don’t forget that you would perhaps drink a lot of water if the water is easily accessible.

If you do not intend to carry a water filter, you should keep enough water purification tablets. It can make almost any water drinkable. You never know what bacteria could be in the water. You should try those tablets before you leave home to ensure that you are familiar with the taste of the water. It will be foolish to risk dehydration because of bad taste.  

You may check out this video for further guidance on Water Filter / Purifier

camping water filter / purifier

Food & Drink

What do you plan to eat on your camping trip? The cooking method is going to determine what food is appropriate for taking. So, make this decision well in advance. Who doesn’t like to cook over an open flame? It’s fun if you have proper cooking supplies.

It’s an excellent idea to pack beef jerky or trail mix. You are likely to be so tired that you won’t feel like cooking. So, you may just like to have some snacks and take rest.  

Don’t forget to keep the food safe when you’re out in the wild camping. Store all food in airtight and waterproof containers. Insulated coolers are a great place to place food. Store cooked and raw food separately to avoid contamination.

Wash your hands while preparing food and afterward. Keep any surfaces, utensils, and cooking containers clean. Cook your meals to proper temperatures.

Walking long distances carrying a heavy backpack is physically demanding. You would want to make sure you have plenty of energy to keep going. Make sure you eat plenty of calories while on your trip. Complex carbohydrates are the best sources of power.

It’s always great to have a hot meal at night and even sometimes in the morning. But remember that cooking and cleaning is a lot of extra work. Fresh food will not last too long without refrigeration.

Breakfast

You can start your day with simple breakfast bars or granola. You may also take hot oatmeal or porridge with chocolate powder, milk powder, and dried fruit.  

Hot instant tea or coffee mix is not a bad idea! It could warm you and get you ready for the day’s hike.

If you love to cook, bacon and eggs are not a wrong choice or even pancakes. Carry a cooler bag in that case.

Lunch / Snacks

Do you like a full meal at lunch or substantial snacks throughout the day? If you enjoy the latter option, it is better for you. It will help you maintain a stable amount of energy.

It is always better to carry food that does not need to cook during lunch. Dried fruit, nuts are excellent choices. Those are high in energy and low in weight.

You can bring peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for a shorter 2-3 days camping. You can carry some chocolates if you love them. I always keep some chocolates with me as it can lift my mood at any given time.

Dinner

Dinner is something hikers look forward to. It helps them find the energy to keep going. So, your dinner should be a large hot meal.

You can go for some kind of boil-in-the-bag kind of meal like noodles, rice or pasta. Fortunately, you can find almost any dish in the same way nowadays. Those dishes generally have a lot of carbohydrates.

You can consider the following for dinner as well –

  • Mashed potatoes (preferably powder) with a little bit of cheese and sausages
  • Pasta with a sauce of your choice
  • Canned tuna along with some rice can keep you well on longer hikes

You can also consider boxed meals. It is easy to remove and place in a plastic bag.

Hot chocolate or tea or powdered soup is not a bad idea after dinner.

Drinks

Does it really need to tell you that you have to drink a lot of water during your camping? You will be sweating a lot throughout the day. So, you must stay hydrated, more so if it is hot weather.

During winter, tea & Coffee can be very beneficial to keep yourself warm.

I usually stay away from drinking any kind of alcohol – No award for guessing the apparent reason.Try to avoid carrying soda as it can be cumbersome. It is also challenging to keep cool.

Clothes

Take some time to think before you finish the list of clothing. Pick up clothes that would help you dress appropriately as per the weather of the place of camping. Do not forget to bring extra pairs of clothes to manage your whole trip.

camping clothing

Four basic clothing groups

Base Layers

Typically, underwear that is comfortable and keeps you warm on a cold night

Hiking layers

What you wear in normal dry conditions. Usually a t-shirt and pants (synthetic materials are better)

Insulation

When the weather is cooler, insulation keeps you warm. Think of all those hiking fleeces that soccer moms wear.

Rainwear

A waterproof outer layer is essential. You never know when the weather could turn.

You may find most of these clothing at home for your first camping. You should wear layered clothing to manage the temperature of your body. Dress yourself up in many layers during your camping.

The weather can change dramatically. You would find it freezing one moment and sweltering the next. The night can surprise you by turning back to cold again. Wearing clothes in layers helps you adjust to fast-changing weather and temperatures.

There is a famous phrase in the hiker community – ‘Cotton Kills.’. There is a reason for this. Though cotton is very comfortable, it’s unable to wick moisture away from your skin efficiently. It also takes a very long time to dry. It has got a poor insulator.

Choose lightweight synthetic materials over cotton and denim. Synthetic is not only light on weight, but they are more water-resistant than cotton.

You should bring a bandanna or handkerchief along with you. It’s versatile in its use. You can turn this into a towel or a pot-holder in case of an emergency.

Shoes

Your feet play an essential role in your trip. Without proper shoes, you can’t have pleasant camping. There is a heated debate on what kind of shoes are ideal for hiking – Hiking Boots or lightweight Trail Runners

Hiking boots are durable and sturdy. It takes a while to ‘break-in.’ You may get swellings by wearing these without breaking them in correctly.  

On the other hand, Trail Runners are quite light in weight. They can breathe and keep your feet cool even in hot and humid weather. The best thing about these is they don’t need a ‘break-in’ period. The only drawback is that it lacks the ankle protection. It can be riskier if you are going to carry a heavyweight backpacker.

It’s a great idea to carry a few extra pairs of boots. So, you don’t find yourself in any trouble in case mud or water gets into them.

Bring synthetic or wool socks.

Please check the following video for further guidance –

Light Weight Trail Runner Shoes

Navigation Skills & Emergency Tools

We all love to use GPS. But the problem is it is highly likely to fail. Batteries can get drained. You never know how and when your device may get damaged during the trip. So, it is a bit risky to depend on it entirely.

I never leave for any camping without an excellent old-fashioned Compass & Map. You would always want to know where you are right now and which way you are going to. Read our detailed guide on how to use a compass.

Following video will help you learn how to use navigation tools –

compass

Bring the following as Emergency Tools –

  • First-aid Kit
  • Headlamp / Flashlight
  • Whistle
  • Extra Batteries
  • GPS Watch (Optional)
  • Satellite Messenger / Personal Locator Beacon (Optional)

Test Your Equipment

It is horrifying to find your stove not working or missing some parts of your tent after hiking for the whole day. That’s why testing all your equipment is very important before you set out for your trip. Test every single piece of equipment to make sure it is working correctly. It applies to clothes as well.  

Also, ensure that all kinds of stuff are thoroughly dried. Would you really like to sleep in a wet sleeping bag?

Time to Pack Your Bag Now

Try to keep the numbers of equipment in your backpack as least as possible. Individuals tend to keep adding to their packs until they are almost overloaded.

Your bag should never be more than 30-40 percent of your body weight. If you are having more than that, you are actually risking of harming yourself.

Start with light equipment. You can extend the list of your tools on the next trips.

I have never met a newbie backpacker who did not bring excessive heavy equipment with them. I was no exception. I carried too many things I did not require on my first camping.

Lay Out Your Gear Tactically

Put all your gear on the floor and separate it into three categories –

  • Need
  • Desire
  • Bonus Items

It will help you decide on what to carry based on how massive the “Need” stack is now.

Basics Principles of Backpacking

Follow the below basic principles of backpacking while you are packing your backpack.

  • Place the things you need to gain access during hiking towards the top of your backpack or in the hip belt. It includes lunch, snacks, first-aid kits, rain jacket, etc.

  • Disperse the items evenly on all the sides of the bag – Front, Back, Left, and Right.

    For example, if you have put a 2 pounds water bottle in one side pockets. Then, you must put something of similar weight in the other side pockets to even it out.
  • You don’t have to fold your clothes methodically. You have to roll your clothes up very tightly. Else it will occupy a lot of space in your backpack.

  • Make sure nothing hangs off your pack. It could imbalance your body, and you may get stuck on branches. You may also lose some stuff very easily.

  • Put the light items at the bottom of the pack that you do not need to access very often. It includes your additional layers, sleeping bag, etc. You access those stuff only after you come back to the camp.

  • Then place medium to bulky kind of stuff on top of light items like cooking tools, food, tent, etc. You generally do not eat during hiking.

  • On top, you may put any remaining stuff on the top of the backpack that you may want to access quickly.

Practice At Least One Backpacking

According to the American Camper Report, 23% of the campers consider “Packing & Unpacking” as the most time-consuming aspect of camping. You do not become efficient in the very first time you pack. It requires some practice sessions to do it correctly. I will highly recommend practicing the packing at least twice before the trip.

Source: 2017 American Camper Report 

Mental & Physical Preparation

The most crucial part of the preparation for any camping is to learn the skills you need to survive and get yourself ready for physical challenges.

You might have packed your backpack very thoughtfully. But it is still going to be a bit heavier than the weight you usually carry in your day-to-day life. It is going to stress your body.

Moreover, hiking for hours for several days in a row with a heavy backpack will not be so easy. You do not have access to the comforts of your home at the campsite. You will have to have a modest level of physical fitness.

Go for a few small day hikes with a backpack of at least 30 pounds or more. It will help you practice and get you ready for walking a long distance with a heavy bag.

I will highly recommend the following few small exercises. It will help you get physically fit before you leave for the trip –

Step-Ups

physical preparation for camping step ups

Lunges

Lunges

Single-Leg Deadlifts

physical preparation for camping 2

Downward-Dog Holds

downward dog holds

Push-ups—Regular or Modified

Physical Preparation of Camping

Emergency Plans

Handover the following details to your friends and family members before you leave for the trip –

  • Your route plans

  • Date of your return.

Let them know your check-in point to make sure that they can contact there in case you go missing.

You must carry a first aid kit. You may need it for any minor medical problems.

Please note that the cellphone signal may not be available in your entire journey. So, do not depend on it in case of emergencies. You may call on 911 (112 internationally), which should work even if you have no signal.

Conclusion

Plan and prepare yourself properly. It will determine the experience you are going to have on your trip. Do not choose a complicated route on your first camping. You must do some research before buying any equipment. Do not forget to test the equipment before you set out for your trip. You must prepare yourself mentally and physically.

As the saying goes, “Plan your work and work your plan.”

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