Backpacking allows you to enjoy the outdoors and get some great exercise at the same time. How to go backpacking will walk you through choosing a great destination and putting together all the equipment you need for your next backpacking excursion. Backpacking is one of the healthiest and least expensive outdoor activities you can enjoy. For some people, it becomes a way of life. Before you plan a trip, you should check with your doctor to make sure you can handle some of the physical demands of backpacking. Once you get the go ahead, you can start preparing to see the best locations. Whether you’re backpacking through Europe or just getting away for the day, the following plan will help set you on your way.
Step 1: Choose Your Destination
Before you can plan anything, you need to choose your location. Have you always dreamed of backpacking through a national park for a week? Or, are you thinking of a longer excursion? Maybe just getting away for an afternoon is what you had in mind. The best way to pick your location is to research it first.
Connect with Your Fellow Backpackers
Other backpackers can provide first-hand information that will give you a more realistic idea of what to expect from each destination. Once you know what to expect, it’s much easier to choose.
- Start by exploring information through message boards and online forums.
- Find first-person stories from experienced backpackers talking about their previous adventures and their experience with gear.
- Ask co-workers, family and friends about their backpacking experiences.
- Join a backpacking club to meet people and get general guidance for trip planning.
- Listen to the experts and watch online backpacking videos of some popular locations.
Learn about Weather
Proper consideration should be paid to the type of weather you could face on your trip. You can’t choose your destination until you take a crash course on the climate of different locations. Before you make any more plans, you need to understand the weather.
- Start by monitoring the weather sites and forecasts for the places you’re interested in visiting.
- Sign up for weather alerts from the chamber of commerce or official city websites of several locations.
- Trace the weather of the most popular cities for backpacking in case you need to change your destination at the last minute.
Step 2: Pick a Trail
Once you’ve selected the destination and the time of year you’ll be traveling, it’s time to search for the best route or trail for your trip. Remember that other backpackers are a great source of information, so take advantage of their advice.
- Find a trail that works best for your level of experience.
- Review the most popular trails.
- Find international trails if you’re backpacking in a foreign country.
- Purchase maps and make extra copies.
- Highlight your route on your map.
- Mark important landmarks on your map.
- Once you’re done choosing a trail, give copies of your route to friends or family.
- Campsites: Remember that campsites usually have some amenities such as bathrooms, showers and convenience stores, so take a list of area campsites with you. The internet is a great place to find campsites in any location, from European campsites to Asian campsites.
Step 3: Buy a Backpack
Your backpack will become your best friend during the trip. It will carry virtually every piece of gear, equipment and safety item you take. Before you purchase anything, keep in mind that the length of your trip and the type of weather you’ll face will help determine the type of backpack you should use.
Types of Backpacks
- External Frame Backpacks — These backpacks have a metal frame usually made from aluminum tubing attached to the outside of the backpack. They are used to carry larger loads since the weight of the pack is transferred more to the frame, not the body.
- Internal Frame Backpacks — The frames of these backpacks are located on the inside. They are easier to handle than external frame backpacks because they are smaller in size and cling closer to the body.
- Day Backpacks — These backpacks don’t have a frame and are commonly sold in most department stores. Use them for short day trips with light loads.
- Once you have narrowed down the type of frame you’re purchasing, take the following steps before you buy your backpack:
- Read reviews on backpacks from other consumers who’ve tried them.
- Don’t purchase a backpack unless you try it on first.
- Learn about avoiding back injuries.
- Get the correct size that fits your body properly.
Before Buying Your Backpack
Step 4: Select Your Gear
Properly packing your backpack and selecting your gear are two of the most important tasks you have. After you know your destination and route, you will know what to pack according to the length of your trip and the type of weather you’ll be facing. View backpacking videos about gear so you can get a real sense of what you’ll need. Remember that you should only go on overnight trips with an experienced backpacker.
What You’ll Need
There are required items that every backpacker should have. The longer your trip, the more gear and equipment you’ll need. But even if you’re only going on a two-hour lunch time walk on a sunny day, you will need to carry some basic supplies.
- Digital Camera
- Fully-Charged Cell Phone
- Photo ID
- Flashlight with Extra Batteries
- Sleeping Bag
- Extra Clothing and Socks
- Maps with Itinerary
- Pocket Knife
- Waterproof Matches or Fire Starter
- Writing Material
Avoid Getting Lost
- Buy a Compass — This small device tells you whether you’re facing north, south, west or east and is an important tool for any backpacker. Learn how to choose the right compass for your trip and how to align it properly.
- Consider Buying a GPS (Global Positioning System) — A handheld navigation system can take the guesswork out of finding your way around.
Pack It Up
The basic steps you should take for packing up your gear will depend on the length of your trip. Make sure you pack all your items carefully so that the weight is evenly distributed throughout the backpack. This will protect your body from injuries and make your trip more pleasant.
Take the following steps if you’re planning a simple day-long getaway:
- Make a checklist of everything you’ll need.
- Start laying out your items several days before your trip.
- As you pack, lift up your backpack often to make sure it’s not getting too heavy.
- Pack a basic first-aid kit.
- Review your checklist the night before your trip.
- Give a copy of your route to friends or family.
- Week-Long Trips
- Follow this plan for trips that last a week or two
- Make a checklist of everything you’ll need.
- Practice packing and setting up a tent before you leave.
- If you’re backpacking during winter months, take extra gear and clothes.
- Practice using your hydration system.
- Make sure your stove and outdoor cooking equipment are working properly.
- Practice using your water filter pump and water bottles.
- Wash your sleeping bag and blankets.
- Start laying out your items two weeks before your trip.
- Pack a survival first-aid kit.
- Review your checklist several days before your trip.
- Give your itinerary to friends or family.
- Leave a copy of your itinerary on your dashboard if you’re driving to the departure site.
- Extended Trips
- If you plan to go backpacking for a few months or even longer, you will need all the gear and equipment you’d take on a week-long trip, only much more of it. Follow all the steps above, plus the following:
- Increase the intensity of your work-out routine months before your trip to prepare yourself physically.
- Get a list of several youth hostels along your route in case you need a break from backpacking.
- Purchase extra travelers checks for emergencies.
Step 5: Safety Plan
As with any trip, some thought should be put into preparing for emergencies or injuries. In most cases, backpacking injuries are minor and can be treated with a basic first-aid kit.
Prepare for the Unexpected
- Attend a first-aid training class before you leave.
- Learn about poisonous and edible plants.
- It’s very important to give copies of your itinerary and route to friends and family.
- Remember to check the expiration dates on the medicine in your first-aid kit.
- Bandages in Different Sizes
- Ankle Wraps
- Sterile Tape and Gauze Pads
- Hydrocortisone Cream
- Antibiotic Ointment
- Hand Sanitizer
- Bug repellent
Contents of a Backpacking First-Aid Kit
Respect the Weather
Many backpacking trips have been ruined by weather. If you planned for sunny weather but you get caught in a rainstorm, not only can it shorten your trip, but it’s dangerous as well. You should keep a watchful eye on the weather throughout your trip.
- Sign up for weather alerts on your cell or GPS system.
- Each day of your trip, watch for a change in the sun and clouds since that’s a good way of predicting rain and storms.
- Play it safe by moving to a secure location if you see any climate changes.
Step 6: Learn the Law
The best part about backpacking is enjoying the great outdoors up close and without distractions. But before you leave for your trip, remember to read about the laws of the area you’re visiting.
- Understand the national and statewide leave no trace regulations before you embark on your trip. The law states that backpackers must leave each location as they found it and without a trace of them being there. These principles were created to encourage respect for the environment.
- Bring a language book if you don’t understand the language of the place you’re visiting. This will help you read important signs along your route.
- If you’re backpacking in a foreign country, it’s important to learn about the country and their specific laws before you leave.
Backpacking is not something you can do on a last-minute whim. You need to plan ahead and take some basic steps that will ensure you have a fun and safe adventure. Start with small, short trips until you gain confidence in your ability to handle your gear and surroundings. Make sure you prepare yourself physically for the demands of the outdoors. With some proper guidance and input from other backpackers, the world will soon be yours to explore.