Backpacking is for the physically fit and active. A simple, beginner’s trail may take a couple of hours to complete, whereas more challenging trails could take up to 18 hours from start to end.
Thus, this form of outdoor activity requires a certain level of skills, survival instincts, experience and practice. Above all, detailed preparations prior to a hiking trip are advisable, regardless of whether you are a beginner or an expert.
In this article, we will explore the fundamentals of a decent backpacking trip by covering 12 of the most important preparation considerations.
Let’s get planning!
In everything that we do, proper planning is significant. The same goes for a backpacking trip, be it a solo one or in a group.
Planning ahead will save you time, hassle, and potential risks and injuries during your expedition. Here are the main things that you need to take account of, among others, when making your arrangements.
Having a proper plan requires some research. It will address the following considerations before you hit the road:
What is the trip about?
Carpe diem aside, it is always good to think things through. Your aim may be just to get in touch with nature via a quick hike. Or you may be keen on finding a spot in the woods to camp overnight.
By asking yourself what you hope to achieve with the trip, you can then identify what equipment or gear to get. Additionally, you will get to know the types of skills that you lack and will need to be familiar with.
How long is the trip going to be?
Knowing the length of the trip helps you to decide on what and how much to pack for your excursion. Bear in mind that you will be carrying everything on your back. Thus, you must be selective and pack wisely.
Where are you heading to?
Your destination may determine the amount of preparations needed, so it is worthwhile to pay attention to location details.
Unless you are a seasoned backpacker, the best advice is to stick to familiar hiking trails or campsites, and to start simple. Popular trails and sites to set up camps are also safer, in terms of avoiding unsavoury individuals or dangerous wildlife.
For experienced hikers or trekkers, it is still wise to consider the terrain that you plan to tackle. Besides, no matter how physically fit you may be, choosing an appropriate destination will prevent overexertion during the hike.
Whom are you going with? Or are you heading out alone?
It would be ideal to travel with a guide or have an experienced friend along for the trip.
Better yet, trek in a group—traveling with others has its advantages. At the very least, you may meet like-minded people and have company throughout the outing.
Are you prepared for contingencies?
Planning for contingencies is vital, especially if your trip covers several days or if you are backpacking solo.
Get hold of a map for your journey, and find out all you need to know about the place you are going to, including information about trail closures and alternative routes. This will prepare you in knowing what to do if something were to happen (getting lost, possible wildlife encounter).
Being able to signal for help in case of an emergency is also crucial. Apart from that, it is recommended to let someone else back home know about your plans and destination.
Getting and testing essential gear
Buying the right backpack means considering what is comfortable, what you can afford and whether it can fit all of your essential gear.
If you are planning to pitch a tent, you must ensure that it is sturdy yet easy to lug around. Always test your tent for waterproofness on the off chance that it rains. Alternatively, you could get one, or a few, water-repellent tarp.
At a campsite, you will need some basic cooking equipment. Collapsible metal dishware, as well as durable, lightweight plasticware (food containers, water bottles, mugs), are all suitable gear. Similarly, get a stove that is collapsible and easy to use.
Other essential gears to prepare for your trip include a compass, a torchlight or headlamp, fire starters, a small knife, personal hygiene products, insect repellent and a first-aid kit.
Check or test all of these to ensure that they can be used. If the gear you own is unsuitable or inadequate, you have to buy more appropriate ones.
Knowing how to read a map and compass are the basics of navigation. In the event of a compass malfunction, you can at least rely on the map to navigate your way.
Moreover, being able to read topographic maps would come in handy if you need to find your way through mountainous terrains.
Considering the weather
Check the weather forecast of the area you are heading to beforehand. Referring to a reliable weather site could prove useful, as you would want to avoid bad weather.
Nevertheless, the weather can be unpredictable. It is better to err on the side of caution and be prepared for any unexpected changes in weather.
In essence, packing light means only bringing along what is absolutely necessary, be it food, water, clothes or gear. Backpackers cannot afford to carry unnecessary weight, as it would be strenuous.
Ultralight packing is the number one rule of smart backpacking, so making do and improvising is a skill to learn and master.
Being able to rough it out with nature will allow you to be selective about what to pack. For example, depending on what works for your sleeping arrangement, you could bring along a hammock or a sleeping bag rather than a tent.
Picking up survival skills
Survival skills are necessary, especially if you are hiking with limited gear. These skills will compensate for the lack of gear in survival situations.
Basic skills that will help you to survive include building a fire, building a shelter, tying a slip knot (to hang a hammock, bear bag or clothesline), purifying or filtering water, keeping warm, identifying edible and medicinal plants, and even fishing, among others.
Including a first-aid kit
Apart from survival skills, bringing along a first-aid kit is important. You can opt for a pre-made one, which preferably includes an outdoor guide, or personalise your own kit. You could also learn how to treat certain injuries in the outdoors.
Professional hikers also encourage less experienced trekkers or backpackers to prepare a standby ‘first-aid kit’ for their gear, which essentially contains basic tools (duct tape, multipurpose tool). Such gear repair kits are certainly handy to have in an emergency, and are also available for tents, stoves and sleeping bags.
Prepping food and nutrition
Packing food for a hike may seem tricky, but it is actually not difficult. Knowing which food items will last longer and which are perishable is all there is to it.
Other suitable options are prepacked food, high-calorie snacks and quality dehydrated fruits and vegetables. Best of all, these foods do not require cooking.
However, you should avoid lugging canned food. These are bulky and will weigh your backpack down, despite their convenience.
Carrying the right amount of water
Clean water is a necessity, not just for drinking, but also for campsite cooking and cleaning. While hydration is crucial, so is carrying the right amount of water.
Thus, calculate how much water you will need, how much you can carry and pack enough water filters or treatment tablets. Another way to mitigate potential water shortage is to find a campsite near a water source.
Even selecting a cool, shady campsite will help in terms of lowering your water consumption, thus stretching your clean water rations.
Selecting the right campsite
Choosing the right campsite is critical for a host of reasons, with the main ones being safety, convenience and comfort.
You have to make it a point to scan the campsite for potential dangers (predators or snakes, things falling on top of your tent). Besides that, you need to avoid low areas where rain water might collect, so that your campsite will not flood.
Choose a site near a water source, so that replenishing your water supply will be hassle-free.
If possible, locate a site that is level or relatively flat, so that it will be easier to camp or lay out your sleeping bag.
Avoiding hypothermia by keeping warm correctly
Staying warm outdoors, especially on cold nights, is necessary for an enjoyable backpacking experience. The trick is to pack the right clothing, socks and shoes.
For hikes, appropriate clothes could consist of hiking layers (keeps you cool and warm), base layers, mid layers and waterproof shells (the outermost layer that also protects you from sun damage, insects, poisonous plants and wildlife).
However, layering wrongly or overdoing the layers of what you wear may backfire—you will overheat and sweat through your clothes. This keeps your clothes damp, and as you cool down, you might catch a chill. If you are unlucky, this could even lead to hypothermia.
Keeping everything dry
A tip to ensure that your essentials (maps, matches, medicine, money), gear, sleeping bag, clothes and food stay dry is to waterproof them. If waterproofing them is not an option, you could resort to using a water-resistant spray.
The easiest method would be to store these items in either dry bags or Ziploc bags.
The right knowledge, information and preparations prior to your journey will spare you a lot of inconveniences, exposure to risks, injuries and even illness.
Most importantly, you will get to enjoy the backpacking experience properly.