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How to Start Backpacking

Woman backpacking on a trail in california
Woman backpacking on a trail in california

Getting started with backpacking can be very overwhelming. There are so many moving pieces with planning the trip, getting your gear together, and not to mention just the fear of doing something new!

 

But getting started doesn’t need to be difficult.

 

You can get started and from there start to gather better quality gear, plan and train for harder hikes, and so forth.

 

In this blog, we’re going to be breaking down how to get started with backpacking for newbies.

 

1. Understand that hiking is as mentally challenging as it is physically

Backpacking pushes you well outside of your comfort zone, especially if you’re new to it, and that’s scary.

 

It will feel uncomfortable, you will feel scared, but go ahead and do it anyway! When you push outside of your comfort zone, you grow! Your comfort zone will expand, and you will be able to grow and step into becoming a limitless hiker.

 

The growth-zone is both magical and scary.

 

You don’t need to hate your comfort zone. It’s gotten you this far, but it’s time to push beyond it. If you want to step into the hiker and backpacker that you want to become and go on the adventures you’re dreaming about, you will need to push outside of your comfort zone. There is no way around it, only through. As you grow, your comfort zone will expand.

 

You’ll learn to get comfortable and uncomfortable with the unknown and to value growth and learning over comfort and certainty.

2. Pick a trail that matches where you are at right now

Don’t wait to lose the extra pounds or get to the “perfect” fitness level. Pick a trail that matches your fitness level now and get started.

 

As you start hiking and backpacking more and then training for your bigger hiking goals, your fitness level will improve. Imagine how much further you’ll be in confidence, with your fitness level, and skills if you start now instead of waiting another 6 months.

 

Research some local trails near you that are within shorter driving distance, something that you can always reschedule easily if bad weather hits. Then pick a trail that you can do now. If you can only hike 5 miles, pick a trail that’s 5 miles.

 

Also in your research, look for trails that are well-marked and easy to follow the terrain. You can even look for more established campsites and plenty of water nearby that you can filter.

 

Get comfortable with where you’re at now, and then expand and challenge yourself to harder trails.

 

3. Get your gear together

Weight is such an important factor with backpacking. It’s not very fun lugging 45 pounds up a mountain. I would know, I was there on my first few backpacking trips.

 

As you start to purchase gear, keep weight, comfort, and warmth in mind. But just to start, you don’t need anything fancy. Use what you have, borrow gear, and/or rent gear. This will get you outside and going before you invest in gear.

 

As you progress, you’re going to want to invest in gear, but at first don’t worry about it and just get out on the trail.

 

Here is my full backpacking pack list to help you figure out what you need.

 

Make sure to also do your research and know how to store your foot correctly. Don’t feed wildlife and bring a bear canister if needed.

4. Plan out your food

Backpacking is not the place to skimp on calories and go low fat. You’ll burn plenty of calories, so don’t worry about that. In the backcountry and on hiking trails, food is fuel. Your body needs it to have the energy to keep going and to replenish itself.

 

Here’s a breakdown of macronutrients and how your body uses them when hiking. Incorporate each of them into your meal plan. 

 

Carbs: Quick release energy that helps your body replenish energy quickly, and especially helpful on long uphill stretches.

 

Fats: Sustained release of energy. This is essential for hiking and backpacking since often it can be an all-day activity.

 

Protein: Helps your body rebuild and recover. Physical activity tears down muscle tissue, protein, and rest help your body rebuild it so you get stronger.

 

Bring enough so you have snacks, breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the whole trip. Even if you’re too tired to eat dinner, do it! It will help replenish your body so you have more energy in the morning.

 

Light, calorie-dense, easy to make meals that don’t require refrigeration are best for backpacking.

 

Things like:

  • Freeze-dried meals
  • Mac and cheese or ramen
  • Cheese
  • Jerky and other dried meats
  • Oatmeal
  • Tortilla

 

Make sure to also bring a water filter so you can filter water if you’ll be near a water source. For more on backcountry nutrition and food, read through this meal specific blog post.

 

5. Get ready for your trip

Put everything together for your trip. Plan out your itinerary, give yourself time to acclimate if you’re hiking at altitude, tell a friend or family member where you’re going and give them a copy of your itinerary, know what kind of wildlife to expect, and check the weather before you head out.

 

Diving In Deeper To Backpacking

We just went through the basic foundation that you need just to get started with backpacking.

 

From here, as you get into doing harder trails and bucket list adventures, you’ll want to dive deeper into it. You’ll want to really focus on planning your hikes and the breakdown of miles and elevation gain, understand navigation, what to do if you get lost or see wildlife, fully understand gear so you know what to invest in, and so forth.

 

Join the waitlist for my new program, Limitless Hiker. In the program, we walk through step-by-step everything you need to know to step into becoming a truly limitless hiker and backpacker.

 

For more tips on how to advance your backpacking skills, make sure to sign up for my email newsletter!

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