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A Beginner’s Guide to Planning Your First Backpacking Trip

Planning your first backpacking trip is exciting and quite possibly a little stressful. There are a lot of unknowns in the backcountry, from unpredictable weather conditions to wildlife encounters. But with the right planning, it is possible to have a successful adventure into the wild.


Deciding where you’ll go is one of the best parts of planning a trip. The options are limitless, and it all comes down to what you want to see and experience. Do you want mountains and streams? Oceans and hills? Desert and rocks? Do you want to go to a national park or state park? Choose your location first and then start making other decisions around the destination.


As a first-timer, planning a trip that is about one to three days is a good place to start. Getting a feel for the process of packing your gear and food and being on foot for hours at a time takes a little practice. The longer you are out, the more logistics are required to plan for your food and water needs throughout the trip.


A backpacking trip requires that you think about logistics like permits and how you’ll get from point A to point B. Most camping adventures, whether car camping or backcountry camping, require you to obtain permits to be on public land. Do your research to understand where you can and can’t set up overnight. Some backpacking trails are not out and back, meaning you need to know who’s picking you up on the other side.

The Right Gear

Having the right gear is important so you’re safe and comfortable. A good backpack, tent, sleeping bag, camping stove, and other essentials like a utility knife, layers of clothing, a first aid kit, a detailed map, and a compass are necessary items to bring along.

Food & Water

All your food should fit in your pack. That means snack foods like jerky, nuts, dried fruit, and dehydrated meal packets. Carrying enough water is also essential. A general rule of thumb is to plan for two liters of water per day. Accessing water depends on where you are. Some trailheads have potable water, some don’t. Drinking water from mountain streams is an option, but you need to have a filtering device to prevent any waterborne illness.  


Try your gear out ahead of time by doing a practice hike. Wearing a pack that holds 25 to 35 pounds all day while hiking or climbing is harder than it may appear. Also, understand the terrain and mileage of your hike and make sure your fitness level meets what’s required.

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