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Tips for First Time Backpackers from Seasoned Hikers

The popularity of books like Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed or Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail has inspired many to hit the trail too. What’s is weird, is both of these authors were unprepared for their adventures.

Reading it almost seems like a ‘what not to do guide’. But that hasn’t stopped adventure seekers from making their own way on the trails.

The Pacific Crest Trail Association even dedicates a section for those that want to hike in Sheryl’s footsteps. Before starting out any hiking trail, I’ve rounded up some of the best tips for first-time backpackers.

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Tips for First Time Backpackers

Tell someone your itinerary before going

For safety’s sake, it’s good that family at home knows where you are and a loose itinerary of your backpacking trip.

If your person is a worrier, make sure they know things don’t always go as planned and sometimes you need to rest at the earlier campsite.

Start off slow

We’ve all been there. Planning out your journey on paper sounds great. You’ve done 5 miles hike before no problem, what’s another mile or two?

In reality, you will probably only go half the distance on the first day. A beginner backpacker will be going a lot slower.

On my first trip, I thought 2 miles would be nothing. We hit the trail late in the day. Before we got to camp, I was overheating and so tired. The next day we did 8 miles and the final day we did 10 like it was nothing.

be dealing with elevation and all kinds of other things you probably didn’t train for. Expect to do about 1 mile an hour.

Plan on getting to the campsite earlier in the day

Nothing is worse than getting to a campsite near dark and finding all the tent pads taken. Arriving around 3-4 pm will give you some buffer and let you explore the area.

Step over rocks, roots, and logs on the trail

You never know what’s underneath them and getting an injury on the trail can be detrimental. On my first backpacking trip, I managed to sprain both ankles stepping on uneven terrain even with good hiking boots.

You only need 1-2 liters of water per person

Fill up water whenever you get the chance. Each liter of water is equivalent to 2.2 pounds. That should be plenty to keep you going until your next stream.

The guide books are great at telling you where to fill up on each trail. Make sure you know where a water source is on the trail. Always have a full container of water when getting to camp.

Flavor your water

Mix things up by adding a flavor packet to your water bottle. It will keep you hydrated. Just make sure to save some regular water for cooking.

Use a Gravity Filter instead of a hand filter

The amount of energy used in a hand filter can be kind of annoying especially after a long day. The Sawyer Squeeze is a good alternative to the expensive ones out there.

Attaching a platypus collapsible bag to it and hanging it from a tree limb transitions it from a squeeze filter to a gravity one.

Platypus Water Filter Backpacking Upgrade

Trekking poles are required

There is a reason so many hikers use them. First and foremost, trekking poles give an extra point of contact with the ground, increasing your stability.

Second, they help you stay upright and in an optimal hiking position. With a heavy pack, you may be inclined to lean over to compensate, destroying your back muscles.

Never hike with your hands looped in trekking pole handles

More injuries occur because hikers a stuck to their sticks. If the pole gets caught and you can’t remove your hand fast enough, you are going down with it.

Instead, use those loops when you need to use your hands for something. Like when you stop to take a picture but don’t want to drop the poles.

See Related: DIY Compression Stuff Sack for Camping

Permethrin Spray is the best line of defense against mosquitos and ticks

It is a chemical treatment that is applied to your clothing before you leave. Dip your clothing in the solution and let air dry.

It gives protection or 6 weeks or 6 washes against all bugs. You’ll be able to leave the bug spray at home with this stuff.


Make sure you are in shape before you go

Even then, nothing will prepare you for what it’s like. Make sure you can do at least three miles first. Wear a backpack with you to get you used to carry weight.

Add some hills into the mix as you will not be hiking on paved flat trails. It will make the backpacking experience so much better.

It’s not much different from traditional hiking or remote camping

The only difference is that you have to carry all your equipment. This is why everyone talks about weight. Food is dehydrated, tents are smaller and people are a little more friendly on the trail.

Bring the proper equipment

You need to have the proper backpacking equipment. If you only have two things, make sure you have a proper backpack and footwear. Everything else can be added on and upgraded later.

Let the newbie take the lead

This is counter-intuitive for a first time backpacker to feel like you are leading the way. But really you are setting the pace.

Most thru hiking trails are pretty clear. If it’s not or if you get to a crossroads, wait for your hiking partner and confirm the direction to go.

If you are walking with a seasoned hiker, their pace is faster because of their confidence. You’ll end up chasing after them. Fatigue sets in and you are no longer as confident on your feet and injuries happen.

Newbie Hiker in the front tips for first time backpackers

Leukotape for blisters

No matter how much you break in your hiking boots, the chances of a blister on a hiking trip over a couple of days are inevitable. Leukotape is what backpackers swear by because it is ultra sticky.

In a pinch, you can use moleskin or duck tape too, but Leukotape holds its place better than everything else.

Earplugs at night

Hikers snore, tents flap, sleep maps squeak and squires sound like enormous bears in the dark. When you are alone in the woods, your mind can play tricks on you. Add a pair of earplugs to your backpacking gear.

Trail Runners are just for running

There is much debate in the hiking world about the best footgear. If you do not like your hiking boots or want something a little lighter, give a set of trail runners a try.

If your boots are getting annoying on the trail, you can always tie them to your bag and hike in camp shoes. There really isn’t a rule on footwear.

Bring less clothing than you think you need

Chances are you’ve overpacked on backpacking gear, especially on your first trip. You need two sets of clothing in most cases, day clothes and night clothing.

One hiker makes a backpacking checklist of everything he brought with him on the trail. At the end of the trip, he highlights the things he didn’t use. After two trips of not using it, he tasks it off the pack list.

Bring an extra garbage bag to cover your pack at night

Morning dew can add a bit of extra moisture.

Do not skip the Spur Trails

Often the best overlooks are a half-mile down the trail.

Backpacking Tips - Dont froget the spur trails

Cold weather backpacking tips

Do not let your water filter freeze

It will destroy it. If there is anything you don’t want to freeze and temperatures might dip, make sure it’s in your sleeping bag with you at night.

Boil water and put it in a Nalgene

Take it to bed with you to warm up the inside of your sleeping bag. It’s a great way to get a quick fix. It doesn’t cost any extra weight to carry and the water is drinkable.

34 degrees in a Hammock

Rain Coat gives more warmth

If you are cold and need a little more warmth, a raincoat does a great job. It traps a layer of heat in, blocks the wind and so much more.

Never stop learning

Backpackers are always learning something new each time they hike. The community on the trail is great and most of the campfire talks involve giving each other tips.

Every trip is an excuse to swap out your gear for something new. Become a budget backpacker or go ultralight backpacking next time. The best tip for first-time backpackers is that the only way you’ll know what it is like is to get out there and do your first backpacking trip.

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Tips for First Time Backpackers From Seasoned Backpackers
Tips for First Time Backpackers From Seasoned Backpackers

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