by Samarth Vasisht
Going backpacking is not at all about the destination; it’s about the journey. Understanding how to make that journey about your surroundings and not about the aching and discomfort is essential to any backpacking trip, so here are some tips:
Find a group of friends that you are close with and that are willing to get dirty. Traveling through the countryside is also an excellent way to get closer with people so don’t be afraid to go with people that you don’t know that well. The most important part of finding a group is ensuring that everyone is well prepared and willing to allot the time to travel. If it’s your first time, find some friends that are experienced. The experience will go a long way and will help everyone to have a more enjoyable trip in general.
If it’s your first time, pick a place that is well mapped, has plenty of water, and is not too hilly. Make sure that it’s not too far away and be sure to have a plan if anything becomes too burdensome. Pick a place with plenty of overlooks, waterfalls, and sights to see. It will make the trip much more enjoyable and less physically tolling. If your local state/national park allows backcountry camping, start of with that! It’s great to have well-established trails and park rangers nearby. As you get a better feel of how you like to hike, switch it up, add some grueling hills, increase the mileage, hike in national forests, and find places that are little known. Explore. It’s part of the fun!
Choose a time when you are free and give yourself a day or so of extra time just for good measure. It’s really nice to have that day to unwind and, if you really want, you can always just stay out for longer. Just make sure no one in your group has any pressing time conflicts, because worrying about finishing in time is a very easy way to add unneeded stress to a trip. My personal suggestion is to start off with day trips, then move to overnighters, and work your way up to weekends and even longer! Although week long trip requires much more planning and thought than an overnight trip, both can be extremely fulfilling in very different ways.
Often times many backpackers become too focused on trail gear. New innovations in material science and design over the past decade have lead to a ton of options for camping gear, but in the end it really doesn’t matter what you have as long as it’s dependable. Buy from reliable brands, borrow, and soon you will have more than enough gear to backpack with (trust me….it builds up pretty quick). Remember, as corny as it sounds, it’s the places you go and the people that you are with that matter much much more than the equipment that you carry.
Clothing is important. Especially with backpacking, because you don’t want to pack too much, and you don’t want to pack too little. I personally use a pair of hiking clothes and a pair of sleeping clothes and that’s it, but I have friends that like bringing a pair of clothes for every day. My advice: start off with extra and cut down from there; layer! layer! layer!; and get good socks (a good pair of socks go SUCH a long way). Be sure to try and stay away from cotton and stick to synthetics like nylon and polyester. Merino wool and smart-wool is great to have for a base layer because of its antimicrobial properties.
This always seems to be the hardest part of backpacking. Everyone eats differently, so packing meals can be a challenge. Be sure to pack an extra day’s worth of food just as preparation for extreme hunger or an emergency situation. With food, there are countless options, and the important part is ensuring that you always have enough. First, remember that hiking is not easy and you will burn more calories than you think. So pack accordingly. Also warm food is great, but sometimes you just don’t have a stove, so resorting back to the good ‘ole PB&J and some tortilla rolls just might be the best call. Personally, I’ve always been a fan of trail-mix and oatmeal for breakfast/lunch and then a warm early dinner with either a freeze-dried meal, or a couple hot dogs cooked over a fire. With food, the best option is to ask around for different recipes, as any experienced backpacker will have countless stories and options for food that they will be more than willing to share!
Often times people are scared to leave their cell phones behind and enter this world where communication with the world is cut off, but trust me in saying that it is the most satisfying experience to be completely separated from the world with only nature around you. So put your phone on airplane mode, take some beautiful pictures, and take it all in.
In regards to emergency communication, some people like carrying radios or other satellite beacon devices, and I would say that this is personal preference. I personally do not carry anything of the sort; but as a solo backpacker, I would definitely want a device that could alert the proper authorities in times of distress.
Leave No Trace
This is what I find to be the most important part of backpacking. Remembering that nature should not be taken for granted and that all individuals should be respectful of the natural world is a very important mindset to have when backpacking. Learn how to properly pick campsites, use trails, dispose of waste, and care for the flora and fauna. Many rangers will be more than willing to give a quick explanation of the expectations for backpackers, and for more information check out lnt.org.