By Samarth Vasisht
With planning a backpacking trip it is important to think about classic 5 “W’s”:
- Who: The first part of a trip is finding people to travel with! Find friends that have the same stamina as you and try to ensure that you have one person in your party who has been backpacking before. This person is essential because usually they know the area and more importantly understand what you need to bring on the trip. A lot of my backpacking trips are done at high altitude, which usually leads to a ton of unpredictable weather changes. If you’re going in an area that’s at altitude it’s usually a good thing to have someone who is familiar with the area so that if needed, you can bail. In addition to the people that you travel with, also think about the people at home that you will effect. Remember to leave a detailed itinerary with at least two people and also remember to look into getting permits. Often, national parks and wildlife areas require you to obtain a permit if you choose to wander into the backcountry so be sure to check. When you go to get your permit, talk to the rangers! These are the people that are most familiar with the area and are usually very open to telling you about which campground is best, which hike to take, and hidden gems that are not on the map.
- What: When you decide to backpack, it’s usually a good idea to have a goal or location to strive for. This is especially useful on long hikes or at the end of a long day, where it’s great to end your day a little early so that you can settle down somewhere and explore. I usually try to focus my hike around a summiting a peak, making it to a waterfall, or setting up camp at an overlook. By planning a trip that encompasses goals or beautiful sights, you will have a much better time traveling throughout the day because you’ll always have something to look forward to. For finding fun locations, look online! Many backpackers post about the places that they travel; usually in a well-traversed area, you can find countless opinions on routes and places to stop at so your planning shouldn’t take long at all!
- When: Be sure to take into account what season you plan on doing a majority of your backpacking and how that will effect what you need. If you plan on doing a lot of winter backpacking, maybe that mesh tent really isn’t the best purchase to make. I personally suggest starting off in the summer. Usually this means a lot less weight and much less temperature fluctuation to worry about as well. It’s also important to allot time to travel. A great way to start off with the weekends! Start with a day hike or two, then load up your pack and go out for a night. If you’re feeling up for it, it’s really easy to plan a quick 2-night/3-day weekend trip. When you really feel comfortable with understanding backpacking you can move on to week-long or even multi-week excursions! Also be sure to remember, when planning food and water, plan to bring an extra day’s worth of water and especially food in order to be prepared for any sort of emergency or unfortunate situation.
- Where: Deciding on a location is also a very important aspect to take into consideration when planning a trip. I personally started with places nearby and worked my way outward from home. Most small state parks offer great, established camping opportunities that are great to understand how a backpacking experience might be! After you understand how to camp efficiently, moving on to areas with backcountry campsites are a good way to move towards backpacking. These sites force you to carry everything that you need in a pack, but usually minimize the amount of hiking that you have to do to get there. This is an excellent way to make your pack efficient by removing everything that happens to be extra weight or that you don’t use often! Finally move on by trying larger hikes in more remote locations that challenge your outdoors skills.
- Why: Everyone has his or her own reason to backpack. I truly enjoy being able to get away from the constant need to be connected by technology. Some people do it for exercise, and some so that they can find their inner peace. But most importantly, you should backpack because you want to backpack. Don’t let anyone force you into going on a trip, because the times that you will enjoy it the most are the times that you told yourself to get out there and enjoy it yourself!