Backpacking 101: Keys to Success

Backpacking 101: Keys to Success

Perhaps you’ve always wanted to take a backpacking trip through the beautiful backcountry wilderness, but you don’t know where to start. It is important to do thorough research ahead of time so your backpacking trip turns out to be as grand as you dreamed it would be. There are several steps you need to take before you leave home and best practices to follow while on the trail.

Physical Preparation

It is important to condition your body and be in tip top shape before embarking on a backpacking trip. It would be unwise to assume you can simply go out and hike with a heavy backpack—or even a lightweight one if you have no experience or are unfit. It is a good idea to visit your physician for a thorough medical check-up before starting an exercise program and to ensure you are healthy enough to go on a backpacking trip. Create an exercise program or enlist a professional trainer, focusing on strengthening the upper and lower back, core (abdominal muscles) and legs. Take a walk around your neighborhood with about 5 pounds in your backpack. Gradually increase the length of your walks and then choose a nearby hiking path, e.g. at a local forest preserve and see how that goes. As your fitness level improves, you can increase the duration and difficulty of these hikes.

Tips Prior to Leaving Home

1. Extensive planning involves far more than selecting your destination. This includes locating accurate maps, getting permits, learning about current conditions (weather, fires, insects, dangerous wildlife, etc.), finding out about trail closures or campfire bans, etc.

2. It does not take long for a heavy backpack to cause discomfort once you are out hiking on the trail. Common mistakes include bringing too much clothing, food, and cooking equipment, as well as unnecessary items like camping chairs and camping shoes. The most important things to consider are your shelter, backpack, and sleeping bag. With the advent of lightweight gear, it is possible to weigh in at just over four pounds including your backpack, two-person tent, and sleeping bag. Consider lightweight food that will barely add any weight to your backpack and is super easy to prepare.

3. Testing your gear before you embark on your trip is essential. Can you imagine being out in the wilderness with a headlamp or flashlight with depleted batteries, or not having the correct stove fuel? These potential mishaps are completely avoidable by testing your equipment at home.

4. This may sound like a no brainer, but you should not even consider backpacking if you don’t know how to read a map, use a compass properly, or signal for help. Learning these basic skills will help prevent you from veering off the path, but also prepare you to locate assistance should you find yourself lost.

Tips for the Trail

1. If it looks like rain is coming, pack your sleeping bag in a waterproof container inside your backpack. Heavy-duty trash bags will suffice. Backpacks that claim to be 100% waterproof rarely are, and the extra protection will ensure you aren’t sleeping in a soggy, wet sleeping bag.

2. Wearing footwear that is too tight, too rigid, or that rubs against a specific area of the foot can cause blisters. Experts suggest opting for lightweight trail running shoes instead of hiking boots to help keep feet ventilated, comfortable, and blister free. It is also a good idea to break in your trail shoes before you embark on your trip.

3. Water is a heavy item, so it is key to plan ahead of time and pinpoint where water sources exist on the trail. That way you will know in advance where to hydrate and fill bottles. A 3-liter hydration bladder will add close to seven pounds to your backpack. You certainly need this if you are hiking in terrain like the desert. However, you can likely avoid the extra weight if there is access to clean natural water sources. Just to be safe, bring a simple filtering method for water, because even rivers that look sparkling clean can be polluted.

4. Pack a proper first aid kit which includes bandages and some type of antiseptic. If you take medication, make sure you bring an adequate supply. Don’t forget insect repellents that contain DEET, Picaridin, or IR3535 to protect against pesky mosquitoes.

Consider purchasing a Hunters Survival Kit, which comes jam packed with many of the things you might forget to pack. You can pick and choose the items you need and carry them in your backpack while hiking.


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