First Time Backpackers: How to Idiot Proof Your Backpacking Trip

Calling all first time backpackers. The first session of the school of backpacking hard knocks is ready to begin.

Optimism running high. Fearlessness out the window. Tag still on that new pair of boots.

-Say what?-

Before you head out the door, you need to know what blunders to avoid.

Being a first time backpacker, isn’t a license to be a careless backpacker. There’s no need to fail. So many have done that already. All you need is a heads up on those mistakes.

And you have that right here.

So we are skipping the small talk, so we can get you out backpacking.

DON’T MISS: The Ultralight Backpacking Checklist: How To Balance Comfort, Weight and Joy

first backpacking trip

1. Hydrate Early

Camelbacks, water bladders, hydro harness- why even a regular old Gatorade bottle can do the job just fine.

The first time backpacker’s pitfall isn’t bringing water. His mistake is when he begins to hydrate.

Proper hydration doesn’t start with quenching your thirst on the trail.

First time backpackers need to know that proper hydration begins up to a week in advance, with special emphasis on the last 48-72 hours.

As a general suggestion, drink generously before you start your day and each time you get to a watering station.

Suggested Gear: Electrolyte Replacements

2. View Your Mistakes As Vital Feedback

Every trip where you learn from your mistakes is an investment in future backpacking success.This is key for a first time backpackers.

One of the biggest mistakes beginner backpackers make is going without a headlamp or using one without a lock function.

This leaves them sidelined in the dark with no way to continue the trail or with a headlamp whose batteries drained before they could ever use it..

Suggested Gear: V800 Plus Headlamp with dimming and boost function

3. Tame your Optimism

Optimism is great. It gives you that edge to look beyond fear. However, you have to keep it in the right doses.

If your optimism overpowers reason, you can needlessly set yourself up for an epic failure.

Keep your spirits high, while you listen to your body. If your body isn’t feeling it, let it rest.

For a raw take on what backpacking is like check out this video:

4. Use Waterproofing to Your Advantage

You don’t need to be an expert backpacker to know that the weather can change suddenly.

Yet, first time backpackers often show up unprepared to keep their pack dry from the onslaught of the elements.

Don’t underestimate the need to stay dry. A sudden downpour can double if not triple the weight of the items in your pack. Not to mention that the water seal on boots can make it hard for them to dry quickly.

So heads up. Bring a waterproof cover for your pack. Trail equipment such as maps, trail references and the like should be in a plastic to keep them from getting soggy and unreadable.

Women should consider packing a pee rag instead of toilet paper. If you decide on toilet paper, be sure to pack out what you pack in.

Consider putting your clothes in separate plastic bags, keeping them dry and separating the dirty from the clean.

Switching into hiking sandals can keep you from lugging around heavy boots, getting blisters and losing valuable trail time.

Consider packing charcoal absorbers for smelly items.

However, all rainwater isn’t bad. You could use your pack cover to collect water for drinking.

Suggested gear: Pack Cover or Dry Bag

5. Keep your Body Flexible

First time backpackers may be active or looking into backpacking as a way to get more active. Going from neighborhood or gym exercise to uneven trails can surprise you with pain and fatigue.

What should you do?

Outsource the weight and pounding off of your knees to hiking poles.

Don’t be fooled by a hike that appears to be flat or level. The side trails may be pretty rugged and you’ll be wishing you’d brought your poles.

BONUS READ: Hiking Poles: Why Successful Hikers Never Hike Without Them

backpacking trip what to take

6. Hike your Own Hike

It’s only natural to want to imitate others. So it’s normal when first time backpackers see someone else hiking a trail with ease and think, Oh, I can do that.

And maybe you can, eventually. But, not on your very first hike.

Remember, no two hikers are alike in stamina, strength or motivation. All three play a key role in having a successful backpacking trip.

After all, you call your own shots. You don’t need to go as fast as the next person. Set goals that are realistic for your individual situation.

Just say no to overladen packs.

Can you imagine packing so much you get blisters on your hips? Honestly, it should never come to that.

Not only do I mean too many things, but too much of the right things.

While it is good to bring an extra meal or two, bringing a change of clothes for each day of your hike may likely be a one-way trip to packing overkill.

So first time backpackers, even though you feel you need to bring everything, opt for a good packing list instead.

Checking out the weather, finding out what the trail offers and weighing your pack before you go are key.

Suggested Gear: Travel Scale

7. A Case of the Wrong Fibers

While you shouldn’t need a fortune to start enjoying the outdoors, the reality of the matter is-is that it might be a good idea to invest in some clothes that are fit for hiking.

In general you want materials that can wick moisture away and cotton items, like jeans don’t do that. Go for polyester and wool fabrics, that are both lightweight, dry quickly and are breathable.

While hiking boots are the iconic symbol of backpacking, you may find that trail shoes or hiking sandals are the better fit for your feet. Swollen feet and blisters are no one’s friends.

Suggested gear: Hiking shoes or sandals

RELATED: How to Choose the Best Hiking Boots For You – 21 Questions Answered

8. Are you Sure you Know How to Use That?

So, growing up on MacGyver and getting inspired by Bear Grylls, oh dear first time backpackers, doesn’t make you an expert. They are good at what they do, because they are out there testing the gear.

So before your long backpacking trip, take the tent outside of the box and try pitching it in your backyard.

Trying to learn how to pitch a tent after a long day, when your body is begging for mercy, can lead to a very uncomfortable night.

Basically make sure what you wear and what you take delivers before the big day.

Oh and one last heads up. Be careful with water bladders. Make sure their valves are closed completely and are far away from sharp objects.

Suggested Gear: Ultralight tent shelter for backpacking. Check out these test results and ratings.

advice for backpacking

9. Nothing Like the Real Thing Baby

This is something like drivers training.

I mean this isn’t an attack on your pride but wisdom errs on the side of reason, right. You are more confident with pilots and drivers that have more hours on the road.

More hours mean more experience. So more trips to the outdoors means more experience and more success.

So you got to get out there. When backpacking with kids, hiking groups are a great option, not only for moral support, but their planned and regular hikes are tried and fit to size.

Suggested Gear: Join a local hiking group

Bonus Read: 5 Amazing Local Hiking Groups That Will Make You a Happy Hiker

10. Take Advice From Other Hikers with a Grain of Salt

If you ask how is the trail, be mindful who is giving you the advice.

What is easy for a seasoned backpacker, may be super difficult for the first time backpacker. A lot depends on where they train and the type of trails they do and even their home field.

Someone who has an active lifestyle versus someone who doesn’t is like comparing a new car to old faithful that needs 10 minutes to warm up.

So try to get a third or even fourth opinion from people with varying backpacking abilities to get a reasonable idea of what you are in for.

Research the hike yourself. Someone may remember it being shorter than what it was.

Suggestion: Online backpacking class. Backpacker University and REI hiking and camping events are great options.

VITCHELO® First Time Backpackers Series

The intelligent and intrepid backpacker that you are, there’s no need to get held back in the first time backpacking school of hard knocks.

Neither should you overthink the outdoors. By avoiding these blunders and getting the right gear you definitely won’t under-think it either.

This article is a first in a series of articles to support, educate and encourage all of our beginning backpackers.

In the meantime, I’d love to know what your first backpacking blunders were. Feel free to share.


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