Heading out on your first long backpacking trip? That’s very exciting. Regardless of whether you plan on heading out on a trek that will span multiple days, or you are just planning on embarking on a short day hike, there’s a lot to learn before you set off on your adventure.
If you begin searching the Internet for beginner’s advice about hiking, you will likely find yourself inundated with thousands of tips – some of which may (or may not!) be helpful. To help you out as you get started, we’ve put together a list of the very best backpacking tips for beginners. These tips are inspired by advice from seasoned hikers, personal experience, and even questions asked by readers.
While some of these pieces may seem like common sense, remember that what is common sense to you may not be to another person. In addition, many of these tips may seem obvious when you’re relaxing in the comfort of your own home, but get out into the wilderness and that will likely be an entirely different story.
You will learn best by the experience itself – and particularly by trial and error! – but if you are looking for some sound advice and to calm your nerves before you head out on the trails, heed these tips.
Hiking Essentials: 40 Hiking Tips Every Newbie Needs To Know
- Do your research. Make sure you plan your trip well in advance and don’t do anything on the spur of the moment. Try to make your first trip on a trail that is designed for beginners. You can find good options via popular trail magazines like Outside and Backpacker, but you don’t need a magazine subscription to get started. Websites (including forums) can also provide a bevy of information. Headed outside the United States? Be sure to check out Trails.com for information on trails within the country as well as those in Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean.
- Bring a friend. The easiest – and most efficient – way to learn and hone new skills is to practice them with a knowledgeable person who can train you in the most hands-on setting possible.
- Partner up. If you are hoping to meet people with similar interests – or if you just want to invest in the theory of safety in numbers – consider joining a local hiking club or online form like MeetUp.com. Many of these organize hikes and meet-up events all over the country.
- Make a list. And check it twice! Make sure you look over your list repeatedly, and keep separate lists for food and for equipment.
- Pack lots of food. Bring plenty of emergency food in case you are stuck on the trail longer than you anticipated.
- Inform your friends and family of your whereabouts. You don’t have to broadcast your every move to social media, but it’s a good idea to let at least one or two people know where you headed and when you will be back. This is particularly important if you are headed out on your own.
- Stay hydrated. This is a good life tip, but is critical when you are out on the trails. Drink plenty of water, even before you feel thirsty. Being dehydrated makes you more likely to fall victim to certain illnesses, including altitude sickness and hypothermia.
- Practice with a map and compass. Bring these tools with you on your first (and every) hiking trip, but make sure you know how to use them before you set out on the trails. Otherwise, they are useless. And don’t rely on a hiking GPS alone! No matter how expensive it is, or how many bells and whistles it has, if it loses reception or drains the battery, you are out of luck.
- Pay close attention to your map. Make sure you understand your map, as well as the details it contains. Note potential emergency trail exit points, as well as spots where you can fill up on water. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with parts of the trail that may be more technical.
- Pick a short trail. For your first wilderness adventure, try to select a trail that will be short. This will give you a chance to test out your skills but also won’t place you too far away from civilization in case you aren’t quite as up to the challenge as you thought.
- Wear lots of sunscreen. This Is of vital importance, even if you are hiking on a cloudy day. Sunscreen, as well as other preventive items like sunglasses and a hat, are especially important when you are hiking at a high altitude.
- Take breaks. When you’re hiking, try to take a ten-minute break at least once every hour. This will remove the buildup of lactic acid and metabolic waste in your legs, helping you feel more refreshed and less stiff.
- Train yourself in basic first aid. This one should go without saying – but make sure you also pack a first aid kit with you.
- Prevent blisters. You can prevent blisters by avoiding getting your feet wet. However, this is definitely easier said than done! If you happen to get your feet wet, chance your socks as soon as possible. This will prevent painful blisters from forming.
- Waterproof your gear. You should waterproof all of your equipment, from your jacket to your tent, but your pack is perhaps the most important, as it will keep everything else dry as you move. Use a pack liner or cover for best results.
- Dress intelligently. How many times have you heard of hikers having to be rescued because they wore improper clothes on a hiking trip. Make sure you dress in layers, which will help you stay warm and dry.
- Prepare with your gear ahead of time. Practice setting up your tent and lighting your stove while you’re still at home. This will help you to identify any skill-related issues you may have, and will also help you pinpoint any faulty functioning or manufacturing of your equipment.
- Bring a light day pack. If you only plan on embarking on short side trips from your campsite, consider bringing an extra, lightweight day pack. You can stash only the items you need in there, like your camera and sunscreen, instead of having to lug around all of your equipment at once.
- Pack wisely. Think about how you will access your gear once you get moving. Put all essential items on the outside pouches of your pack so that you can access them easily when you are taking a break, or in case of a crisis. This rule applies to gear like your first aid kit, flashlight, map, and snacks.
- Don’t pack your stove fuel near your food. This can cause some serious contamination issues. Whenever possible, place the fuel on the outside of the pack.
- Take food out of the packaging. When packing your food, it can sometimes be helpful to take food out of its bulky packaging and to pack it by itself.
- Do not wear cotton. Choose wool or other quick-drying materials when you are out in the wilderness.
- Consider your water source. Don’t be fooled into thinking you need to bring all of your water with you, but remember to pack a water purification device like a pump purifier, a SteriPen, or even some purification tablets.
- Pack in cubes. Utilize packing cubes to make things easier to find in your pack. You can organize these cubes into certain categories; for example, you could have one cube for underwear and one for tops.
- Invest in good walking poles. These are especially handy if you have weak or injured knees.
- If you are a lady, consider investing in a moon cup. We won’t say anything more. Just trust us. It’s worth it.
- Try out your hiking gear before you purchase it. Consider borrowing or renting your most expensive gear before you purchase them. This is a great tip for big-ticket items in particular, like hammocks or tents.
- Pack ahead of time. Practice packing and unpacking your backpack at home. This will give you some ideas as to the best and most efficient ways to do it.
- Bring plenty of rain gear. No matter what the forecast may say, remember that it can change at a moment’s notice. Pack a high-quality rain jacket and make sure it is both breathable and waterproof.
- Hike at a reasonable pace. You might want to set new land speed records for how quickly you can get to the top of a mountain, but there probably won’t be anybody waiting at the top with your prize. Don’t force yourself to huff and puff your way up the trail. Instead, walk at a pace that grants you the ability to walk and talk at the same time. This will ensure that you are moving at an appropriate speed for your fitness level.
- Place your water bottle in a sock. Doing this will help prevent your water from getting too warm. All you need to do is soak a sock in water and cover your bottle with it. Then, hang the bottle on the outside of your pack.
- In extra rainy weather, fold a towel into a thin strip. You can then wrap this around your neck before putting on your hood. This will reduce the likelihood of your clothes getting drenched from rain that might drip into your jacket.
- Squeaky pack? Calm the noise – which will certainly become agitating after several miles of hiking! – by putting lip balm on the offending grommet or pin.
- Bring your camera. Don’t forget to take some gorgeous shots of the scenery!
- Loosen the straps of your pack. Before putting on your pack, loosen the straps and then tighten the hip belt (this should sit directly on your hips, and not above them). Next, tighten the shoulder straps and load lifters (near your shoulders). The sternum strap should be tight enough to keep the shoulder straps in place, but not so tight that it is uncomfortable.
- Walking downhill? Remember that uphill hikers always get right of way on the trail.
- Leave no trace, and take no leave. In other words, don’t take anything off the trail with you. Your memories and photographs will serve as souvenirs, so you shouldn’t take anything with you that you didn’t bring out.
- Pack it out. Adjacent to the last point, make sure you bring any trash or other materials off the trail with you. Bring a plastic bag to carry your garbage out. You can tie it to your pack to save space inside.
- Don’t play loud music. Most people – probably you included! – like to hike for the calm and serenity of it. Don’t ruin that by blasting your music, and always talk quietly when you’re on the trails.
- Stay on the trail at all times. This goes without saying, but it will help prevent you from damaging any local wildlife or plant life.
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