Before attempting a multi-day backpack or thru-hike, you should have plenty of experience with hiking, and even some camping experiences under your belt. Being comfortable in the backcountry can be tough for some, and familiarizing yourself with your basic gear, day to day needs, and weather conditions will give you a leg up.
Choosing a trip
Determining where you want to go will inform many aspects of your preparation and the gear you’ll need. For your first backpacking trip, choose somewhere close to home, and never too far from people or another trailhead. Consider the mileage, and do your best to plan a set amount of days and nights you want to be outside. To pick a trip that best suits your ability, utilize region-specific trail maps and guides.
The regulations of a given area will also be something to keep in mind. Does the area require bear canisters? Are you allowed to make a fire? Will you need a permit to hike or stay overnight? These are just some of the questions you should answer in the planning process, as well as brushing up on Leave No Trace principles.
Backpacking gear essentials
Now that you know where you may want to go, you’re going to need gear! Backpacking shares the same 10 essentials that you want to carry when going on a hike, but there are a few added items to carry along.
Backpack (50 - 75 liters)
Hiking boots or trail runners
Sleeping bag and pad
Cooking supplies (stove + fuel + utensils)
Food, water, and water treatment supplies
Trowel, hygiene supplies
Miscellaneous extra supplies to help make a backpacking trip successful include a backpack rain cover, compression sacks (for clothing, tent, sleeping bag), camp-only clothes and footwear, and a powerbank. As with the essentials, and the extras that you bring, test everything out and know how to use the gear before you go.
Planning Your Food and packing your bag
In many cases, you won’t be crossing any roads, and passing through any towns. Be sure to have enough food for three meals a day, and plenty of snacks in-between. When you’re first starting out, try getting easy-to-cook foods, you don’t need to be making Michelin star dinners. If you do happen to pass through a town, and are backpacking for several days, look into the local thru-hiking culture. Oftentimes you can send food to yourself via the postal service, or simply find a local business that holds onto items.
Once you have all the food you're bringing, and have the essential gear, how do you fit it all into your bag comfortably? Here are a couple tips:
Keep bulky items, and items that you don’t need until you get to camp, towards the bottom of the bag.
Place heavy or dense items towards the middle of the pack to best distribute weight.
Put oddly-shaped items at the top of the pack, or in outside pockets and straps. Think sleeping pad strapped to the bottom, or tent poles on the outer pocket.
Put snacks and other essentials within arms reach in your accessory pockets.
While you're on the trail
Once you hit the trail, remind yourself that it’s okay to take things slowly. Take breaks, eat plenty of food, and filter water when you are starting to get low. Keep an eye on the weather, and don’t get caught in any dangerous conditions. When you get to camp, take some tips from our Camping 101 page, and be sure to cook your food safely and responsibly.