How to Become an Expert Backpacker

Mar 15 , 2017

How to Become an Expert Backpacker

For some outdoor enthusiasts, it’s enough to stick to busy campgrounds and popular, familiar trails. Others crave a more immersive way to commune with Mother Nature. Exploring the wide, wonderful world of backpacking is a stimulating and rewarding way to truly experience nature at its finest for the first time.


However, knowing you’re interested in getting into backpacking is one thing. Actually doing it properly is another. Here we’ll take a closer look at the basics involved in becoming a truly skillful backpacker. You’ll be roughing it like one of the pros in no time!

1. Turn to those with more experience.

Although it might be tempting to simply strike out on your own right from day one, it’s much better (and safer) to take your first couple of trips in the company of more experienced backpackers. If you have a friend or acquaintance that’s into backpacking, get in touch and plan a one- or two-night trip sometime soon. They’ll probably jump at the chance to introduce you to the experience. Plus, they can either loan you some gear to get started with or make some savvy recommendations as to what you should buy.

Don’t already know someone that backpacks? Consider signing up for a backpacking class instead. Invite your spouse, a friend, or a family member to do it with you if you like. Backpacking excursions are safer when more than one person is involved, anyway—not to mention, more fun.

checking route

2.Choose your route wisely.

Not all routes are created equally when it comes to backpacking, so make sure you choose yours with care. Critical factors to consider when making your choice include:

Fitness Level

Always consider the difficulty of a given route before you commit to an outing. It’s easier than you think to bite off more than you can chew! Take your current fitness level into account. If possible, you should also plan ahead far enough to train a little first. You’ll get more out of the experience and drastically reduce the possibility of injury.


You’ll also want to plan out not only the number of miles you’re good with hiking in a day but the total number of hours you want to spend on the move each day. Choose your route accordingly. For beginning backpackers, a round-trip distance of 3-8 miles is usually comfortable. If backpacking at a higher altitude, err on the side of caution and plan for less distance.

Weather and Climate

Lots of activities are fine to do on a more spontaneous basis, but backpacking isn’t really one of them. Backpacking requires planning. Always be aware of what time dusk will fall at a given time of year to make sure you’re never stuck hiking in the dark. Check the weather forecast ahead of time as well. If bad weather or storms are expected to move in, it’s better to simply cancel your trip.

Other Practicalities

Make sure you’ve properly planned the logistics of your trip from start to finish. Will you be following a looping trail or traveling along a specific route from one point to another? If you’re going with a point-to-point trip, make sure you’ve squared away transportation to and from your starting and ending locations. Don’t forget to factor in driving time when deciding how much time you’re allowing yourself to set up camp before darkness falls.

backpacking gear

3.Make sure you have the right gear on hand.

When it comes to backpacking, there are certain essentials you don’t want to be without. If you’re traveling with a group and splitting gear responsibilities, make sure everyone’s clear on who’s supposed to be bringing what. Check and double check to make sure you’ve collectively got everything packed before you leave.

Tent: Choose a tent made specifically for backpackers. They’re lighter and more compact than the alternatives.

Navigation: Bring topographical maps of the area where you’ll be hiking, as well as a compass to help you orient yourself if need be.

Cooking Supplies: You’ll need waterproof matches or lighters to light your campfires. You may also want to consider bringing a compact stove so you don’t have to count on the ability to start a campfire, as well as pots and other utensils.

Water Treatment: In addition to carrying plenty of drinkable water with you, you’ll need a safe way to filter and treat natural water should you run out. (Never drink straight from a stream or lake.) Bring a portable water filter designed for outdoor use to remove sediment and impurities, as well as purifying tablets to kill bacteria and other organisms.

You’ll need to make sure you pack the right personal items as well. These include appropriate clothing, footwear, sleeping bags, a sleeping pad, and energy-rich food to keep your energy up during the day. Expert backpacking done properly is largely about being fully prepared for every possibility.