7 things I learned on my first backpacking trip (what I would have done differently)

If you are a beginner backpacker, or you haven’t been on your first backpacking adventure yet, but you’d like to, this article is for you! In my opinion, jumping into a new hobby can be really intimidating. Backpacking can be especially daunting as it involves trying new skills and gear, out in the middle of woods by yourself! 

Not to worry though! I’m excited to be on this journey with you, and help in anyway I can. Below I’ve listed a few tips that I hope help you on your first couple trips as a new backpacker. If you have more specific questions or concerns I’d love to hear from you! Please send me an email and I’ll get back to you asap. hi@beccathehungrynomad.com

Without further ado here’s a few tips! I hope they’re helpful.

1. Don’t pack too many clothes

I know the saying may be a little cliché – but seriously: every ounce counts!! When you’re on the trail, you want your pack to be as light as possible. That extra t-shirt might feel light in your hand, but trust me, each article of clothing really adds up in extra weight on your back. On my first trip, I seriously over packed, and was regretting it a couple miles in. I learned you really only need the following clothes:

  • 2 sets of hiking clothes (2 tops, 2 bottoms), just in case one of the sets gets wet. 
  • 1 set of clothes to sleep in 
  • Socks for each day (merino wool ideally)
  • Undergarments for each day
  • Ultra-light rain jacket  
  • Appropriate layers depending on the weather. For example, for moderate to cold weather, pack these additional layers:
    • pull over fleece 
    • an ultra light insulated jacket 
    • a beanie
    • Gloves
    • Buff – which can be used as a neck warmer, ear muffs, facemask etc.

Note: try to avoid packing cotton clothing. Cotton retains water and sweat, and dries very slowly.  It can also cause chaffing. Wool and synthetic are better alternatives for backpacking.

If you’re having trouble packing light in the clothing department, I recommend using packing cubes. Stick to two medium size packing cubes, and when those packing cubes are full – you’ve hit your limit on clothes! This tactic has really helped me on recent trips. If you can’t fit everything in those cubes, choose some things to leave at home. Trust me, your back will thank you on the trail!!

2. Don’t try to save money by buying a cheap sleeping pad

My partner made this mistake on our first trip, when we were both naïve to the importance of a quality sleeping pad! He found a low-cost sleeping pad online and he ended up spending the nights of our first trip uncomfortable and cold all night.

We learned that R-value is a very important factor to consider! R-value is a rating that describes a material’s ability to keep you insulated from the cold. For 3-season backpacking you want to opt for a sleeping pad with an R-value of at least 3. 

After our first trip Zach purchased the Therm-a-Rest Neo Air XLite, he’s been warm and comfortable ever since! I personally use the Sea to Summit Comfort Plus, which I’m also very happy with, however my sleeping pad is a little bulkier in pack-down size, compared to Zach’s Therm-a-Rest. Both are excellent options which I highly recommend. 

Whichever pad you choose, know you are making an investment, and the extra money spent on this piece of equipment will serve you well for many trips and years to come!

3. Stick to a low-mileage route on your first couple trips 

I was a little over-ambitious on my first trip. The route we took felt very difficult and perhaps a bit too long. We made it! But in hindsight I wish I had planned an easier route for our first trip.

When you are just getting your toes wet with backpacking, my recommendation is to stick to 5 miles or less each day of your route.

4. Plan a “zero day” 

If your schedule allows it, try to plan a day where you don’t pack up and move camp. In the backpacking community this is often referred to as a “zero day” because you hike zero miles of your route. 

We incorporated a “zero day” on our second trip and we really enjoyed it! When you’re new to backpacking, the process of setting up camp after a long hike and packing up in the morning and resetting up camp at night again, can be exhausting.  Your new pack and gear are unfamiliar, and you haven’t yet learned the most efficient ways to unpack and repack.  Eventually you’ll know the ins and outs of your pack like the back of your hand, and the process of setting up and taking down camp will seem easy. But at first it feels like a lot of work!

A zero day allows you a break from packing and unpacking, as well as an opportunity to relax and enjoy some easy day-hiking without all that weight on your back!

5. Bring a pair of extra-thick wool socks for sleeping

It is really difficult to sleep if you’re too cold! Bring a pair of extra thick and cozy socks to wear over your regular socks at night.

6. Bring hand warmers to keep you cozy at night

To highlight the point again, it’s really important to stay warm at night so you can get some good quality sleep. Bringing hand warmers is a great way to ensure you’ll stay warm at night. You may not need them, but trust me, if the temperature drops dramatically in the middle of the night you’ll be very glad you have them! 

Keep one at arms reach when you get in your sleeping bag for the night, that way if you wake up in the middle of the night feeling freezing cold, you can just shake one up and stick it in your fleece pocket – you’ll be warming back up in no time!

7. Get a rain cover for your pack

Rain is always a possibility, even in the middle of the summer. You never know when weather might take a turn! And let me tell you, nothing can ruin a trip like a soaking wet pack. 

Always carry a rain cover for your pack, that way you’ll never have to worry!

Tip 7.2: in addition to always packing a rain cover, always pack your ultra-light rain jacket (or an emergency poncho), even if rain isn’t in the weather forecast. Ending up soaking wet due to unexpected rain can not only ruin an otherwise fun trip, it can actually lead to a dangerous situation and put you at risk for hypothermia. It’s always best to be prepared!

I hope these tips have been helpful! I’d love to hear about how your first backpacking trip goes, what tips would you add to the list? Email me at hi@beccathehungrynomad.com