11 Ways to Prepare for Your First Backpacking Trip

My first overnight backpacking trip was definitely a learning experience, mostly because I didn’t anticipate the physical pain and discomfort I was about to face! Over several trips I became much more familiar with how my body reacts to mileage, elevation, and being disconnected out in the wilderness. On every trip after I learned something new, tried out different gear, and became much more comfortable backpacking.

Here are a few tips I wish I could have told myself to make that first trip a little easier.

1) Warm up to it

Start with some day hikes of increasing length and difficulty. Carry extra weight or even bring a full-sized overnight backpack. Pay attention to how your body responds to different foods, water intake, mileage, and elevation. This will be insightful when you are packing for an overnight trip.

Day hike on the Los Liones Trail in Malibu, CA

2) Keep it local

Choose a backpacking destination that is relatively close to home so your main focus is on backpacking rather than traveling. It also gives you a more convenient way out of things don’t go quite according to plan!

Overnight backpacking trip on Mt. San Gorgonio, CA

3) Bring friends

Go with someone who has either done some backpacking before or who has similar expectations and fitness level. This could literally be a life saver if you run into any trouble or forget to pack a crucial item. Plus it’s fun to share the experience with others!

Pehoe Lake on the Torres del Paine W Trek (Day One)

4) Do your research

Once you choose a location do some basic research to make sure you are prepared. Here are a few major things to consider:

Marie Lake on the John Muir Trail (Day Nine)

5) Set a flexible itinerary (if possible)

Plan for an out and back trip with several campsite choices in between. Have a loose plan for mileage but don’t set some insane requirement that will be a huge challenge to meet. Start off with a slow pace and mileage expectation and plan to start early to give yourself plenty of day light. Don’t be afraid to change the scope of your trip based on how you are feeling.

Weekend backpacking trip in Emigrant Wilderness, CA

6) Be prepared

There are lots of factors outside of your control, and preparing for the worst can help make the trip more enjoyable. A few examples:

Overnight backpacking trip on Mt. San Gorgonio, CA

7) Make a packing list

Start a list in advance so you aren’t up all night packing before the big trip. Check off items as you pack them so you don’t forget anything. Start with the 10 essentials and go from there. When you get back, write down items you wish you brought so you have a good list to start with for your next trip.

Weekend backpacking trip in Emigrant Wilderness, CA

8) Rent/borrow and test your gear

For your first trip it is definitely wise to try before you buy, especially if you end up hating backpacking! For pricier gear or items you don’t plan to use frequently (ex: bear canister) borrow from friends or rent from an outdoors store. Then spend some time researching and invest in your own gear later.

Don’t wait until you’re in the wilderness to try your new gear! Practice setting up your tent, test out your water filtration method, pack and adjust your backpack, etc.

Moraine Lake on the High Sierra Trail (Day Two)

9) go with simple/safe foods

Try the foods you plan to pack before you go, and make sure to bring things you are excited about in case your appetite is poor. If you have a weak stomach, avoid spices and things that could be upsetting on the trail. Choose Backpacker’s Pantry chicken & rice over curry, as good as it might be! Bring medicine in case of an upset stomach or diarrhea.

Garnet Lake on the John Muir Trail (Day Four)

10) Acknowledge that it will be an adventure

Set the expectation that you will be pushed outside of your comfort zone in many ways. Whether its because you’re sweaty, feeling pain in muscles you didn’t know you had, unhappy about squatting over a hole, or nervous about the trip you will likely be somewhat uncomfortable. It’s normal!

Half Dome on the John Muir Trail (Day One)

11) Stop and enjoy the journey

Most importantly, don’t forget why you're doing this. Stay present in your surroundings and enjoy being out in nature, in a place that most people will never get to experience.

Weekend backpacking trip in Emigrant Wilderness, CA

Are there other ways you prepare? Add your recommendations in the comments!