Backpacking For Beginners | Complete Guide

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group of friends on a beginning backpacking trip in Big Bend National Park

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about backpacking for beginners. From choosing the right gear to planning your trip and staying safe in the wilderness, we’ve got you covered. So read on, and get ready to embark on your adventure with confidence.

Key Takeaways

  • Backpacking can be a rewarding and unforgettable experience for beginners.
  • Proper preparation, gear, and mindset are essential for a successful backpacking trip.
  • Our comprehensive guide will cover everything you need to know, from gear selection to safety tips.
  • Short trips and day hikes can be a great way to ease into backpacking for beginners.
  • Thru-hiking offers a rewarding and challenging experience for those ready to take on a longer adventure.

Get Your Gear

As a beginner backpacker, having the right gear is crucial for a comfortable and safe trip. Here are some essentials you’ll need to consider:

Sleeping Bag

A good sleeping bag is one of the most important items to bring with you. Look for one that is lightweight and packs down small. Consider the temperature rating of the bag, and make sure it matches the expected weather conditions of your trip.

Water Sources

Water is essential for any backpacking trip, so make sure you have a way to purify it. Bring a water filter, purification tablets, or a method to boil water. Also, plan your route to make sure you’ll have access to water sources along the way.

Use our calculator to see how much water you need.

Backpacking Stove

A backpacking stove is necessary for cooking your meals on the trail. Look for a lightweight stove that is easy to use and compatible with your fuel source. Don’t forget to bring extra fuel canisters.

First Aid Kit

A first aid kit should always be a part of your backpacking gear list. Look for a kit that includes essential items such as bandages, blister treatment, and antiseptic wipes.

Backpacking Gear List

Creating a comprehensive backpacking gear list is crucial for ensuring you have everything you need. You can find pre-made lists online or create your own. Make sure to include essentials like a suitable backpack, a headlamp, and a multi-tool.

Remember, as a beginner backpacker, it’s important to invest in quality gear that is both comfortable and functional. Proper gear can make your trip more enjoyable and help keep you safe on the trail.

Physical Shape

Before embarking on your first backpacking trip, it’s crucial to assess your physical shape and endurance level. Backpacking involves carrying a heavy load over long distances, elevations, and terrains. Thus, it is essential to prepare your body for the challenges that come with it.

Assess Your Physical Shape

Check if you are fit to handle the physical demands of backpacking. Walking on uneven terrain, long distances, and high elevation can put a strain on your muscles and joints. It is essential to test your endurance level by doing cardio exercises, weightlifting, and bodyweight exercises.

Elevation gain is one of the most challenging aspects of backpacking, even if you are in great physical shape. Acclimating to higher elevations takes time. Thus, if you are planning a backpacking trip that includes high-altitude hiking, it’s wise to train in similar environments before your trip.

Body Weight

Carrying a heavy pack for an extended period can put a strain on your body. It’s essential to pack light and bring only necessary items. Your backpack’s weight should not be more than 20% of your body weight. Calculate your backpack’s weight and distribute the load evenly throughout your pack to ensure optimal balance.

Long Distances

To prepare for long-distance hiking, train in similar environments. Increase your endurance by gradually increasing the length of your hikes and the weight you carry. Also, make sure your shoes or boots are comfortable and broken in before your trip.

High Elevation

Acclimating to higher elevations takes time, and it’s essential to listen to your body. Symptoms of altitude sickness can include headaches, dizziness, and shortness of breath. If you experience any symptoms, it’s vital to take it slow and rest to acclimate to the altitude.

Planning A Trip

When planning your first backpacking trip, it’s important to choose the right destination. Consider exploring national parks, state parks, or designated wilderness areas. These areas offer multiple backcountry camping options, and campgrounds are already established, making it easier for beginners.

Backcountry Camping

Backcountry camping involves carrying all your gear and supplies on your back and finding a suitable campsite. When choosing a backcountry campsite, try to avoid areas close to water sources, as these areas may be heavily trafficked by wildlife. Instead, look for flat and elevated areas and avoid camping on fragile vegetation.

Use An App

There are many apps such as OnX and AllTrails that will help you plan your backpacking trip. is a great resource for booking backcountry campsites and getting your permits before your trip.

Topographic Map

A topographic map can be a valuable backup navigation device. Most people will use their phone or a dedicated GPS device as their primary navigation system.

Backpacking Tips

Backpacking For Beginners

  • Start with a short trip to test your gear and endurance level before embarking on a more extended backpacking adventure.
  • Always carry a first aid kit and know how to use it in an emergency.
  • Choose a trail and campsite that fits your physical shape and endurance level.
  • Don’t forget to check the weather forecast and prepare for changing weather conditions.
  • Learn and practice Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact on the environment.
  • By following these tips and choosing the right destination, planning your first backpacking trip can be an exciting and memorable experience.

Find People To Go With

Backpacking with other people can be a great way to enhance your experience, especially if you’re a beginner. Whether it’s an experienced backpacker or a trusted friend or family member, having someone else with you can provide safety, comfort, and valuable knowledge.

If you don’t know anyone who’s experienced in backpacking, there are many ways to connect with other backpackers. You can join a local hiking club, attend outdoor events, or even use social media to find like-minded individuals. In addition, many national parks and wilderness areas offer guided backpacking trips led by experienced guides, which is a great option if you’re not comfortable going alone.

Experienced Backpacker

If you’re lucky enough to have an experienced backpacker in your life, consider asking them to join you on your first trip. They can offer guidance on gear, planning, and navigating the wilderness. Additionally, they can provide valuable knowledge on safety practices, wildlife encounters, and how to minimize your impact on the environment.

Family Member

Another option for finding someone to go with is to ask a trusted family member. This can provide an opportunity to bond while experiencing the beauty of nature together. However, make sure that your family member is physically capable of backpacking and willing to share the responsibilities of planning and preparing for the trip.

Backpacking Guide

If you’re not comfortable going alone or don’t know anyone who can go with you, a backpacking guide is a great option. They can provide knowledge on local flora and fauna, trail conditions, and emergency procedures. Additionally, they can take care of the planning and logistics, allowing you to focus on enjoying the experience. I recommend my friend Steve’s Fitpacking service.


Go to Meetup, a website dedicated to helping you find groups to do activities with and search your location for camping or backpacking groups. Even in Dallas, Texas which is not known for being a backpacking destination we have a dedicated group who backpacks.

General Safety Trips

I don’t want to scare you but backpacking is riskier than other activities because you are in the backcountry.

You need to take simple precautions to reduce the risk of problems and to be able to get help if necessary.

Let Someone Back Home Know Your Itinerary

A friend, spouse, or parent back home should know your planned trip itinerary and when to expect you back. This way, if something does happen and SAR must be activated, they will have a better idea of where to look for you.

Know The Weather

It’s important to know the weather forecast for your trip. This includes being prepared for thunderstorms because you don’t want to be on a mountaintop when there is lightning. Or if it will be a warm day you want to plan to start your hike early before it gets too hot to hike.

Dress Appropriately

Make sure to pack the correct clothes for the trip. This is why you might want to stick to backpacking in warmer weather to avoid having to pack a bunch of winter gear. Winter clothes take up more room and can be more expensive to purchase.

Make Sure You Have Enough Water

You can survive for a month without food but only a few days without water. Water is even more important while backpacking because you are sweating carrying your pack. You are constantly battling dehydration. Make sure to have a water filter and a steel pot to boil water if necessary.

Bring Something Orange

If you need to flag down SAR or signal a friend who got lost wandering into the bushes to pee, bring something orange. It could be as small as a bandana, but I prefer to carry an emergency poncho. The poncho has mylar. It weighs nothing and packs small but provides extra warmth plus rain protection in an emergency.

Safety Tips for Backpacking in Bear Country

bear crossing the road

Backcountry camping and hiking can be a thrilling adventure, but it’s important to remember that you are entering the home of wild animals. When you venture into bear country, you must take extra safety precautions to avoid dangerous situations. Here are some essential safety tips to keep in mind:

Know the Area

Before you go backpacking in bear country, research the area to learn about the types of bears that live there. Black bears and grizzly bears require different safety measures, so it’s crucial to know which species you’re likely to encounter. Additionally, familiarize yourself with any bear warnings or signs in the area.

Handle Food and Garbage Properly

Proper food storage is essential in bear country to avoid attracting bears to your campsite. Use a bear canister or hang food and garbage at least 100 yards away from your sleeping area. Make sure to cook and eat at least 100 yards away from your sleeping area as well. Avoid bringing any food or scented items into your tent.

Make Noise

Bears may mistake you for prey if you surprise them, especially around a bend in the trail or near running water. Make noise as you hike, such as singing, clapping, or talking loudly, to alert bears of your presence. Use extra caution when hiking near streams or other sources of noise that could make it difficult for bears to hear you.

Carry Bear Spray

Bear spray can be a highly effective deterrent in case of an attack. Carry it in an easily accessible location, such as on your hip belt, and practice using it before your trip. Make sure to choose a spray that is designed for use against bears and verify that it’s legal to carry in the area you’ll be visiting.

Be Prepared for Emergencies

Accidents and emergencies can happen anywhere, so it’s essential to carry a well-stocked first aid kit and know how to use it. Additionally, make sure to have a reliable means of communication, such as a satellite phone or Garmin inReach Mini device, in case of an emergency.

By following these safety tips and being mindful of your surroundings, you can have a safe and enjoyable backpacking experience in bear country.

Short Trips: An Easy Access and Good Option for the Day Hiker

If you’re new to backpacking, you might be intimidated by the idea of multi-day hikes or sleeping in the wilderness. But fear not, short trips and day hikes are an excellent way to start your backpacking journey.

Benefits of Short Trips

  • Short trips allow you to test your gear and skills without committing to a more extended adventure.
  • You can enjoy the outdoors and scenic views without carrying a heavy backpack.
  • You can explore different trails and locations, giving you a taste of what’s out there.
  • Short trips can be scheduled on weekends or days off work, making them a convenient option.

Overall, short trips are an excellent way to get outside, enjoy nature, and grow more confident in your backpacking abilities.

Easy Access Hiking Trails

rolling hills and brush of central texas

There are many easy access hiking trails that offer stunning scenery and straightforward terrain for the beginner backpacker. Here are some recommendations:

  • The Appalachian Trail: A long-distance trail stretching from Georgia to Maine. You can hike sections of it, and many parts are accessible by car or shuttle.
  • The Pacific Crest Trail: Another iconic long-distance trail spanning 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. Various sections are accessible to day-hikers or short-trippers.
  • The National Parks: Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and many other parks offer a range of day hikes and short trips for backpackers of all levels. And just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you can’t backpack. Here is a list of the best winter backpacking destinations.

But there are often hiking trails wherever you live. I live in Dallas, Texas. We don’t have mountain vistas but we have a handful of fun trails to backpackpack.

Research the hiking trails in your area and choose one that fits your level of fitness and experience. Remember, the goal is to have fun and enjoy the outdoors.

Long Day Hikes

If you’re up for a more challenging day hike, check out these recommendations:

  • Half Dome in Yosemite: A challenging and iconic hike, but well worth the effort. You’ll need to obtain a permit and be prepared for steep switchbacks and cable sections.
  • Mount Whitney: The highest peak in the Lower 48, this hike is a serious undertaking. You’ll need a permit and be prepared for long distances and high elevation.
  • Angels Landing in Zion: A thrilling hike with stunning views of the canyon. The last section involves a narrow and exposed rock formation, so it’s not for the faint of heart.

Before attempting a long day hike, make sure you’re physically prepared and have the right gear, water, and food.


Are you ready to take on a challenge and experience the ultimate backpacking adventure? A thru-hike is a long-distance hike that typically takes several months to complete and covers hundreds or thousands of miles. The most famous thru-hike is the Appalachian Trail, which stretches over 2,000 miles along the eastern United States. Even in the south we have thru-hikes such as on the Florida trail.

Thru-hiking requires extensive planning and preparation, as well as physical and mental stamina. You’ll need to carry all your gear and food for several days or even weeks at a time, which can be a daunting task. It’s essential to research the trail and plan your route carefully, considering factors such as weather conditions, water sources, and resupply points.

Long-Distance Hikes

Long-distance hikes are an excellent way to build your endurance and prepare for a thru-hike. These hikes typically cover several miles and require camping overnight in the wilderness. They offer a taste of the thru-hiking experience without the commitment and preparation required for a months-long adventure.

  • The Pacific Crest Trail: stretching over 2,600 miles from Mexico to Canada, this hike offers stunning views of the West Coast.
  • The Continental Divide Trail: covering over 3,000 miles from Montana to New Mexico, this hike offers a glimpse into the rugged beauty of the Rocky Mountains.
  • The Florida Trail: covering over 1,000 miles across Florida, this hike offers a unique opportunity to experience the state’s diverse landscapes and wildlife.

Multi-Day Hikes

If you’re not ready for a long-distance hike, multi-day hikes are an excellent way to build your skills and confidence. These hikes typically cover several miles each day and allow you to camp overnight in the wilderness. They’re a great way to experience the beauty of nature while honing your backpacking skills.

  • The John Muir Trail: covering over 200 miles in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this hike offers breathtaking views of alpine lakes and towering peaks.
  • The Wonderland Trail: circling Mount Rainier in Washington state, this hike offers stunning views of the mountain and surrounding wilderness.
  • The Superior Hiking Trail: stretching over 300 miles along the North Shore of Lake Superior, this hike offers stunning views of waterfalls, forests, and rocky cliffs.

No matter which hike you choose, remember to take your time, enjoy the journey, and stay safe. Thru-hiking and long-distance hiking require physical and mental endurance, but the rewards are priceless. You’ll experience the beauty of nature, challenge yourself in new ways, and make memories that will last a lifetime.


Proper nutrition is essential for a successful backpacking trip, and choosing the right food will help keep your energy levels up throughout the journey. Dehydrated meals and freeze-dried meals are popular options among beginner backpackers due to their lightweight and easy preparation.

Regarding food storage, it’s important to keep your meals safe from wildlife. Using bear canisters, which are specifically designed to keep bears and other curious critters out, is the best way to prevent bears from getting into your food.

Remember always to follow Leave No Trace principles and avoid feeding wildlife with human food. Pack out all of your trash and leftover food to keep the wilderness clean and minimize the negative impact on the environment.

  • Dehydrated meals: These meals are convenient and easy to prepare. Simply add hot water, let it sit for a few minutes, and your meal is ready to eat. They’re lightweight, have a long shelf life, and come in a variety of flavors and recipes.
  • Freeze-dried meals: Similar to dehydrated meals, freeze-dried meals are lightweight and easy to prepare. They also have a longer shelf life and come in a variety of flavors and recipes. However, they tend to be more expensive than dehydrated meals.

Wildlife: Tips on How to Stay Safe While Backpacking

Encounters with wildlife can be an exciting part of backpacking, but it’s crucial to understand how to interact safely with animals to prevent injuries and maintain the wilderness’s natural balance. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Minimize Encounters

While hiking, be sure to make noise to alert wildlife of your presence. This can be as simple as talking loudly or clapping your hands. Stay on designated trails and avoid wandering off the beaten path. Finally, avoid hiking alone.

Black Bear Safety

Black bears are common in many backpacking areas, and it’s essential to know how to handle an encounter. First, make yourself known to the bear by speaking calmly and clearly. Wave your arms to make yourself look larger, but avoid running or screaming. Finally, carry a bear canister to safely store your food, as bears have an excellent sense of smell and may be attracted to your food.

Wild Animals

Interactions with wild animals can be unpredictable, so it’s essential to remain calm and avoid direct eye contact. Carry a whistle or an airhorn to scare off animals, and always give them plenty of space. Be sure to research the types of wildlife in the area you’ll be backpacking in and educate yourself on how to handle potential encounters.

Bear Canisters

A bear canister is a hard-sided container designed to keep food and other scented items safe from bears and other wildlife. When used correctly, they can prevent dangerous encounters with animals. Always use a bear canister and keep it a reasonable distance from your campsite to prevent attracting wildlife. If the park doesn’t require bear canisters there are alternatives to bear canisters to keep your food safe.


You may wish to backpack to get away from it all. But it is still important to be able to communicate with loved ones back home. Your spouse, friends, and family want to know you’re safe. You also want to be able to be rescued in case of disaster.

Garmin inReach Mini

The Garmin inReach Mini is a handy device that allows you to communicate with others while backpacking in remote areas. It uses satellite technology to send and receive texts, track your location, and call for help in case of an emergency. This device can be a valuable tool for staying safe and connected while backpacking in the wilderness.

By following these tips and practicing responsible behavior when interacting with wildlife, you’ll ensure a safe and enjoyable backpacking experience.

ZOLEO Satellite Communicator

Zoleo is similar to inReach by providing satellite-based SMS communication. The Zeleo pairs with your phone so that you can text just like normal. It can provide weather information but it does not provide GPS. The Zoelo also only does text and does not provide voice capability. Zoleo does have a one button “check-in” button and SOS feature without needing your phone.


What is backpacking?

Backpacking is a form of outdoor recreation where you carry all your essential gear and supplies in a backpack and hike or trek through wilderness areas, often camping overnight in backcountry campsites.

Do I need prior hiking or camping experience to go backpacking?

While prior hiking or camping experience can be helpful, it is not necessary. Backpacking for beginners is designed to provide you with all the information and tips you need to embark on your first backpacking trip with confidence.

What gear do I need for backpacking?

Essential gear for backpacking includes a suitable backpack, a sleeping bag, water sources, a first aid kit, and a backpacking stove. We have a comprehensive backpacking gear list available to ensure you have everything you need.

How physically fit do I need to be for backpacking?

Backpacking can involve challenging physical activities, such as carrying a heavy pack, walking long distances, and navigating through high elevation areas. Assessing your physical shape and endurance level is important, and we provide tips on training and preparing your body for these challenges.

How do I plan a backpacking trip?

Planning a backpacking trip involves choosing suitable destinations, selecting backcountry campsites, navigating with a topographic map, and considering essential backpacking tips. We’ll guide you through the planning process to ensure a successful and enjoyable experience.

Should I go backpacking alone or with others?

Backpacking with others, especially experienced backpackers or a trusted family member, can enhance your first-time backpacking experience. We’ll discuss the benefits of finding people to go with, provide tips on connecting with experienced backpackers, and explore the option of hiring a backpacking guide if needed.

How can I stay safe while backpacking?

Safety is paramount when backpacking. We’ll cover important safety considerations, including tips for staying safe in bear country, dealing with wildlife encounters, and the importance of carrying a well-stocked first aid kit. We’ll also provide general safety practices for backcountry camping in wilderness areas.

What are some shorter backpacking options for beginners?

If you’re not yet ready for a multi-day hiking adventure, taking short trips or day hikes can be a great way to ease into backpacking. We’ll discuss the benefits of short trips, highlight easy access hiking trails, and provide recommendations for long day hikes that offer a taste of backpacking without the overnight stay.

What is a thru-hike?

Thru-hiking refers to completing a long-distance trail from end to end, often spanning hundreds or even thousands of miles. We’ll explore the concept of thru-hiking, discuss popular long-distance hikes like the Appalachian Trail, and provide tips for tackling iconic routes such as the Half Dome in Yosemite.

What food should I bring for backpacking?

Proper nutrition and food storage are essential for a successful backpacking trip. We’ll discuss different food options, including dehydrated and freeze-dried meals, and provide tips on food storage to keep your meals safe from wildlife. We’ll also emphasize the importance of following leave no trace principles and avoiding feeding wildlife with human food.

How do I safely interact with wildlife while backpacking?

Understanding how to minimize encounters with wildlife is crucial when backpacking. We’ll discuss tips for safely navigating wildlife areas, including dealing with black bears, using bear canisters for food storage, and introducing useful tools like the Garmin inReach Mini for communication and safety in remote wilderness areas.