5 tips for a successful first backpacking trip

You finished reading “A Walk in the Woods,” and you’ve decided to see if backpacking is for you. Follow these 5 guidelines to ensure that your first trip is a success:

1. Pick the right hike: Many people think of multi-day hiking and immediately picture some backpacker slogging up a mountain on the Appalachian Trail. However, do yourself a favor and stay in the lowlands for your first trip. There are many nice hikes along rivers or out to remote ponds that don’t require much climbing- so getting used to having all your stuff strapped to your back won’t be so bad. The weather is usually friendlier at lower elevations, too- and- if you do hike to that remote pond, you can pack a fishing rod to give yourself something to do before you hike back home.

2. Pick a good weather day: If you’re just starting out, chances are you don’t have all the right gear. You can make up for that by picking the best weather days- if it’s 75 degrees and sunny all day and 60 degrees at night, you don’t really need the best gear, just a good meal and some bug spray. You can even get away with a light tarp and some blankets instead of a sleeping bag.

3. Lighten up: You’ll probably bring too much stuff on your first hike (I was guilty of that!). Lay all of your stuff out, then try to find multiple uses for each item. For example, I have a flashlight, a GPS, and a water filter that all use AA batteries- that way I only need to bring a couple extra batteries, or just borrow them from the device I’m not currently using. You can use a cook pot as a plate or bowl, you can boil water in a metal water bottle, you can use a fleece coat as a pillow- if you look at your pile long enough, you’ll find a few things that can serve multiple purposes.

4. Don’t splurge at the sporting goods store: You’ll quickly discover what type of gear you do and don’t need as you take more trips, so don’t try to buy everything at once. You need a pack that fits you well, but other gear can wait for purchase later. For example, a lightweight fleece blanket can serve as a sleeping bag (if you follow rule #2). In my case, I found the metal cup that I cook in and drink out of for $2.00 at the supermarket. You can buy a simple, cleanable water filter for $25 now. There’s also plenty of prepared foods at the supermarket- look for things that only need hot water, or pack a big sandwich with you for the first night. If you’re planning a short trip, you may only need a sandwich, some snacks, and some breakfast. It’s best to ignore the latest high-tech camp cookware set, and spend money on good quality quick-drying synthetic clothing and sturdy hiking boots instead.

5: Be conservative: Remember, keep it short, level, and simple for the first trip. Pick a nice weekend and give yourself plenty of time and daylight to set up and enjoy the camping part of the trip. Don’t overestimate how long you can walk for and how fast you’ll hike so you can slow down and enjoy the experience.

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