CREDIT TO: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO START BACKPACKING BY: MIKE BITANGA
Immersing yourself in nature beyond the car campground is where you’ll find the true wilderness experience. The attraction of backpacking stems from the concept of man vs. nature, as it feeds your endless hunger for pure adventure. Not only that, but it’s a genuine escape that allows you to broaden your horizons and learn what you’re really made of. Okay, that might be too extreme of a description for your first backpacking trip, but the experience will definitely let you find peace in a place that isn’t spoiled by technology. Once you’re out there and accustomed to your surroundings, you get to connect with Mother Nature.
It’s been suggested that 17th Century Italian adventurer Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Careri was one of the world’s first backpackers, so the concept is anything but new. However, modern backpacking can be traced back to the hippie trail of the 1950s to the late 1970s. These groovy explorers traveled light between Europe and South Asia, and tended to pick up and go wherever the action was at.
Today, backpacking includes backcountry adventures, local travel, as well as excursions to nearby countries. If you want to go on your first backpacking trip, you’ll soon realize that planning the whole escapade is a lot to sit down with. That’s why we’ve decided to get you started in the right direction and help you plan out everything you need to do and acquire in order to make your first backpacking trip a successful one. We’ll go over choosing the right location for your first adventure, the ‘Leave No Trace’ principles, packing the right food, preparing for the trip physically, and the gear you should bring along (complete with suggestions).
A Simple Disclaimer
Let’s shoot this straight and get to the point. For your first backpacking trip, we recommend that you go with someone who is well versed in the tricks of the trade. Going at it on your own sounds like a way more epic story, but if you end up getting lost or worse, then you’ll be plunged into a horror story and will be the inspiration for many memes by your family and friends. In all seriousness, we want you to put safety first. When you’ve got a few backpacking notches on your belt, then you can go rogue. Now that we have that covered, let’s get this all planned out.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT PLACE
It’s All About Location
By “right place” we mean an easy destination. Stay away from difficult locations with hiking trails that are unforgiving. For example, you don’t want your first backpacking trip to be in Canyonlands, Utah where you have to tackle “The Maze,” a trail-less trail with dead-end canyons, dry washes, and sandstone features that blend together. If that doesn’t sound familiar, you should watch 127 Hours, where veteran adventurer Aron Ralston, played by James Franco, has a horrible few days in Utah.
Choose a place that is close to home, so that you spend more time hiking than you do driving. Talk to experienced backpackers about where the best locations and trails are in your area. There are plenty of hiking clubs you can join, allowing you to network with fellow adventurers. Also, you want to plan on shorter distances because walking with a heavier backpack than usual will slow you down and drain your energy much faster. Shoot for only a few miles round trip because you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew. In addition, make sure the trail has less elevation gain than a typical day hike. A few hundred feet of elevation gain will do just fine.
Keep in mind that you want to pick a well-traveled trail with water nearby. This way you can talk to others who’ve covered the trail and read reviews online to see what it’s like. Some state and national parks have walk-in campgrounds that are worth considering for a smooth and safe transition into backpacking.
‘LEAVE NO TRACE’ PRINCIPLES
Seven Rules To Follow In The Great Outdoors
“Leave No Trace” is a common phrase if you spend time in the great outdoors. But, what does it mean? The Leave No Trace principles are basically the best practices we should all follow to enjoy and protect Mother Nature. She’s been here longer than we all have, so showing the utmost respect by following these rules is the least we can do. There are over 100 million visitors who venture into nature and there are impacted areas that suffer from pollution, littering, trail erosion, and more. People who are just starting to strap on their backpacks and plunge into the outdoors may not have the knowledge to preserve the integrity of the outdoors, so we’ll go over the best practices to allow Mother Nature to thrive.
PLAN AHEAD AND PREPARE
By reading this post, you’re off to a solid start. It’s a no-brainer that you should plan your backpacking trip with heavy attention to detail. Without careful planning, fear or fatigue may lead you to make poor choices that end up hurting our natural spaces. Educate yourself thoroughly on the regulations of the area you’ll visit, go in a small group, prepare for extreme weather, learn to use a map and compass in order to avoid the use of marking paint, and repackage your food to reduce waste. These are some of the key factors of proper preparation and planning, but consider everything else in between.
TRAVEL AND CAMP ON DURABLE SURFACES
When you’re looking for a place to set up camp, make sure you choose a spot with a sturdy type of terrain. Established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses, and snow are all acceptable places to set up your temporary home in nature. You also want to keep the campsite small and perform activities in areas with no vegetation so that you won’t disrupt anything. Think about dogs popping a squat on your front yard. Well, the outdoors is Mother Nature’s front yard, so you want to at least avoid pristine areas where your unnecessary presence will affect the circle of life. To further help preserve nature, walk in a single file in the middle of any trail.
DISPOSE WASTE PROPERLY
Although this one should be obvious, there are many inconsiderate people who do not follow this logical principle. This best practice applies to everything from human waste to litter and rinse water. Ideally, you want to leave the space cleaner than you fund it. Anything that you unpack should be packed up and taken with you when you’re ready to move forward. For human waste, you want to dig a cathole that’s six to eight inches deep and at least 200 feet away from water. Also, the best practice for washing dishes is to carry water 200 feet away from the stream or lake you get it from and only use small amounts of biodegradable soap.
MINIMIZE CAMPFIRE IMPACTS
Sitting around a campfire with a warm glow is a backpacking staple that invites you to share stories and reflect on life. Admiring the hypnotic, dancing flames while the rest of nature is draped in darkness is a soothing experience. However, starting excessive campfires can be destructive to the environment. Keep your fires small and use only sticks that can be broken by hand. Whenever you can, use a lightweight stove to cook your meals and a candle lantern for light. After you’re done having a moment by the campfire, be sure to put it out completely. Also, it may be tempting, but do not bring any firewood home because wild wood can introduce new pests or diseases to your living space.
LEAVE WHAT YOU FIND
The whole goal here is to admire nature, not alter or disrupt it. Take plenty of photos, but leave everything intact. Avoid building structures, rearranging any natural objects, and taking souvenirs. Nature isn’t an amusement park. It’s also advisable to clean your boots soles, kayak hulls, and bike tires thoroughly between backpacking trips so that you don’t transport non-native species.
RESPECT THE WILDLIFE
When you’re trekking through the backcountry, you’re visiting the home of a vast number of animals. Leave them alone and admire them from afar. Avoid stalking or feeding any of the animals you may encounter so that you don’t disrupt their natural behaviors. In addition, you should always store your food and beverages securely, especially if you’re leaving your campsite for a while. If you can, try and avoid scheduling a backpacking trip during mating or nesting periods.
BE CONSIDERATE OF OTHERS
You’ve heard this rule in the form of “treat others the way you want to be treated” since you were in elementary school. It applies to everything in life and backpacking is no exception. Be kind and courteous to others, improving the quality of everyone’s experience. The great outdoors is for everyone to enjoy, so cut down any loud noises and enjoy nature’s soundtrack.