Backpacking: our tips for being prepared
The ideal solution is to organize a multi-day trek so that you can fully experience nature without the rush of having to immediately return to your usual routine.
If you are thinking of organizing a backpacking trip, then this is the article for you! Below you will find all the tips to prepare for your next adventure.
Backpacking: what it means and what benefits it dealsThe word trek, as it is understood today, refers to an excursion that lasts more than one day. Trekking (or backpacking) differs from hiking in the duration of the activity. Hiking consists of a day outing while backpacking is a more strenuous activity that extends over several days and requires, in addition to good physical preparation, careful planning of your itinerary and meticulous organization of your equipment, primarily in a backpack.
Backpacking travel has many advantages and benefits:
- Allows you to see new places
- A low-cost way to travel
- Boosts self-esteem and tests willpower
- Opportunity to create unforgettable memories
- Trains organizational and mental flexibility
- Can introduce you to new people with the same interests as you
Also worth mentioning are all the benefits associated with walking, which we discussed in the article "Walking is good for you: the benefits to the body and mind".
How to prepare for backpacking trek: our tips
Planning a backpacking trip is not easy, and requires consideration of several very important aspects regarding itinerary, equipment, and overnight accommodations.
Which backpack to choose and how to prepare itThe first point to consider when choosing a backpack is its capacity. For a multi-day trek, it is advisable to have a backpack of at least 35 liters (approx. 9.2 gallons) capacity, but the right size may vary depending on the season or mode of sleeping. If you carry out a backpacking trip in winter you will need to bring heavier clothing, and similarly, if you decide to sleep in a tent you will need to consider the space occupied by your sleeping bag and camping equipment.
The second point to consider in a backpack is the ideal length of the back panel, which varies depending on the height and physique of the user. When trying on a backpack, it is also a good idea to put weights in it to simulate the load and to check whether the back panel and shoulder straps are comfortable and fit your back and shoulders well.
Other features to consider when choosing a backpack are the presence of a good lumbar band, padding of the shoulder straps, internal organization into compartments, and the presence of pockets and straps.
Once a backpack has been chosen, you will have to think about what to put in it. Treks are long and often strenuous activities so it is a good idea to carry only what you will really need during the trip. We recommend making a list of things to bring and organizing your backpack so that you have everything easily accessible, making the best use of pockets and interior space.
Basic things to include in a trekking backpack:
- Clothing. Starting with clothing, you should put only what you need in your backpack. Versatile garments, such as convertible pants that can be zipped off and worn as shorts, are preferable. Rather than carrying a lot of clothes, favor those that dry quickly and try to wash dirty clothes during the trip. Also remember to bring waterproof clothing that you can wear in rainy weather.
- Personal hygiene. During a backpacking trip you should not neglect your hygiene, so you should make sure to pack a toothbrush and toothpaste in your backpack. Hand sanitizer and sunscreen are always useful. Don’t forget a small towel to use in case you want to rinse off in a creek!
- Overnight gear. A tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad are a must for spending the night outdoors.
Choosing the right shoes
One of the most crucial aspects of a successful multi-day trek is choosing the right footwear. On a backpacking trip many hours of the day are devoted to walking so it is essential to wear comfortable shoes that do not fatigue your feet and legs even with prolonged use.
For mountain treks we recommend high-cut boots because they better support your ankles during ascents and descents. For backpacking trips on flat or hilly trails, on the other hand, you can use low or medium-cut shoes that are lighter and have more freedom of movement.
A comfortable shoe has a fit that is not too snug and does not squeeze the foot excessively.
The comfort of a shoe is also influenced by the sole. A flexible, cushioning sole is more comfortable and suitable for long distances because it helps extended walking and absorbs shocks. A sole that is too flexible, however, does not provide good support and is not suitable for more challenging trails such as mountain trails.
You should also consider the climate when choosing trekking shoes. If you plan to embark on a backpacking trip to a hot and dry place, it is best to opt for breathable shoes, whereas if you want to visit a place with wet, cold, or simply uncertain weather, it is preferable to choose shoes with a waterproof membrane.
Whichever footwear you choose, it is always advisable to break them in on short walks and hikes before embarking on a backpacking trip, to get used to the fit and avoid any blisters or pain.
Poles and hiking accessoriesDuring a backpacking trip, there are accessories that can come in handy for walking or in case of emergency. Among the things to bring we recommend:
- First Aid Kit. We have discussed the importance of this kit in the article "First aid kit for trekking and hiking: contents and recommendations". During a trek, accidents can happen, and it’s always a good idea to be prepared.
- Devices. There is always a danger of getting lost during a backpacking trip, even if you have a well-planned itinerary. For this reason, we recommend having your cell phone and a trekking GPS device with you at all times, which are useful tools for getting your bearings or calling for help if you need it. Don’t forget to include a portable charger.
- Flashlight. If you plan to spend the night in a tent, after sunset it will be completely dark, so it is recommended to also put a flashlight and spare batteries in your trekking backpack.
- Trekking poles. There are several benefits for using trekking poles, from improving balance to maintaining proper posture. Some people see them as cumbersome, but they can provide users with extra security, especially on uneven terrain.
Water and food: what to bring
Staying hydrated is essential while backpacking so it is good to always have a water bottle or two with you to refill whenever the opportunity arises. Walking in the mountains or on isolated trails, you will not always encounter water sources to quench your thirst.
Food also cannot be overlooked if you decide to embark on a backpacking trip. Whether you want to sleep in a tent or stay overnight in a hostel, it is always useful to put food in your backpack to make sure you have the energy you need to get through the day. If you decide to spend the night in a tent, make sure you have everything you need to prepare a good dinner, such as a small stove, a pot, water, and a lighter or matches.
Accommodation: where to sleep and how to choose
If you embark on a multi-day backpacking trip you should be aware that you will be staying in a different place each night and should plan accordingly.
If you are in the mountains, it may be possible to spend the night in a mountain lodge, taking advantage of the services offered by the lodge such as showering or dining. If you decide to sleep in a mountain lodge, it is recommended to give advance notice of your stopover and inquire about the rules of the facility (for example, you may need to bring your own sheets).
An alternative option is a mountain shelter, an unattended structure where you can spend the night without having to sleep outdoors. Mountain shelters can differ in size and internal organization, some may even have a wood stove inside. Many will also have beds on which you can sleep in your sleeping bag.
If mountain lodges and shelters are occupied, or if you simply prefer a wilder and more adventurous trip, it is always possible to sleep in a tent. However, we recommend checking the regulations of the regions and states where you decide to pitch your tent because it may be a prohibited or restricted practice.
Finally, if you want to go on a backpacking trip and plan to pass through cities and towns you might consider staying overnight in a hostel or other accommodations such as hotels, bed and breakfasts, and farmhouses.
The means of transportation
If you decide to go on a trek abroad, you may have to travel by plane, so you should check the policy on backpack boarding provided by the airline. Carrying your trekking backpack on a plane may incur additional costs depending on the size of your luggage, so you’ll need to verify the measurements and weight of your backpack with the airline regulations before departure. If your backpack is for a multi-day trek, the space allotted for carry-on baggage will likely not be sufficient, so you may have to opt for checked baggage.
Backpacking: where to go?
Has reading this article made you want to pack your backpack and set off on a new adventure? Below, we have selected a list of the best treks in the US:
- Eagle Rock Loop (Arkansas)
- Zion Traverse (Utah)
- Timberline Trail: Mount Hood Wilderness (Oregon)
- Wonderland Trail (Washington)
- Gospel-Hump Loop Trail (Idaho)
- 100-Mile Wilderness (Maine)
- Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim Hike (Arizona)
- Painted Desert Backpacking Trip (Arizona)
- Coastal Trail (California)