Going backpacking for the first time can be daunting. Loading up your gigantic pack with all of the essentials you’ll need for the night and hitting the trail in search of a place to sleep in the middle of the woods isn’t the easiest thing to do. Especially if it’s your first time backpacking!
In this guide, I’m going to share some beginner backpacking tips with you including 8 mistakes to avoid on your first backpacking trip. I made many of these beginner backpacking mistakes so that you don’t have to! Let’s get into it.
First Time Backpacking Tips: 8 Mistakes to Avoid
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Backpacking Mistake #1. Thinking You Have to Hike a Certain Amount of Miles to Be a “Backpacker”
One of the most common beginner backpacking mistakes is thinking that you have to hike a ton of miles to consider yourself a “backpacker.”
You’re not any less of a backpacker for hiking two miles instead of seventeen!
You’ll want to ease into the trail, especially for your first time backpacking. You won’t necessarily want to hike dozens of miles from your car – deep into the woods – on your first backpacking trip.
My advice? Hike slow and shallow for your first backpacking trip.
Backpacking Mistake #2. Not Packing Comfort Items
Trust me when I say this: you need to pack some comfort items when you go backpacking for the first time. Or anytime you go backpacking, really. 😅
Am I talking “king-size pillow and case of beer” comfort? No.
But for your sanity, I’d recommend bringing a reasonably-sized, reasonably-weighted comfort item (or two or three) with you on the trail.
For me, my backpacking comfort items are usually a can of Diet Coke – just one, they’re super heavy – a backpacking chair, and a card game. Yours could be a sweet treat, camp shoes, a lightweight e-reader, etc.
I do have a list of luxury backpacking gear items that I believe are worth the extra weight. Check it out by clicking the link below. ⤵️
Backpacking Mistake #3. Forgetting to Tell Someone Your Plans
Forgetting to tell someone your plans is not a mistake you want to make when going backpacking for the first time. In case something happens to you, and you don’t return when you’re supposed to, the person who has your itinerary will be able to alert search and rescue.
If you’re hiking with a partner, (which I totally recommend on your first backpacking trip!) you should each share your itinerary with at least one person.
If you’re going solo, I’d recommend sharing your itinerary with at least two different people.
Backpacking Mistake #4. Testing Gear For the First Time on the Trail
I cannot stress this enough: you need to be testing your gear before your backpacking trip!
Even if this is your fiftieth backpacking trip, and you’ve just bought new gear, you need to know how it works before setting out on your adventure. Not to mention, you need to know if there are any defects or missing parts!
Testing your gear for the first time on the trail is dangerous for a few reasons: 1) it could be missing pieces, 2) it could be broken, or 3) you could not know how to use it, work it, or set it up, and it could be detrimental to your experience and/or your safety.
PRO TIP: I inspect my gear before every backpacking trip to make sure there is no storage damage. To learn about how to properly care for and store your tent, read my tent care guide. ⛺️
Backpacking Mistake #5. Overpacking
Overpacking is something every beginner backpacker is guilty of. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s a perfectly normal thing to do when packing your backpack for the first time.
That being said, do your best to avoid overpacking. Most backpackers forget that even though they think they’re doing more good than harm by packing for every possible worst-case scenario, they must carry all of that added weight. Each ounce adds up when it’s packed into your backpack!
Only carry what is essential and what you believe you will need and use on your trip. As always, make sure you are prepared with a reasonably-stocked first aid kit and emergency supplies. Those items you hope not to use but could save your life in the event of an emergency.
Your pack weight shouldn’t exceed 20% of your body weight.
→ READ NEXT: 10 Essentials For Hikers and Campers
Backpacking Mistake #6. Not Wearing the Proper Clothes and Footwear
Wearing “whatever” for your first time backpacking isn’t advised. Not wearing the proper clothes and footwear could put you at serious risk.
It’s important to wear clothes that protect your skin from the sun but also keep your body cool. It’s important to wear the right material to insulate your body in cold weather but also keep your limbs unrestricted (so that you can hike!). It’s important to wear a rain jacket that will keep your skin dry during a summer rainstorm but that won’t overheat you.
So how do you do all of this? I’m going to help you!
Wear a sturdy pair of hiking boots or shoes and wear/pack plenty of layers for a variety of weather conditions. Anything can happen on your hike – weather patterns can be unpredictable no matter where you are, especially if you’re in a mountainous or desert region.
Here are the clothes and shoes that I wear/pack when I go backpacking:
- Hiking Top. Smartwool Merino Tee or long-sleeve UPF shirt with sun hoodie
- Hiking Pants, Leggings, or Shorts. REI Co-Op Savanna Trails Pants, North Face Leggings, or Patagonia Everyday Shorts
- Merino Wool Socks. Long Darn Tough wool socks for the winter and short Darn Tough wool socks for the summer.
- Merino Wool Underwear. Icebreaker briefs
- Three Layers. All-season base layer, fleece mid-layer, and waterproof rain jacket. Down coat in the winter.
- Hiking Boots / Trail Runners. I wear Keen Terradoras; they are waterproof boots ideal for every terrain and weather condition. Danners are also great! I opt for trail sandals or water shoes for beach or river hikes.
- Sunglasses. These Goodr sunglasses will do the trick! You don’t want anything too expensive because you could lose or break them.
- Sun Hat. Columbia Bora Bora Booney sun hat
- Cold Weather Accessories. Icebreaker Flexi Chute Neck Gaiter, Icebreaker Merino wool gloves, and either an ear wrap or beanie.
Backpacking Mistake #7. Not Knowing the Rules of the Area
Not researching the trail and campsites you’ll be backpacking in ahead of time is dangerous for you, the wildlife, the hikers around you, and the landscape.
Well, if there is a burn ban in your location, and you light a fire, you could start a wildfire, harming everything and everyone around you.
If there are rules about where not to camp, and you set up camp in an illegal spot, you are harming the landscape and potentially getting in the way of an animal’s path.
If you don’t get the proper permits for your trip, you could be looking at fines. Also, permits are sometimes capped, so you could be exceeding the daily limit on the trail, causing unnecessary stress to the fragile landscape.
You get the idea.
Backpacking Mistake #8. Disregarding Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace is an important set of rules that we all must follow when recreating outdoors.
This isn’t something that most beginner backpackers disregard on purpose. Mostly, the disregard is due to ignorance. So I’m sharing this with you as my final backpacking mistake to avoid.
Verse yourself on Leave No Trace before setting out on your first backpacking trip, and practice and follow the principles with everything you do – from hiking, peeing, and eating on the trail to setting up your tent, brushing your teeth, and cooking food at your campsite.
Every time you set foot outside, you are to follow these rules and be an advocate for the outdoors. This is so that our spaces continue to stay wild and can be explored for generations to come.
→ READ NEXT: Outdoor Hygiene Tips for Hikers and Campers 🧼
SEVEN LEAVE NO TRACE PRINCIPLES:
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Others
Need help getting started backpacking? I’ve got some guides to help you with that!
- 6 Things to Consider Before Choosing Your First Backpacking Pack
- Exactly How to Pack a Backpacking Pack
- Beginner’s Guide to Backpacking
- Luxury Backpacking Gear That Is Worth the Extra Weight
- Backpacking Gear on Airplanes: What’s Allowed and What’s Not
- Bear Safety Tips for Hikers and Campers
- How to Care For Your Tent
- How to Set Up a Tent in Every Terrain
- 12 Tips for Sleeping Better While Camping
- Outdoor Hygiene Tips for Hikers and Campers
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