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5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going Backpacking for the First Time | Backpacking for Beginners

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

Happy New Year! Are you as excited as I am to be done with 2020 and start fresh in a new year? Even though my rational self knows nothing magical happens when we flip over to a new calendar, I allow myself to enjoy the clean slate feeling that comes with this time of year.

I hope one of your resolutions this year (if anyone still sets those) is to get outdoors more. Maybe you'll be trying backpacking for the first time! If so, I've collected a few tips from my first experiences backpacking that will help your trip, whether it's the first or fifth, go more smoothly.

These are all things that I wish I had known before heading out on the trail the first time and had to learn the hard way. They require only a little bit of prep while you're still in civilization and will make your time in the wilderness much more comfortable, fun, and safe.

If you prefer video format, I've created an accompanying video for my YouTube channel, which you can watch below or through this link!

If this content interests you, go ahead and give me a 'subscribe' over there. One of my resolutions in the upcoming year is to post weekly videos - at least 50 for the year of 2021, so there's plenty more content to come. Thanks for your support!

1. How to Properly Fit Your Backpack

This is huge. Nothing will take the fun out of backpacking more quickly than a seriously sore body and rubbing or chafing.

If you're feeling too much pressure on your shoulders or back, you need to shift more of the weight to your hips. Aim for around 80% of your pack's weight being on your hips. Try tightening your waist strap and make sure it's hugging the top of your hipbones.

2. Size Up Your Shoes

Try going up a half or full size for your next pair of hiking shoes. Having sore or blistered feet makes it extremely difficult to continue hiking, especially with the additional weight on your back.

Make sure your shoes have enough space for a thick pair (or two) of socks and will not touch the front of the shoe when going downhill. A good way to test this out is to put on your shoes and socks, then tap the front of your toes on the ground with a little force. If your toes hit the end of the toe box while doing this, it's very likely the tips of your toes will be repeatedly bumped while you're walking downhill.

Keep in mind that our feet tend to swell throughout the day, so this should be taken into account when trying on shoes. They swell even more while backpacking due to the constant exertion and pressure they're under.

3. Have a GPS or Locator App

This might sound obvious to some -- or you might be like me. I have a pretty good sense of direction and didn't think I would need a GPS until I was ready to hit the backcountry and go off trail. I was very mistaken.

Even following designated trails, such as those in Yosemite National Park, I would have been utterly lost if not for my friend who had both the Gaia GPS app on her phone and a Garmin InReach -- thank goodness!

I now also have Gaia GPS on my phone and am looking into purchasing a separate GPS, especially for any solo trips.

Pro tip: You can subscribe to TrailGroove magazine ($25 as of November 2023) to receive a free year of Gaia GPS Premium, which is a $40 subscription by itself! See their current deals here.

4. Learn How to Pack a Backpack

It might seem like you can throw all your gear into your backpack however it fits and you'll be good to go. As long as you're able to work your Tetris skills and the backpack closes at the end -- you're good, right?

There's definitely a level of mastery involved in properly packing a backpack for optimal balance and comfort. The goal is to keep your center of mass as close as possible to where it is when you're not wearing a pack. This means keeping your backpack compact and compressed to your body with the most dense items near your core.

I'll go over this in more depth in a future post!

5. Bring a Day Pack

I never used to do this and it was a pain to have to carry my 60+10L Deuter backpack with me everywhere. An example is when I backpacked Yosemite and had to carry that pack for a day hike up Half Dome. It would have been soo much easier if I could have left that pack at camp and brought a smaller pack with just the few things I needed for that hike.

Now I bring a bum bag around with me and it's a game-changer to be able to keep my hands free when I'm roaming around.

To avoid carrying an additional backpack, you can also look into packs that have a detachable brain that can be used as a day pack. Here's an example.

Remember, even if you don't have all the right gear or do all the right preparations, it's not the end of the world. All of us learn along the way and while you may have some uncomfortable or tricky situations, it's all part of the process and you'll know better for next time.

If you have been on the fence about trying out backpacking for yourself, I hope these tips encourage you to take that first step and get out there.

For more tips like these and content about backpacking, travel, and sustainability, follow my other socials:

Instagram: apriladventuring

Question of the week: What's one thing that's stopping you from trying backpacking? If you're already a backpacker, what's one struggle you've experienced on the trail?

Let me know in the comments or message me on either of my socials linked above!

Thanks so much for reading and I'll talk to you again soon.

Stay adventurous,


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