Skills & Techniques

Backpacking for Beginners

Haley and Gary - July 26, 2021

Hey y’all! This is Haley, one of the Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Team members. I’m here to debunk the myth that backpacking requires a lot of outdoor experience and skill. When I went on my first backpacking trip, my outdoor recreation experience was limited to car camping and casual bike riding. I HATED hiking and was really intimidated by what I knew of the “outdoorsy” lifestyle. I never considered myself a particularly physically fit person, and I also love the comfort of my own home, so the idea of backpacking always seemed like something distant and frankly, terrifying.

Through gracious friends and different opportunities that have come up, I have now gone on several backpacking trips and I have grown to genuinely love it. I’ve found that backpacking doesn’t always have to mean that you are summiting a mountain with high elevation gain and eating freeze-dried meals and pooping in a bag (but sometimes it does mean all of those things, and I’m learning to adapt to this as well!) But to put it more simply, sometimes backpacking can look like a multi-day hike around a beautiful lake where you are stopping at lakeside campgrounds to get a different view when you wake up each morning. It can also provide an opportunity for extended amounts of time for self-reflection if you are alone, OR for great conversations with those you are traveling with.

Now that I finally understand that backpacking really isn’t as scary as it seems, here are a few tips I wanted to share in hopes that it helps provide a sense of encouragement and validation in case you’re feeling like I used to: overthinking everything for your first backpacking trip.

5 Insider Tips for Backpacking from a Beginner:

  • Get creative with your meals
    Backpacking does not always equal freeze-dried meals (although it can sometimes, and that’s totally fine!) But, I’ve found it fun to try to find ways to adapt your favorite home cooked meals for backpacking. For example, a friend recently cooked pesto pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and wild mushrooms, topped off with camp stove-baked chocolate cake for dessert. YUM! It’s true that everything does taste better when you’re backpacking, but why not try to make it taste EXTRA good?
  • Pack a piece of home with you for added comfort
    I’m a real homebody and it takes a lot of energy for me to spend the night elsewhere, so when backpacking, I bring my favorite pillowcase that smells like home and stuff it with my extra layers at night. I go to sleep feeling at peace and wake up feeling extra rested.
  • Wash your face
    I am someone who loves to stay clean, and the idea of not having access to a shower is stressful to me. I’ve found that when I am not able to shower or bathe, bringing my normal skincare products and going through my normal routine makes me feel refreshed and ready for each new day. To minimize space/weight, you can bring smaller travel-size containers of your products (and of course storing these properly with your food and anything else that is smellable), but I’ve found that this is something that is considered essential to me, because it helps me stay motivated and energized throughout the trip!
  • Take it slow, there is no rush!
    Whether your trail has high elevation gain or if it’s a flat loop, remind yourself that there is no hurry when you are backpacking! As long as you give yourself plenty of daylight to get to your next stop, there is no shame in taking extended snack (and even nap) breaks. It’s important to listen to our bodies and give them the rest that they need when it’s time.
  • Enjoy the view
    One of the major things that I’ve come to appreciate about backpacking is that oftentimes, you are hiking out to viewpoints and other places that you would not be able to access any other way. Backpacking provides a unique opportunity to recreate in remote outdoor spaces, and what’s not to love about that?

Of course, I am still learning too. Some people might have a totally different set of beginner tips to make things more comfortable, and at Leave No Trace, we think there’s room for all types of approaches. We recognize that everyone has a different relationship with the outdoors and therefore, different opinions about how they like to spend time outside. The one thing that we can agree on is that the lands we recreate on should be protected. The more we are able to get outside and experience these places for ourselves, the more we will understand how we can do our part to minimize impact. That being said, my hope is that these tips will encourage you to get there and Enjoy Your World!

By the Subaru/Leave No Trace Teams. For over 20 years these teams have provided tangible solutions to serious issues facing our outside space and reach over 15 million people every year. Learn more about the important work of our mobile education teams.  Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, REI, Eagles Nest Outfitters, Thule,Fjällräven, The Coleman Company and Klean Kanteen.


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