Alright – you’ve bought all of your gear, picked out a trail, and are rip-roaring ready to head out on your first backpacking trip! But wait… if you don’t know what you don’t know, what are you missing?! Is there any way that you can get experiential knowledge without experiencing it first?!
Enter scene: this blog post. I’ve put together some of my most valuable pro tips that I’ve learned about backpacking over the past eighteen years. Consider this list my love letter to beginner backpackers everywhere, including 11-year-old Meg if I could…
Bring a powdered drink for the end of the day. Hot tip – after a long ass day in the backcountry, you are going to want a refreshing drink as you roll into camp… and water just isn’t going to cut it. Bring powdered gatorade or crystal light for a sugary treat to replenish those electrolytes – either in a baggy or in individual packets. Another great option is Mio! Or any squirtable drink concentrate. That sugar just tastes so good at the end of a long day!
Invest in a JetBoil. Time never passes slower than when you are waiting on your water to boil for your dinner. I was introduced to a JetBoil back in 2014 and I’ve never look back since. Not only does a JetBoil boil your water in minutes, but it also means less things to bring – no more pots and pans awkwardly filling up your backpack.
Bring less clothes than you think you need. Of course, bring enough clothes to keep you warm, but you really don’t need more than one outfit to actually hike in. You are going to smell no matter what, so bringing a new shirt for every day just adds weight without any real benefit.
If you are going to bring wine, bring boxed. I learned this the hard way and used to bring STRAIGHT UP FULL GLASS BOTTLES OF WINE INTO THE BACKCOUNTRY. I promise you, no bottled wine will taste as good as not having to carry the heavy-ass empty bottle out the next day. Go boxed – the boxes are virtually weightless once you finish them, and the individual boxes have almost a full bottle of wine in each! Another great option is a plastic bottle – check out Outdoor Vino for a line of delicious reds and whites bottled in lightweight plastic!
Kindle > Books (in the backcountry). If you’ve spent anytime around my blog, you’ve probably already heard my war story about bringing an entire 300+ page book on the JMT and finishing after like three days… and then having to carry it for the remainder of the trip. I get it, I’m usually a real book person too… but it is so much easier to load multiple books onto a Kindle and have an entire library at your fingertips for less weight than one book! Kindles are also super tough and durable – perfect for the backcountry!
There are such things as inflatable pillows, and they work way better than scrunching up your extra clothes. Sleeping in the backcountry is already uncomfortable enough – do yourself (and your neck) a favor and invest in an inflatable pillow. They are cheap, lightweight, and overall so worth it.
One word: crocs. If anyone asks me for camp shoe recommendations, my answer is always a pair of crocs. Crocs are super lightweight, waterproof, and have a toebox for protection. The specific pair that I always wear unfortunately are not made anymore, but this pair is a close replicate. I always switch into them the second that I arrive at camp, and I’ll also use them for water crossings if necessary. I’ve compared the weight to other camp sandals (Tevas and Chacos), and believe it or not, my crocs are actually lighter than both!
Ain’t nothing like a wet wipe bath at the end of a long day. Personally, I have a hard time going to bed dirty in the backcountry. I always bring a set of clean sleeping clothes, and will always take a quick wet wipe bath before I change into them. On the JMT, my hiking partner and I brought and split an entire packet of baby wipes, which was great for quantity and space, but not so great for weight. Now, I will usually bring single-use wipe packets (I recommend Venture Wipes!), but keep in mind that this will create more trash for you to pack out.
Pump your water at night. For days that you have an early start time, be sure to pump your water the night before – so you have one less thing to do in the morning! This is one of the last camp chores that I will do at night, after I’ve already made and cleaned up dinner. While I will drink water overnight, it is never usually enough for me to have to pump again in the morning.
I’ll use this as a running list of tips and tricks for new backpackers, but if you ever have any questions or would like me to touch on a certain topic in this post, please comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Obviously, the best way to learn is to do… but I hope this blog post made your “do-ing” a little easier!