backpacking in dense forest

13 Backpacking Tips I Wish I Knew on my First Trip

There are some backpacking tips that I wish I had known before my first trip. These helpful first-time backpacking tips will come in handy while planning your adventure. If this is your first time backpacking, you will undoubtedly appreciate these tips!

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Backpacking Tips and Hacks for the trail pin showing a backcountry campsite with a tent and trees and a backpacker walking on a wide road towards mountains
épingle des conseils de longue randonnée avec une randonneuse montant un sentier de roche avec un backpack

If you are new to backpacking, the information can be overwhelming; the gear, safety tips, planning and booking, what is within your capabilities and so on. So before putting on my backpack and going out on the trails, I did a lot of reading and watched a few youtube videos. What gear do I need? Which trail should I backpack? Will it be too hard? Will I be able to hike those hills and carry all that weight on my back?

There is much to learn as a new backpacker and much to do to get ready to hit the trails. Nothing compares to getting out there and learning as you go. The importance is to remain safe on the trails and have all the equipment you will need to enjoy your backpacking adventure. Here are some helpful first-time backpacking tips to make sure you do.

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 Backpacking Tip #1. Chafing will happen.

You cannot escape it on hot summer days and sweating on the trails, especially if you backpack day in and day out for a few days. Humidity in the air will also make it worse.

I use the body glide stick to prevent chafing. I like to spread a little glide on the inside of my thighs, on my arms near my armpits where my pack’s straps may rub and for us ladies, under my breasts where my sports bra touches my skin. This helps prevent any uncomfortable issues with chafing when backpacking long distances over a few days in hot weather. 

body glide stick in blue and purple

body glide stick on Amazon

 Backpacking Tip #2. Adjusting your backpack

When you carry weight on your back while hiking up a mountain or for a noticeable distance, adequately adjusting your backpack is essential. A proper pack balances the weight from your shoulder to your waist. In addition, it eases the load on your back.

I usually put on my pack bent over, so it lies on my back. From there, I will pull on the shoulder straps, so they are snug but not tight. Standing up, I then adjust the belt at my waist. If you are unsure how to adjust your pack correctly, you can stop at any outdoor store such as REI, Sail, or MEC, and they will gladly help you.

Make sure your pack is also the right size for you. There are usually s-m and m-l sizes for packs. Some are also made especially for men or women, with features designed with the anatomy of each in mind.

To know which size pack you need, stand straight, find the point in your back that would be aligned with your hip bones and measure the length between that point to the little bone that sticks out in the back of your neck (lean your head down to feel it better). The length between those two points is your torso length. Check the pack’s size chart to buy the right size according to your torso length.

REI has a comprehensive article detailing the steps in choosing the right size pack and appropriately adjusting your pack that I found very helpful along with this video:

 Backpacking Tip #3. Bring a battery pack or wear a watch.

Depending on your gear, a small battery pack might be practical, mainly if you rely on your phone’s GPS or clock. I got caught the first time backpacking when my phone died; I wasn’t wearing a watch, so for the next two days, I had no idea of the time besides the approximate time of day I could tell by the sun.

Of course, not being able to tell time is not a big deal when you are wandering in nature. You eat when you are hungry and sleep when you are tired! Things are different if you rely on your phone for GPS. You might be left hanging when your phone dies, and you cannot charge it.

 Backpacking Tip #4. Footwear and socks matter.

I cannot stress this enough. Shoes matter on the trail. You might be hiking rugged trails, and you will be carrying extra weight from your pack. All this adds up, and it might take a toll on your lower body.

One way to counteract this is to wear a good, sturdy pair of hiking boots. Make sure the soles are strong enough to absorb the shock as you put on the miles on the trails. Also, bandages for blisters will be helpful. Blisters are inevitable! A good pair of Merino wool socks will help, but don’t kid yourself; your feet will feel the distance.

muddy backpacking boots

 Backpacking Tip #5. Clothes that are NOT mosquito-friendly

I am always happy to put the snowshoes away in the spring and get back on the trails in my hiking boots. But those mosquitoes are also waiting for hikers like we were a feast. Clothes do matter to protect against those nasty little pests. They seem attracted to dark colours, so stick with light-coloured clothing. 

wearing light and loose clothing while backpacking on a grassy trail surrounded by conifers

I also like to wear leggings, but they won’t do during mosquito season. Loose, ample clothes will help against mosquito bites; they have a more challenging time reaching the skin when our clothes are baggy. 

 Backpacking Tip #6. A lighter pack is always better.

Of course, this is a gimme. From my first extended backpacking trip to my second, I lightened my pack by 5 pounds. This makes a massive difference at the end of the day.

I did not take out a 5-pound item, but I left behind anything that was non-essential. Both these trips were similar in length (8 days) and terrain. If I had not used it on my first trip, I did not pack it on my second trip. Of course, this excluded essential safety gear like items in my first-aid kit.

We also tend to bring more food than necessary. Planning your meals and snacks will ensure that you have enough food but not too much to add unnecessary weight to your pack.

Remember that every ounce counts, and they add up to pounds. This brings me to my next point.

 Backpacking Tip #7. Gear I have never used

  • Firestarter: Practice starting a fire with birch or twigs; it is just as effective.
  • I never bothered buying a pair of rain pants and never regretted not having them.
  • Little containers for spices or soap are cute but unnecessary.
  • Towel: I use a hand towel; it is lighter and takes up less space in my pack.
  • Whistle: most bags have them on the chest strap. Check yours if it has one.
  • Axe or folding saw; I just burn branches I find on the ground. When they are too big, I burn them in sections.
  • Tarp: my tent is waterproof and has two vestibules, so if I want to get out of the rain, I step into my tent.
  • Backpacking chairs; you can substitute for a seat pad, they are much lighter.

 Backpacking Tip #8. How to pack your backpack

Packs usually have a pouch at the bottom for your sleeping bag. I also add my camp pillow down there. You will pack the rest according to weight and necessity to have it handy during the day.

The norm is to have heavier gear close to your back and lighter gear at the bottom and on top. I usually pack my tent close to my back with my toiletries, miscellaneous items bag, camping stove, and my compression bag of clothes on each side of the tent. The tent poles will be attached to the side of my bag on the outside. On top of the tent will be my dry bag of food and my first aid kit so I can easily access them. My rain gear will usually be on top (again, easy access if need be) or on the outside back pocket for quick access if it starts raining.

I attach my sleeping pad and my camping shoes (crocs) to the outside of my pack. My two Nalgene 1L bottles are in their respective side pockets. In my belt pockets, I keep snacks and my pocket knife on one side and my gogirl and a small pack of tissues on the other.

fully packed backpack hiking through conifers on a narrow trail

I like the video by Outside on how to pack your backpack for backpacking. You can watch it here:

 Backpacking Tip #9. Plan for cold nights.

Depending on where you backpack, like here in Canada, nights can get cold, even in the summertime. I will carry a toque and warm socks; they make a difference in keeping me warm at night. I also have a Merino wool shirt and pants that I love to sleep in when it is chilly out. Of course, the sleeping pad and sleeping bag will also make a difference in keeping the humidity and cold from the ground away from you.

Sleeping pads come with a rating that measures their insulation capacity. R2 to R4 will effectively keep the cold from reaching you at night. If you are camping in the winter, R4 or above is recommended.

The sleeping bag will also have a scale to inform you of its capacity to keep you warm. Look for the comfortable and extreme temperature it is made for to choose the right bag to match the weather you will be camping in.

 Backpacking Tip #10. Plan for rain.

Rain gear is a must. You can plan your trips around the weather and hope for the best, but sometimes the weather will surprise you, not always in a good way. Being wet and cold can make for a miserable adventure. Staying dry can be a priority, especially in chilly temperatures.

A rain jacket and a rain cover for your pack are the bare essentials for rain gear. Some hikers have rain pants too. I have never used them, but they are an option. Rain ponchos are also handy as they can keep you and your pack dry simultaneously. It is a matter of preference.

I wear my waterproof backpacking boots to help keep my feet dry. Gaitors are also very helpful in keeping the water from getting inside the shoes.

two hikers one wearing a poncho as rain gear and one wearing a rainjacket on a wet rocky trail

 Backpacking Tip #11. A bear hang

Bear hangs are usually necessary in the backcountry, especially in bear country. I use a paracord with a carabiner attached at one end. To make it easier to throw that end over the tall branch, I also link a small rock when I can find one on the ground. The carabiner makes it easy to tie my drybag and then hiss it to hang on the branch.

The PCT method recommends that you use a small stick to secure your bag from the branch. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy made this video to explain and demonstrate how to hang your food bag. It is straightforward and very easy to follow.

 Backpacking Tip #12. Backpacking solo

Solo backpackers will tell you how rewarding spending a couple of days or a week on the trail alone can be. You are alone with yourself, your thoughts and the sounds of the forest. There is nothing more calming and relaxing than this. If you need to escape the city’s busy life and have some quiet time, there is no better way.

Of course, being alone on a remote trail means taking some precautions to stay safe. Safety comes first, such as having a map, a compass or GPS device, and a first aid kit; maybe bear spray would be highly recommended, depending on the terrain you are hiking in.

I always take my time and am more mindful of where I step when I hike or backpack alone. A sprained ankle or broken leg when you are alone on a remote trail could be life-threatening.

Most importantly, always tell someone where you are going, the trail or route you plan on hiking and when they should expect you back. This is imperative; should something happen, someone knows that you are missing and should have been back, and they know where to start looking.

 Backpacking Tip #13. For women backpackers… GoGirl!

I love my GoGirl! It is a hassle when you need to go; crouching with a 30-pound pack on your back is impossible. And taking the bag off and putting it back on is time and energy-consuming. On the other hand, being able to pee like a man is quite helpful and very handy in the backcountry; no need to pull your pants down to your ankles to do your business. The joy!

pink gogirl

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I hope these first-time backpacking tips have been helpful and will serve you well on your next backpacking adventure. If you are new to backpacking, I am happy you are joining this adventurous family!

You might like my post on getting fit for the trail. The workouts will get you into shape to tackle those challenging trails with power and confidence.

Happy trails, and stay safe!

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2 Comments

  1. These are some great tips. I love day hiking and use a lot of these tips/tools. However, there were a few on this list that I don’t carry but will now. Great post!

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