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Your first backpacking trip can be daunting: from the right trail to the right back to the right weight, it can be overwhelming to plan for. Here are few things I did right, a few I did wrong, and one major mistake I won’t make again. I hope you can learn from these beginner backpacking tips.
I’ve been wanting to backpack for years but was overwhelmed at the amount of gear I would need to buy and intimidated by the weight I would have to carry over a long distance. During the last year, after a friend talked me into getting a pack, I but the bullet and went on my first trip. Here’s what went right and what went wrong.
What Went Right
1. I did research on what to take and asked a lot of questions at REI. The analytic nerd inside me couldn’t venture into the backcountry without gathering a ton of information. I think I tried on five of six different packs at two different stores before ordering one online (I found one I liked; I just needed a different size). I read several articles on what to take and took out a few things from my pack once I had it all laid out.
I didn’t buy all the gear at once, which gave me time to buy things on sale. The only thing I would’ve done different was go sooner but rent a tent to see what I needed.
2. I did a very short trip. The Lofty Loop trail through Utah’s Uinta Mountains was only five miles and we camped at the half-way point. I thought the distance was would be super easy but the weight wore me out far more than I anticipated. I was so glad to know I had only a few miles until I could let that heavy pack sink to the ground.
One night was also ideal as I learned how warm my sleeping bag would keep me or not, how much food I would need, and the right amount of water to carry.
What Went Wrong
1. Not Having A Reliable Cook System. I bought a burner with an automatic lighter and was even prepared enough to try it out at home the night before. It worked beautifully and I confidently set it up to cook my freeze dry meals. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get that stupid to light. Luckily, my friend brought matches and I was able to eat. I will always carry matches from here on out.
While this may not be a problem for your trip, always have some sort of back-up when it comes with food and shelter. You’re not getting far without those items.
2. Freezing My Tuckus Off. I bought a sleeping bag rated for thirty above, which means forty degrees at best. Well, it ended up in the 20s with the ground and my tent covered in frost. Thank goodness I threw an emergency blanket in the bag, which did help a little. Although, I did spend the night feeling like I was sleeping in tinfoil that crinkled every time I rolled over.
The sleeping mat I bought was ridiculously thin and hard and was returned to REI the next day. I’ve since bought an inflatable mat but it remains to be seen if that is better.
One Mistake I Won’t Make Again
1. Not having a reliable water source. I did buy a water filter off Amazon but when I tried it out at home I couldn’t get the darn thing to work. No problem, I figured, I was only going for one night and could carry in the water I needed. I had no idea how much weight this added until the hike out.
But even worse than the weight was the big mistake I made in the morning. In a hurry to get my water boiling, I failed to screw the cap on tight to my water bladder. It wasn’t until almost all the water had leaked out into the bottom of my pack and through my sleeping bag did I realized my horrible error. Thank goodness I had only planned on one night and could hike out first thing.
I’ve learned my lesson. You don’t take a chance on water. I will always have a reliable filter with me.
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Those are such great tips! I haven’t ever done a trip like this and I think I would plan to hike way too much without realizing how heavy the backpack is and how it would wear me down. Great tips!
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Really good tips (especially as we only started backpacking in the last year or so, so it is sort of nice to see we made similar plans/errors!) We were similar, but we tried out most of our gear while car camping, so we knew it would work before we headed out on the trails. I know what you mean about it being a relief when you get to camp. Carrying a large bag is so much more tiring than day hiking!
We ended up getting Nemo tensor insulated sleeping mats and I flipping love them. (If you are still looking for one.) They are little heavier than the ultra light mats, but they are thick and don’t make a crinkle sound when you turn over.
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I’ll have to look at the Nemo. I bought something in the end of season sales but I’m not super hopeful.
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