Going On Your First Backpacking Trip? Here Are 5 Essential Tips.

Backpacking is an adventure that appeals to everyone. It lets you explore the wilderness on your own, teaches you self-sufficiency, and connects you with nature in a unique way. It’s a different experience than driving to your campsite with all your stuff. Backpacking in the wilderness and backcountry will call out to the primal side of your psyche that is often told to be quiet in this modern-day society. 

At the same time, backpacking in the backcountry can be challenging and scary for first-time travelers. Those feelings are completely fine and normal. Even experienced backpackers will be nervous, especially when traveling to new places. 

But the main point is understanding that you are capable. Whether you like it or not, traveling in the wilderness and being in the outdoors is hardwired in your ancient DNA. Sure, it’s been drowned out by the information age and modern expectations of how a man should be and act. But, when you go on your first backpacking trip, you have to start with the mindset that you can do it — that you can carry your food and water, that you can use the bathroom in nature, that you can set up your tent, that you can navigate your route.

There’s a short learning curve to begin backpacking and a continuous learning curve for backpacking mastery. Hopefully, you are reading this at least a few weeks before your backpacking trip. 

The Review Dads have compiled some essential tips to help first-time backpackers get their trip off to a successful start.

#1: Prepare For Your Trip Well In Advance

You’re going to spend a lot of time in the wilderness and want to make the most of it. With that in mind, planning your trip well in advance makes sense. Ideally, you should begin this process at least three months before you plan to leave for your trip, especially if you are doing it alone. However, if you are going with a more experienced backpacker, it’s okay to start the process about one month before.

  • One of the simplest things you can do is learn about the trail you are taking. Depending on the terrain, you will generally be hiking between 4 – 10 miles a day. You want a general idea of the location of campsites and water sources.

  • Download any maps to your phone before you get there, and make sure the complete maps are downloaded and you know how to use those maps. You will generally not have cell service when hiking in the wilderness and backcountry. Pack at least three portable phone chargers in that connection if you rely on electronic maps. Regardless, always have a paper map and a compass in your backpack if your phone goes kaput.  

  • Pretty much every backpacking trip in the wilderness and backcountry requires a permit. You will have other things to worry about before starting the journey. Don’t rely on the website alone; understand what you need to get the permit. Always call because there’s often a disconnect between the website and the actual policy (99 percent of the time, a park’s website doesn’t include enough of the items you need to get a permit). Spend the 5 – 10 minutes to get this done correctly.

  • Learn the Leave No Trace principles. These principles aren’t just good for the environment but will give you an idea of how to pack. For example, when you understand that there are no garbage cans in a wilderness and backcountry trail, you’ll pack with more perspective. 

#2: You Will Need To Improve Your Fitness and Aerobic Capacity.

Backpacking in the wilderness and backcountry will require you to upgrade your fitness. If you don’t have base mileage and aerobic capacity under your belt, you’ll need to get that as soon as possible. The first day generally doesn’t seem that difficult when you’re backpacking because the excitement and adrenalin will get you through. It’s the second, third, fourth, and fifth days where the lack of fitness becomes truly apparent. 

The lack of fitness can lead to injury, putting other people you are backpacking with in danger, especially if you can no longer continue. So in that regard, improving your fitness and aerobic capacity isn’t just ensuring your trip is within your limits, but it’s also the responsible thing to do.

  • At least a month before your backpacking trip, you’ll need to start getting your base mileage in. You should do base mileage at an easy walking pace (heart rate no more than 120 BPM), and you should do most of it without a backpack. How much should your base mileage be? Calculate how many miles you will typically be walking per day. Whatever that number is, multiply it by 15% to 20%. That will be your weekly volume of miles. You should have no more than two days of rest per week.

    • For example, if you plan for the total walking mileage of your backpacking trip to be 20 miles, then your total weekly base mileage should be at least 23 miles a week.
  • When you do your research (even if you are going with a more experienced backpacker, it’s crucial for your self-sufficiency to do your own research) about the terrain, keep a particular eye out on elevation. If your trail is hilly, you must incorporate hills into your daily weekly mileage.  

  • To build aerobic capacity, you will need to do exercises that improve your aerobic capacity. What does that mean? It means doing exercises where your heart rate is in the 140 – 170 BPM range. The best exercise to get your aerobic capacity up and without doing activities that could cause repetitive injury, such as running, will be burpees. In short, burpees will get your “wind up” very fast. It will also have the added effect of gaining strength. You do not need to do the cross-fit jumping burpees. You don’t need to do a 1000 burpees either like the great Iron Wolf. Instead, after your foundational mileage walks, perform 10 – 20 1 pump burpees. It’s not easy. But if you do this for the month before your backpacking trip, you will be a new person.    

#3: Get Your Backpack Fitted, Make Sure Your Shoes and Socks Fit, and Walk Some Miles In Them Before You Go.

Many first-time backpackers break out their gear for the first time on their trip. While this might feel exciting at the time, it’s a horrible idea. 

  • At the outset, get your backpack fitted at least a few weeks before your trip. Go to REI. They will fit it for you without cost. If you can’t get to REI or other hiking stores, watch this video at the very least. Do not think you can fit your backpack on your own by “feel.” This is not like fitting a backpack for school. Walking in an ill-fitted backpack for a few miles is one thing. But an ill-fitted backpack on Day 3, Mile 20? You’ll have shoulder and lower back pains that you will feel for days or even weeks afterward.

  • Practice a portion of your base mileage with a weighted backpack. As a general matter, the weight of your backpack shouldn’t be more than 15 to 25 percent more than your body weight. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, then your backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 50 pounds. You should practice walking with a backpack with 50 pounds of added weight. It gives your body a chance to get used to that weight.

    • You want to slowly but gradually prep your body for the added weight of your backpack. As an analogy, you want to essentially build a callous for your body rather than a blister. Slow and gradual allows for the callous. 
  • Got some new shoes? You better break those in with the type of socks you will wear at least a few weeks before your trip. Have you ever walked 5 miles on rocky terrain with a blister? It’s not going to happen; if it does, you’ll slow everyone down. So start doing some of your base mileage in your hiking shoes and socks. A quick caveat:

    • The Review Dads primarily recommend trail runners for backpacking trips. They are much lighter than traditional hiking shoes. Trail runners provide you with tremendous stability and traction. We only recommend traditional hiking shoes if you carry extremely heavy backpacks or have weak ankles.

#4: Bring The Right Gear and Know How To Use It

Before you head out into the wilderness, you should know what gear you’ll need and how to use it. Backpacking is a challenging activity, and it can shock your system if you’re unprepared. As a beginner, you won’t be able to carry everything you think you need. That’s OK. You’ll learn as you go, and staying safe is essential. Start by bringing what you feel comfortable with. If you’re unsure, bring too little. As you go on trips and experiment with what you think you’ll need, you’ll better understand what you need to bring.

At the minimum, here is the gear you’ll need (we are not discussing clothes here), and you should know how to use it before you go:

  • You’ll need a backpacking tent. These are much lighter than the tents you typically get at a department store. Practice setting up your tent a few times in your backyard or living room.

  • You’re likely going to need a lightweight backpacking stove. Learn how to light it before you go. No matter which backpacking stove you purchase, each one has some idiosyncrasy that you won’t know about until you start using it. Best to learn those idiosyncrasies before you get to camp.

  • Learn how to dig a cathole with a trowel. What’s a cathole? There are no bathrooms when you’re backpacking in the wilderness and backcountry. So you will need to do your business at least 200 feet (about 70 or so steps) from the nearest trail, campsite, or water source. Here’s an easy-to-follow video on digging a hole for your #2.
  • Learn how to pack your backpack. Put your sleeping bag at the bottom of your backpack. Put the heaviest items in the center of your backpack for balance, and add your lightweight items around them. Place items you need to access frequently, particularly water and food, where you can get at them quickly. Watch this fantastic video for additional guidance.

  • You will need to know what’s inside your First Aid kit. You don’t want to open your first aid kit for the first time when you’re hurt or someone else in your party is injured. So identify what’s inside your first aid kit with the understanding that the most common non-serious injuries during a backpacking trip will be: cuts, blisters, twisted ankles, sore wrists, insect stings and bites, and poison ivy.   

#5: Get Your Diet Straight In The Weeks Before You Go, and Plan For What You’ll Be Eating on Your Trip. 

Before your backpacking trip into the wilderness and backcountry, you first need to get your diet straight so that your body is prepared for what it will be consuming. Eating cheeseburgers and fast food routinely before your trip will make you a liability to everyone there.

Good nutrition is not only crucial for your health and fitness, but it will also help your digestion. You don’t want to be backpacking constipated. You want your body to be running smoothly. Unfortunately, you won’t understand the importance of a smooth-running plumbing system until you crouch above a cat hole among creepy crawlies for twenty minutes.

The other factor to consider is what you will be bringing for food. It should be evident by now that you will carry your food unless you plan to go fishing or hunting. One of the easiest foods to bring is the ready-made camping meals. They are often higher in sodium and carbohydrates, but it’s okay because you will be expending a lot of energy throughout the day. The benefit of these ready-made camping meals is that you can get your sustenance and calories by just adding hot water into the bag. You can even eat your food in the bag. After a long day hiking, just boiling some water to get your meal is a lifesaver.

But the main caveat is you want to try the ready-made meals for a) taste and b) digestion before you go on your trip. Don’t just rely on reviews, as every individual is different.

Also, if you have been practicing intermittent fasting for at least two or three months, you should continue with that intermittent fasting during your hike. The Review Dads follow intermittent fasting protocols (18/6) for even extended and strenuous hikes. We bring less food. We have expanded mental clarity. The only adjustment we make is adding a little salt to our water to account for electrolyte loss.  


Backpacking in the wilderness and backcountry is one of the most rewarding things you can experience. It’s essential, however, to adequately prepare. It doesn’t take a lot. It does, however, require some calculation. Bring the right gear and learn how to use it. Get your diet and fitness in check. You got this.

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