Backpacking is a great way to explore the outdoors, enjoy nature, and challenge yourself. Backpacking is when you hike with all your gear and supplies in a backpack and camp overnight in the wilderness.
Backpacking can be an amazing and rewarding experience, but it also requires some planning and preparation. You need to choose a destination, pack the right gear and food, plan your route and itinerary, and follow some safety and etiquette rules.
In this guide, we’ll show you how to plan a backpacking trip step by step. We’ll also share some tips, checklist, and destinations that will help you have a successful and enjoyable backpacking adventure.
Ready to learn how to plan a backpacking trip? Let’s get started!
How to Choose a Backpacking Destination
The first step in planning a backpacking trip is to choose a destination that suits your interests, skills, and goals. Here are some factors to consider when choosing a backpacking destination:
- Time: How much time do you have for your trip? How far can you travel from home? How many miles can you hike per day? These questions will help you narrow down your options based on the length and difficulty of your trip.
- Season: What season are you planning to go backpacking? What are the weather conditions and temperatures in your destination? How will they affect your gear, clothing, and food choices? These questions will help you choose a destination that matches your preferences and expectations.
- Permits: Do you need a permit to hike or camp in your destination? How can you get one? How much does it cost? How far in advance do you need to apply? These questions will help you avoid any legal or logistical issues in your destination.
- Regulations: What are the rules and regulations for hiking and camping in your destination? Are there any restrictions on where you can camp, how long you can stay, or what you can do? Are there any fees or taxes that you need to pay? These questions will help you respect the environment and the authorities in your destination.
- Resources: What are the resources available in your destination? Are there any water sources, toilets, shelters, or ranger stations along the way? Are there any services or amenities nearby such as stores, restaurants, or hotels? These questions will help you plan your supplies and contingency plans in your destination.
Some of the best ways to find backpacking destinations are:
- Use online platforms: There are many online platforms that provide information and reviews on backpacking destinations around the world. Some of the most popular ones are AllTrails , Hiking Project , The Outbound , and REI Co-op . These platforms allow you to search by location, difficulty, distance, elevation gain, features, and more. You can also see photos, maps, directions, tips, and comments from other hikers.
- Join organizations: There are many organizations that offer backpacking trips or courses for different levels and interests. Some of the most reputable ones are REI Adventures , NOLS , Outward Bound , and Sierra Club . These organizations provide you with guides, equipment, transportation, and insurance. They also teach you skills, knowledge, and ethics for backpacking.
- Contact locals: If you have a specific destination in mind, you can try to contact locals who know the area well and can give you advice and recommendations. You can find locals through social media, blogs, forums, or word-of-mouth. You can also use websites like Couchsurfing or Airbnb to find hosts who are willing to share their insights or join you on your trip.
How to Pack for a Backpacking Trip
The second step in planning a backpacking trip is to pack the right gear and food for your trip. You need to pack light, smart, and comfortable. Here are some tips on how to pack for a backpacking trip:
- Use a backpacking gear checklist: A backpacking gear checklist is a list of items that you need or want to bring on your trip. It helps you organize your packing process and avoid forgetting anything important. You can use our backpacking gear checklist below or create your own based on your needs and preferences.
- Choose quality over quantity: When it comes to backpacking gear and food, quality is more important than quantity. You want to choose items that are durable, reliable, and functional. You also want to choose items that are lightweight, compact, and versatile. You don’t want to carry more than you need or use.
- Pack in layers: Packing in layers means that you pack your items in different layers or categories according to their use and frequency. For example, you can pack your items in four layers: bottom layer (sleeping bag and pad), middle layer (clothing and food), top layer (rain gear and toiletries), and outer layer (tent and stove). This way, you can access your items easily and efficiently.
- Use packing aids: Packing aids are tools that help you pack your items more neatly and efficiently. Some of the most common packing aids are packing cubes, compression bags, or vacuum bags. These tools help you compress your items, organize them by color or type, and save space in your backpack.
- Distribute weight evenly: Distributing weight evenly means that you balance the weight of your items in your backpack and on your body. You want to place the heaviest items close to your back and near your hips. You also want to place the lightest items on the top and sides of your backpack. You can also use a hip belt, chest strap, and load lifters to adjust the weight distribution and stability of your backpack.
Backpacking Gear Checklist
Here is a backpacking gear checklist that you can use or modify for your trip. The items are divided into 10 categories: essentials, shelter, sleeping, clothing, footwear, cooking, hydration, food, personal, and optional.
- Hiking poles
- Map and compass
- GPS device or app
- Headlamp or flashlight
- Extra batteries
- First-aid kit
- Knife or multitool
- Fire starter
- Hat or cap
- Insect repellent
- Emergency blanket
- Tent or hammock
- Footprint or tarp
- Stakes or cords
- Repair kit
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Pillow or stuff sack
- Liner or sheet
- Base layer (top and bottom)
- Mid layer (fleece or sweater)
- Outer layer (jacket or coat)
- Rain gear (jacket and pants)
- Gloves or mittens
- Scarf or buff
- Hiking boots or shoes
- Camp shoes or sandals
- Stove and fuel
- Pot and lid
- Cup and spoon
- Bowl and fork
- Knife and cutting board
- Spatula and tongs
- Can opener and corkscrew
- Dishcloth and sponge
- Soap and towel
- Trash bag and ziplock bag
- Water bottle or bladder
- Water filter or purifier
- Water treatment tablets or drops
- Breakfast (cereal, oatmeal, granola, etc.)
- Lunch (sandwiches, wraps, crackers, etc.)
- Dinner (pasta, rice, soup, etc.)
- Snacks (nuts, bars, jerky, etc.)
- Drinks (coffee, tea, juice, etc.) Personal
- Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, etc.)
- Medications (prescription, over-the-counter, etc.)
- Hygiene products (wipes, tissues, toilet paper, etc.)
- Personal items (glasses, contacts, etc.)
- Camera and accessories
- Phone and charger
- Book and pen
- Cards and games
- Music player and headphones
- Binoculars and telescope
- Fishing rod and tackle
- Bear spray and canister
How to Plan a Backpacking Route and Itinerary
The third step in planning a backpacking trip is to plan your route and itinerary for your trip. You need to know where you are going, how long it will take you, where you will camp, where you will get water, and what you will do along the way. Here are some tips on how to plan a backpacking route and itinerary:
- Use online tools: There are many online tools that can help you plan your route and itinerary for your trip. Some of the most useful ones are Gaia GPS , CalTopo , Hiking Project , AllTrails , and REI Co-op . These tools allow you to create custom maps, measure distances and elevation gains, mark waypoints and landmarks, download offline maps, print maps, share maps, and more.
- Check trail conditions: Before you finalize your route and itinerary, you should check the trail conditions in your destination. You should look for information on weather forecasts, trail closures, fire restrictions, water availability, snow levels, river crossings, wildlife activity and more. You can use online platforms like Trailforks , Trail Runner , or Trail Conditions to find current and reliable reports from other hikers and local authorities.
- Plan your daily mileage: Based on your fitness level, experience, and goals, you should plan how many miles you want to hike per day. You should also consider the terrain, elevation gain, difficulty, and scenery of your route. A general rule of thumb is to plan for 3-10 miles per day for beginners or 10-20 miles per day for experienced hikers. You can also use online calculators like Hiking Time or Naismith’s Rule to estimate your hiking time based on distance and elevation gain.
- Plan your campsites: Based on your daily mileage and route, you should plan where you want to camp each night. You should look for designated campsites or established sites that have flat ground, water access, fire rings, or bear boxes. You should also check the regulations and restrictions for camping in your destination. Some areas may require permits, reservations, fees, or limits on group size or stay duration. You can use online platforms like The Dyrt , Campendium , or Hipcamp to find campsites near your route.
- Plan your water sources: Based on your route and campsites, you should plan where you will get water along the way. You should look for streams, lakes, springs, or faucets that are reliable and clean. You should also check the water quality and availability in your destination. Some areas may have contaminated or scarce water sources that require treatment or extra storage. You can use online platforms like H2O Mapper , Water Finder , or Water Cache to find water sources near your route.
- Plan your activities: Based on your interests and goals, you should plan what you want to do along the way. You may want to explore side trails, summit peaks, visit landmarks, or enjoy views. You may also want to relax, read, write, or meditate. You should also plan some contingency plans in case of bad weather, injuries, or emergencies. You can use online platforms like The Outbound , Adventure Projects , or Outdoor Project to find activities near your route.
How to Follow Safety and Etiquette Rules on a Backpacking Trip
The fourth step in planning a backpacking trip is to follow some safety and etiquette rules on your trip. You need to protect yourself, your companions, and the environment from any harm or damage. Here are some tips on how to follow safety and etiquette rules on a backpacking trip:
- Leave no trace: Leave no trace is a set of principles that guide outdoor enthusiasts on how to minimize their impact on nature. The seven principles are: plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife, and be considerate of other visitors. You can learn more about leave no trace at LNT.org .
- Pack it in, pack it out: Pack it in, pack it out is a rule that means that you should carry out everything that you bring in. This includes trash, food scraps, toilet paper, and hygiene products. You should also pack out any trash that you find along the way. You can use trash bags, ziplock bags, or bear canisters to store your waste until you reach a proper disposal site.
- Bury human waste: Bury human waste is a rule that means that you should dig a hole 6-8 inches deep and at least 200 feet away from water sources, trails, and campsites to dispose of your feces. You should also cover the hole with soil and natural materials after use. You should not bury your toilet paper or hygiene products, but pack them out instead. You can use a trowel, shovel, or stick to dig the hole.
- Filter or treat water: Filter or treat water is a rule that means that you should purify any water that you collect from natural sources before drinking or cooking with it. You can use a water filter, purifier, or treatment tablets or drops to remove any bacteria, viruses, or parasites that may be present in the water. You can also boil the water for at least one minute to kill any pathogens.
- Make noise: Make noise is a rule that means that you should make loud and frequent sounds to alert any wildlife of your presence and avoid surprising them. You can use your voice, clap your hands, ring a bell, or whistle to make noise. You should also avoid wearing headphones or earbuds that may prevent you from hearing any animals or other hikers.
- Keep your distance: Keep your distance is a rule that means that you should stay at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves and at least 25 yards away from other wildlife. You should also avoid feeding, touching, or approaching any animals. You should also keep your food and toiletries in a bear-resistant container or hang them from a tree to prevent any animal encounters.
- Yield the trail: Yield the trail is a rule that means that you should let other hikers pass by when you meet them on the trail. The general rule is that downhill hikers yield to uphill hikers, slower hikers yield to faster hikers, and smaller groups yield to larger groups. You should also step off the trail to the downhill side and avoid trampling any vegetation or causing erosion.
- Be friendly: Be friendly is a rule that means that you should greet and chat with other hikers that you meet on the trail. You can also share information, tips, or stories with them. You should also respect their privacy, space, and time. Don’t impose your opinions, views, or standards on them. Don’t cause any trouble or damage.
Conclusion how to plan a backpacking trip
Planning a backpacking trip can be a fun and rewarding process, but it also requires some work and preparation. You need to choose a destination, pack the right gear and food, plan your route and itinerary, and follow some safety and etiquette rules.
We hope that this guide has helped you learn how to plan a backpacking trip step by step and inspired you to start planning your next adventure. If you’re ready to plan a backpacking trip, check out REI Co-op , one of the best online platforms that provide information, reviews, and gear for backpacking.
Tip on Trips hope you enjoyed this article and found it useful. Please let me know if you have any questions or feedback. Thank you for reading and happy travels! 😊
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