Backpacking and Hiking for Beginners

Backpacking and Hiking for Beginners

(Last Updated: December 7, 2018)

Beginning backpacking is an exciting outdoor adventure. However, if this is your very first time, it could be a bit of a challenge. However, not after reading this article. As you will see, things can be easier. It does not require you to have a lot of money for you to enjoy the outdoors. Although it is the first time, backpacking for beginners does not have to be too hard if you can be duly prepared. If you are interested in backpacking, it is important that you first identify the best parts to visit. Start with the area around your place of residence. Believe me – there is a lot to see around your town.


Hiking for beginners


A multi-day backpacking trip is more enjoyable. There is so much to see and do on the way for one or two days to be enough. So set aside enough time and you will enjoy yourself thoroughly. Pick an inspiring place matching your skills set, fitting your budget and time.

There is useful information on backpacking and hiking trails from online forums, outdoor magazines, and regional guidebooks to determine the right hiking gear list. Whenever you are going camping, the first thing you ought to know is what you should bring along. That is where the entire trip begins.

Backpacking checklist

Prepare adequately for hiking by organizing a backpacking checklist for the stuff that you need to carry in your backpack. The secret to successful hiking is to carry the most essential items. When you have a heavy luggage, it will be a tall order to trek through hills and valleys or even plains. Do not carry your sentimental objects. They might get lost during backpacking and that will hurt. Your ultralight backpacking gear list should have items that you do not mind replacing if they get lost or damaged. You will avoid emotional disaster and be paying more extra for weight or bags if you will travel by air.


Backpacking checklist


Hiking consumes a lot of energy. It is essential that you carry energizing food. Also, carry some snacks for you to take in between your treks. Pack a small amount of food so that you do not carry energy sapping and unnecessary load.

Dry food is the best since it is light and you can carry more of it. You will also need to carry water. However, instead of carrying too much, maybe you ought to bring a portable water filter so that you can filter and drink water from all sources. Do a reconnaissance first over the area you will be hiking to know whether there is water.

Backpacking and hiking essentials

If you are going for your first camp outdoors, it is essential to learn about backpacking tips on basic equipment to make your camp life comfortable and avoid difficulties. A stove is essential for on-site cooking. Carry waterproof matches because it might become cold or wet even when you had not anticipated. Also, carry one or two additional backup lighters in case the first one fails. A first aid kit and a penknife are also essential and will only take minimal space in the backpack.

Other essential items to put in backpacking list are:

  • Mug, spoon, and fork
  • Map and compass
  • Tent (if you are not going car-camping)
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses and lip balm for sun protection

When preparing your backpacking list for hiking, remember you are more vulnerable to cold weather. It is important to carry a hat, gloves, warm jacket, raincoat and hiking boots. Also, have warm socks and rain pants. Bring a sleeping bag too or a thermal blanket. Try to carry your sleeping materials in waterproof bags.

You must keep clean even when hiking in the bush. Remember to carry soap, toothpaste, toothbrush and toilet paper. A hand sanitizer and baby wipes are essential in removing dirt. Bring garbage bags to put your dirty clothes in.

Write down a hiking gear list in advance for reference when packing. Unless you have very heavy luggage, it is essential that you carry the following:

  • A cord
  • Gaiters
  • Handheld GPS (your smartphone will do well also)
  • Trekking poles
  • A whistle for emergencies or when you get lost

Ultralight Gear List

Most of the above backpacking and hiking gear is already light but choosing ultralight gear will reduce even more weight. Try to reduce more weight from your gear by analyzing every item so that you get to carry only the most essential. You should also find the lightest items and carry those things that can serve multiple purposes. When preparing an ultralight gear list, begin with the backpack. Carry a light backpack without too much capacity as you will be tempted to fill it fully. It also does not balance out well when partially filled. Get a backpack with smaller cord locks or buckles. When going hiking, remove reinforcement material that can be removed.


Backpacking checklist


One of the helpful tips about hiking for beginners is to purchase a waterproof pack to save on pack cover weight. If you must put a pack cover, find a very light one or alternatively, spray the pack with a good waterproof coating. Do not be worried about lighter material on ultralight packs. It is usually very strong.

Buy an appropriate modest sleeping bag that will not be too bulky to fit into a camping backpack (read my article on backpacking sleeping bags). Do not pack one that is designed for low temperatures during summer. In case of cold, wear more clothing to feel extra warm in your lightweight bag. Eating or drinking something warm before sleeping helps to warm your body and the heat will be trapped in the sleeping bag. I have written an article about keeping warm in the tent – read it here.

You can add warmth to a sleeping bag by using a silk liner that weighs just around 4 ounces (30 g). Make it a habit to store your sleeping bag in a big storage bag at home so that it retains full loft. If you are sleeping in a tent, use a small towel to wipe condensation from its walls before you go to sleep.

If you are reading this guide on hiking for beginners, you ought to know that even when in the forest or mountains, cleanliness is very important. Thus, a light trash bag should be carried along. It is bad manners to litter the trail – I believe, it is understandable.

If you will be sleeping on a mattress, an ultralight air mattress is the best solution for how to pack a backpack with lesser weight. A full-length mattress weighs as light as 20 ounces (567 g) but it is still comfortable. Leave your inflatable sleeping pad open for the condensation inside to evaporate before packing it away.


You can reduce a lot of weight for your hiking gear by carrying an ultralight tent. A one-person ultra-light tent weighs less than 2 pounds/0.9 kg while a two-person tent weighs 2-3 pounds/0.9 to 1.4 kg.


Ultralight tent


If you have hiking poles, you can use them in place of some tent poles to save weight. A good way of how to pack a backpack and save more weight is by leaving the stuff sacks. Instead, use the lighter rubber bands around the tent. Put those rubber bands around titanium stakes then band them to tent poles to prevent the stakes from poking holes into the tent.

You can avoid the entire weight of a tent by using a sleeping bag cover or a hammock if you are camping at a dry and hot region. Read my article on hammocks.

Packing a backpack for camping

Camping outdoors is one amazing way to escape from your daily life and predictable routine. You can go camping at a nearby camp or deep into the wilderness. The secret of how to pack a backpack is to develop a camping checklist. Your checklist will depend on your needs and the specific trip. It will depend on factors such as:

  • The place where you will camp
  • The number of people accompanying you
  • Camp period
  • Weather and season in the region

It is essential to make sure that there is a proper bedding and enough room for each person in the tent. A cold night will ruin your camping experience if you are not well prepared but the right sleeping area makes all the difference. If you will sleep in a tent, it is essential to consider size and type. A Camping backpack should include appropriate packing bags for that time of the year, sleeping pads, a ground cover or tarp.


Beginning backpacking


Cooking utensils and accompanying supplies are also essential. You will want to carry a kind of stove to cook food unless you are residing at a camp where someone else does the cooking. Do not forget to carry proper fuel for the stove in large supply as it might not be available around the camp. Unless you plan to survive on dry food alone, it is important to know how you will find wood or charcoal for campsite grills.

Use fire rings if available. Fires can be a hazard. Have water and sand nearby before lighting a fire in case you need to put it out fast for some reason. Do not put up a fire where campfires are not allowed.

A kitchen equipment list is essential because when you are camping in the woods, local stores are a long distance away. Do not forget to carry items that complement each other. For instance, if you carry canned food, have a can opener too. Other necessary items for cooking purposes include:

  • Pans
  • Pots
  • Plates
  • Cups
  • Knife(s)
  • Cutting board

An aluminum mug with a lid should also be on your backpacking gear list as it is quite practical for multi tasks. You can use it to boil water and eat out of. Buy one that has a non-conductor handle for boiling water. It speeds up cooking times and can last a number of years.

Do not forget to carry a lighter or matches for your stove. Keep the matches in a waterproof container or sachet. These days, there are even camping espresso machines to help in making morning latte if you can squeeze a space for one in your backpack.

The type of food you carry is also an important factor for backpacking together with the period of time you want it to last. When packing, you should get lightweight food. However, if you are traveling in a camper or car up to the campsite, you can carry more foodstuff to prepare more elaborate meals. The following are some of the best food options for camping:

  • Peanut butter
  • Granola bars
  • Canned beans & soup
  • Trail mix
  • Coffee and tea
  • Drink powders

Other items that you should carry during hiking include:

  • Camp chairs
  • Small shovel
  • Camp towel
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • Toilet paper
  • Camera
  • Interesting reading material like a novel or journal

Do not forget to carry a bug spray to keep away insects. Do not leave behind a first aid kit with commonly used painkillers, antibiotics, bandages, and other essentials just in case of an ailment, insect bite or a cut.


When undertaking backpacking for beginners, read long term internet weather reports for your hiking destination. For cold weather, carry warm clothing but do not include anything that you will not wear as it will only make your luggage easier. If it will be warm, you can reduce several ounces by leaving clothing such as rain pants in the car.


Hiking gear list


If it is raining, you can use lightweight rain gear that weight less than 10 ounces (280 g). A pair of pants or running shorts and rain gear is enough. Lightweight nylon outdoor pants weighing little as 8 ounces (227 g) are the best.

A long and short-sleeved shirt is enough for hiking. Silk and other light synthetic material will allow you to leave bulkier garments out of your camping backpack. You can even hike in summer with a few silk layers under rain gear.

Wear high socks. They keep your feet warm and protect them from insects or ticks. Additionally, they can double up as gloves if you forgot your pair or as additional gloves over lightweight gloves. Wool is a good material for hiking socks. Remember to find an appropriate weight for the weather conditions you will encounter. Pack at least two pairs, one to wear and another to change into if the first pair gets wet. To protect your feet from blistering when backpacking, include silk liners for long treks.

A painter’s cap is a lightweight and cheap protection from the sun. It weighs just around 1.3 ounces (28 g). If it is too hot for you, try a visor and choose the lightest one.

Belts should be part of your backpacking checklist but they should be lightweight. Go for lightweight nylon accessory strap that has a quick-release buckle.

Avoid cotton material as it is not quick-dry, therefore becoming heavier when wet. Avoid leather belts as they are heavy. Do not wear jeans for hiking. They are heavy and do not dry fast. The general rule is to carry a backpack that does not exceed 30% of your bodyweight. Remember to have fire lighting skills even if it was not in the initial plan just in case of an emergency. You should also carry a paper map and compass even if you have a GPS navigator as back up.

The DON’Ts of backpacking

  1. DO NOT FORGET. That is why you ought to make a list of all the items that you will need and then check them patiently as they go into the backpack. If you forget anything, you are going to be a burden to the other backpackers and they might get annoyed and cook you for dinner. Just kidding, but it’s a hard economy, bring your stuff.
  2. Do not think you know everything. There is a lot that you do not know. Therefore, do not forget to read that manual for the butane stove and even practice some with it before leaving home. Read the user manuals for all the gear that you are taking with you before you can pack them. Do not pack anything if you do not know how to use it.
  3. Don’t go backpacking alone. Who does that now? Join that group, go with people. It is a lot of fun that way and there is strength in numbers. Remember, some of the areas that you will frequent could be far taken away from homes and towns.
  4. Don’t carry too much weight. Sure, you need a lot of stuff when you are away from home, but make sure the weight you carry is manageable. Backpacking for beginners should always be handled cautiously. Do not underestimate the distances and the weight. Practice carrying your backpack around some before departure day, fully packed so that you can adjust the straps accordingly. Get used to your backpack. For the entire backpacking trip, it will be your closest companion.
  5. Don’t soak your sleeping bag. Seems like a simple rule. If you haven’t gotten into the situation when you have to get inside the wet sleeping bag, you don’t know how it feels. I wish you not to have such an experience. The best way to avoid soaking your sleeping bag is to keep it in the waterproof bag (a simple heavy-duty trash bag will do).
  6. Don’t ignore a good backpacking guide. But it is probably stuff I already know, you say. Ask the regular camping and backpacking nerds and they will tell you that you can never be too prepared. Never! Therefore, read about everything, how to scare bears away, how to secure your camp, how to treat wounds, read about insects and everything.
  7. Don’t ever set up camp blindly. Scour around the area, unless you want to camp right on top of a rattler. Do not camp at the base of a hill or a mountain. If it rains, the flood water doing high speed will sweep your camp away.
  8. Don’t cook in the tent. Even if it is windy or it rains, resist the temptation to start a fire inside the tent. Tents are made of higly flammable synthetic materials and once it catches fire, it will burn down in seconds. Another reason for not cooking in the tent is that if you start the fire inside of a tent, it will use up most of the oxygen and leave you with poisonous carbon monoxide which may even cause death. If there is no other option, cook in the vestibule of your tent (make sure it is well ventilated) or under the tarp.
  9. Don’t give animals easy meals. If you are going car camping for a weekend, the racoon stealing some of your food may make you a bit upset, but when you go for a one-week hike and the bear steals all of your food, you are in trouble. Use all the measures to protect your food from wild animals – bear canisters, Ursacks, bear bags and so on.
  10. Do not get lost. Stay within the agreed routes, stay with the others too. Do not get too curious and start wandering around alone in unfamiliar territory. It’s not baby’s day out. Be careful.
  11. Don’t ignore the weather. I knew one “brave” guy who went hiking in mid-fall in the mountains with shorts and a t-shirs. He almost survived when he came back in the morning of the other day. He was caught by a storm which he didn’t expect simply because he did not pay attention to the weather forecast. Weather in the wilderness can be very unpredictable. The storm may arrive in a snap. What you can do is study the weather forecast for the whole period of your trip thoroughly. And use at least 2 sources.
  12. Lastly, don’t stay longer than you had planned. Where will you get provisions for the extra time? Your folks back home will start getting worried.
  13. Don’t leave a trace. The more people spend their time outdoors, the more they affect the nature. The concept of leave no trace backpacking (LNT backpacking) teaches us to beahave ourselves in the nature the way so that we leave no trace. This includes simple things like leaving no garbage, etinguishing the fire properly, not making harm to plants and animals. Our planet is getting more and more crowded and LNT backpacking approach gets more and more important.


If you are planning your first backpacking trip with kids, I have written an article about camping with kids. You’ll fing some actionable tips there. Don’t skip it if you want to avoid trouble with your little ones. And if you want to do something more than just sit around when outdoors, read this article called “Awesome Camping Ideas“.


These are just a few backpacking tips for you. There are more, but these few should suffice to prepare for your first bacpacking trip.

Write your thought below this article – suggest your ideas.

Good luck.

Leave a Comment