Living the Wild Life: A Guide to Outdoor Recreation - A Community Blog

Learn more about outdoor recreational opportunities within the central PA area with Shane Jones.

Your Very First Checklist for Backpacking

Written by Shane Jones, Community Blogger | Aug 30, 2013 10:33 AM

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Backpacking is a great experience for anyone who loves the outdoors and wants to immerse themselves in nature. However, there is much planning and preparation that goes into a trip of this nature. If you are a beginner backpacker, the following checklist will guide you through the basics of a backpacking trip.

1.  Who are you going with?

As a first-time backpacker, it’s a good idea to travel with a companion, especially one who has been on backpacking trips before, and one who enjoys the outdoors. Traveling with a friend can also ease nervousness and be ultimately more safe and fun!  

There are a lot of companies that have started groups and organizations with fellow employees to encourage team unity as well as connect people with others who share the same interest in backpacking!  My cousin works for Warren CAT, a construction company in Lubbock, Texas, that meets to travel the Palo Duro Canyon State Park together.  Another friend at Mr. Rooter Greater Syracuse meets monthly to travel to the Finger Lakes.  I encourage creating groups where you may be shocked to find similar people in the company share interests! Try creating a Meetup to find those like-minded individuals.

2.  Where are you going?

After you’ve found a travel-buddy, it’s time to choose your destination. If you don’t already have a spot in mind, do a little research.

Travel guidebooks are packed with info about particular places and can provide great tips. Backpacking and hiking websites with forums can show information on more places and topics than an individual book. They can also have more updated information as well as opinions from a variety of people. However, don’t let a crabby backpacker’s online rant change your vacation plans.

3.  How long will your adventure be?

Once you decide your location it’s time to start thinking logistics. The distance of your hike can determine the duration of your adventure. For first-timers 1-2 nights with a 10-15 mile hike round-trip is a good place to start.  Check out MapMyHike as an awesome resource for planning these hikes!

4.  What you need to bring.

1. Gear

When backpacking in nature, bring only the essentials. Think lightweight, dual-purpose gear. Suggestions include:

  • Trail maps
  • First aid (including bug spray and sunscreen)
  • Lighting (headlamps and flashlights)
  • Fire starters
  • Shelter

2. Clothing

Things to know when packing clothing:

  • Research your destination’s temperature for both day and night to make sure you’re properly outfitted
  • Dress in layers
  • Synthetic material is a better option than cotton
  • Pack multi-purpose items (e.g. a pair of shorts that doubles as swim trunks)
  • Comfortable yet supportive hiking boots are essential footwear
  • Always have a rain jacket and some kind of headwear

3. Food

    • Pack food that will provide you with energy and nutrients for your hike
    • Buy food that can be packed easily in your backpack (a bag of chips probably won’t pack well)
    • Bring PLENTY of water

4. The Big Stuff

Don’t forget about a backpack, tent, sleeping bag and pads. All can be purchased online or at a local outdoor store like REI or EMS. However, if you can’t afford to buy the big ticket items, think about borrowing from a friend or renting from a store.


5. How to communicate

As you’ll be off the grid, cell phone communication may not be possible. Alternative options include:

    • Satellite phones or messaging devices
    • Walkie-talkies that can access several channels
    • A satellite GPS (of the hiking/hunting/geocaching variety) that can be programmed to get you back to civilization

6.  Safety and Preparations

1. Physical Fitness

Make sure you’re physically prepared for your trip. Do a practice hike in your boots or go for training runs.

2. Get to know your gear

Practice setting up your tent and base camp so there will be no surprises on your trip.

3. Call ahead

Contact local ranger stations or park headquarters before your trip to get all of your questions answered beforehand. 

4. Tell someone

Make sure someone at home knows your travel plans before you leave. You don’t want your trip to be a sequel to 127 hours.

5. What to expect, and how to show respect

  • This is the wild. There will be animals, insects, untamed terrain and different types of weather. Keep that in mind while backpacking.
  • Don’t Litter – bring back your trash, and don’t leave anything you brought with you into the forest. Keep nature beautiful!
  • Be Aware – knowing your surroundings is important on your trip.
  • Have fun – enjoy the views, the peace and quiet, and the beauty of nature.


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