20 Backpacking Tips for Beginners

Hopefully, the catchy title sucked you in. We previously covered what backpacking gear to purchase, what food and clothing to bring, and how to properly train for backpacking. All of that stuff is great and necessary, but it doesn’t exactly prepare you for some of the situations that you encounter while out on the trail. Here are 20 of the top backpacking tips and lessons that I’ve learned from personal experience and the experts.

Backpacking Food Tips

1. Do not leave any food behind. Animals will find it and you will create problems for future backpackers as they become more interested in human food and activity. Be conscious of how you are impacting others.

2. Store everything properly. Anything scented, including lip balm, toothpaste, deodorant, and your toothbrush needs special storage consideration. I’ve seen three different types of backcountry animal deterrent systems. Some parks have a large metal trunk that you can store these materials in. Others have a pulley system to pull your bag up. A third system consists of a pole that you raise and hang your backpack on. At night, this is where all scented products and food should go. These animal avoidance systems are also a strong incentive to stay at designated campsites.

3. Keep critters out of your food. Think your food is safe 20 feet in the air? I did too. That is, until I woke up, pulled my bag down for breakfast, and noticed a hole in it. A rodent had eaten a hole in my bag to get to food. I don’t know how the little critter ate everything that he did, but he really did cut into my food supplies for the trip. Lesson learned: store your food in a steel mesh bag or other animal proof container.

4. Keep your food waste under control. Pack all of your meals in ziplock bags. That way, when you’re done, you can put all waste in them. This keeps things clean and simple and cuts down on scents that can be picked up by animals.

5. Cook your food at least 100 feet downwind from your tent. Otherwise, you may be encouraging animals to sneak around your tent at night because your tent will smell like the food that you cooked.

backpacking tips

Backpacking Water Tips

6. Have enough water, but not too much. Plan your routes so that you will cross water at least once per day. If you don’t have access to water re-fill spots, you’ll have to carry a lot of it in with you. Water weighs a ton and the less you need to carry, the better.

7. Collect water from flowing water sources. Get water from flowing sources – a stream, river, spring, or lake. This helps to prevent water from being gathered near a bacterial source like a dead animal.

8. Always sterilize your water. Filter your water, boil it, or both.

Backpacking with Bears

9. If you’re going through thick brush, make a lot of noise. This scares bears off. They don’t want to run into you, and you don’t want to startle them without warning.

10. If you do encounter a black bear, be calm and don’t threaten them. Back away slowly, while still facing the bear. Do not turn, and whatever you do, do not run. If you encounter a grizzly, slowly back away and don’t make eye contact.

11. Play dead (or fight)! If, in the vary rare circumstance that you do get attacked by a grizzly bear, cover your head, roll into a ball, and play dead. You won’t be able to fight a grizzly and win. Grizzlies get bored easily. If you get attacked by a black bear, fight back, drop some food, and get out of there. I believe you’re more likely to be hit by lightning, but still, it’s good to know what to do in the unlikely event.

12. Don’t fear the bears, but definitely be conscious if you’re in bear country. Depending on where you hike, you may run into bears. I’ve seen them, heard them at night, and have occasionally smelled them nearby. At first, it can psyche you out a bit. But remember, they are more scared of you than you are of them and want to avoid contact. Be aware of your surroundings, but don’t freak out.

Hiking Tips

13. Keep your feet dry. Wet feet leads to more friction and potential blisters. Always have an extra pair of dry socks with you.

14. Keep your weight on your hips. True backpacking packs have a weight belt for your hips. You want the majority of the weight you are carrying to settle there vs. on your shoulders.

15. Go easy on your knees. If you’re doing a lot of downhill hiking as a result of big altitude changes, your knees can really get abused. Consider using trekking poles or a walking stick to share the weight impact with your legs.

16. Be cautious of blisters. Address blisters as soon as they start to develop. A minor irritation can quickly get a lot worse and really ruin your whole trip. Always carry blister pads with you.

Navigation Tips

17. Always be mappin’. Always have a map of where you are hiking. Other than obviously helping to keep you on track, maps can help you figure out where you are at certain times of the day and plan out where you need to get to.

18. Get an old school compass. Carry a traditional magnetic compass. A co-worker recently told me he ended up hiking 15 miles out of the way because his iPhone compass app was unusable when his phone battery died on him. Don’t trust technology when in the woods.

19. Stay put when lost. If you are significantly lost, get to a visible area where you can send smoke or other signals and don’t move. When you try to find your way out of trouble, you usually end up getting more lost.

And Finally…

20. Have fun! It may seem tough and like a lot of work the first time out, but once you get out there, enjoy the solitude, adventure, and challenge that nature provides!

Backpacking Discussion:

  • What backpacking tips do you have to share?
  • What’s your funniest or craziest backpacking story?

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