Backpackers: A Guide to the Lifestyle and Getting Started

Backpackers - four friendsBackpackers: A Guide to the Lifestyle and Getting Started

What does it take to be a backpacker? You have a desire for freedom and independence. You love the great outdoors, even when the weather gets unpleasant. And you need to have a friend who will stand by you while you’re roughing it.

Leaving your car behind on your camping trip will give you access to the world that you can’t see from the road. As you walk through the wilderness, you will have the time to truly look at your surroundings. This can be a source of great introspection and can serve as an escape from the fast-paced modern world.

But not everything about backpacking is idyllic. Backpacking can be very difficult! In many areas, especially the mountains, the weather can change at a moment’s notice. And you will find that you tire more quickly when moving with a weight on your back. For these reasons, it’s best to be thoroughly prepared before you go backpacking.

Even though backpacking is an adventurous and innovative hobby, backpackers are detailed researchers and planners. A beginner shouldn’t leave the house before checking their backpacker checklist and double-checking their map and planned route.

Your Backpacking Buddy

Backpackers who are just starting out should never go alone. The best way to get started is to go on a trip with an experienced backpacker. Read and research all you want about backpacking, but nothing compares to learning by experience. An experienced backpacker will help you learn about your surroundings, and instill the required mindset to deal with the ups and downs that you are sure to face.  Part of this education will be to develop your understanding of your body, so you know when to rest and when to press on.

If your backpacking buddy is inexperienced, be sure to discuss the plan and expectations for the trip in detail. Your buddy will be expected to not only share the packing and carrying of the load, but will be required to help to problem-solve and make decisions during your adventure.

Backpackers most often travel in pairs, though from time to time you’ll find yourself invited on a group trip. Normally an experienced backpacker will be responsible for planning and coordinating these hikes. Group trips are usually shorter, and they can take a lot of the stress off newbie backpacker. If you’re not used to group camping, give it a try! While you might not have the sense of freedom you usually feel, group backpacking can be a lot of fun, and there is always something interesting to lead about people when they step outside their comfort zone.

Researching and Planning

When you dream of backpacking, part of your excitement probably comes from the prospect of being off the grid and experiencing nature firsthand. But a poorly planned trip can allow for complications that detract from the joy of roughing it and can even put you in danger. The freedom that comes with hiking, camping, and sleeping under the stars begins with detailed research and planning.

Your plan should include the following:

Where Are You Going?

Backpackers - walking through forestRemember that backpacker destinations can be local. It’s best to start with short trips in an area and climate that you’re familiar with. Ask local backpacking friends about good spots or check backpacker forums for any insight into your surrounding wilderness.  In fact, there is a new trend called microadventures that is on the rise.

When planning, think about how much time you have and what kind of distance you want to cover. At this point, you should be honest with yourself about your fitness level. Even experienced hikers can exhaust themselves quickly when carrying a 30-40 pound bag on their back. Groom+Style’s recommendation is to play it safe the first couple of times until you know what you are capable of. Besides, once you set up camp, you can always hike around the area with your extra energy.

Account for the climate, weather, and elevation gain of your route. This will help you plan for clothing layers and gear. Being realistic about the elevation gain will also help you to get into the right mindset for your backpacking trip.

How Will You Get There?

Many backpacking routes begin from a normal hiking trailhead or are part of a complex of trails. Think about where you might park your car. Will it be at the trailhead, and will that give you time to get to where you want to set up camp? Make sure to have a trail map. It’s even a good idea to put the map in a waterproof casing.

What Logistics Do You Need to Consider?

Research whether you will need a permit for backcountry camping or hiking. Know your water sources for filtering and filling up your bottles. You might be interested in finding out the rules for fishing in the area. It’s also best to check to see if there are fire restrictions or fire bans.

Gear and Gadgets in the Great Outdoors

Backpackers - beautiful fire by lakeGear and gadgets are not the heart of the backpacking experience, but they are certainly necessary to having a good time – and buying camping gear is always fun. You want to be prepared, so even if you’re a beginner you should head out with good, lightweight equipment. As you’re planning your first backpacking excursion, it’s a good idea to check with friends if there are any key items you can borrow.

An enjoyable backpacking trip treads the line between making sure you have everything you need carrying a light load. Always try out your bag before you hit the road. If you’re laying out your backpack and find yourself wondering if it’s too heavy, check out what the Groom+Style team has to say about packing light.

Your essential gear will include your backpack, light-weight tent or bivy-sack, and a sleeping bag.

Navigation tools are a must! Bring a map and compass, and learn how to read them. You should carry a cell phone for emergency circumstances and GPS. If you’re going on a longer trip, then make sure to pack extra batteries.

A water filter and camp stove are among the first necessities to consider. Once you purchase your camp stove and water filter, try them out before you’re in the wilderness. While you’re at it, take a look at what the Groom+Style team recommends for your wilderness survival kit.

Sun protection, such as sunscreen, lip balm, and sunglasses will keep you healthy and in a good mood. Sunburn doesn’t just affect you when you get home from your trip. It saps your energy from the moment you get burnt as your body attempts to repair itself.

Most clothing depends on your specific location, again this is where locally experienced backpackers can help you out.

Backpacking Meals

You’ll find resources all over the internet with lists of backpacking meals. While camp cooking can be a fun experience for a group of backpackers, most of your meals won’t come from detailed cooking recipes. Dehydrated foods and packaged foods such as rice and lentils that can be revived in hot water will make up most of your dinners. There are many excellent and lightweight dehydrated foods geared toward backpackers that allow for nutritious and calorie-rich camp meals.

Breakfast will often consist of instant oatmeal or grits. You can also find varieties of dehydrated eggs that can be cooked on your camp stove. Fruits, bagels, and cheese are all great trail foods, but they might weigh you down if you are trying to go light-weight.

You should plan to eat healthy snacks every couple of hours to keep your energy and mood elevated. This could include anything from apples, to cheese and crackers, peanut butter, trail mix, and protein and multi-grain bars.

Evening meals will probably be pre-packaged, though you can always supplement with fruits and snacks. A small pack of high-quality marshmallows can also fit into the tight spaces of your pack to enjoy around the fire at night, while you reminisce about the day.  Believe it or not, marshmallows made with high-quality gelatin can make for high-protein power snacks.

Lake Champlain Chocolates Gourmet Vanilla Marshmallows, 16 Pieces, 5.25 Ounces

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Beginner Backpacking Trip Recipe

Here’s a recipe for a relatively easy backpacking trip to get you started. Plan a short trip over a long weekend. Try this simplified backpacking plan for 1-2 nights.

Park at a trailhead around a complex of trails. Hike to a spot, and set up camp. This includes setting up your tent, and filtering water for the evening. You can spend the evening exploring, fishing, relaxing, and even strumming a backpacker’s guitar.

Keep your camp in place the next day and take a day hike. Camp in the same spot that night. The next day pack your camp and head back to the trailhead and your car.

This is a great way to start, and as you become more comfortable with backpacking, you can begin to take your tent with you and explore further from the car for longer amounts of time.

Getting Creative on the Trail

After a day of hiking, the charm of a campfire can bring out the poet in the most unlikely people. Backpacking allows you the time, with the lack of distractions, to explore your creative side, which can include such activities as journaling, painting or drawing, and photography.

The further you get from the road the more likely you are to catch once-in-a-lifetime sights. Having a camera will make it easy to snap a pic of a wild animal, beautiful sunrise, or the memory-rich image of your tent by a stream. Many photography pros will make you claw their hefty DSLRs from their cold, dead fingers. But for the adventurer who wants to snap photos with their hands dirty and not worry about dropping their camera in the wetlands, something like the Olympus Tough TG-5 should do nicely.

Olympus TG-5 Waterproof Camera with 3-Inch LCD, Red (V104190RU000)

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The backpacking lifestyle is attracting creatives who go out on the land for adventure and inspiration. Whether you take along a camera to capture your experience, a small waterproof journal, or a watercolor paint set in a travel tin, plan to embrace your creativity.


Safe travels on your backpacking excursions! Feel free to share your adventures with us. What gear and tips have you found to be the most useful?

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