»Gear up You’ll need to make a few equipment upgrades to go from dayhiking to backpacking, including an overnight-ready pack, tent, sleeping bag and pad, stove, and cookset. Not quite ready to shell out for the whole kit? Check local outdoor shops for rental items (REI is a good bet), or borrow from friends or coworkers. But invest in your own boots with good ankle support and traction.
»Choose a destination The perfect first trek: easy terrain, one night only, and not too long (think 5 to 8 miles round-trip). Look for well-signed trails that pose zero navigational challenges and have abundant water sources. If possible, stick within a couple of hours of home so you can wait for the perfect forecast. But don’t let proximity trump the most important factor: a site with a huge reward. See our scouts’ primo first-night picks starting above.
»Plan your menu Breakfast You want quick, hearty, and simple. Think oatmeal with peanut butter or powdered milk, grits, or granola. Go a step beyond ho-hum instant coffee with a lightweight filter like MSR’s MugMate ($17; cascadedesigns.com), which serves up a rich pourover. Lunch Get your midday fuel from energy bars, dried or fresh fruit, jerky, sausage, crackers and cheese, or tortilla wraps with peanut butter, hummus, or tuna or chicken from a pouch. Dinner Save time and minimize mess with a simple, one-pot meal. Your easiest option is a just-add-water, single-serving dehydrated dinner (available at outdoor stores), but they’re pricey. Feeling a little more ambitious? The classic formula: Make quick-cooking carbs (such as pasta, rice, or couscous), then add protein (sausage, tuna or chicken pouches, or dehydrated beans), cheese, and a dash of spice. See page 40 for more cooking tips and check backpacker.com/recipecenter for ideas.