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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Backpacking Basics

Take these 21 trail tips to heart, and you're virtually guaranteed a good hike.

by: The Backpacker Editors

PAGE 1 2

3. Food
Fine dining is simply a matter of smart menu planning: Use quick-cooking ingredients from your pantry and do prep work at home.
  • Write out a menu for the whole trip, and don't put off shopping until the last moment. Here's a sample menu for two people on a 3-day trip. 2 breakfasts: 4 packs of instant oatmeal; cold cereal with powdered milk 3 lunches: turkey sandwiches; PB and J; salami and cheese on a bagel
    2 dinners: angel hair pasta with pesto sauce and sliced red peppers; burritos made from dehydrated beans, tortillas, cheese, and salsa
    Snacks: Trail mix, dried fruit, energy bars, chocolate, and cookies
  • At home, repackage food and spices, leaving behind bulky, heavy containers.
  • Experiment with freeze-dried. Dehydrated food is fast, easy, and better than you think. Our favorites: Enertia Trail Foods ( and Mary Janes Farm (
  • Leave beer behind, but don't forsake other liquid vices. Bring your favorite dark roast and a lightweight filter for breakfast, plus an after-dinner something to toast your successful adventure.
[Resource] More Backcountry Cooking, by Dorcas S. Miller ($17)

4. Fitness
If you can hike for a few hours, you can backpack for a weekend. But a little training will make the second day feel as good as the first.
  • Hike yourself into shape: The best way to train for any sport is to do it. Carry a full pack on your routine dayhikes--it's also a great way to test your gear.
  • Master the mountains: There's a reason hikers flock to alpine country. It's beautiful up there. Strengthen your hill-climbing muscles (quads, hamstrings, and calves) with regular workouts on a stairclimber.
5. Skills
Don't get caught with your pants down and no shovel. Learn how to dig a cathole and other essential skills, like pitching your tent and lighting your stove.
  • Read the directions. Ignore the neighbors and give your gear a test run in the backyard: Pitch your tent, light your stove, use your water filter.
  • Lose the bathroom anxiety. Never gone anywhere without modern plumbing? Don't fret. Pooping in the outdoors is as natural as walking, and many backcountry campsites have outhouses.
  • Learn good manners. Think of camping like being a guest in someone else's house: Don't mess it up. Camp on bare ground or rock, don't do dishes in the creek, and leave plants and animals alone. For more tips, go to
  • Find yourself. You'll never get lost if you stay attuned to your surroundings from the beginning. Locate yourself on a map, then stay oriented as you hike.
[Resource] Camping & Wilderness Survival, by Paul Tawrell ($25)

For Trip Ideas near you, and all over north america, click here

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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star Star


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Star Star Star Star Star
Dec 11, 2012

This article is well written and perfect for newbies who have never carried a backpack or gone hiking. It is a wonderful experience to venture out to the great outdoors. Relaxing and peaceful.

AZ Hiker
Apr 26, 2012

And don't forget to read Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon). Learn essential hiking skills and how to navigate your way with and without a map or compass. A fast, easy read that could maybe save your life but definitely will make your hike more enjoyable and safe!

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Sep 24, 2011

Thank you for this article. I am about to take my first hike with my 10 year-old autistic son in a couple of weeks, and this was very helpful. I recall camping with my Dad when I was younger and have always held fond memories of those trips. I have always wanted to reciprocate this with my son, but until recently have just mustered the courage to give it a go. Thank you for the tips, as well as the other tips from others who have written they will come in handy.

Mike Da Bum
Aug 20, 2011

To AKNative: WOW! So nice to hear 101ers aren't really welcome to learn. So when you die off or can't get around in your wheel chair, who will care about the wilderness? Seriously, for those learning any new skill, you know as well as I do that pure book learning isn't enough. And starting out accepting you are a beginner is way more productive use of your time than starting out with K2 or Annapurna on your first hike. Chill man. Accept that there are newbies who need to learn step-by-step. Personally I like this article. I think it is a good start. But it is general, not specific to each of us. Thank you Backpacker.

Outdoor Advents
May 03, 2011

For starting out this article is very well published and should be taken to heart. I like it alot. And as to the quote "Grown men don't need leaders" this is true. Grown men are supposed to be the leaders setting an example. So let people start out this beloved hobby and sport safely. Be a good examply to everyone. Even if they are not new. All in all a very good article.

Feb 28, 2011

I am a beginner, a 101'er so to say. I think this is good advise , I see some responses that mock this article, to those people go read Hiking 102, let the novices start safe

Feb 28, 2011

I am a beginner, a 101'er so to say. I think this is good advise , I see some responses that mock this article, to those people go read Hiking 102, let the novices start safe

Dec 18, 2010

My comfortable books could not keep out water no matter how much stuff I applied, dew in the morning would give me wet toes. simple creek crossings, impossible. The nylon panels didn't help ( duh).
Get a pair of gortex boots, hotter yes, but with good rain pants, jacket, and pack fly, you're bullet proof. Cold and wet is not only miserable, it's dangerous.

Nov 11, 2010

"Stick to well-marked routes with easy terrain, established campsites"
Where is the fun in that? For a good time stick to the back-country and avoid the highways that some call well marked routes...
I kick over every rock cairn I see. If you cant find your own way then stay home. Get a compass and a map and learn how to use them.
I think Ed Abby said "Grown men do not need leaders"...
Have fun and be safe!

Nov 06, 2010

dont drink beer, ever

Nov 05, 2010

Take a flashlight. Never know when you might need to find your way in the dark, especially in an emergency.

Oct 13, 2010

I would need that cute little plastic 6pak of vino!!! lol

Sep 11, 2010

The Backpacker's Field Guide is a good resource for backpackers. Instead of a tent, try a tarp. Very light weight and easy to set up.

Sep 11, 2010

The Mountaineer Fraternity
Sep 01, 2010

There was a part mentioned early on about going hiking with-in driving distance in case “bad weather threatens” Some hikers like a challenge. It’s not for everyone but if you are in a well known area and you want the challenge take on the rainy weekend. You’ll be stronger for it.

Aug 17, 2010

If you wear glasses, definitely bring an extra pair with you on your trip, as one of the readers mentioned. My glasses broke on my backpacking trip in the Sierras this past weekend...fortunately, I had a back-up pair of glasses with me and was able to enjoy the beautiful scenery and find my way on the trails. :-) Having an extra pair of glasses was a small item to carry that literally saved my trip!

Jul 12, 2010

The Backpacker's Handbook by Chris Townsend is a good book for beginners. It is very in-depth on boots, packs, and gear.

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