Pick the proper pack by testing it fully loaded. Ensure the weight rests on the hips, there's no large gap between the shoulders and the straps, and pressure points are minimal. Keep first-trip weight under 30 pounds.
Break in new boots–while wearing wool or synthetic hiking socks–at least a week prior to a trip. On the trail, keep daily distances under five miles, and treat hot spots immediately with duct tape or moleskin.
Often-forgotten items include headlamp, utensils, gloves, and camp shoes. Find season-specific packing lists at backpacker.com/backpacking101.
Combine a thick (1-1/2 inches) ground pad with a temperature-appropriate (rated 10°F below nighttime lows) sleeping bag. Add a winter hat for more warmth.
Serve appetizers and cocktails–salami-cheese kabobs and stream-chilled wine–and don't forget dessert.