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How to Plan a Backpacking Trip: A Guide for First Time Backpackers

How to Plan a Backpacking Trip: A Guide for First Time Backpackers

by Mikayla Merchant | June 08, 2020

There are a number of things to consider when planning a backpacking trip. When and where should you go? Will you need to apply for special permits? Will you be backpacking solo or will friends or family be joining you? And, those are just the basics! 

Taking the time to plan your outdoor adventure in detail will help you feel more confident and organized when you choose your gear and begin packing. You’ll be able to hit the trail knowing you didn’t miss any important details! In this guide for first-time backpackers, we’ll discuss how to plan a backpacking trip from start to finish.

1. Choosing a Date for Your Backpacking Trip

Choosing a date for your backpacking trip is the perfect place to start. The dates you choose will have a direct impact on every other aspect of your trip. For example, if you’re planning a winter backpacking trip, you’ll want to look at trails in Arizona, Florida, or southern California (unless you want to hike and camp in the snow). Desert backpacking trips are quite pleasant in the springtime, and the mountains are gorgeous in summer and fall. Keep in mind that trails will be more crowded on weekends and any time kids are off school.

When choosing your dates, you’ll also need to decide how long your backpacking adventure will be. If you’re brand new to backpacking or you’ll have little ones along, one or two nights is a great place to start. On the other hand, if you’re already an avid hiker and camper, backpacking trips of a week or more will allow you to really decompress and get away from it all.

2. Choosing Your Trail

Once you’ve decided when and for how long you can get away, it’s time to choose the trail for your backpacking trip. From national parks to local hiking and backpacking trails, the options are virtually endless. 

Here are the key points to consider:

  • Remember, you’ll be hiking in and carrying all of your gear, clothing, and food. How far do you want to hike? If you’re an experienced hiker, you probably already have a good idea of how far you can reasonably walk in a day. If you’re new to hiking, around five miles per day is usually doable for most people.
  • Think about who you will be backpacking with. Will there be children or newbie hikers in your group? If so, lean towards easier and shorter trails. 
  • Elevation and terrain are also important. Higher elevations and steeper terrains are better for experienced hikers.
  • What do you want to see and do on your backpacking trip? Once again, the options are nearly endless. Do you want to swim and fish in lakes or streams? Do you want to see beautiful waterfalls? What kind of wildlife would you enjoy seeing?
  • Is solitude important or are you fine with encountering lots of other backpackers on the trail?
  • Will you be bringing your dog? If so, be sure to choose a dog-friendly trail.

Once you’ve decided what kind of outdoor experience you’re going for, you can use trail finder apps like Gaia GPS and AllTrails to help you choose a trail that lines up with what you have envisioned.

3. Find Out if You’ll Need a Permit and Apply ASAP

Once you’ve chosen the perfect time and trail for your hike, you’ll want to find out if you need a permit before you move forward with your plans. Many popular trails in National Parks and other areas require a wilderness permit for backpacking. These permits are sometimes awarded by lottery as many as four or five months in advance, so you’ll want to apply as soon as possible. 

The easiest way to find out if your trail requires a permit and what the application process requires is to simply google the trail and check their website or call the trail office directly. If you’re going to be backpacking in bear country, you may have to follow additional rules, such as carrying bear spray and keeping your food in a bear-proof container.

4. Decide How You’ll Get There

After you’ve received the necessary permits, you can move forward with the planning process. If you’ll be flying to your destination, booking your plane tickets early will save you some money. If you don’t need to fly, decide if you will be driving your own car or renting one, and plan accordingly.

5. Rent Backpacking Gear

Once the rest of your plans are finalized, go ahead and rent backpacking gear from Arrive. They’ll hook you up with premium, lightweight backpacking gear for any season and deliver it right to your door at a fraction of the cost of buying it outright. Once you are done with the gear, simply stop by any FedEx location to send it back using the prepaid shipping label. It doesn’t get much easier than that!

6. Prepare for Your Trip

If you don’t hike regularly, you should plan on doing several day hikes before your trip. Be sure to carry your backpack and wear your hiking boots at least a few times. That way, if something doesn’t feel right you’ll have time to make adjustments before you hit the trail overnight. It will also give you the chance to break in your boots and build up your endurance before you go.

7. Packing for an Overnight Backpacking Trip

When choosing the food to take on your backpacking trip, look for dehydrated foods and things like energy bars that are lightweight and easy to prepare. Your clothing should be lightweight and layerable so you can add or take away pieces depending on the weather. Don’t forget to plan for a way to carry and filter water on the trail.

Final Tips

Be sure to include a trail map and GPS in your gear and identify where the ranger stations are before you go. You should also share your route with a friend or family member and have a scheduled check-in time, so they know you got home safe. With all the details taken care of in advance, you’ll be able to hit the trail with an easy mind and simply enjoy your first backpacking adventure!

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