A Simple Guide: Wilderness Backpacking

** I would like to share with you my guide to backpacking and some tips on how you could prepare for your first trip. I am not an expert and this should be used only as a guide which is based on my opinions and experiences. **

Day hiking is fun but have you ever hiked a trail and just wanted to stay the night to fully experience nature and all its surrounding beauty? I fell in love with backpacking on my very first trip. How awesome is it to be able to carry everything needed to survive in the backcountry, in a pack, on your back?! From supplies to shelter, water, and food; with every new backpacking trip I went on, I quickly learned about the unnecessary items I carried and all about that extra weight.

I put together this guide in hopes that it will help you to plan for your trip, or at the very least guide you in the right direction. Always remember you could never be too prepared in the backcountry.


Besides actually stepping foot on the trail and making way to my destination, planning is the second most fun part of backpacking. From choosing a trail to destination, planning around perfect, if not decent weather, to mentally preparing for a trip by learning everything there is to know without breaking a sweat or stepping foot on that trail. Planning is the easy part. It is easy to see something pretty on a map and mentally prepare yourself to hike it. Stepping foot on a trail and making your way to your destination is another story.

Here are some things to keep in mind when planning your next backpacking trip:

  • Choosing a trail/destination: I tend to stick to familiar grounds where I know about surrounding areas.  This is important because as a solo hiker, I feel safe roughly knowing my whereabouts. I eventually expand those areas by hiking nearby trails.

There are a ton of hiking apps also available, but I like finding new places to explore using the AllTrails app.

  • Time, Distance and Elevation: It is very important to make note and educate yourself about the trail you will be hiking. Understanding how many miles you are up against and preparing time for that distance will save you a lot of frustration.

AllTrails is a great app to find specific information on a trail, or you can track your own hike using the Gaia GPS app!

  • Watch the weather: Keep an eye on the weather forecast days prior to your trek and see if you notice a pattern. Make note of drastic weather changes and know when it is safe to hike. Always check-in with the local ranger station prior to hiking if the weather seems ify the day of your hike.

Websites like National Weather Service and Mountain-Forecast.com are really great and informative sites for checking on the weather.

  • Trail/ Road Conditions: Nothing sucks more than fully preparing for a trip to find out that the road or trail you need access to is closed or blocked. Be sure to call the nearest ranger station to check not only trail conditions, but road conditions to your trailhead as well.
  • Make a list, check it twice: Make a list of all the gear you think you will need for your trip. Once you have everything laid out, really think about saving space and weight by removing any unnecessary items. Do you really need that hairbrush?
  • Permits/Parking: Wilderness permits are required for a majority of overnight trips in the back-country. Advanced reservations are always recommended, but there are usually walk-in permits available 24 hours before the day of your hike. Always check about the parking situation and/ or road status when planning to leave your car parked overnight.

Most wilderness permits can be reserved at Recreation.gov


  • Tent:  Backpacking tents should be durable and lightweight. I prefer a 3-season tent which is perfect for backcountry camping during the spring, summer and fall. I have recently switched out my 2-person hotel for a 1-person lighter option and have really enjoyed saving the extra weight. My new tent weighs just a little over 3 lbs, including a footprint and poles.
  • Sleeping bag/quilt: Choosing the perfect sleeping bag can be difficult. Here are a few things to keep in mind when searching for the perfect one for you:

Temperature Rating: The temperature rating is a suggested guide to be used for the average temperature range you plan to sleep in.

There are 3 ratings to choose from:

Summer:  +32° and higher

3-Season: +10° to +32°

Winter: +10° and lower

Insulation: Down Insulation (Duck or Goose) vs. Synthetic Insulation (type of polyester)

Down Insulation:  These sleeping bags are filled with either duck or goose feathers which are light, breathable and easy to compress.  Down fill insulation bags tend to be a little expensive, but well worth the comfort, durability and warmth; just don’t get it wet cause it will take a while to dry!

Synthetic Insulation:  Most synthetic bags are filled with some type of polyester material. This material is quick drying, non-allergenic and insulates when used in damp or wet conditions.

  • Sleeping pad:  You may not think that carrying a sleeping pad is necessary until you’ve actually slept on one.  There are 3 different types of sleeping pads available: air, self- inflating and closed-cell foam.  Choosing the perfect sleeping pad depends on its intended use. For me, it’s multi-day backpacking, so having a lightweight, yet comfortable and durable sleeping pad is very important; and the couple of extra ounces are worth the comfort after a long trek into the backcountry. Sleeping pads are often rated based on how much warmth is retained; this is determined by their R-Value and the higher the R-value, the warmer the sleeping pad.
  • Overnight Backpack: The type of backpack needed depends mostly on the length of your trip and how much weight you plan to carry.  Typically for a weekend trip of 1-3 days, a 50 liter backpack should be just about right. Features to keep in mind when searching for your perfect overnight pack include: the number of pockets/compartments, hydration reservoir sleeve, ventilation, and padding. These are just a few of the basic features that make up a reliable overnight backpack.
  • Hiking Boots: Proper footwear is necessary for any hiking adventure mainly because we rely on our feet and ankles for support. There are different types of hiking/backpacking shoes and boots, so be sure to check out all options before making your next purchase. When I first started backpacking, I wore boots all the time for the support, after trying trail runners for the first time, I must say I don’t see myself going back to heavy boots!

 Things to keep in mind when making your next purchase: type of activity, ankle support, waterproof and lightweight.

  • Headlamp: Unlike a flashlight or lantern, headlamps are hands–free and a big necessity when backpacking and night hiking.
  • Stove:  A backpacking stove is required for boiling water in places for which you cannot have a campfire. The Jetboil Flash stove boils 1L of water in less than 2 mins!
  • Water Filter: Having clean, filtered water on trail is important not only for hydration, but also for cooking dinner at the end of the day. Having a water filter available makes life a little easier than having to wait for water purification pills to do their job.
  • Bear Canister: Required for most overnight trips in the back-country. A bear canister is used as a food locker to keep the smell of food and other scented items away from bears and other wildlife.
  • Trekking Poles:  Trekking poles reduce the impact on your legs, knees, ankles and feet. Having trekking poles available maintains balance on difficult terrain rain or shine, especially with a load on your back.
  • Cooking Utensils: spoon, fork or spork; backpacking cooking pot (for boiling water)


Meal preparation for backpacking doesn’t always have to consist of dehydrated meals and protein bars. As a matter of fact, you can get pretty creative when it comes to meals on the trail, especially after a long day of hiking. Here are a few of my favorite food options for backpacking, 1-2 nights:

  • Breakfast: instant oatmeal, banana, peanut butter spread, breakfast bar, fruit, granola, bagels.
  • Lunch: tuna with crackers, leftover pizza, peanut butter jelly sandwhich, dehydrated veggies.
  • Dinner: dehydrated meals are great for dinner, but here are a few other options: ramen, instant mashed potatos, instant mac & cheese, tuna packets with crackers and avocado.
  • Snacks: jerky, hard cheese, salami, crackers, nut butter, dried fruit, trail mix, and all the candy.


It has taken me lots of sleepless nights and frustration on chilly days to realize that the clothing you wear while backpacking really is important. Unfortunately, you cannot just grab any t-shirt from your closet and hope that it will keep you dry and warm; that is- unless your closet is entirely filled with polyester shirts, fleece vests and insulated jackets.

Layers are the most important part of a backpacker’s wardrobe. By simply removing (or adding) a layer at a time, allows the hiker to keep dry, warm/ cool, and comfortable without having to unpack your backpack.

There are 3 types of layers that should be worn when backpacking: base layer, mid layer and outer layers.

  • Base Layers: The base layer is the closet layer to your skin. This should be some type of polyester or merino wool fabric; these types of fabrics are quick-drying and manage moisture. Types of base layers include: socks, sports bra, underwear and tank top.
  • Mid Layers: The mid-layer is responsible for insulation and retaining body heat. This layer is usually a fleece or lightweight down jacket or vest and worn over the base layer.
  • Outer Layers: The outer later will be your primary protection from all sorts of bad weather. The outer layer is waterproof, insulates and will keep you warm even during the coldest conditions. Types of outer layers include: hard and soft shell jackets.

Leave No Trace

Always remember to protect our lands for others to enjoy and generations to come. This can be done in several easy ways when hiking, camping and especially backpacking in the back-country by practicing the seven principles of Leave No Trace.

The Seven Principles 

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

The following are a selection from the Leave No Trace Seven Principles. © 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org

Posted by

Vanessa is an outdoors enthusiast, hiker at heart, and the storyteller behind Forever She Wanders; a women's lifestyle + travel blog inspiring all to get outdoors, seek adventure and live an active lifestyle. As an outdoors enthusiast, Vanessa has found passion in being outdoors while backpacking, camping, hiking and creating memories of a lifetime.

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