I have been backpacking now for some time and it dawned on me how much I have learned over this time. If you are new to backpacking (not necessarily with a tent, but general backpacking), then here are my top five tips to get you started.
#1 – Find a Rucksack That Fits You Properly
There is a reason that the rucksack is top of my list as a poorly fitted rucksack makes for a truly miserable experience. The pain in your shoulders, the soreness of your hips with a backpack that does not fit you properly is not a nice place to be. Even if you have completed your research and you feel that you know the best backpack for
you, I urge you to NOT buy it from the internet. Please visit your local outfitters and try before you buy. From my experience, the staff at both Go Outdoors and Cotswold Outdoors offer a fabulous fitting service. The areas that they look at are:-
- Measuring your torso so that it fits correctly
- They will ask you the type of hiking that you are looking to do, and will recommend packs that work for that environment.
- There are packs made specifically for women. In my experience, these are so much comfier than a regular pack.
- They look at the gaps on the shoulder straps and hips and adjust accordingly so that the weight is distributed correctly.
- During my fitting, then added weight to the packs that I tried on and told me to go walking around the store for 20 mins or so, which felt a bit weird but after 10 mins you can certainly feel if it is right for you or not.
As a side note, I am a big fan of the Osprey packs. Unlike other brands, Osprey only makes rucksacks and accessories. That is ALL they do and they have been around for over 40 years and they are a high-quality brand. There are other packs available that are lighter, but for me, it is all about quality and I want a pack that will last a long time. Check out Osprey's website here.
#2 – Do your homework
As the famous saying goes
“Fail to plan = plan to fail” (or something like that!).
If there is one thing that I have learned is, if I do not use a navigation system then I tend to have an adventure that I didn't plan for! (See The Cotswold Way video below).
I am lazy when it comes to reading maps as I can never be bothered to stop and get my map out, especially if it is cold and raining. I then rely on my built-in navigation system (in my head!), which is never a good thing! So, if you want to have an awesome experience and know exactly where you are going then learn what works for you. After many years of experimenting, I now know that I will rarely get lost if I have completed my homework and mapped my route using Alltrails (click here to see the video on how to plan your walk using this software). As I tend to take lots of photos and videos whilst on my hikes then my phone is always to hand. I have spare power packs in my pack and the case that covers my iPhone is also a charging case, so I rarely run out of power. If I am on a long hike, I will carry a guidebook, map and compass (just in case), but I can honestly say that I rarely use them.
#3 – Focus on the Experience, not the Destination
The main reason that you are going on a backpacking trip is to enjoy the experience. The solitude, the peace, the quiet of going somewhere that is not full of distractions is one of the reasons that you are there. This is one aspect that I am still learning. For me, it is difficult to slow down and smell the roses, but I am getting better! Whether you are walking the Camino in Spain, or just out on a day hike in your local area, then take the time to look around you and absorb your surroundings (see video above where I got completely lost because I was listening to a Podcast and not concentrating on my surroundings!) Do not live your hikes through a lens. Turn off your social media notifications. Tune into the sound of nature and you will be rewarded. I have recently downloaded a couple of apps (ironic I know!), that helps me understand nature a bit better.
iNaturalist – a great app that helps you to identify animals, plants, flowers and trees instantly.
SkyView Lite – this app works via AI technology and maps the stars. Simply point your phone to the sky and the app will point out the constellations for you.
I appreciate that I just contradicted myself by saying “don't live your life through your phone”, however, as you learn more about your environment you will use these apps less and less.
#4 – Use the Gear You Have Access To Without Spending Money
I appreciate that I may sound like a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to “don't spend money on pointless gear”, but in reality, you really do not need to spend a fortune to have an awesome experience. The two areas that I would recommend spending money on are:-
a) A good rucksack as already mentioned
b) Quality walking shoes/boots
Everything else you can add to as you go along, or borrow from someone before you know what suits your style of backpacking. I have spent an absolute fortune on things such as Gimbals, boot warmers, tents, sleeping bags etc that really were feeding my Amazon addiction rather than fulfilling a backpacking need. You do not need all the latest gear to have a fantastic trip. A foam mattress is absolutely fine to start with, and if you get into the hobby more, then consider upgrading to a lightweight air mattress such as the Exped or Thermarest range. Backpacking gear can be expensive, so consider alternatives that you can find in places such as Sports Direct, Ali Express (The Chinese Amazon), Costco and even Aldi often have fantastic outdoor gear that you can pick up for a snippet of the price!
#5 – Understand the 7 Principals of Leave No Trace and The Countryside Code
It is so important that we take care of our environment and I cringe when I see used toilet roll along the Camino, or beer cans along the Cotswold Way. We need to nurture that places that we visit and make sure that they are there for future generations. I wouldn't expect the visitors to my house to leave lots of rubbish on my living room floor, or not flush the toilet, so why do some people not have the same respect for the great outdoors? We are “visitors” when we go backpacking. Be respectful and adhere to the rules of “The Countryside Code”
Respect other people:
- consider the local community and other people enjoying the outdoors
- leave gates and property as you find them and follow paths unless wider access is available
Protect the natural environment:
- leave no trace of your visit and take your litter home
- keep dogs under effective control
Enjoy the outdoors:
- plan ahead and be prepared
- follow advice and local signs
Hopefully, the above tips will give you some food for thought. If you have any backpacking tips for newbies, then I will welcome your comments in the box below.