Backpacking for Beginners


Bradee Felton

January 30, 2024

Are you a backpacking beginner and unsure where to start for success? Backpacking can seem like an overwhelming hobby to undertake for many first-timers. However, with some simple tips and an abundant amount of resources at our fingertips these days, you can hit the trails for your first overnight adventure with confidence! I’m here to help you piece together those resources and break down my favorite tools so you can get started. We’ll divide it into four parts – PREPPING (both physically and mentally), PLANNING (the specific tools I recommend for putting a trip together), PACKING (including my in-depth gear list and some pre-trip to-do’s), and last but not least TRIP TIPS (things to keep in mind once you start along the trails). Without further ado, let’s dive in!

Prefer to listen? Check out the Fit for Hiking Podcast Episode on backpacking fails + lessons!


Physical and mental preparation is what I consider my “bread and butter” in the outdoor space. My passion is helping people take on life’s adventures! If you are planning a more substantial hike such as a multiple day backpacking trip, your experience will vary drastically based on physical fitness levels. That doesn’t mean you have to be shredded to enjoy the outdoors, size is NOT what we are looking to achieve here. Instead, shift your focus to strength and endurance, which can be immensely improved regardless of a change on a scale. I go over a few of my favorite strategies in the Fit For Hiking Podcast episode “How To Get In Shape For Your Hikes”. If blogs are more your style, check out mine on How To Increase Hiking Stamina. I also offer a Fit For Hiking Membership that you can check out for FREE with my Free Week of Workouts. If you are looking for a high-touch, professional level accountability program where our team of experts creates a personalized 1:1 approach to helping you reach your summits, check out Mountain Metabolic Coaching

The mental aspect is just as important as the physical aspect when taking on the trails. One of my favorite quotes is “you can’t cheat the mountain”, which is absolutely true in every aspect, including the mental game. Something I remind myself and others often is that you have to learn how to get comfortable being uncomfortable and embrace that type two kind of fun. The kind that feels more like a grind in the moment, but looking back you are met with some of the most enriching and vibrant memories you could imagine. When the discomfort sets in, that’s when the growth happens! So being mentally prepared to embrace a little suck can carry you far along your adventures in the outdoors and just a little insider tip – it’s ALWAYS worth it!

Last but not least in the prepping aspect of this blog, let’s touch on some basic educational resources to dip your toes into the waters of backpacking! The hobby as a whole seems to be a never-ending and every-evolving rabbit hole you can obsess over for years to come and once you’re hooked you’ll go down the rabbit hole often, trust me. But laying out the basics is important and knowing where to start is key! One of my all-time favorite resources is REI. Not only are they a recreational gear store, they are also an incredible educational tool. They have a HUGE library of informative articles on their website, with a series specifically dedicated to backpacking! Be sure to check it out, along with the Leave No Traceprinciples.


Now onto the planning portion of backpacking trips. This is such a fun and exciting stage – getting to explore different options, map out different routes, and piece together different information to get your sights set on a trip you’re interested in. One thing I really want to hit home is that your first trip does not need to be anything too crazy or long! A simple one or two-nighter is a great way to get a feel for your gear and equipment. There are a ton of trails to choose from, in essentially any state, and with the help of some trusty apps and websites you’ll find yourself the perfect one. One of my favorite places to start is AllTrails+! This app is a searchable library of trails loaded with information like trail conditions, reviews, photos, and offline navigation. You can also narrow your search according to things like attractions (waterfalls, lakes, hot springs, etc), rating, difficulty, length, and more! A few great websites for finding trails are the National Parks Service (trails sorted by park, updates, camping information and permit requirements), and the US Forest Service (trails sorted by state and national forest, updates, camping info, etc). I also have a blog fully dedicated to How To Find Good Hiking Trails if you are looking for even more resources! One of my favorite apps to plan out routes and really customize your trip is Gaia GPSSo far this is one of the most accurate GPS apps in terms of trail accuracy and navigation!You can also trace routes and really get a good look at elevation gain/losses and mileage which is incredibly helpful for realistically planning out the legs of multiple day trips. To plan out the timing of your miles, I typically stick with Naismith’s Rule (calculator linked) which helps determine approximately what your average speed will be on that hike according to mileage, elevation, and trail condition. This can be useful information not only for the timing of your trip, but also relaying to friends and family back home what your plans will hopefully go according to. For some other deep dives into my specific strategies, be sure to check out my full library of hiking blogs and the Fit For Hiking Podcast!


Now onto the gear! Although backpacking is essentially just packing a few items that you need to survive on your back (sounds simple enough), there is a lot to it! I have a whole podcast episode dedicated to backpacking lessons + fails that touches on a few learning curves we can hopefully help you navigate better than we did. I even created a FREE BACKPACKING GEAR LIST with links to specific gear and articles to help you build your own gear set up. It’s different for everyone! A universal tip that really helps lighten your load but maximize your gear is to pack layers instead of “outfits”. Aside from your hiking clothes that you start with on your body, I recommend a dry base layer + warm insulating layer + an outer waterproof layer. You can utilize different combinations of those layers as needed depending on weather. Something to note, cotton is a terrible fabric to hike in since it is slower to dry and doesn’t pull moisture off your body. Opt for merino wool and synthetic options with clothing! If you are going to be hiking at higher elevations, I recommend a set of Merino Wool or synthetic gloves and a beanie style hat as well! Once you get your gear nailed down and are ready to start the packing process, there are a few “to-do’s” that you also don’t want to slip through the cracks. First, make sure all of your devices are charged. Second, download maps and any other navigation tools so you can access them offline. And third, learn how to use any new gear and test it out before you hit the trails.


Alright, now you’re all set and ready to go! Once you hit the trail it’s time to enjoy yourself, and have FUN! One of the best parts of backpacking is getting to let loose, and customize your experience so you can hike your own hike with people you enjoy spending time with. A few things to keep in mind are when in doubt to double check the maps, take time to stretch once you reach camp, embrace the suck, and keep your snacks and water handy. Most of all, along the miles, remember to enjoy the journey just as much as the destination!

I hope this helps you feel a bit more confident hitting the backcountry trails and giving backpacking a try! Don’t forget to download our FREE Backpacking Checklist HERE!

Happy + Healthy Trails,


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