Although beautiful, nature can be scary — that’s why it’s important to learn how to spend time in the outdoors safely. Both beginners and experienced backpackers can make mistakes, so we’ve put together the list of the top backpacking hacks to make your next adventure more enjoyable!
How to prepare for your first backpacking trip
For backpacking beginners, preparation is key. That’s why you need to train your body, pack everything you need and do your research before you embark on your first trip.
Train your endurance before your first trip
Suffering a bit in your local gym before your backpacking trip means you're going to enjoy it to the fullest once you're there. Luckily, there are a lot of great ways to get fit for your hiking trip.
- Do squats and lunges — do them slowly to strengthen your core muscles
- Do cardio — walk on a trail, treadmill or hit the stationary bike at your gym
- Do step-ups — instead of ordinary step-ups, do them while carrying your backpack (start with 10 kg, then add 2 kg a week until you're at the weight of your backpack)
- Improve your staying power — increase the length of your cardiovascular workouts (start with 30 minutes, build to 75)
- Work out three or four times a week — make sure those workouts are highly intense
- Mix up your workouts — this way you'll avoid possible repetitive stress injuries
- Get your heart rate up while working out — this will help build your lung capacity and you'll be able to hike longer
Make sure you have backpacking essentials
The perfect trip in the great outdoors includes only your tent and you under a sky filled with stars, right? Sadly, it doesn’t work that way — to properly enjoy time spent in nature, you'll need to bring a lot of stuff. Make sure to check these items off your packing list:
- Sleeping bag
- Appropriate clothing
- Hiking boots
- Hygiene supplies
- Plenty of food
That’s not all, check out these awesome backpacking packing hacks. Make sure to bring:
- First aid kit — if you're not staying at a place where there's a first aid kit nearby, make sure to bring your own
- Rope — you can use it to create a shelter, hang food or set up a hammock
- Matches — you’re going to need fire for food preparation, water purification and heat (warning: use matches with caution and be careful not to get them wet)
- Flashlight — although smartphones today have built-in flashlights, it's smart to take an "analog" one in case your mobile battery dies
- Bug spray — you'll want to keep the insects away as much as possible
- Sunblock — you could easily get sunburnt (even if it's windy or cloudy); protect your skin and your health to make sure you can continue with your hike as planned
Besides packing the right stuff, it’s also important to pack light. One of the most useful ultralight backpacking hacks includes taking re-sealable zipper storage bags — you can use them to store food, pack clothes or make a pillow.
Choose an easier route for your first time and do your research
Backpacking travel hacks include getting to know the details of the trail you're going to choose. If you're limited by time, decide how many kilometers/miles you want to tackle each day and plan accordingly. If you're only away for the weekend, pick a place near your home so that you can spend less time in your car and more in nature.
On the other hand, if you choose a destination with a fixed length, decide which part to cover each day and this will determine the length of your backpacking trip.
Hacks for safe backpacking
In everyday life, you might take safety and comfort for granted, but when you’re in the wilderness you need to follow specific rules to stay safe and warm. Check out these hacks for safe backpacking!
Choose a high-quality tent
There are a few key components to think about when choosing a tent.
- First of all, make sure to get a backpacking tent (not a camping one), as they're light enough to be carried long distances and fit easily in backpacks.
- Next, think about the size of your group and pick a tent with the right sleeping capacity.
- For spring, summer and fall trips pick a 3-season tent and for trips during heavy winds or snow loads choose a 4-season one.
- Finally, choose between a double-wall or a single-wall tent. Double-wall includes the main area and a rain-fly, while single-wall tents only have one area and allow more condensation.
How to choose a safe campsite
Maximize your comfort and safety during nights by picking out your campsite with a lot of thought. To give yourself enough time and avoid last-minute decisions, start looking for a campsite at least two hours before sunset. The area you choose should preferably include easy access to water. Having said that, you should move your tent at least 50 meters away from water, as you don't want to be right at the water's edge. Before deciding on a position, do a quick scan — take a look if there are any dangling branches or rockfall debris. If you're looking for a spot to settle for a few days, choose a site that offers shade during the day. Lastly, keep in mind that popular hiking destinations sometimes require advance reservations and permits.
How to keep animals away
The vast majority of animals will leave humans alone, so you don't have to be scared of any four-legged visitors if you follow basic instructions. Most importantly, always keep your food away from your tent — the rule of thumb is hanging it on a branch at least one meter away from the base trunk and tree meters above the ground.
- To keep mosquitoes away use: citronella candles, coffee grounds, garlic, lavender, rosemary
- To keep rodents away use: garlic, vinegar, natural dog and cat repellents
- To keep snakes away use: a combination of cinnamon and clove oils, commercial snake repellents
- To keep bears away use: flashing lights, ammonia, high-pitched noises, human noises (leave a radio on while sleeping)
How to stay warm during the night
Backpacking hacks for women and men include staying warm during cold camping nights. If you prepare wisely, you can stay cozy and have a good night's sleep even during the toughest weather conditions.
- Dress in layers
- Get out of the sweaty clothes
- Use two sleeping pads if possible
- Put a hot water bottle near your toes
- Eat and drink a lot
- Vent your tent — this one seems counterintuitive, but venting will prevent your body to release a hot vapor which could condensate and freeze
Backpacking food and drink hacks
When you need to be careful about the quality of the water you’re drinking and cook without the convenience of kitchen appliances, backpacking food hacks become inevitable!
Learn how to properly purify water
Don't be fooled by the pristine nature that surrounds you on your hiking trip. The water from streams and other water sources you find might be polluted with dangerous bacteria and parasites. To prevent illness from happening, there's a simple solution — correctly purifying your water! There are a few different methods you can use, but the oldest and most widely used one is boiling. High temperatures will kill microorganisms in it, making it safe for drinking. You can combine this method with chemical treatment, a method used by many municipal water suppliers, as well as hikers. Order purification tablets online before your camping trip or get them in specialized stores. You can also use:
- Desalination — there are portable desalination kits available
- Cloth filtration — use it if there's a lot of particulate matter in the water
- UV water purification — after using a portable UV water purification system make sure not to expose the water to sunlight
Make your own trail mix
Not only are they delicious — trail mixes are highly nutritional and will provide vitamins and nutrients needed to keep your energy level high during the hikes. You can use store-bought ones, but we recommend you to make your own mix. Making them at home has two main advantages: you get to use the ingredients you like the most and it's cheaper! Use your preferable combination of nuts, seeds, dried fruits and fun stuff like chocolate or popcorn — or pick one of these recipes:
- Maple glazed trail mix: use maple glazed nuts, dried cherries and dark chocolate chips
- Festive trail mix: use cranberries, yogurt covered raisins, chocolate chips and almonds
- Nut-free trail mix: use seeds and dried apricots, cranberries and bananas
- Keto trail mix: use almonds, cashews, pecans and coconut chips
- Sweet and salty trail mix: use golden raisins, coconut chips, pecans, almonds and pumpkin seeds
Which utensils should you pack?
Besides taking a stove to cook the food in and matches to light the cooking fire, you should bring utensils so that you can eat your delicious backpacking meals! Bring:
- Specialty utensils like whisks, spatulas, sporks and foons
Bring the right backpacking utensils so that you save space and add as little weight to your backpack as possible. When choosing utensils, consider:
- Size: buy the most compact ones or hybrids and multi-use tools
- Material: resist to use the plastic ones, as they're less durable and not eco-friendly; choose titanium utensils instead
Hiking through the wilderness is exciting and exhausting at the same time. Hopefully, these backpacking hacks will help you stay warm, cozy, safe and happy during your next adventure!