Covering the Basics: The Beginner Backpacker

Covering the Basics: The Beginner Backpacker

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What’s better than a day in the hills? Easy – several days or more. Here are our top six essential tips for walkers looking to take their first steps into walking far and sleeping wild.

Backpacking – not to be confused with what drunken twentysomethings do in India – is defined by the Backpacker’s Club as “the art of being self-contained, carrying everything you need to survive in the outdoors such as a tent, sleeping bag and food, whilst walking/cycling from one location to another on a multi-day journey through a natural landscape.” Phew. At the heart of that rather exhaustive definition is the act of sleeping in the wild, away from the trappings of civilisation. This is the essential thrill and challenge of backpacking, but it can be a daunting prospect for beginners. Here are a few general tips to get you started.

1. Start small

It’s a good idea to not bite off more than you can chew at first. Start with small one or two night trips at weekends to get a feel for the pack, your gear and the experience of sleeping in the wild – and whether or not you actually like it!

2. Choose your gear carefully

Planning is often just as big a part of backpacking as the execution, and working out what gear you need to take is one of the most important things to get right. Honing your setup is something that takes time and you can’t expect to get everything perfect at first, but when starting out you can avoid some of the most common equipment-related pitfalls by thinking things through beforehand. How will I keep my gear dry? What items do I need backups for in case they fail? What if I have no phone signal? Try and strike a balance between leaving non-essential items behind and having enough to ensure comfort and safety. You can tweak this balance with experience.

3. Choose your route wisely

Another vital component of planning is your choice of route. When starting out it’s wise to keep things manageable; don’t choose some epic backcountry expedition with huge daily distances for your first trip. Remember what looks straightforward on a map in the comfort of your home may seem very different when you’re out there. Choose a route with civilisation close at hand as a backup and have plenty of ‘Plan Bs’ and escape routes to allow for a change in the weather, kit failures, emergencies or other unforeseen problems.

4. Don’t go it alone

When attempting something new in the outdoors, it’s often best to it attempt it with others, at least at first. Backpacking is no exception – companions give you company, moral support and a backup kit in case yours fails.

5. Use blogs and expert advice

Backpacking, particularly of the lightweight and ultralight variety, has a cult following, and there are hundreds of blogs and websites out there run by people who live and breathe it. The depth of the enthusiasm – geekiness, to put it another way – of some of these folks can be intimidating, with detailed pack lists, equipment analysed down to the gram and thousands of words expended in the minute analysis of stoves and tents. But amidst all this there are many gems of wisdom to be found – don’t be afraid to wade in.

6. Don’t be afraid to experiment – but stick with what works for you

The world of backpacking gear is a big one. Gear companies range from huge brands to internet-only cottage companies, while the gear itself covers a spectrum from wooden-frame backpacks to ghostly cuben-fibre lightweight rucksacks, from hefty synthetic sleeping bags to lightweight down wonders. Most gear also comes in countless different shapes and sizes; stoves operate differently and run on different fuels, tents can be alloy or carbon, and most types of equipment run the gamut from relatively affordable to extremely expensive. A backpacking setup is something you can go on tinkering with endlessly, and what works for one person may be a completely different experience for another. Finding a balance between sticking with what works and keeping an open mind is another key part of the art of backpacking.

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