Are you planning to go for your first ever backpacking trip and you’re not sure what to do or how to prepare? This post will show you all the best tips for backpacking and the mistakes to avoid to help you have an amazing time in the outdoors.
We’ve all been backpacking beginners at least once. And like any beginner, even when I thought I had prepared a lot, deep done I knew I had no idea what I was doing. With a mix of staying in hostels, camping in the wild, splurging a bit by staying at a resort (happens really once in a while), Backpacking can be a tricky adventure that needs some preparations.
Since I made a number of mistakes on my first backpacking trip like carrying literally all my wardrobe in a backpack and not taking into account some of the important backpacking tips, I am sharing with you these tips on backpacking to make sure that you don’t make the same mistakes I made.
So without any further ado, let’s look at the best backpacking tips for beginners that will make your backpacking trip memorable.
Backpacking mistakes to avoid: Tips for backpacking
1. Packing too much stuff
One of the biggest backpacking mistakes you’ll ever make is packing a lot of unnecessary things. Remember that you’ll be carrying the backpack literally all the time. So, if you pack a lot of things, it will be your back that suffers especially during those long hikes – not mentioning the discomfort it will cause while navigating through the cities or taking public transportation.
So what I advise you to do is to pack things you’ll actually need not what you might need.
You can also invest in a travel luggage scale to make sure you know the weight you’ll be carrying before you hit the road. You don’t need a fancy one, this fairly priced one will get the job done. One good tip for this is to have a ”weight goal” for your backpack. Let’s say you plan to carry 10kgs in your backpack, but if you weigh your luggage and it’s more than that, remove the unnecessary heavy travel items you might have packed until you reach the intended weight.
Some of the tips to help you achieve the goal of packing light include;
- Pack travel items that can be used for a number of things. And in the same manner, pack clothes that can worn a number of times as no backpacker has the luxury of changing clothes every other day.
- Go for collapsible travel essentials to create space for other stuff. A collapsible travel water bottle is gonna be much better than a normal bottle.
- Opt for lightweight travel items instead of heavy ones.
There are definitely a number of hacks to help you pack light while backpacking though I can’t list all of them here. However, you can find them in my previous post that gives you all the tips for packing light when traveling.
But on the flip side, some backpackers tend to under pack. While overpacking is not great, underpacking can be dangerous especially when you reach the outdoors and realize that you left behind some really important accessory in the name of not packing too much clutter.
2. Not testing out your gear before your trip
If you thought packing too much stuff is a huge backpacking mistake, try traveling with gear you’ve not tested or used before.
Imagine taking a camping tent and when you reach the campsite, you realize that you actually don’t know how to pitch it. It will even be worse if you’re in a deserted place with no one to help you or if it gets really dark and you’re still hustling with how to set it up.
Or buying a water filter/ advanced water filtration system and when its time to use it while on the trail, you realize that it doesn’t work well. (You know you’re in trouble since thirst doesn’t understand that the water filter you carried doesn’t work effectively.)
To make matters worse, imagine substituting your camping tent for a hammock since you heard its cool and all that but not trying it out yourself. This is when you’ll freeze to death if you had thought that it would be as warm as a tent.
So before you go backpacking, make sure that you’ve tried out all your travel gear to make sure that they either work as expected or that you actually know how to operate them. And if you don’t know how to use some stuff, learn everything before you hit the outdoors.
New at camping? Read these practical camping tips for beginners
3. Thinking that everything will go as planned
Just like any kind of traveling, be it flashpacking, luxury travel or mid-range, things are bound to go wrong at one point – that’s just how things are and it will be a big mistake to think that everything will go as planned.
As you plan your backpacking trip, bear in mind that sometimes things go wrong and if they do, try not to panic but rather to find a solution. If there is one, good but if not, dust yourself up and move on.
As a backpacker, all you can do is to prepare yourself as much as you can and let other things happen as they come. After all, we all learn from our mistakes and I can guarantee we’ve all made a couple of them but here we are still at the backpacking game even when a couple of things go wrong.
4. Forgetting to pack the essential backpacking items
If you’re the kind of person that normally forgets to pack some things either because you pack too early, too late or some things just slip your mind (which can literally happen even to the best of us), I recommend that you make yourself a simple backpacking checklist that you can use every time you’re packing for a backpacking trip.
There is nothing worse like wanting to make a fire and you realize that you forgot to carry fire starters and you don’t know the DIY way of making them, or worse still, you plan to take a shower and realize that you didn’t carry your towel – how disappointing!!
So before you go backpacking, make sure that you have all the essential backpacking items.
While still at that, here are some of the backpacking essentials you should not leave behind.
- First Aid Kit: Safety is important while backpacking, its a no-no to leave it behind.
- Packing cubes: These will help you pack better – they’re like the ultimate backpacking item.
- Collapsible travel water bottle: Stay hydrated all the time by carrying a collapsible water bottle to keep refilling when it runs dry.
- A lightweight microfiber travel tower: It is lightweight and dries pretty fast, so it’s perfect for any backpacker.
- A universal travel adaptor: No need to buy a zillion adaptors for each country, a universal adaptor is enough.
- A power bank: Keep your battery fully charged all the time by carrying a power bank with you.
These are just a few of the backpacking essentials you’ll need but soon I’ll be coming up with the complete backpacking list. Make sure you bookmark this blog not to miss it.
5. Not learning at least the basics of using a navigation system
As a backpacker, your best bet at making it out in the outdoors especially when you take the off the beaten path is a GPS navigator. Knowing how to use a GPS or read maps will save you from getting lost or even wasting time you would have used for sightseeing trying to find your way back to the right path.
So before you go backpacking, make sure that you at least know the basics of using the navigator.
If you don’t know how to read a map, practice before you go into the outdoors especially if you’re traveling alone or the people you’re traveling with don’t either. (I know I am not great at reading maps myself, but I promise, I am improving).
If you’re going to take this Garmin GPS navigator which you should actually have during a hike, learn how to operate it beforehand. You don’t want to move in circles yet you have the right tool but you just don’t know how to use it.
6. Disregarding the Leave no Trace principles (LNT)
When nature calls, not even the strongest can resist it. But when nature calls from places where there are no toilets, you know you’re going to have to find a way (in the bushes.)
So how do you make sure you leave no trace behind when that time comes? Dig up a hole, do your business and after cover up that hole with soil completely so that nothing is visible – basically leave no trace that even something happened there. Do not worry, nature will take its course when it rots.
However, if its just a push pee, make sure that you do not leave the paper there.
In this regard, the Leave no trace rule doesn’t just work with easing yourself but also with not leaving any kind of trash at the campsite. Take out the ash if you made a campfire, put out the fire completely – basically just be a responsible backpacker that leaves the place even better than the way you found it.
Read more: Things not to do when you travel
7. Booking accommodation on the wrong side of the city
There is no doubt that backpackers are always looking for the best budget hostels, don’t we all? I mean the point of backpacking is to travel on a budget. But the greatest backpacking mistake you’ll ever make is booking a hostel that is out of the city or even far away from major attractions.
I actually see this all the time, especially among beginner backpackers. This means that they end up wasting their precious sightseeing time in commute and traffic jams, and also spending more money on transportation.
So do the maths well (time and money) and see the best choice but bear in mind that it’s always better to stay near or in the city instead of the suburbs when backpacking.
This keeps you in close proximity to restaurants, public transportation, and major attractions. You can find more tips to consider when booking a hostel in my hostel tips and etiquette post.
8. Going off the hiking trail
One of the biggest mistakes you’ll ever make while hiking is to go off the hiking trail. This is actually not only irresponsible but also dangerous. You might find yourself completely lost in the forest and start to move in circles, it gets even worse if it gets dark and you’re still off the trail.
This in most cases happens when it seems like there is a short cut to where you’re headed- like wanting to go right through the middle of the hill even though there might not be any trail instead of going around it. It might seem like the shorter way but you may end up being more tired or even completely lost.
So as a backpacker, stick to the marked out hiking trail, after all, there is a reason the trail was put in that particular place in the first place.
9. Not planning your food ahead of time
Unless you’re going for a day’s hike, then there is no much food planning necessary except putting a few snacks in your backpack. But if you’re going hiking for a couple of days, it’s paramount that you plan your meals ahead. It’s not fun when you run out of food on the 3rd day of a 5 days hike or carrying a lot of food that can even take you for 7 days yet your hike is just 3 days.
What I normally do is to plan my food day by day – know what’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for every single day. But on top of that, carry some extra food enough for another full day should you decide to extend the hike for one or more reasons. Think of it as ”emergency food.”
Read more: How to plan a trip from in 12 easy steps
10. Not learning how to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations, or at least trying
One of the best tips for backpacking for beginners is learning how to be comfortable in situations that might not be that pleasant.
As a backpacker, I don’t expect to travel in the most comfortable conditions – I mean, that’s the kind of life I chose when I decided to be a backpacker. So as you backpack, situations can get uncomfortable real quick, public transportation is not going to be fancy (maybe compared to your home country). Try being a bus in India and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. I’m talking having chicken right below your legs and having people literally sitting on you – but just try to be calm as that’s part of the fun.
I can’t overlook the sleeping conditions while talking about uncomfortable conditions while backpacking. As you plan to spend less on accommodation, know that sometimes that means not getting a perfect hostel with amenities. It might mean foregoing your King-sized bed for a bed bunk, sharing showers (which are not always clean btw), sharing a dorm room with a number of people and not all will be cool.
So as you embark on your backpacking journey, train yourself on how to stay calm and comfortable even in the most uncomfortable situations. I promise that if you get a grip on these backpacking tips, you’ll have no backpacking situation that tears you down.
11. Not investing in a proper and good quality backpack.
If you’re planning to go backpacking for the first time, the best thing you can do for yourself is investing in a good quality backpack.
Some times beginner backpackers just buy any backpack they find (since they are many) but you have to put some thought into the kind of backpack you choose. Remember that the backpack you choose influences a lot of things; from the weight it can accommodate, the support it gives not to kill your back amongst other things.
As you decide on which backpack to buy, below are some of the factors to consider before investing in any.
- Waterproof capability
- Full open – Does it have the ability to open like a suitcase.
- Does it come with a day back or not.
- The Compartments it has
- The support it gives your back not to be overwhelmed by the weight of the backpack
Even though its hard to find one that has all the above qualities, there are some backpacks like this Osprey Atmos AG 65 that checks almost all of them.
Other backpacks that are not far behind the osprey include this Granite Gear Crown 2 60 Backpack and this TETON Sports Explorer 4000 Internal Frame Backpack.
So whatever you do, whether you’re backpacking for the first time or you’re a seasoned backpacker, invest in a good quality backpack.
Read more: Things to do before traveling abroad
12. Not learning some useful backpacking hacks
On top of familiarizing yourself with all these backpacking tips and tricks, I suggest you learn a few backpacking hacks if you want to make your backpacking adventures easier and more fun.
They can save you while you’re in the outdoors and it will be a mistake not to learn a couple of them.
One hack that I’ve found really helpful even when I was just starting out as a backpacker is the ”duck tape hack”. Duck tape helps you not to throw away your travel items that might have got a few damages and just need some TLC to bring them back to their former glory. Whether a tent has got a tiny hole, you got some blisters, just ” duck them up” and you will be good to go.
Some other backpacking hacks you should know include;
- Making firestarters with just cotton and wax
- Rolling your clothes instead of folding them
- Using plastic refillable bottles instead of heavy perfume glasses
Since the above hacks are not comprehensive, you can read my complete list of the backing hacks to get all the tricks.
13. Not learning how to treat/purify backcountry water
Learning how to treat water or even how to use the water filter is one of the best tips for backing for beginners that should not be overlooked.
As a backpacker, especially when you go hiking, there are chances that you might run out of clean water you had packed before. And whilst you can survive without some things, it’s hard to survive a hike without water and this means drinking any ”kind of water” you land on.
So one of the backpacking mistakes you’ll ever make is not carrying a water filter or better yet learning how to actually use it. To make sure that you don’t die of thirst, buy a water filter and then learn exactly how to use it to clean the water.
14. Not learning the basic first aid and survival skills
Backpacking is all about looking out for yourself and learning how you can survive in the outdoors.
Whether it is taking a few lessons about self-defense before your first backpacking trip or learning how to give first aid, it is important to be able to survive on your own or to even be able to give the first medical response to someone who might need it.
However some first-time backpackers take this for granted but in my opinion, learning basic survival skills is one of the best tips on backpacking for beginners.
While you get some survival skills, there are some survival travel items that will help you in cases of emergencies. Below are some of them;
- Swiss Army Knife: Given the fact that it has a number of tools from screwdrivers, a can opener, a blade, etc, this Swiss Army knife might seem small but can be extremely helpful.
- Light my fire firestarter: This is not only useful when you need to make a fire (in actually all weather conditions), but when you’re in danger and need to call for help since it has a built-in whistle that you can blow in emmergency situations.
- First Aid Kit: From reading all the backpacking tips and tricks I’ve shared so far, you should be already knowing the importance of having a first Aid kit while backpacking.
- Survival Compass: With many navigation tools relying on battery or electricity to work, you’ll need to at least have one that will keep you on the right trail without the fear of running out of battery and that’s where this survival Compass comes in handy.
Those are just a few of the travel gear you need to help you survive the outdoors even if you’re just backpacking for the first time.
15. Not packing the right backpacking clothes
If you were not aware that there are ”proper” backpacking clothes, now you know – (you’re welcome !!)
It will be a mistake to take white cotton clothes or all pure cotton clothes for that matter because they take longer to dry and are not the easiest to wash. And since most backpackers choose to do their own laundry to save some bucks and taking into consideration the factor of time and weather, no one wants clothes that will take forever to dry.
On top of that, Cotton clothes absorb sweat making you feel sweaty all the time. So the best clothes to pack will be polyester, Nylon and merino wool undies.
On that same note, pack clothes that can be wearable a couple of times without becoming grossly smelly and looking dirty.
Some of the best clothes to pack for a backpacking trip include;
- Convertible pants: These convertible outdoor pants are great because you can use them as full pants when it’s cold and as just shorts when it’s hot. They’re also great for hiking actually.
- Rain jacket: A rain jacket is a must-have while backpacking since you can never know when you’ll get a downpour.
- Yoga pants/Leggings: These are literally every backpacker’s dream. Whether it is to hike in, take a stroll in the backcountry or go sightseeing, you’ll be happy you packed them.
- Iceberg Merino T-shirts: I recently got to know about these t-shirts and I feel like every backpacker should have at least 2 or 3. They’re light, dry easily and can be worn even up to 3 times in a row with smelling bad.
- Merino wool undies: The undies you pack should be Merino wool to help you stay warm and dry even in the heat of the sun. Whether it is these socks or this underwear, merino wool should be your choice.
There are a lot of options to consider when it comes to which clothes to pack. All you have to do is to make sure that they are light, not cotton or Denim (don’t make the mistake of even thinking about them), easy to wash and dry fast. Also, dull colors are perfect for backpacking – for obvious reasons.
Summary of the tips for backpacking for beginners
If that was a lot to take in, here is the summary of the tips for backpacking for beginners.
- Do not pack a lot of stuff
- Test out your gear before your trip
- Know that things can go wrong but don’t let that stop you from having an amazing first backpacking trip
- Pack all the essential backpacking items
- Learn basic navigation skills
- Leave no trace behind
- Book your accommodation on the right side of the city/area
- Do not go off the hiking trail
- Plan your food ahead of time
- Learn how to be uncomfortable in uncomfortable situations
- Invest in a proper and good quality backpack
- Learn some useful backpacking hacks
- Learn how to treat/purify the backcountry water
- Learn the basic first aid and survival skills
- Pack the right backpacking clothes
With this comprehensive guide to backpacking, I hope you now know all the backpacking tips to make it out when you go for your first backpacking trip.
Are you a seasoned backpacker and have other backpacking travel tips to share with newbie backpackers? Drop them in the comment section.
More posts to help you plan your backpacking trip
- Best gifts for backpackers
- Best gifts for hikers
- Camping tips for beginners
- Best Backpacking hacks you should know
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