Great Backpacking Tips!
Simple advice to make your backpacking trip or day hike even better
I have developed this list of backpacking tips through trial and error.
Most of these are simple but important ideas that can make a big difference in the experience, both for the backpacker and the environment.
This list is does not provide detailed information about how to backpack, just extra hints and advice.
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These are my articles related to hiking, backpacking, and other outdoor activities. I am an experienced backpacker and thru-hiker, and now enjoy hiking and camping with my children.
Plastic Zip Bags - Organizing and protecting gear
- Use freezer-strength plastic zip bags to store and organize your stuff.
- Anything that comes in a tube (antibiotic ointment, hydrocortisone, toothpaste, etc.) is liable to puncture. Place tubes in separate plastic bags to contain any spillage.
- Contractor-strength garbage bags (available at hardware stores) are very sturdy and can be used as an extra liner to protect against water. You can use them to line stuff sacks for the sleeping bag, clothes, and food. It is also great as a liner for the inside of the main compartment of the whole backpack.
Groundcloth - Make a footprint and attach it to the tent
.4 mil dropcloth makes an excellent tent footprint. Cut the dropcloth so that it is an inch or two SHORTER than the edge of the tent all around. (If it is longer than the tent and sticks out, it will collect water and escort it right under your tent!)
Attach the dropcloth to the tent using duct tape. Stick the tape to one side of the dropcloth (probably at the corners), run it through the nylon stake loop on the bottom of the tent, and attach the other end of tape to the other side of the dropcloth. The tape should not adhere to the tent itself - just to the drop cloth and stake loops of the tent.
The footprint will now stay attached, so you don't have to mess with it! This makes setting the tent up and taking it down much easier.
.4 mil Dropcloth - Use something like this to cut your own tent footprint
This is lightweight but sturdy. Use it to create a footprint for your tent. It could also be used as a tarp.
Trash Talk - Just pack it out!
- Pack out all trash!!! Do not bury trash -- animals will dig it up, and that's not cool! Burning trash is ineffective, as it is impossible to burn it completely. (Just look at a fire ring at a campsite; it is usually obvious that attempts were made to burn trash.)
- Food scraps are also considered trash and must be packed out. This includes apple cores, banana peels, tea bags, sunflower seeds, etc. None of these items were produced by the local ecosystem, so they must be packed out.
Using a Water Filter? - Some important advice
- Place the water filter in a mesh bag in an outside pocket of the backpack. This allows air to circulate so the filter doesn't get funky.
- Put the water filter inside your sleeping bag on very cold nights to keep the water inside from freezing.
- Antibiotic ointment (first-aid cream) works well as a lubricant if the water filter pump becomes dry and difficult to work. Dab some around the rubber o-ring of the pump mechanism. Vaseline will also work, but it dries out faster.
- Water filters can break or clog. Take along a few iodine tablets or other backup method for treating water.
Less weight on the back = more fun on the trail.
I strongly recommend learning about and employing lightweight backpacking techniques.
Foot Care - Treat your feet right and they'll carry you far
- Antibiotic ointment (first-aid cream) or Vaseline can help ease blisters. Putting it on areas that are rubbing relieves a lot of the friction and can prevent the blister from getting worse. Don't overuse, though, as you do want the feet to toughen as you hike.
- Corn remover pads are key for the occasional corn or other odd skin thing that may develop on your feet. The pack of medicated disks with ultra-thin pads does not add anything in weight but will save the day if you get a corn.
- Take care of your feet! Keep them as clean as possible. Wiping them with a pre-moistened alcohol cloth followed by a dusting of foot powder in the evening works wonders!
Write It Down - Notes for yourself and others
- Keep a journal. It's amazing how quickly the details of your backpacking experience can become lost. A few words about the day, where you spent the night, who else was there, etc. can work wonders to jog the memory.
- Pre-stamped postcards are a good way to keep in touch with family and friends if you're on an extended backpacking trip. They're lightweight, convenient, and relieve you of the pressure to write full-length letters.
Food - Some things to consider
- Dehydrate dark leafy greens to add to your meals. They dry quickly and crumble into tiny pieces -- an easy way to add nutrients to dinner!
- A plastic or rubber pot scraper is fantastic when it comes to cleaning the cookpot! Scrape the pot and lick the scraper clean. This leaves very little food in the pot, so it then just needs a quick wipe.
- Familiarize yourself with your stove ahead of time. Know how to unclog and fix it.
- For a long-distance backpacking trip, don't pre-pack all of your trail mix. A lot of people get sick of the same old trail mix and want more variety as they continue to thru-hike.
- Some energy bars FREEZE SOLID in cold weather!
The Privy - Yes, we're talking about the bathroom!
- The only things that go in the privy (backcountry outhouse) are poop, pee, and toilet paper. Do not put baby wipes, handi-wipes, tampons, pads, or other trash in the privy!
- If using a "cat hole," pack out the toilet paper, since it will not burn completely and should not be buried.
Hiking Poles - Are they for you?
- Some folks love them; some hate them. Experiment for yourself to see if you like having one or two or none. There is a sense of freedom in not carrying anything in your hands, and it also means fewer things to keep track of. But hiking poles can be a great benefit to help maintain balance, prevent or ease falls, build or maintain upper body strength, and reduce stress on lower joints. They can also be held between yourself and a snake or dog and can serve as posts for pitching a tarp.
These are just one of the many styles of hiking poles available. Look for models that are adjustable/collapsable, sturdy, and lightweight.
Miscellaneous Tips - More things to keep in mind when backpacking or hiking
- Hand sanitizer is a great thing to have!
- Know how to change your flashlight bulb in the dark.
- Wear a "fanny pack" so it faces forward. This provides quick and easy access to items like your camera, map, and snacks.
- ANYTHING that has a smell that might attract bears should be placed in bear bag to hang from a tree or be placed in a bear-proof container. This includes food, toothpaste, soap, and anything else that smells good!
- Unzip the pockets of your backpack before going to bed. If a mouse wants to investigate your pack overnight, it can easily move in and out. If the pack is zipped tight and a mouse wants to look around, it may chew through the pack in order to do so!
- Not sure about those boots? Try them out on the treadmill at the gym or "hiking" around your house, up and down the stairs for a while. You'll be able to give the boots a decent evaluation. Then, if you decide you don't like the boots, you'll still be able to return them since they've not been muddied up on a real trail.
- Learn how to use a bounce box (drift box) if you are going to be backpacking longer than 7-10 days. Please see How to Use a Bounce Box on a Long-distance Backpacking Trip.
And Finally... - Be a good citizen and ambassador
- Remember that you represent the larger backpacking community. Treat everyone and everything you meet on your journey with courtesy and respect.