Let's just get something out in the open right now. I am a whiny backpacker. I'm slow, clumsy, never sure of my footing, and so hilariously accident-prone that I've been known to get "attacked" by trees. Basically, I'm the girl you don't want to invite on that lovely backpacking trip... unless I'm the entertainment. (Note: I do provide my own band-aids.)
So with all that being said, why in the world am I going to tell you how to get into backpacking? Well, as an accident prone and whiny backpacker, I've had my fair share of "I guess this is how you don't do it" moments. I'd love to help you avoid them. Let's get started.
Don't pick you gear based on colors, brand, or price. I know this seems like an obvious one, but I'm madly in love with neon orange and I'm drawn to clearance racks like a moth to fire. Sometimes that all ends badly and I purchase gear that is... well... less than awesome? I've been attempting to use the same horrendous pair of hikers for the past 5 years all because they were on sale and a good brand. Doh!
Before committing to a piece of gear, whether it's a backpack, hiking shoes, sleeping pad, or tent â?? do your research. Try that eye-catching thing on and then try a dozen other things. Just tonight I spent an hour wandering around a local outdoor retailer trying a multitude of backpacks loaded with sand bags. I am so proud to say that not only did I resist the urge to buy a neon orange multi-day backpack; I also didn't purchase the poorly fitting daypack on the clearance rack. Win!
Don't break in your sweet new gear on the trail. I am beyond ashamed to admit this, but those horrendous hikers I mentioned above â?? I totally broke them in on a hike. Yep. Don't do that. I think I have permanent blisters from that foolish mistake.
Regardless of your plans, try all of your gear before committing to being stranded without options in the middle of the wilderness. Break in your boots, figure out how to set up your tent, test out your hydration system, and make sure you know how to light that fancy ultra lightweight camp stove. You'd be shocked to know how the simplest of things can turn into the biggest calamities.
Don't assume someone else knows the plan. Whiny backpackers don't usually lead the way because we're too busy getting attacked by trees (I swear they just jump out of nowhere sometimes). We generally assume that the lead backpacker knows the way â?? but that's not always true. Just this past summer, I definitely found myself standing on the top of a tall drop realizing that my friend had led us into a super dead end. It meant lots of back tracking on steep trails with heavy bags â?? and no clue on where the right path actually was. So, even if you plan on being the slowest, clumsiest backpacker ever, know the route and the plan.
On the flip side, let someone know what your plans are. I often run bizarre emergency scenarios through my head while I'm out hiking, and then wonder if my "Hey, I'm headed here" communications were enough. No matter the length of your trip, let someone (who isn't with you) know what your plans are and when to expect you back.
And above all, don't forget to enjoy yourself. Backpacking can bring you to some pretty spectacular places, so don't forget to look up from the devious tree roots trying to trip you and actually enjoy the experience.
-Jillian is a lifelong New Englander with a serious love of the outdoors, adventure, and a pretty serious inability to sit still. She writes to encourage others to get outside and to promote the beautiful outdoors of New England on her blog: Tender & Trails.
Tips From a Whiny Backpacker
April 29, 2014
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