The Ultimate Backpacking Guide For Beginners In The Backcountry

This post is brought to you in sponsorship with REI

Are you thinking about setting out on your first-ever backcountry adventure?

You won’t regret it! Backpacking is an ultimate escape from the bustle of everyday life. It’s an opportunity for you to hike for days on end with nothing around you but vibrant nature for miles and miles.

When you’re backpacking, it’s just you and the wilderness: the sky above you, the earth crunching underneath your feet, and wildlife all around.

Sounds pretty amazing, right?

It is. Backpacking is a rewarding treat for your body, mind and spirit. In fact, spending time in nature is proven to positively impact your mental and physical health!

Backpacking can help you…

  • Reduce stress and calm anxiety
  • Build strength, stamina and agility
  • Boost your mood and clear your mind

And so much more.

Amazing as it is, backpacking can be intimidating - especially when you’re setting out for the first time. And if you don’t prepare properly, backpacking can be dangerous.

Before you go backpacking for the first time, there are some things you should know.

In this Ultimate Backpacking Guide, you will discover:

  • Key steps to start backpacking right now
  • Where to go on your first backpacking trip
  • Backpacking gear every hiker should have
  • Safety tips for backcountry trips

And much, much more.

Prepare yourself now for all your adventures to come. Keep reading to learn how you can work your way up to backpacking starting right now.

Backpacking Tips: 5 Simple Steps To Get Started

Here are a few things you can do to get ready for your first backpacking trip. Keep reading to learn 4 simple steps for you to start preparing right now.


#1. Prepare with the Right Backpacking Gear

Starting off with the essentials, when you get started it's important to know your outdoor gear. You may not need everything, but we've got the best backpacking gear checklist to look over and find out what you may want to bring your first time out. 

#2. Go on Day Hikes

Have you ever hiked before? If the answer is no, we recommend you start hiking before you go backpacking. If the answer is yes, keep it up!

Hiking will prepare your body for strenuous physical activity that backpacking demands. Go on day hikes to build strength and stamina and to get used to being in nature for long periods of time.

#3. Train for Multi-Day Treks

Do you have what it takes to go backpacking? You will if you prepare properly. When you train for your treks, you are less likely to run into health problems on the trail.

Train your body and mind for backpacking by seeking out hiking trails that are similar in elevation gain and mileage to the backpacking trip you want to take. This will help you prepare your body for longer hikes and prepare your lungs for elevation gain.

Extra tip: Take a hike with weight in your pack. This will help you get ready for how it feels to trek with 15-30 lbs on your back. As a reminder, your pack should never weigh more than 20% of your body weight. 

#4. Go Car Camping

Are you ready to sleep outside with the sounds of nature all around you?

Sometimes sleeping is the hardest part of your backpacking adventure. You can prepare your mind for sleeping outside by becoming familiar with sleeping in a tent. Plus, you'll learn how to set up your gear and tent ahead of time. Go car camping to ease your way into the rustic experience that backpacking presents.

#5. Learn Backpacking Safety

Do you know how to stay safe on the trails? When backpacking, it’s important know what you’ll do in the event of an emergency.

backpacking in the woods

Here are a few helpful backpacking safety tips:

  • Never set out on a backcountry trail without having an emergency plan
  • Tell someone where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone
  • Carry the right backpacking gear along with enough food and water
  • Practice Leave No Trace (LNT) principles
  • Learn how to use a map and compass

Congrats! Now you know the most important steps to start backpacking. Are you ready to hit the trails?

Keep reading to discover some beginner-friendly backpacking trails that you will love.

Where To Go Backpacking: Backpacking Trips for Beginners

For your first backpacking trip, we recommend a short hike-in. Keep it to 3 miles or less so you can practice sleeping in the wilderness but still have comfort knowing your car is only a few miles away.

Here are some tips to find beginner-friendly backpacking trails:

  • Ask fellow hikers in your local hiking community
  • Join local groups on Facebook to find trails and hiking buddies
  • Refer to Reddit for recommendations from real people
  • Go to your local REI and ask the expert staff

Did you know… REI hosts guided backpacking trips all over the United States! If you’re nervous to go alone, you can join a group with a backpacking expert as your guide. Click here to view REI’s upcoming backpacking trips now.

The Best Backpacking Trails for Beginners

  • ARIZONA, HIKE TO HAVASU FALLS - Located in Havasupai Indian Reservation, this ultra-popular hike is rated as hard, but it’s manageable if you go prepared and take your time. You’ll trek 10 miles downhill to spectacular views of bright blue waterfalls, where you can spend the night in a nearby campground. Keep in mind the return trip is an additional 10 miles, and it’s all uphill, so bring ample water.
  • CALIFORNIA, BRIDGE TO NOWHERE HIKE - Located in Los Angeles County, the Bridge to Nowhere Hike is a local’s best kept secret. The hike’s only 10 miles round trip with minimal elevation gain (only 900 feet). You can camp at the Heaton Flats Campground, which is a short trek in from the trailhead.
  • COLORADO, BLUE LAKES HIKE - Located in the Mt. Sneffels Wilderness, this scenic 8.6-mile hike challenges you with elevation gain (2,370 feet) but rewards you in views. Just travel 3.5 miles to Lower Blue Lake, where you can pitch your tent in your choice of rustic campsites. From there, you can continue to the upper lakes and all the way to the summit of Mt. Sneffels, one of 53 fourteeners in Colorado.
  • MICHIGAN, CHAPEL BASIN LOOP - Located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, this 10-mile round trip is relatively flat with incredible views of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. There are two campgrounds situated right along Lake Superior at Chapel Beach and Mosquito Beach.

Once you’re comfortable being further away from civilization, you can work your way up to longer, more remote treks.

Extra Tip: Don't forget to check on permit requirements at least 8 months before your planned trip. Some popular destinations open up the permit window 6 months before! 

Backpacking Gear Essentials: What To Bring On Your Backcountry Adventures

One of the best ways to stay safe and well-prepared on the trail is to bring all the right supplies with you.

Here’s an overview of what you should pack:

  • Backpacking gear essentials: tent, sleeping bag and more
  • Protection against the sun, bugs and other elements
  • Enough food and water to last throughout your trek
  • Insulated, breathable, UV-protective clothing
  • Navigation tools and emergency supplies

And more, 

For a complete list of what to bring backpacking, check out REI’s Basic Backpacking Gear Checklist and our more in depth Backpacking Gear Checklist.

Are you ready to hit the trails?

#OptOutside And Go Backpacking!

Congrats! Now you have all the information you need to start backpacking right now. Remember to pace yourself and work your way up to the more challenging remote treks.

Stay safe, have fun, and don’t forget to tag @52hikechallenge and @REI in all your backpacking adventures! #52hikechallenge #optoutside

Want to remember these tips? Pin this for later!

backpacking for beginners

backpacking for beginners

backpacking for beginners

backpacking for beginners



  • @khalil A. thank you for your feedback! We’re happy we could help you and your hiking buddies get ready to explore the great outdoors through hiking and backpacking!

    52 Hike Challenge
  • I just wanted to thank you for the amazing content you published on hiking. I used it in a post I published last week. I have a lot of readers who are just now exploring the concept of hiking planning.

    khalil A.

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