This is your first backpacking trip or you are beginning backpackers ? Some basic travel tips can go a long way to ensuring you and your group have a great time.
Food and Food Storage
Dinner. For simplicity, choose freeze-dried food that requires just a few cups of boiling water and 10 minutes of wait time. Gourmands or those with access to a food dehydrator can make more creative trail meals.
Rest of the day. Some backpackers take time to cook breakfast; others save time with ready-to-eat items. Lunch can be a meal or several breaks for snacks such as trail mix, jerky, dried fruit, chunks of cheese and energy foods (bars, chews and gels).
Coffee. Lightweight French coffee presses do, in fact, exist.
Food storage. Never leave food lying around unattended. You’ll likely lose it, and animals become less inclined to forage in a natural manner again.Carry a food canister or learn how to hang food to protect your edibles (and any aromatic items) from critters.
Backpacking with Kids
Read the REI Expert Advice article, Backpacking with Kids. Here are a few key points:
Adjust your expectations. You’ll travel slower and over shorter distances, but done right (with compassion and patience) you can cultivate a love for outdoors adventure in your little ones.
Teach respect for the land. Encourage kids to stay on trails and not cut switchbacks. Ask them not to pick flowers, tag rocks or carve their names into tree trunks.
Communication and Electronics for Backpacking
Do not count on getting cell phone reception in wilderness areas. Cell towers can be found near visitor centers at a handful of national parks, but in the backcountry, cell reception is rare.
Other communication options include satellite phones (pricey, but your best bet if on-demand access to civilization is a must), satellite messengers (capable of transmitting 1-way or even 2-way text messages), 2-way radios (best for groups spread out over a large area; average range is 2 miles) and personal locator beacons (for sending a distress signal).
Portable power sources (such as solar chargers) can generate enough energy to fully charge a smartphone.
Before You Go
Practice at home or a campground. Pitch your tent in your backyard. Inflate your sleeping pad. Light your stove. Check out your headlamp. Know how things work in a comfortable place before you’re under pressure in an unfamiliar setting.
Call ahead. Avoid surprises. Contact a ranger office at or near your destination. Ask about road closures, trail conditions, permit requirements, animal activity or any temporary restrictions.
Share your plans with a friend. Leave an itinerary with a friend who will remain in town. If you don’t return by the appointed time, your friend can notify rangers that you may need help.
If You Get Lost
Remember an acronym favored by the Emergency Response Institute of Olympia, Wash.: S-T-O-P. Stop, Think, Observe and Plan.
Stop: If you feel uncomfortable with your situation, don’t go any farther. Don’t panic, either. The rule changes if the area is unsafe or someone in your group needs medical attention. Count to 10, drink some water or eat a little food. These acts often give you a fresh perspective and help you better assess your situation.
Think: Where were you when you were last certain of your location? Can you navigate back to that point? Can you hear or see helpful landmarks like a road or trail? If so, carefully return to that spot and reevaluate your options.
Observe: Put your senses on full alert. Picture in your mind all distinctive features you spotted as you came to your current position. Can you use them as waypoints to guide you back to a place where you were confident of your location? If so, return to that spot. Can you connect with a known trail from that point? Do so. If not, stay put. It’s easier for rescuers to find you near your original line of travel.
Plan: If you are with others, talk over a plan. If not, it can be useful to say the plan out loud as if you were explaining it to someone else. If it makes sense, then follow your plan. If not, revise your plan. If the situation changes as you follow that plan, use “STOP” again to improve your chances for a safe recovery.
“Pack out what you pack in.” It’s an old phrase but still valid, along with “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.” In the wilderness, no one cleans up after you. So be relentlessly tidy. Pick up every wrapper, tote out every orange peel. Any item that does not originate in the wilderness, even an apple core, should not be left there. In some backcountry areas, that includes toilet paper. Learn about Leave No Trace principles so wilderness scenery perpetually looks untouched and inviting, just the way you want to see it.
Understand the backcountry is wild and unpredictable, not a theme park. In the wilderness, you’ll find no handrails, no courtesy phones, no attendants, no flush toilets, no water fountains, no snack bars. It’s a potentially dangerous place. That’s part of its appeal—wild lands are a different world. Self-reliance is a vital skill for appreciating them. Be aware that you’ll need to adapt to the unexpected.
This ain’t no disco. Realize most people head to the wilderness for peace and serenity—an escape from the noisy urban norm. Have fun; just please self-regulate your noise level.
Ultimately, relax and enjoy. Stay committed to being nice to fellow backpackers, the animals and the land. Breathe deeply, soak in the views and immerse yourself in a whole new world.