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How to Get Started Backpacking

Whether you were an outdoorsy kid who lost the habit as you grew up or you’re only discovering the joys of nature as an adult, it’s never too late to get into hiking and backpacking. Whether you are 18 or 80, you can find camaraderie, peace of mind and a new healthy pursuit out on the trail. However, there are a few things you need to keep in mind as you get started.

Understanding the 10 Essentials

The 10 essentials are items that you should have with you on every hike, even just a short and easy day hike. The records of hiker disaster are filled with stories of people who set out unprepared for what they assumed would be an easy five mile out and-back only to be surprised by weather or another unplanned for incident that put them in danger. It can be easy to get caught up in all the camping gadgets and essentials sold at stores but try to at least remember the basics. First, you must be able to stay warm, so you need extra clothes. Material to start a fire, such as matches, can also help with this as can a tent or bivy. 

Extra food and extra water or a water purifier can help if you are out longer than you anticipate. Sunscreen or other sun protection and a basic first aid kit is also important for safety. You will need light if you are out after dark, and a headlamp allows you to keep your hands free. A map and compass or a good GPS locator with extra batteries will help you if you get lost. Finally, you may need a repair kit for your gear.

The Right Gear

It is entirely possible to spend thousands of dollars on top-of-the-line gear, but you don’t have to. On the other hand, you do need decent gear, especially when it comes to the basics: shoes, a tent, a sleeping bag and a backpack. These can make the difference in a miserable hike and a wonderful one and can even be lifesaving. You can look for sales and second-hand gear, but if you get the backpacking bug, you’ll probably want to find ways to cut your expenses so that you can spend more time out on the trail. Get creative and look for hidden costs, such as your monthly student loan payments. You may be able refinance these into a new loan that offers lower monthly payments. Reducing restaurant meals or your shopping habit can also mean more money for your new favorite pastime.

Building Up

It’s important to start slowing in every way. When you first get your tent and sleeping bag, don’t be embarrassed to give it all a test run in your backyard. Much better to discover there what does and doesn’t work than out on the trail. You can build up fitness for hiking by taking walks with a loaded pack. Be careful not to overdo it at first. Just a few miles on a mountain trail with your backpack can be strenuous for a new hiker. You can also look for meetup groups, classes or trips in your area that allow you to go with an experienced guide for your first time out.