8 essential tips for your first backpacking trip

My love of hiking started when I was a teenager. Unlike a day hike, the hike offered adventure as you pack everything you need to spend a night or more in the woods on your back and spend the night sleeping under the stars next to the mountains. t a creek, a rushing waterfall or a rocky cliff, the sounds of nature surround you.

Over the years life got in the way and there never seemed to be enough time to get away from it all, so my love of hiking took a back seat. Now that I’m retired, I have time and I want to try again. The problem is, I’m not that lively teenager anymore. My knees jump, snap and hurt. My back is no longer flexible. But the track is calling.

Hiking is a great way to recharge your batteries, to take you to landscapes and nature that only a hiking trail can provide, and even to challenge yourself. It can be as simple as spending a night on a trail at a local state park where they offer backcountry camping to something really challenging like hiking the entire Appalachian Trail (AT ) from Georgia to Maine.

One thing is certain: it’s a fun, rewarding and satisfying sport that those of us over 50 can enjoy well into our golden years.

MJ Eberhart (aka Nimblewill Nomad) became the oldest man to complete the Appalachian Trail in 2001

(Photo credit: Joe Cuhaj)

Not convinced you’re ever too old to backpack? Well, a good friend of mine, MJ Eberhart (better known by his hiker nickname, Nimblewill Nomad) recently completed the AT trek from Alabama to Maine at the age of 83, becoming the oldest man to do it.

Here are eight tips to help you start your own journey.

The man stands on top of a rock overlooking the hills.
“One of the joys of hiking – breathtaking views.”
(Photo credit: Joe Cuhaj)

1. The joy of traveling over 50

Besides nature exploration, there are many other benefits associated with hiking:

  • Being physically active is good for your mind and body.
  • It improves your cardiovascular health.
  • Builds strong muscles.
  • Increases cognitive function.
  • It’s therapeutic, allowing you to step away from the daily grind and immerse yourself in nature.
  • Builds confidence in yourself and your abilities.

2. Get in shape

Before you lace up those boots and set foot on the trail, get to know your body and your physical condition, and don’t slather it on. Be honest with yourself. Do you have knee or back pain? Are you a bit overweight? How is your stamina?

Always start your adventure with your personal doctor. Tell them what you plan to do and find out about your physical condition. Be sure to ask them for advice on how to prepare your body for the adventures ahead.

3. Start with the basics

If you’ve never done a day hike before, start by walking around your neighborhood and gradually increase your distance.

When you’re ready to move on to something more challenging, hike to the nearest park or national park and do day hikes of varying degrees of difficulty. Again, start with easy trails and work your way up to more difficult ones, but be sure to do hikes that have something interesting to stimulate you, like a waterfall, scenic view, or history.

From there, it’s time to start doing easy night hikes. By the same process, prepare for longer stays in the woods. But before you can do this overnight, you need to get some basic gear and do a little more planning.

4. Equipment Basics

You have to remember that you will be carrying everything you need on your back. Many people give up backpacking after their first trip because they literally carry everything – cast iron skillets, large four-person tents, radios, etc. It’s no good and it’s usually the end of their backpacking adventures.

The idea is to find a balance between lightness and comfort. There’s a science to buying the right gear for your adventure – tents, sleeping bags, food, and more. pleasant and comfortable trip.

There are a few essentials that you really need to focus on. The first is water, a hiker’s best friend and worst enemy.

It’s a hiker’s best friend because drinking enough water while hiking is essential to staying hydrated and healthy. It is their worst enemy because it is very heavy to carry.

A good rule of thumb is to drink half a liter of water per hour of moderate activity at moderate temperatures. Increase or decrease the amount depending on the difficulty of the hike and the outside temperature. Be sure to add electrolytes to your water to help with hydration.

Do not drink any water source on the trail without first purifying it through a filter or with chemicals. Illnesses caused by waterborne germs like giardia are no laughing matter. Although it is treatable and rarely fatal, the physical toll it takes on your body is no fun.

Talk to the local supplier of water filters for your water bag or bottle. The essential magazine for backpackers, backpacker’s magazinemakes an annual review of the latest filters which will also help you make the right choice.

Always carry basic communications with you – a cell phone and a GPS. Cell phones are fine up to a point, but you’re never sure if you have a signal or not, and of course the batteries die.

Never use your phone as a GPS device. Again, lack of signal is the problem and can leave you stranded in the backcountry. It also drains the batteries quickly. Opt for a GPS device instead. Pricing starts at $100 for the basic Garmin GPS Map 64ST.

Even with a good GPS (and having learned how to use it), there is still one thing to know before your great adventure…

5. Learn orienteering

A GPS is good, but you can still lose the signal or the batteries can die. It’s a good idea to learn orienteering – the use of a traditional map and compass. Oh, and be sure to take them with you on your hike.

National topographic maps for anywhere in the country are available online from the US Geological Survey as well as local outfitters who can instruct you in the art of orienteering or guide you to someone who can teach you.

Campers stand around a campfire.
Author Joe is gearing up for a night on the trail with friends around a campfire.
(Photo credit: Joe Cuhaj)

6. Make informed decisions about your hike

As you can see, planning is key to a successful backpacking trip. But there’s more to it than just the gear you’re carrying.

Of course, you want to make your backpacking trip memorable and experience all that nature has to offer, but you have to know your limits.

Good trail guides and maps will tell you how difficult a trail is. But this is all subjective and usually based on the experience and condition of the author, which may not be the same as yours.

With a good trail guide like those found on AllTrails or an app, you can check the map and accompanying elevation gain to get an idea of ​​the kind of climbing you’re doing on the hike you choose. to do.

Also consider the length of the hike. Sure, the average person can walk 2 or 2.5 miles an hour on flat ground, but add climbing ridges and mountains and fording streams, and unless you’re in perfect condition, your speed will drop significantly and a shorter night hike may be in order.

Locate water sources along the trail before setting off. Are there many streams and springs where you can filter water? It will help lighten the load, but still carry plenty with you. You never know when this water source will run dry.

7. Be careful with the weather

Check the weather before you go. If severe storms are forecast, don’t take it for granted.

Hikers cross a wooden bridge in the woods.
“Do a day hike with your gear to try it out before doing an overnight hike.”
(Photo credit: Joe Cuhaj)

8. Last tips before hitting the trail

Never walk alone. I have a lot of hiking friends who go solo, but that’s not a good idea. Emergencies happen on the trail and having someone with you could mean the difference between life and death.

Take a first aid kit with you and know how to use it.

Wherever you’re going, let others know your plans – when you’ll be at the trailhead, what route you’ll be taking on the trail, where you’ll be spending the night, and what time they can expect you to return home.

Before spending your first night, consider doing a test ride of your gear. Load up your pack with everything you plan to take with you and take a day hike to a local park or state park. Walk distance. Is the bag comfortable or too heavy? Get the gear out and try it out to make sure it works and isn’t too hard to use on the trail.

And with that, you’re ready to lace up the boots, strap on the backpack, grab the hiking poles, and take your first backpacking trip. Good road!

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