Backpacking 101

If you like hiking, then you’re probably going to like backpacking.” The skinny and lanky guy with a scraggly sand colored beard told me.

We stood there together in the middle of the backpacking section in the Chandler REI store. Me, holding a maroon backpack in my arms, silently debating whether to buy a backpack or rent one.

And if you don’t like it…then you have up to a year to return the pack.”  He said with a sly smile.

“Good point.” I replied knowing that within in that split second, I had just decided to buy this towering oversized backpack.

Me and my towering maroon backpack. I named her Amy.

Going on your first backpacking trip can get your heart racing with excitement while at the same time racing for the fear of the unknown.

I mean, you are literally going to be hiking to a remote location that likely has no cell phone service…and who knows what’ll happen?! Will you have everything you need? Or will you need that one piece of gear that you didn’t think about and now you’re left stranded in the middle of nowhere?

Well, here’s the thing. You won’t know what’ll happen, unless you actually go for it!

“Alright, I’m down”, you may be saying, “but how do I do it?”

Great question! The first step to backpacking is acquiring some gear.

Main Essential Backpacking Gear

  • Backpack w/hydration pocket
  • Hydration bladder/w straw
  • Tent (or some other kind of shelter)
  • Sleeping Pad/Mat
  • Sleeping Bag & Pillow
  • Jet Boil and fuel (or another method for heating up water to cook)
  • Water Filter
  • Food
  • Water
The essential gear for backpacking;
First Aid kit, water filter pump, jet boil/fuel (for heating water), sleeping bag, mat and tent

This list is your main essentials or in other words, the core of what you need. (Of course, more items will be needed, but we’ll save that for the second lesson.)

For now, let’s just focus in obtaining the gear first.

You will need everything to be able to fit in or on your pack and you’ll need to be physically prepared to lug all this on your back throughout the duration of the hike.


How much weight should you carry?

Try to aim for 20% of your body weight. So, if you weigh 130 pounds, then you will want to carrying 26 pounds.  

Therefore, when buying gear or adding things to your pack, keep an eye on the weight.

Typically, the heaviest item that you will be carrying, is the water.

A 3 liter bladder of water, will weigh around 9 pounds. Also, account for more if you’re carrying extra water or other liquids as well.

After the weight of your water has been accounted for, deduct this from the 20% of your body weight, and that will be the amount of weight aimed for your gear.

So, in our earlier scenario of weighing 130 pounds with carrying 10 pounds of water it only leaves this backpacker with about 16 pounds remaining for their gear.

This is a great first step to take, in that it allows you to really horn in on the weight of objects and keeps that in the foreground of your decision making.

Decide Where to Go

Alright, now that you have your gear it’s time to decide where to go! If this is your first trip, you will want to play it safe. Stay on an easier trail, and find a spot that you know will have a water source.

One of the best spots for beginner backpacking to test out the fun is Sedona’s West Fork Trail. It’s an easier trail and you will have a constant water source, seeing as how this trail actually crosses through the Oak Creek several times. (Be sure to bring water shoes!)

West Fork Trail

In other blogs I break down all this information further and share some tips about backpacking. But for now, as a beginner we’ll just take it step by step.

The first step is to commit to making this dream of backpacking a reality by getting the gear needed and picking out an easy beginner destination.

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