Backpacking at twilight

Backpacking requires a fair amount of planning to be successful. Before you leave home, make sure you have:

  • All the gear, clothing and food you need for your trip.
  • Basic backpacking skills.
  • Any required paperwork (campsite reservations, wilderness permits, etc.).
  • Enough cash for emergencies.

This article will help you prepare.

Ready Your Pack

REI offers 2 popular gear checklists tailored to your backpacking style:

Backpacking Checklist

Ultralight Backpackking Checklist

Each list is intentionally comprehensive so you don't forget anything important. Not every backpacker will carry everything listed.

Leave an Itinerary

Before leaving home, give someone you trust a written copy of your trip plans. Include:

  • Your estimated time of departure
  • Names, addresses and phone numbers of all group members
  • Any medical conditions that may affect group members
  • Your vehicle's make, model and license plate number
  • Your expected route (including trailhead information)
  • Your expected camping sites along the way
  • Your final destination and expected time of return

Make plans to contact the person holding your trip plan when your trip is over (or at specific intervals during longer trips). Agree on a procedure for contacting the authorities if you do not report in by a certain time.

Leave a copy of your itinerary under a seat in your vehicle. If a search-and-rescue team undertakes a mission on your behalf, every second counts. This information may help them find you. If you change your plans, call your contact to give them the update.

Check Conditions

Remote mountain roads can be rough on passenger cars, so verify that your vehicle can handle the access road conditions that lead to your trailhead. Contact a ranger, park manager or a local for the latest conditions. Online resources can be helpful, too, if they are frequently updated.

The same advice holds for trail conditions. A little advance planning can tell you if your planned route is still snow-covered or may be off-limits due to fire damage or other situations.

Last, but not least, check weather forecasts for your planned route. NOAA offers nationwide forecasts that can be honed to very specific areas.

Permits and Fees

Possible required permits and fees include:

  • Trailhead parking pass
  • Wilderness permit
  • Campground reservation
  • Park entrance fee

Do the necessary research in advance to determine what is needed for your planned route.

Hike Smart

New to backpacking? Always make sure your party includes at least one experienced backpacker. Get this and other important tips in the REI Expert Advice article, Backpacking for Beginners.

All backpacking parties should plan for the unexpected "what ifs?" Those would include: What if I get delayed? Lost? Injured? Am I prepared to cope with that? Make sure that you are.

Navigation skills are essential. If you don't already own a compass, at least have an inexpensive beginner's model and learn basic map-and-compass skills. How do you learn? Two starting points:

  • Take a navigation class. Your nearest REI store regularly offers such classes.
  • Bring friends who really understand topographic maps and compass usage; earn all you can from them.

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