Though the concept of backpacking is simple (walk a ways, set up a tent, eat, sleep, repeat), there are a myriad of little things that can take your trip from good to great. Though there’s no replacement for simply getting out there to discover what works best for you, this list of tips and tricks will give you a head start on the path to backpacking greatness.
1. Get Real-Time Trail Info from Fellow Hikers
Learn from those who have gone before and ask people passing you about upcoming trail conditions, campsites and water sources. You may get insights about an epic hidden spot, a waterless stretch you need to be prepared for or advice about a confusing trail junction.
2. Pack Extra Maps for Good Karma
Just because you’re always carrying the Ten Essentials (right?), that doesn’t mean others are as well-prepared. Print extra paper maps and pass them out to those folks who inevitably ask, “Do you know where we are?” Who knows, you might be rewarded with some super-secret trail info (see Tip #1).
3. Carry a ‘Just-in-Case’ Kit
The best-laid plans of hikers occasionally go awry. Be prepared for those unpredictable moments with an easy-to-grab emergency bag so you can drop your large pack if necessary. If someone else is hurt and you need to reach the trailhead fast, keeping a fanny pack or other small bag packed with essentials like food, a space blanket, lighter, compass, multi-tool, small med kit and other survival items can make all the difference to a hiker’s well-being.
4. 1,001 Uses for Paracord
You may already wrap extra duct tape around a trekking pole so it’s handy for a multitude of uses. But how about throwing some extra cordage around the other pole? You never know when you’re going to need a clothesline, tent guyline, bear bag rope, shoelace, fishing line (use the threads inside the outer shell) or fire bow, just to name a few. This easy addition more than justifies its (minimal) weight.
5. Protect Your Water Filter from Freezing
Cold temperatures don’t keep most backpackers from hitting the trail. Just grab your warmest sleeping bag and an extra layer and you’re good to go, right? Not so fast. Make sure to weatherproof essential items like your water filter. Freezing can damage or crack the filter, potentially exposing you to nasty bugs in improperly filtered water. To keep your filter from freezing on cold nights, stash it (inside a durable, resealable plastic bag) inside your sleeping bag.
6. Put Your Bear Canister on the Spin Cycle
Even a few days in the backcountry can leave you with an eau de hiker. If you need a reprieve from the stench, or just want fresh(ish) socks the next day, turn your bear can or dry bag (turned inside out) into a washing machine.
- Remove food (hopefully this is obvious).
- Fill can partway with water and add a couple of drops of biodegradable soap, like Dr. Bronner’s. Careful, a little goes a long way.
- Add offending clothing, seal lid and shake vigorously.
- Remove clothes, scatter soapy water according to Leave No Trace principles (be at least 200 feet away from water sources), and refill with clean water.
- Return soapy clothes, seal lid and shake until clothes are thoroughly rinsed. Repeat with clean water as needed.
7. Car Clothes for the Win
Reaching the car at the end of your trip is always a bittersweet moment. On one hand, you’re back to the real world. On the other hand, time for beer and a burger! Make the drive home that much better by packing clean clothes and comfy shoes to change into so you can minimize that hiker scent (if you didn’t heed Tip #6, that is). Trust us, your fellow pub-goers will really appreciate it.