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Getting Started Backpacking - Advice?

Looking for advice.   It has been 30+ years since I have been backpacking.  I have got the bug to start again.  Im about 5 years away from retirement and plan on celebrating my retirement with a thru-hike of either the Ice Age Trail or the Potomac Heritage Trail.


I am going to try and do an overnight to a weekend trip every other month or so moving forward to get myself ready.   


I have the support of my 17 YO daughter who is planning on doing many of the trips with me.   


I am asking for suggestions on gear and trips (I live in the extreme West Texas area).  Trying not to spend to much at first but also don't want to skimp.


Any advice would be appreciated.


7 Replies

Critical items ar your boots and backpack.  Both should be comfortable and properly fitted.  Any problems will make your trip miserable.  Other gear will depend upon the climate and terrain in which you are roving.  Adequate shelter can be anything from a light weight tarp or bivvy sack to a four season tent, depending upon the environment.  Your cooking rig can be simple or elaborate, depending upon your preferences.

Experience should be your best guide.  Do lots of trips, gradually of greater length, especially if you desire thru-hikes.  Decide what gear you wish to carry and what you can do without.  pay attention to the Ten Essentials.  Do you have any first aid training? - there are no house calls when out on the trail.  Learn to use a topographic map and carry one always.

Have fun and enjoy life on the trail!!

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

Decide on your tent, sleeping system and cooking system first, calculate how long each sections is for how much food you will carry, decide on clothes....POINT BEING gather all that before you buy the pack.  That way you will know what volume size you will need.  There are lots of ultralight backpackers posting on Youtube raving about a 20L pack that may only be able to fit 15 lbs of gear and would never be comfortable with more weight.  Or you may buy a 50L pack that is way to big and you will feel the need to fill it with stuff not really necessary.

After about 25 years of backpacking with traditional gear carrying about 40-50 lbs I finally spent the money to get lighter newer stuff and and got it down to 32 lbs including food for 6 days and 2 quarts of water.  (Had to spend about $800 to do it).

The pack from 6 Moons Designs is no longer made but was reviewed to comfortably carry 35 lbs.  There are less expensive ways to have a reasonably lighter pack but I believe light does not necessarily mean comfort.  A well padded hip belt with adjustable internal stays, and a correct fit can make for a great carry.  So a DRY double walled tent can be had for 2 lbs.  Pack was a bit less than 2 lbs.  Don't skimp on the sleeping bag if you are a cold sleeper.  (Ice Age Trail is up north and could be very cold in fall and spring).

Closer to the trip order pack way ahead of time (if ordering online) to have time to check the comfort level and return if not right.

I got 7 more years out of my 'old' body and the research and money spent was well worth it.  I still used boots and never went to trail runners.....that is still a personal decision that will depend on a lot of factors.  Investigate and practice with footwear also. 

Happy Trails.


Wanted to add that I think 35 lbs for a week in wilderness is a practical goal for a flatlander.  I'm female and a cold sleeper and that worked for me.  (I'm also from flat Midwest.)  Perhaps different for a guy but either too heavy or too light is not safe nor comfortable IMO.


Thanks for the replies.  -  great info and a lot to consider


Other considerations:

1) What kind of food do you want/need? Some people eat Clif bars and GORP and the like for every meal and don't even bother with the stove. Others want "from scratch" meals and carry a full kitchen, it seems. Others get by with prepared meals that only require boiling water (but tend to be expensive). Figuring out where you are on that spectrum will help a lot with your planning.

2) How comfortable do you want to be? Personally I want to be warm and dry at night and to not wake up with an aching back the next morning, and I pay a bit for that privilege with a bit of a heavier pack. Also, I carry a small two-person tent even when it's just me, because I've never found an affordable one-person tent that doesn't feel claustrophobic. Fortunately there's a good chance you can rent a couple of different tents at first and decide what you really need before you plop down a chunk of change for something that doesn't really meet your needs.

While doing short trips with your daughter sounds like a great idea, I recommend finding a group to do some trips with, too, so that you can learn from others.



Get your gear you need first.  Then the backpack.  That way you can ensure everything fits.  I see people all the time trying to fit things in a smaller pack and then having to up size because they thought they needed the pack first....Also, one thing I did after I was sure I was doing the AT and maybe the triple crown was to get gear that would make it on those trails.  Watch a couple youtube videos of the trial you want to complete to get a feel for things you'd prefer on that trail.  Helps guide you on your selection. Enjoy 🙂 

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

@dgeorge94 Research, research, research!  The more info you gather, the smarter gear buys you can make.  In the budget spectrum between "Break the bank" and "Very Budget", I chose to go somewhere in the middle.  That way I spent more where I thought I needed it (and have a more enjoyable trip), and chose more budget things that I could afford to wait to upgrade later.  Also - invest in your sleep. Best of luck!