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Tips and Advice on Backpacking/Backcountry Camping

I am 30 years old and currently living in Southern Vermont. I would say the outdoor activity with which I have the most experience is snowboarding. I've been riding since I was seven and loving every minute of it. When I was a teenager, I used to take ski/board trips with my dad all over the place. We've been to Jackson Hole, Vail, Beaver Creek, Snowbird, Zermatt, and Arlberg. However, the craziest thing we've ever done was heliskiing about 60 miles out from Whistler Mountain in B.C., Canada. That was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience and I am so grateful I had the opportunity to do it!

Since moving to Vermont from New Jersey about eight years ago, I've also done a great deal of day-hiking. I've done pretty much all the popular day hikes in Southern VT; including hiking to the top of Killington, Pico, Stratton, and Bromley. I believe I am a strong hiker. Over the summer, I hiked about 11.5 miles with 3,300 ft. of elevation gain in just over five hours. 

Recently, I have been wanting to branch out into backpack camping. I have a little bit of experience with car camping, but growing up where I did in New Jersey, there was not a lot of good camping to be done. That said I have found that I love the outdoors, I love adventure, and I have a lot of energy. However, I do not have any experience at all with backpacking. I decided to purchase a backpacking tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. They're all lightweight and pack down very small. I figured that was a good place to start, but I was hoping to get some tips/advice/stories/insights/wisdom from people with experience. 

Thanks for taking the time to read this and I look forward to hearing from all of you!



18 Replies

Hi @PaulV77 - Welcome to the community! I live in northern Vermont now, but used to live in Killington. Seeing those peaks mentioned made me quite happy. There is so much great land to explore around there!

As you can see from the comments here, you've found yourself in a wonderful spot to learn from others passionate about the outdoors. The backpacking board has lots of information; if there are more specific questions that you don't find the answers to, feel free to post a new thread and get more conversations started.

With the Long Trail and the Appalachian Trail going through Vermont, there are lots of backpacking resources available, both for preparation and while you are out on trail. There are many shelters — simple, communal structures to sleep in — along both of those trails (AT Shelters and LT Shelters) that can be good reference point for making plans. Often times, even if there isn't room within the shelters for everyone there to sleep in, many hikers will put up their tents in that area as a place to share fires and chat with other backpackers in the evenings. Once you feel ready to spend a night out on a trail, you could choose one of those as your destination for an out-and-back trip. Having a destination planned out can remove some variables that come with finding an unmarked dispersed camping spot out on trails. 

We're excited to have you here in the community. Thanks for taking the time to reach out!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Thanks for having me! Vermont is definitely a great place to be if you want to get into that lifestyle. I've seen a good amount of the shelters along the AT/LT in Southern VT. I was thinking I would start by camping at those. 


 Compared to riding a snowboard at a resort, planning a backpacking trip opens up a whole new world of planning and logistics---  How far are you going?  How hard will it be to get there? How much food do you need?  Where is there water?  How will you make the water safe to drink?  What if it rains? What injuries can you treat on the trail? Are there going to be bears around? How will you deal with human waste?  How will you get back to your car? Do you need gear for some other sport in the backcountry like fishing, rock climbing or packrafting?  etc, etc, etc..   This is probably why backpacking especially appeals to detail oriented worry-warts such as myself.

You can think about it this way: If you had a daypack with a few basics-- a first aid kit, water, an extra layer, a mylar emergency blanket,  some granola bars -- you'd be cold and hungry, but basically fine even if you got lost and had to stay outside overnight.  So everything else you add to your pack is really just so that you'll be more comfortable.   The tradeoff for everything you take besides the basic survival gear is between weight and comfort.  Everyone seems to have their own idea about what is most essential for comfort.  For some people it's good food or a book or a fancy sleeping pad.  For me it's comfortable camp shoes. 

Depending on where you go hiking, there might also be rules, for instance about where you can or can't have a campfire, whether you need to pack food in  a bear-resistant container, whether you need a permit and such.   It's good etiquitte to follow the rules because  it helps keep the area nice and these days there are no undiscovered places any more. 

When you get out in the woods, talk to the other people you meet there.  They will have all kinds of good advice about campsites, side hikes, viewpoints and such.  If they are on their way out, they might even give you their leftover chocolate (just kidding.  There is never any leftover chocolate). 

I love how you break things down, hahaha! I am also a detail-oriented worry wart. As I said in my response to @MagicToolbox, I have been having questions about bear safety on the trail. I've been trying to find the best way ton safely pack food while still leaving a good amount of room in your pack. I was also looking for tips on how to make a bear hang.

I am not a fan of bear hangs - too likely to fail. A better bet is a bear canister.  Here is a good primer on bear protocols-

Proper handling of your food and similar stuff is a fairly important skill which varies from area to area.  At Channel islands National Park, there are no bears, but there are island foxes, which regularly patrol the campgrounds for food.  Fox proof lockers are provided as a result.

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Knowledge of local conditions is the most important part of getting out there. Discussion boards like this are valuable, as long as you are clear about what you are getting. I grew up in Central New York, I (used to) know a lot about snow and taking care of myself in the cold. But I have zero knowledge about avalanches. Talking with the people in the area that you hike - either on a discussion board, at an outfitter, Rangers at the park, or even other hikers who are experienced in the area is going to get you better info. Some places bears are an issue, others it's foxes. Bear spray/gel is a good idea to carry if you are in an area that has bears. I've done bear hangs and used Park provided bear lockers. 

We had longhorn steer decide to walk through two different campsites on a 4 day summer hike in Grayson Highlands this summer. No real drama, but they were definitely closer than I would have preferred.



Bear canisters are heavy and bulky, but some places are starting to require them. Bear hangs can be difficult to do correctly. But its all just skills that can be learned, or challenges to overcome - which is one reason that I like to get out there in the first place. 


@PaulV77 when you start to go on your overnight backpacking trips, I would recommend starting with trails & areas that are also "beginner".  Pick an easier trail that's closer to civilization.  That way you can gain skills can confidence, and then you can venture further out with more technical trails.


You have already received some good tips and advice and I will probably be repeating some of it. Start with a long day hike, something you know you could do in a long day but turn it into an overnight. That way, you know you can always bug out if you have to. If you are not yet familiar with Leave No Trace (LNT) principles, look into them. While they are applicable to day hiking, some of them specifically address issues related to cooking, camping, and personal hygiene. A lot of my day hiking and backpacking is solo. Do not be afraid to go it alone as long as you let someone responsible know where re going and what time you expect to be back. As far as books go, Rick Curtis has a good and well respected into to backpacking book, and there are several books by The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) that you might find helpful. Have you hiked up or around Mt. Ascutney yet? I do not know if camping is allowed.

aka "Boonerelli"

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

To add if you are looking at books (and there are many), I like Andrew Skurka's "The ultimate hiker's gearguide".  I have the first addition and might look at getting the second addition someday.

That is not the only one I have but certainly the one I can recall off of the top of my head.  And, I have read a good many of these and even some camping books.  This one (mentioned above) is probably the one I like a little above the rest (nothing against the others).