Hi friends!

While I've been an avid day-hiker and car-camper for years, I've just recently gotten the time and money to get into backpacking. I like to think I've got all the right gear and I've got experienced friends and resources that have prepared me so much, but with that, there are things you can only learn from experience.

I hope we're all aware of the ten essentials, listen to your body, bring paper maps, never skimp on water, etc., but I'm looking for something a little deeper than that...

So I beg the following questions: If you could take your first trip again, what's the one piece of advice you wish you'd known? Is there one piece of gear you can't live without? How can you physically and mentally get the most out of the experience? Deep down, what's the reason you keep getting out there?

Feel free to expand on those questions or not. Looking forward to learning from you guys 😊

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Fortunately , I started with day hikes, gradually more strenuous and demanding. thee yielded to overnights and then longer grips.  This was very compatible with jobs in wildfire suppression and my eventual profession of archaeology.  Early on, I was blissfully unaware of the potential dangers but I became involved in volunteer search and rescue.  This was the element most missing from my early experience.

A broader lesson, with application to other aspects of life, was the importance of good equipment and its proper use and care.  Knowledge and skill are thee most important things you bring on your trips, and they weight nothing.  Eventually the initial cost of proper gear is insignificant.

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

Make sure your boots are broken in. That means that your feet are broken in too - carry heavy loads on preparatory long day hikes, preferably uphill and downhill with load on prep walks.

Take care of your feet. You need them more than you realize.

Great question and very timely for me.

Like you, I've been an avid day hiker for years but I did my very first backpacking trip just a few weeks ago. So it's really easy to remember what I wish I had brought, and what I am glad I did bring, what I could have left at home.

What I wish I had brought - not a lot to add because I am an over-thinker and had my gear dialed in well before I left. But there are a couple items here:

  • A chair. It was a primitive campsite but the preserve did have a picnic table at each site, so I didn't bring a chair, knowing I could sit at the table. But after an 8 mile trek with a few thousand feet of elevation change to get to the campsite, I really wish I could sit in a chair and lean back. Sitting up at the table was good, but my back didn't get to rest until I laid down on the bench seat. Sitting in a chair would have been great.
  • Dessert. Yeah, I was really happy with my dinner and I did bring along a flask with whiskey and cigar for after-dinner, but I certainly could have enjoyed something sweet  after dinner.
  • More entertainment. After having read a few trip reports where people said it took anywhere from 4½ to 5 hours to get to the campsite, I decided to be on trail no later than 11 AM so I could get to camp, set up my tent, and eat dinner by 5 PM. I don't know what kind of shape those people were in but it only took me under 3 hours. Took me 5 minutes to find a spot and set my tent up, so by 2:10, I was at camp. I managed to amuse myself and enjoy my surroundings, but a deck of cards or a book would have been enjoyable, too. So I'll add something to that.

What I am glad I brought:

  • Not gonna do a whole load out list here, but I was happy that I downloaded a playlist. The sounds of the forest were beautiful, but as I was laying in bed, some relaxing meditation music helped me fall asleep.
  • Nalgene Ultralight Flask.
  • Trekking poles. Not only to help with the hike but there was a guy in the campsite beside mine who had a brand new tent and had never set it up prior to going on the trail. I saw him struggling with his tent so I went over to ask if there was anything I could help with. Because he hadn't even taken it out of the bag before arriving at camp, he wasn't aware that he needed trekking poles BECAUSE HE BOUGHT A TREKKING POLE TENT! I was happy I brought mine as I could lend them to him to set his tent up for the night.

What I could have left at home:

  • I bought the DJI OM4 gimbal for my smartphone with the idea of shooting some video. I was enjoying the trail so much that I forgot to shoot any video. Oops... LOL  So that was a pound of electronics I didn't use/need.
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“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

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

Keep your load as light as possible. Watch out for "just in case" items. After a few trips decide what is a luxury item that you're willing to carry.

For the weight, you can't beat a smart phone. Even with a backup battery, usefulness to weight ratio is high. I use mine as a gps, as a camera, and when I have service I use it to get weather forecasts. It's also a backup light, and, get this...... it makes a wonderful communication device!!! LOL (where I usually hike I have about 75% cell coverage). 

I only carry redundant items that apply to safety. Two ways to start a fire, two navigation methods, etc.

Hike your own hike!

 

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

Take a few short (distance and time...one or two night) trips before jumping into a longer distance multi-night trip to a remote destination so you can gain experience with your gear where it isn't as critical.  This also helps decide what works well and what doesn't, what is a must-have vs. never used (emergency gear excepted).

Also, before taking a longer distance, multi-day trip make sure you do a hike or two equaling your longest planned day and carrying your fully loaded pack. We had done many years of day hiking and plenty of shorter overnight trips with no issues, but when we did a "shakedown hike" preparing for our first longer trip we quickly realized the need to cut some serious weight (vs. our typical short trip load) and upgrade our packs to something that fit and carried much more comfortably.

As for why we keep getting out there...you escape the crowds and get to see the landscape in a new and amazing way that just isn't possible on a day hike!

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Get outdoors, stay safe, and happy trails!
Todd the Hiker

If you could take your first trip again, what's the one piece of advice you wish you'd known?

Fear is heavy, knowledge is light. Only bring those things you need, not the things that might come in handy. Keep looking for gear that is lighter that what you have or what you are going to buy. Lightweight backpacking is the only way.

Is there one piece of gear you can't live without?

Well, it's more than one. Silk socks and Band-Aid blister pads (forget moleskin the blister pads are awesome) are up there.  I'd add my Gerber paraframe knife (very lightweight), Platypus gravity filter and JetBoil along with my Eno hammock or Big Agnes ultralight tent.  My "must have" luxury items are a mini down pillow, a Snow Peak double walled mug and my coffee (Kuju pour-over packets or Mocha Gold depending on how long the trip will be).

How can you physically and mentally get the most out of the experience? 

For me, a large part of the experience is the food.  I primarily do freezer-bag cooking so I know what goes into my meals and know that I'll enjoy them.  Don't forget the honey buns to have with coffee.

Deep down, what's the reason you keep getting out there?

To remind myself that I can.

“The one piece of advice…”. - Slow down.  Its easy to get in the habit of bagging peaks, completing long hikes in record time, covering great distances and other measurable goals.  Its equally easy to miss much of what is going on in nature.  The outdoors can present exciting challenges of all sorts.  All of these are fun and sometimes worthwhile.  To really really understand the worlds you are entering into, you have to really just be still in nature for extended periods of time.  When you literally just sit in a place for several hours, or day, or more, then you really start to see the place.  The plants, insects, weather, animals, geology, patterns of day and night and the like start to reveal themselves. This is when you really disconnect from our normal patterns of achievement and being to see and experience the world you’ve chosen to spend some time in.  So in practical terms, consider building sufficient time into trips to just be in one place.  This may mean less miles, or it may preferably mean adding an extra day to the trip to spend time exploring one spot on your journey a little/lot more deeply.  Sure some trips will just be bagging a peak, but try to give yourself some trips where your goal is just to experience nature.  

“Take care of the earth”

Well said!  I know this is not a popular thing to say but leave the electronics at home.  I've packed for 32 years without any of that and not only survived but have had wonderful fulfilling experiences.  Even Cheryl Strayed agreed with me.  I met her at an event and told her of my quitting my job and backpacking for 6 months solo and asked her if she would recommend leaving the cell phone at home and she said "Absolutely".  We both felt so lucky to have done that long before all that was available.

Also my usual trips solo and with a group was 36 miles in a week in the mountains.  6 or 7  miles a day lets you really SEE.  Cannot imagine glancing at things in a 20 mile day and believe that is a better experience.  

 

People seem to have trouble, even fear, with silence.  Seems the mind has to hear music, podcasts, read books, chatter all the time.  We seem to have lost the essence of our nature....to be at home in nature.  Now more than anytime in history we need introspection and quiet to learn to be at peace, to be present without distraction.  Being in nature is in our DNA....hope backpacking can get people back to that experience.