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Looking for tips and advice for my first backpacking trip.

Hello! I have been wanting to do backpacking for awhile now, and finally have an opportunity coming up. I would like to get some suggestions, and tips from anyone (as information never hurt when it comes to things like this.) I am planning a trip to spade, and venus lake in Washington (advertised  as a 2-3 day trip) however I plan to do a full week out there. I am accruing equipment, and so far have a good list going for what I need, but I am wondering what I should absolutely need, and things I may think I need but don't? I also plan to do a few smaller hike throughs in my area to sort of condition myself in that aspect, but otherwise I'm a healthy, well capable person. I would like some input from people who have first hand experience with it. Thank you!

10 Replies

Very broad subject.  Start with small steps.  Try out your gear overnight in your back yard or a car camping environment first.  You will probably make adjustments.  Then do an overnight  to an easy destination.

A week long trip requires careful planning to assure adequate, but not excessive, food and fuel.

The whole idea is to carry adequate gear for the conditions you encounter and keep the weight of your load within acceptable limits.  This is always a challenge.

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

WARNING: backpacking can be addictive! (lol), good luck, I'm sure you'll have fun.


waterproof tent, map, fire-starter, sleeping bag that matches the weather, rain jacket, headlamp, small first aid kit, a trowel, plus 'the 10 essentials'


hatchet, books, multi-tool, almost all extra clothing above and beyond a 2nd dry set


bury your tp/waste, stay warm and dry to prevent hypothermia

ps - take pix and post them here, or it didn't happen 😉

REI Member Since 1979

Leave the multi tool behind?  horrors?  I never go anywhere without my multitool.....


As you can see, there are different opinions regarding what to bring.....

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

I, too, am just getting into backpacking after years of day hiking. Here are some things I've found to be helpful so far:

  • Training - there's training for strength and for endurance. Both are important. For endurance, start doing long walks around your neighborhood or local parks. Unencumbered by a pack, you should be able to do 10+ miles with relative ease. Doesn't have to be non-stop or at a fast pace. I think "10" is really important because it's the first double-digit number to break. It's a mental thing. When I was first putting on long miles while day hiking, I would go for 6, 7, 8, or 9 but 10 just felt like it was too long. Double digit mileage when we first are starting out is the physical manifestation of our mental limits. We don't do it because we believe we can't. So break through that physical limit and you'll find you've broken through that mental limit. It's a huge feeling of accomplishment. Then start carrying a pack - even a decent day pack with several full bottles of water to get used to hiking under a load.
  • Gear - I assume you have your big three already? Pack, tent, sleeping bag. If not, get your bag and tent first, then get your pack. Go to your local REI or sign up for virtual outfitting and they can help you dial in the right pack. Between @hikermor  and @Philreedshikes  you've gotten some great advice (even with the conflicting theories on a multi-tool LOL). So all I'll add there is to feel free to carry a light(er) weight luxury item or two. Yes, you want to lighten your load as much as possible but you'll want something to keep the experience enjoyable. Maybe a pack of cards or a book. Me? My non-negotiable luxury items are the Nalgene ultra-light flask (for medicinal reasons only, of course), a couple cigars, my journal and a pen. I do have a new iPhone lens that I've not tried out yet because I don't want to carry my dSLR kit.
  • Fire stuff - I've been having fun playing around with... oops, I mean "scientifically testing" different DIY fire starting materials. I've settled on smearing Vaseline on those square cotton makeup pads, then rolling them up. They work well and are less messy  than cotton balls. I had to buy my own package of them after my wife started asking why I needed to use her makeup pads. She wasn't happy to learn that I was taking them just to light them on fire. HA HA. As I say, once a 12 year old, always a 12 year old.
  • Food - get your cooking kit sooner rather than later. Then start practicing with it. Even if you're only going to rehydrate packaged meals (ahhh, to be young and not worry about high blood pressure again...), you will want to get used to using the kit. Plus you should also figure out which meals you like and which ones you don't. Not all dehydrated meals are equal and with so many choices on the market now, there's no reason to bring meals that you dislike unless you don't try them first.
  • Coffee - I'll save the most important for last. Decide on your coffee-making system and, like food, practice at home where a bad cup of coffee won't ruin your entire trip. Okay, maybe I am employing a bit of hyperbole here but if I am, it's only a bit of it  🙂  I have both the Ultralite Java Drip from GSI (and really like it) but I also use the Aeropress at home and have decided that it's worth bringing it in the pack. Yes, a poor cup of coffee at the campground becomes a great cup of coffee just because of your surroundings BUT a great cup of coffee at the campground becomes spiritually transformative.

Lastly, the one thing I've found is that, although following the YouTubers has given me a lot of great advice, it's really easy to get sucked into the idea that, if you're not spending $600 on a 1.5 pound tent, $500 on a frameless ultralight pack, $600 on a down quilt that packs up to 4 cubic inches, and saving 6 pounds of weight by not carrying water but rather licking the dew off of leaves in the morning, then you're doing it all wrong. 

It will take time (I am finding myself) to totally dial in the gear you want to carry. Get what works for you, don't feel bad returning an item to get something different. 

“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.

Glad to see there's another twelve year old "scientifically testing"....Mutitool users, Unite!

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

Ummm...I am going to create a second controversy on this string.  I would not bother with coffee at all, and that weight savings justifies my carrying a multitool.  I know, I know...sacrilege.  LOL

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

In another post I wrote this for a beginner backpacker.  I think understanding hypothermia and keeping warm is the most important issue of safety, comfort and decision making on gear

Understand that clothes and sleeping bags are NOT WARM.  A thermometer in them would record ambient temp.  The key to keeping warm is regulating the source of heat=your own body.  There are 5 ways a body looses heat: evaporation, conduction, convection, radiation, and respiration.  Clothes will control several of those but the actual heat comes only from food and drink and conserving what heat your body can generate.  I think this is the most important thing to know about beginner backpacking.   


Congrats on planning your first backpacking trip! Spade and Venus lakes are on my list for this summer, too! When were you thinking about going? I've climbed Mt. Daniel a couple of times, always from the Peggy's Pond side, so I'm excited to see it from a different angle. The wilderness up there is incredible!

Since you're planning on going for an extended trip, I'd consider a few 'luxury' items that might help you spend the time soaking in your surroundings. An item like the REI Co-op Flexlite Air Chair can help you level up your backpacking experience while only adding a pound to your kit. It's pretty amazing how good a chair can feel after putting in the miles on a day of backpacking.

In addition to a stocked first aid kit, having the skills and knowledge to use your kit is equally important. This is particularly important if you are planning on a solo backpacking trip. Having First Aid training is great, a Wilderness First Aid course is even better. Personally, what I learned in my NOLS Wilderness First Aid is an invaluable tool in my backcountry experience.

If you'd like some suggestions of shorter backpacking trips to do to gain some experience before a long trip like you are planning, don't hesitate to ask. There are many to choose from in Washington state!

Hopefully this helps, thanks!

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

Hey John. I haven't yet selected a definitive date as of yet, ill be starting school full time in August, causing me to have to quit at my current full time job, so the plan is quitting a few weeks early to to this trip. Late July early August is the plan. I am not from the area, or even really near it for that matter (wisconsin) so this trip has been a huge priority for me to ensure I enjoy, and am prepared for it. With asking numerous people many questions, constant research, reading a map, constant walks with and without weight. I've done overnights before, but this trip has been in my mind since the very first time I saw it, so naturally I don't want to ruin it. I appreciate your input, I've actually been contemplating getting a chair, and that a very reasonable thing to carry for the potential confort.