Introduction: Backpacking Tips and Tricks

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Backpacking in the wilderness can be some of the most exhilarating and satisfying experiences of your life. A sense of wonder and curiosity, combined with heightened senses and just a hint of danger make it a habit worth getting addicted to. Nothing can replicate the satisfaction of being in the wilderness over an extended period of time, leaving the trappings of civilization behind.

There are many factors that can determine whether the trip will be memorable or miserable. Planning is essential. I have been backpacking for over 36 years, rarely going to the same destination twice, and have learned a few valuable tips and tricks to help make your trip a positive one. 

Step 1: Awareness of Hazards

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Read all signs at trailheads to learn about fire, lightning, bear activity, etc. Understand the distances you are covering and become familiar with your map. At all junctions, read the signs carefully and make sure everyone is together making the correct turns.

Step 2: Socks

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Using two layers of socks can substantially reduce your chances of getting blisters. A thin polypropylene underlayer, with a wool blend on top will be very comfortable. If you sense a "hot spot" of rubbing after a while, immediately put a piece of moleskin over the spot to absorb the rubbing and keep your feet happy.

Step 3: Boots

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Clean, condition, and waterproof your boots.  This will help them last longer and keep your feet dry.  You can clean dust off your boots with a damp rag.

Step 4: Warm Your Clothes at Night

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Many mountain mornings can be cool, even in the summer. Consider putting your next day's clothes in the bottom of your sleeping bag at night so they will be toasty warm when you put them on in the morning.

Step 5: Camp Footwear

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It's great to get out of you heavy hiking boots once you get to your camp spot. You will also want to spend time there and not always be on the go. An old pair of sandals or Teva's are great to wear around camp for swimming and lounging. Your feet will love you!

Step 6: Mosquito Net

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In the Sierras, mid to late August is a time when mosquitoes have mostly faded away, and your life will be immeasurably better for it. Try to do your backpacking trip during this time. However, if you must go earlier, or if it has been a wet year, a mosquito net will keep you from going insane. They tend to be mostly active at dawn and dusk, so if you had to wear one, it would probably just be during those times. This is my all-time most important piece of equipment!

Step 7: Mountain Pillow

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Use your sleeping bag stuff sack to create a comfortable pillow. Put a down jacket or other soft clothing items in your stuff sack. put everything inside of a t-shirt for softness against your face.

Step 8: Shade

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Pitch your tents in the trees to provide shade from the morning or afternoon sun, whichever you prefer. Or both!

Step 9: Water

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For unlimited and clean tasting water, bring a legitimate water filter. It's a bit of work each time, but you don't want to risk getting parasites or have to taste the iodine from tablets. Use two people so you don't accidentally drop the spout into the lake and contaminate it.

Step 10: Food Storage

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Some wilderness areas require you to store food in portable bear canisters or "vaults." They fit into your backpack, and you should include your toothpaste, sunscreen, lip balm, and anything with a scent besides your food when you close it at night.  They are kind of expensive, but you can rent them cheaply at ranger stations if you don't want to buy them.  They also make great seats!

Step 11: Reading

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Some folks enjoy sitting in the shade by a lake by a towering mountain and reading a good book. Consider bringing a kindle or lightweight paperback for you down time (my daughter brings massive "Game of Thrones" volumes, but what can you do?). Besides, it could rain all afternoon, so it's nice to have something to do for that possibility.

Step 12: End of the Trip, Part 1

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Have some clean clothes waiting for you in the car when you get back to the trailhead. What a luxury!

Step 13: End of the Trip, Part 2

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Have a nice snack waiting for you when you get back. If you are in a heavily impacted area, you might be required to store your food in a bear-proof locker.

Step 14: End of the Trip, Part 3

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Waste no time in finding a nearby river or lake to rinse off the trail grime. It's the best, most satisfying feeling in the world!

I hope these tips help your trip be a magnificent one!


Danger_Dolan (author)2017-10-15

I am a Boy Scout and have been for three years now. Me and my troop are going bAackpacking at red river gorge on November tenth. Could I get any advice for people who have hiked that trail? If you would be so kind, that is. I have hiked that trail many times before, but you all seem so experienced and the more you know, right? That would be great, thanks guys.

BoliviaBill (author)2016-08-29

Good tips. I'd also plan ahead so my waste generation is minimal. Don't bring along anything in its original plastic wrapping, if you're not going to haul all empty packaging out for proper disposal.

IngenuityAtWork (author)2016-08-28

Also, I love using my hammock, an ENO DoubleNest I think, when a tent isn't completely necessary. I made a waterproof roof from canvas and a waterproofing mixture of naptha (ie, Zippo fluid) and granulated paraffin wax. I leave my foam ground pad and sleeping bag in the hammock, and the roof doubles as a pack roll for it all. So I can set up and take down all of it in a few minutes, and don't have to worry about wet ground. Believe it or not, it's as warm as my tent.
Also purified natural water is the best I've ever had, no chemicals needed with my SweetWater filter that I've had for over a decade. Well worth the cost and I've replaced the element one time.

IngenuityAtWork (author)2016-08-28

Nice tips Ben!
A couple things I've found useful too: I swap my stock shoelaces for paracord, and keep a small container of small essentials-- compass, paracord, knife, flashlight, lighter, candle, meds, etc.-- on you at all times, wearing it as though it was a piece of your usual vlothing. It comes in handy when you want I venture out a little farther (and farther) from camp as dusk approaches, and provides some extra security in case you're separated from the bulk of your gear by choice or circumstances. I find that a surplus M16 mag pouch worn on my belt works well and I don't even notice that it's there. Also since most of my adventuring is done via kayak, it's very practical to have that one small piece of gear that can get my by, to focus on grabbing if I ever sink my boat or get dumped in current.

A.A2 (author)2016-08-28

Game of Thrones tomes: cut the book in half; tape a piece of good cardstock onto newly exposed side of each half--clear packing tape is super good for this; and voi-la! your tome is now a convenient two-volume read :) or three-volume, if you're crazy.

ben maisel (author)2016-08-28

Thanks for all the comments. I Appreciate the community of backpackers. Just had another great trip, this time to Lyons lake in desolation wilderness in California. Got a few new ideas to share. First, a friend of mine brought a platypus gravity filter, and I am a new convert. Just scoop up the water, hang it from a tree, release the valve and fill your bottle. No more pumping! Also, I have found myself bringing my cell phone and a small power bank or solar charger. I use my phone as a camera and download some books for reading during quiet times around the camp or in my sleeping bag just before I fall asleep. Keeping it in airplane mode usually allows it to last the whole time. Finally, I have made special efforts to find a creek or lake nearby the trailhead so we can all have a lovely rinse after hiking the dusty trail back to the car.

RaúlT5 (author)2016-08-28

I love it. We'd love have those kind of tourist here.

bonmom (author)2016-08-28

Always a good idea to check in with your local forestry station (close to most national forests, but can be found near other parks and areas). You can ask them about current conditions (fires, floods, animal issues, vagrants, campsites, trails) and any rules of the area (fire permits, camping only in certain spots, bear cans or stringing up food required, etc.). For example, Lost Coast requires knowledge of the tides as there is a 4 mile stretch than can leave you stranded or washed away if not timed right. They will also have maps if needed.

Take a compass and know how to use it.

Wear underwear that can be used to swim in and that dries quickly. My pack always looks like a laundromat as I walk along with yesterday's washed underwear in the breeze.

Have a list of things to bring and share with those in your group. Why would you need six stoves, 6 pots, and 6 first aid kits? Consolidating and sharing lightens everyone's load. I have a 2 person tent that I always offer to save someone else bring a tent as well. Otherwise my dog comes along.

Make sure at least 2 other people know where you are going, itinerary, and when you plan to be back. It is the buddy system that will alert help if you are not accounted for. I also leave a note in my car with my itinerary and timing.

And about the car - empty the dashboard and leave it open, and remove all other valuables from the car before you leave home. Leaves it less interesting for local crime. Forget the critters; they are just hungry! Keep a small stash of cash, car key, and credit card in small pocket in pants or backpack.

TysonT3 (author)2016-08-28

I agree with all of this except the boots. Lots of long distance hikers use trail shoes or sneakers if they aren't prone to twisting their ankles. They're lighter, more comfortable, dry more quickly, and you won't get blisters. A pair of poles are good too to prevent T-Rex syndrome and help with balance too.

stumpster (author)2016-08-28

I've been a backpacker for 53 years, and I still think this was a very good instructable! I especially like the idea of having a fresh change of clothes, and a snack that you might not find practical to stow in a back pack! Such an often overlooked, and very nice thing to come back to! I've never had a problem going out, or staying out, but always wonder, just why am I coming back?

CrayfishYAY (author)2014-12-23

Any advice for a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail? I'm sure I won't need books.

cbowers18 (author)CrayfishYAY2016-08-28

Thru-hiking in 1972, I holed up in a lean-to for 36 hours (2 nights) while Hurricane Agnes blew through. Nice to have a book to read while the rain poured down. Also in the evenings after dinner, unless all you're going to do is hike and sleep. And a spiral notebok and pencil (large notebook, 2 pencils) to record thoughts, write poetry, save names/addresses of people you befriend along your way.

jan.a.nerone (author)CrayfishYAY2016-03-20

Use a pack rain cover plus a large, heavy duty trash bag inside your pack (should fill the entire pack cavity, put everything inside). Put your most important items in dry bags as well. Staying dry is super important on the AT!

The other important things to know for the AT are not to pack too much food, as there are so many towns along the way, plus hiker hostels and other such places where people often leave food behind. Stay flexible and go with the flow. Take the time to talk to people - community is a really fun aspect of that trail.

-Philosopher, AT class of 2010

jvaupel (author)2016-04-21

So many good ideas--even for experienced camping enthusiasts! Thanks for sharing :D

GregS124 (author)2016-04-02

As a beginner, I made this mistake...Study where you are going, don't forget the distance, temperature and altitude...spend some time getting into shape, hiking at 11000 ft will take your breath away in more than 1 way!

AlessandraS6 (author)2016-03-22

Just one thought, be careful when you camp among/under big trees. Look for dead/dying/going-to-fall branches. Not a great way to be woken up at best, could kill you at worst.

thepantheonzaibatsu (author)2016-03-21

This is a great instructable! Thanks!!

I am an avid camper and I still learned some stuff (putting tomorrow's clothes in the sleeping bag! Genius!!)

Just one word of caution, 2 years ago in Ontario's Algonquin Park, I had a tin of homemade cookies waiting for me in my car for the drive home... When I finally made it to the car, i found that some vermin (chipmunks, I suspect), had found their way into the car and nibbled on EVERY SINGLE COOKIE! haha! These guys know where people park and have become fearless! :)

Happy trails!

wobbler (author)2016-03-21

I tend to suffer from blisters when I go on long hikes, but I found it helps by using rubbing alcohol applied liberally to the feet starting about a week before a couple of times a day. It also helps to harden off any blisters, although it stings like heck on broken skin.

I also found a pair of lightweight modern hiking poles to be incredibly useful and they really take a load off the legs and also help a lot when going downhill or uphill. I also double-up by using the poles with a tarp for creating a tent/rain shelter.

fasteddy999 (author)2016-03-20

aII GOOD tips

ooohlaa (author)2016-03-20

Excellent, thoughtful, teaches kindness to oneself as backpacker. Love the subtlety of your caring for self as camper during what can sometimes be very unexpected challenges.

sjohnston21 (author)2016-03-20

Thank you for these tried and true tips! As a newbie, each step is golden for me!

DDW_OR (author)2016-03-20

steps 2 & 3 are VERY important.

also having a backpack that fits good with a belt that goes around your waist, because you do not want all of the weight of the pack on your shoulders.

while at home lay all of the stuff you think you need onto your bed or table. then separate the stuff into two piles. what is needed and what you think you need.

cjp4627 made it! (author)2016-03-20

All sound advice for a beginner backpacker.

SparkySolar (author)2014-10-23

Thank you so much nfor this nice instructable

HelmutHound (author)2013-07-31

I have some questions, if you would be so kind. :)
I don't like to camp at most camp sites any more, because they are always too close to the city, or they have too many RVs and campers there with generators and air conditioners (not to mention noisy people -_-*).
So I've done some wilderness camping! It's more quiet, less busy, more relaxing, and just more fun!
I used to grab my pack and hike into the woods, but I've gotten into trouble a few times because it wasn't a "designated camp site" and the officer was worried I would be "eaten by a bear." He even tried to scare me by joking about "hatchet wielding drifters.". -_- SMH

Sorry for the long story, but can you help, or have any advice? Honestly to me, it's worth the risk, but I don't want to get into trouble, or cause any.

chokapi (author)HelmutHound2014-02-17

Backcountry camping is the best. But it's important to know your municipality's laws regarding setting up a campsite, which can be as simple as laying down a blanket or slinging a hammock. Where I live, primitive camping is allowed, but not closer than 50m from trails, or half a kilometer from high use areas like lookouts, lean-tos, and trail intersections.

If you live near a park with established trails, you're only likely to encounter other people hiking; RVs don't do trails. Search for a trail council or club in your area. They often have very good maps with trails outlined on them. Usually these people are of a like mind and are there to enjoy wilderness. Many parks have shelters, like lean-tos, that you can use for a night or two. If you go during the cooler months (I go during the winter, often,) you won't find many people out. And certainly all hikers are (or should be) off trail after the sun sets.

Read up on Leave No Trace principals. At its essence; 'Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures.' Some of the more, um, strident acolytes would have you shush away your footprints as you get back to the trail. I won't add any more to that.

The most important thing to remember, in my mind, about backpacking is that you are going out to survive in an inhospitable environment as comfortably as is reasonably possible.

HelmutHound (author)chokapi2014-03-12

Ah! Yes we don't have any 'clubs' of that sort around here, but there are a few of us that talk about it from time to time.

Mostly I like to travel out to other states and if I have a particularly spectacular year, maybe a different country! (that is very rare thought T_T)

Some of my best information has been gleaned from forums and state websites for parks, but I had absolutely NO IDEA you could camp near trails! I always heard it was forbidden, and rangers and officers always kept sending me to the 'official campsites,' where I would inevitably be stuck next to a noisy RV, or a bunch of people getting drunk -_-

So thank you very much for your advice! Do you have any websites that I could look at?

I completely agree that nature should be left unspoiled. It's a real shame what people are doing to the redwood forest these days (for instance) :,(

chokapi (author)HelmutHound2014-03-12

Start a group. If you're in school, start one there. If not, create a '' group looking for people of a like mind. Start simple -- day hikes, mixers; then find those one or two that like to 'get out.'

Or, do what many of us do when we can't find anyone to play with -- go solo. And if you're particularly brave -- try stealth camping. It's finding a place in your locale to spend the night undetected. Be prepared to lay down late and get up early...

If you plan well, it can be a lot of fun.

HelmutHound (author)chokapi2014-03-20

Ick :P
Although the idea is nice, I feel more comfortable alone in the woods, than having to go in groups with strangers. If you are alone and someone starts unzipping your tent, you IMMEDIATELY know they are an unfriendly. Because NORMAL people ask before entering someone's private tent.
In a group there are people who take unearned social familiarity with you, and may try to peak or sneak in on you.

I have been doing, and MUCH more enjoy your second option. But have run into problems with it (nothing serious as of yet), and I always make sure to police my area, so I've never had any complaints.
It is sooooooooooo much more freeing to be alone in the woods than to be tied down with a group, imho :)

Thank you again though, and if you do have any websites to suggest I still would love to take a look at them! Thank you!

chokapi (author)HelmutHound2014-03-21

I daresay that when you can find one or two people to enjoy wilderness with, it can be a lot of fun -- someone to play cards with when there's little else to do, someone to cook for, tell stories with. I'm not a big fan of groups, either, but have gone on numerous trips with people who share my mind about being 'out there.'

I frequent a website called They have a forum with some good people. Just pay attention to the number of posts a member has before taking any advice, there. Trolls visit, too. And I also advise not hopping right in making any posts. Look around, get a feel for the place, and then introduce yourself in the 'Trailhead Register.' Tell us about your region, experience, and a short gear list.

ben maisel (author)HelmutHound2013-08-01

I do wilderness camping all the time. Often times when we are driving to a backpacking trip it's late in the day and too hard to find a designated camping spot. We will just pull off on the quiet side road and hike in a short ways and set up a Minimal nighttime camp. Just make sure you have some food and water and leave fairly early in the morning. We try to stay off the beaten track where nobody will notice us or bother us. It's fun and I've done this many times. I don't really think it's much of a problem as long as you leave no trace. Good luck!

poofrabbit (author)2013-08-31

Just wanted to say congratulations on being a finalists in the Great Outdoors Contest! This was a fantastic instructable! Good luck!

darman12 (author)2013-08-31

These are some good tips; I will definitely use them. Thanks for sharing them :)

Reiff (author)2013-08-27

Where is that place, That has some good scenery.

Mrballeng (author)2013-08-07

Well done! I got to get out there.

burundanga (author)2013-08-05

Shade is good but always inspect the branches above to see if there are any that look weak enough to fall on your tent. A bit of wind could dislodge something big enough to cause damage and/or injury.

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