Hard learned rules for making the most of your time on the trail
For many the thought of backpacking brings up images of 100-pound packs, wildlife encounters, and remote rugged trails fit only for elite outdoorsmen and women. But in reality backpacking is one of the most peaceful and accessible ways to get out and explore the natural world around where you live. Sure, going in on the gear can be expensive at first, but buy right and you’ll be set for life. Learning the ins and outs of how to make the most of your time on the trail though, that comes with experience.
To help, we compiled an easy list of 9 hacks for better wellbeing while backpacking—handy for both novice backpackers and seasoned vets alike. Enjoy.
1. Eat Before You’re Hungry, Drink Before You’re Thirsty, Stop Before You’re Tired
The golden rule of backpacking. Be proactive. Backcountry travel encourages a heightened sense of self-care that many of us don’t apply elsewhere. Every half hour or so, ask yourself, “How are you doing? Are you hungry? When was the last time you drank water? Do you need to shed a layer? What about your feet—any hot spots?” That vigilance is necessary for us to do well in an environment that lacks modern amenities.
In our daily lives we often function on a sort of modern-world auto-pilot. We don’t self-assess because there’s really no immediate need to. When outside though, it takes time and energy to get anything done, so be smart and listen to yourself. I.e. don’t find yourself trying pump water late at night, cold and exhausted.
2. Drink a Liter of Water Every Time You Fill Up
Your tumtum is a container. Rather than carrying an extra liter (1L of water = 1 Kg = 2.2lbs FYI) in your pack, put it in your system right there on the spot. This saves you from carrying extra weight and keeps you on a baseline hydration schedule (refer to tip 1).
You’ll typically need to re-up on water twice a day, once in the morning after breakfast, and once in the afternoon or evening. If you drink a liter each time you filter, you’re putting at least two liters in your system a day. Holding yourself to that minimum is a great way of preventing dehydration from creeping up and gives you the most bang for your buck in the backcountry breaktime/benefit ratio. (Pro Tip: And if the option exists, take a quick dip while you’re at it.)
3. No Stupid Mistakes
As the day draws on, fatigue sets in, your pack begins to feel heavy, and you may begin to look for short cuts in your stride and foot placement. But the reality is that there are no smart short cuts. Slow and steady now. No stupid mistakes.
This is a fairly simple saying that should act as a parameter in your decision-making process—and something worth repeating to yourself the longer you’ve been out. Use it to mitigate risk—pay attention to what you’re doing! Don’t stand on the sketchy rock in the middle of that cascade for a sweet picture. Don’t walk the enormous dead fall out over some fast moving water on a dare. It’s just not worth it. Nature doesn’t care about you, and when you’re traveling through the merciless wilds of the world, it’s best not to do so with a fist full of dice.
4. Do a “Final Sweep”
An easy way to further avoid #3 is to do a final sweep of any area you rest at. After lunch, don your packs and sweep the immediate and surrounding area for signs of use. This is not only a good LNT practice, but it also prevents you from hiking six miles before you realize you left your food bag at the lunch site.
5. Wake Up Early AF
All great expeditions start before sunrise. So wake up already, would ya?! Seriously though, fishing, hunting, backpacking, mountaineering: all these require time to complete your objectives, and that means you’ve got to get going early. Plus, mornings are peaceful, meditative opportunities for you to set the tone for the day.
6. Better Over Than On
Super easy. Don’t step on things if you can step over them. Blow downs, rocks, roots, whatever—step on dirt whenever you can. Also, don’t baby your boots. Step in the water when crossing streams, walk through the on-trail slop; your boots were literally made for it, and you’ll help protect trails from unnecessary erosion.
7. Don’t Pass Up a Dope Campsite
Y’all probably think this is silly, but for all you square people out there, this is a lesson in flexibility. Weather permitting, don’t pass up a very scenic campsite just to make the planned mileage. Amazing sites can provide once in a lifetime experiences, so when universe serves one up--take it. Fortune favors the advantageous.
8. You Don’t Need That
If it isn’t a tent, sleeping pad and bag, stove, water purifier, rain gear, or one of the other 10 essentials, don’t take it. You’d be amazed what you can make do without—a guitar, for example. Don’t over pack your food either. There’s very little chance you’ll actually eat—or need—10,000 calories on an overnighter.
9. If You Have the Option to Take a Bigger Puffy, Take a Bigger Puffy
Nobody’s ever said, “Man, I wish my jacket wasn’t so warm and puffy.” While hiking, you’ll likely be sporting a light to mid-weight fleece, but at the camp site, you’re going to throw on your puffy and get into rest and relax mode. If forecasted temps land between ideal conditions for multiple jackets, go bigger. Weight vs. Reward ratios are always acceptable with puffies, so go nuts. If you’re going to be outside—you might as well have a huge puffy jacket to enjoy it in.
for more backpacking inspiration, check out our Photo Essay section