Backpacking 101: a very basic guide

Welcome to the world of backpacking. Now get Out(side!)

 Looking out at McAfee Knob on the Appalachian Trail

Looking out at McAfee Knob on the Appalachian Trail

When I was growing up on the coast of California I was pretty much 100% sure I was never going to go backpacking. I didn't like hiking at all, I thought pooping outside was gross and weird and I definitely didn't want to carry a heavy pack for miles with everything I needed to survive in it. My Dad loved backpacking, and often talked about his trips he took as a kid. I marveled at the 50 mile trip he took with some fellow boy scouts in the Yosemite Backcountry. But it never really appealed to me. I watched my brothers go on trips with their boy scout troops and happily sat at home with my mom. Doing things like showering, and using a flush toilet.

I'm now a fairly accomplished backpacker, though I certainly still have much to learn, and many more miles to hike, and would never consider myself anything close to an expert. I have hiked over 1,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail; I have introduced many friends to the joys of backpacking through trips in the Sierra Nevada, or the Coastal Range in California, and I do spend as much time as I can on a trail. So what changed?

 Watching the sun set down Tuloumne Canyon in Yosemite National Park

Watching the sun set down Tuloumne Canyon in Yosemite National Park

Hike your own hike
— Every single thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail
 Hiking up Kirk Creek Trail in Big Sur (Ventana Wilderness)

Hiking up Kirk Creek Trail in Big Sur (Ventana Wilderness)

If you already love hiking, and are thinking about taking the steps to go further into wilderness areas, and open new door of possibility for exploration and enjoyment, backpacking is a great option. But I also have a secret that may help some people who think they could never, would never, give backpacking a try. 

 Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, Yosemite National Park

Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, Yosemite National Park

Hike your own hike. I thought that I hated hiking for years, because I was always trying to hike someone else's pace, or keep to someone else's itinerary. While this can absolutely work for some people, it does not work for me. I hike, but I hike slow. I take breaks, I like to bring a kindle. By making each hike my own, I found I could enjoy backpacking, and hiking. 

 Ohlone Trail in Sunnol Regional Wilderness

Ohlone Trail in Sunnol Regional Wilderness

A backpacker should have the gear, supplies, and skills that are appropriate for their objective and the conditions.
— Andrew Skurka

Backpacking culture is varied, but for the most part people are friendlier, and more helpful in the back country than in the front country. There are about a million different ways to backpack, and everyone has an opinion, but you have to HYOH, "hike your own hike" (read the article linked above on the "right way" to hike your own hike). You get to decide how much gear is too much gear, if you want to be ultra-light, or ultra-not. You get to decide how many miles you want to hike, and what kind of experience your comfort level allows.You should base these decisions on your personal ability level, and what will be safe for you. If you want to only backpack places with pit toilets because you aren't comfortable digging a hole to dispose of your poop, that's ok, there are options for you! If you want to get as far from the trail head as possible, and get to somewhere remote, there are options for you too! The most important step, is stepping out your door, and giving it a try.

 Near Mt Starr King in Yosemite National Park

Near Mt Starr King in Yosemite National Park