Spring is finally around the corner which means that soon enough we will be swapping our skis poles for trekking poles and hitting the trails!
I enjoy winter just as much as the next person but there comes a point when the -40 wind chills can get the best of us and our overall stoke level diminishes. Lately, I’ve found myself hibernating indoors and plotting out which backpacking trails I want to accomplish during the summer season.
West Coast Trail, East Coast Trail, Tonquin Valley, the possibilities are endless.
Backpacking is an amazing way to experience wilderness, solitude, and simply explore. It is not surprising that backpacking is constantly increasing in popularity due to Instagram and other social platforms because it is just so dang awesome!
Backpacking is epic because it’s one of those activities that doesn’t require you to be an elite athlete to be ‘good’ at and enjoy. There’s no competition and the entire journey to your end destination is rewarding. All that to say, be aware that every backpacking trip is learning lesson and there will definitely be challenges especially during your first few experiences.
If you’re inching to get out on the trails but you’re new to backpacking, I hope this information will prevent you from making some common beginner backpacking mistakes and have happy trail experiences!
Backpacking Misconception #1: Opting for Hiking Boots
You might be skeptical and think ‘Hailey, are you crazy? I’m hiking, why wouldn’t I need hiking boots!’
I promise I’m not crazy and after a few experiences backpacking with hiking boots I promise the alternative is much better. I’m not here to give hiking boots a bad name by any means. There are TONS of amazing boots out there and under certain circumstances I do think boots can be the way to go.
Alternatively, it’s important to consider the weight of hiking boots. On average hiking boots can weigh 3-4 pounds versus a trail running shoe which generally weigh about 1 pound.
Personally, there’s nothing worse than carrying a backpack for hours on end whilst fighting to pick up my feet in heavy, clunky, hiking boots. I prefer trail running shoes over hiking boots under just about any circumstance. Trail running shoes are as light as they get, breathable, and quick drying.
‘But I’m scared my feet will be wet and what about blisters and ankle support?’
GORE-TEX is amazing and does keep water out in the short term. However, the short term is only, well, short term so when heavy GORE-TEX boots do get wet your feet aint drying for a long time.
Additionally, hiking boots and especially gore-tex boots generally aren’t breathable. What does this mean? It means that your feet will be sweating and your boots will hold in all the sweat. This will make your feet wet and adding additional weight. Also, when your feet are wet, they are more prone to blisters. This is why even a solid pair of broken in hiking boots will cause blistering after a day on the trail- no bueno!
Pro Tip: look for trail runners that are not GORE-TEX, I promise even if your feet get wet they will dry so much faster!
My top picks for trail shoes:
Backpacking Misconception #2: You Can Get Away with Cheap Gear
Most of us don’t like spending money if we can save money, I get that. Right off the bat let’s address the elephant in the room. If you want to have a good backpacking experience you need good gear, simple as that!
This means everything from your clothing to your pack to your sleeping system needs to be up to par. We aren’t car camping here so yes that means NO Canadian Tire tents and sleeping bags! Let me save you money by telling you to invest in quality gear right from the get go. It will save you from having to constantly replace cheap items.
There’s a simple formula to quality backpacking gear: light weight, breathable, comfortable. You will find these three words to be repetitive themes when you’re talking gear. All of your gear should meet these three requirements.
Take clothing for example, with a good pair of merino wool base layers, ideally, you can reuse the top and bottom for a week straight without them getting gross and stinky. This means you can pack less (lightweight), they’re breathable, and super comfortable. In contrast, cotton clothing gets stinky easily, and is not quick drying so you will go through several cotton shirts in the same time frame.
I mention the word lightweight more than anything because you really do need to consider this to be the most critical factor for backpacking prep. The grams, pounds, and ounces do matter. Weight adds up quick when you’re carrying everything on your back. I can guarantee that you will not have fun with a heavy backpack weighing you down even if you’re walking on a volcano in Iceland (been there done that!).
My Tips for Choosing Quality Gear:
- Look for LBC (lightweight, breathable, comfortable)
- Ensure the gear is durable and long lasting
- Make sure your gear can be easily packable
- Invest first in the essentials: get a solid layering system (base layer, mid layer, and shell before purchasing multiple colours, any ‘luxury’ or ‘nice to have’ items. It’s all about the basics when you’re starting out.
*See our article on insulation below
Gear to Especially Not Cheap Out On:
- Tent, Sleeping bag, Sleeping Pad (Read our couple’s sleeping system guide here)
- Base Layers, Mid Layer, Down/Synthetic Jacket, Shell
- Camping Stove
ProTip: If you really don’t want to invest money upfront, many outdoor destinations have a gear rental shop where you can rent solid gear for cheap!
Misconception #3: Hiker Hunger
Okay, this one can go one of two ways. You might think ‘oh, I won’t need that much food because I won’t be hungry when I’m moving’. OR ‘I’ll need so much food I’ll be so hungry all the time!’
Many backpackers either underestimate or overestimate how hungry they will be during their trip. Food is equally as important to consider when prepping for your backpacking excursion. In my experience, I almost always over pack food because I know my body and I get extra hungry when I’m doing physical activity.
Food for Thought
One of the worst things that could happen on a backpacking trip is running out of food. You definitely don’t want to be THAT guy that’s mooching off everyone else because you didn’t bring enough grub to sustain you.
My advice is to calculate how many calories you generally eat in a normal day and then calculate how many calories you’ll be burning on average per day. Pack enough food so that you’re don’t experience a calorie deficit or else you will lose weight (hey unless that’s what you’re after!).
Of course going back to my favourite word lightweight, ensure the food you’re packing is not overly heavy. Carrying cans of beans is a no-no!
You can get a decent dehydrator for under $100 at Walmart and you can dehydrate just about anything. I often make meals ahead of time and dehydrate them for my backpacking trips. Additionally, dehydrating grains such as rice and pasta is a great way to refuel on carbs without taking up loads of space and weight in your pack (bonus: this cuts down on cook time).
Supplements and powders are also a great way to go to add in extra calories and nutrients. I always pack a greens powder and protein powder (both removed from original packaging) and have a scoop of each per day.
Misconception #4: It Will Be Easy
Backpacking is not a walk in the park. Sure sometimes the terrain is nice and flat but this activity specifically takes a certain type of physical ability that many people underestimate.
If you work out at the gym and feel as though you’re in shape that’s definitely a bonus, however, it’s important to also have your endurance in check. I’m a huge advocate of weightlifting but squatting 150 lbs at the gym versus walking 25 km in a day with a 30 lb backpack at altitude are two very different things.
My advice is to incorporate endurance training in your workout routine. Get out on some trail runs, practice doing physical activity with weight on your back, and definitely acclimate before trying to take on a lot of mileage.
As I mentioned earlier, backpacking is not a walk in the park! There’s going to be days where it challenges you and you may question why you wanted to do it in the first place. Getting up day after day to walk all day long in the wilderness is certainly not for everyone and definitely takes mental strength! Give yourself some credit and keep pushing through because the journey will be so rewarding.
Backpacking Misconception #5: You Have to be on a Tight Schedule
This is a common backpacking misconception. I think this misconception stems from some sort of inherent primitive feeling that came with the sun rising and the sun setting (I could be way off here but just a guess). There’s only so many daylight hours when you’re backpacking. As the day winds down hikers often feel as though they should be further along and are afraid they won’t reach their target mileage.
Depending on your route and if you have designated campsites each evening, just remember that the whole point of backpacking is to reconnect with nature and yourself. Allow yourself time to enjoy the wilderness, have breaks, and take in your surroundings. Chances are you may hike that same trail again so enjoy the scenery!
You wouldn’t try backpacking if it wasn’t supposed to be fun right? So have fun! If it’s hot, jump in that glacial lake! Give yourself extra space to pack a flask of whiskey and some cards to play at camp each night. It’s easy to feel like you need to put your head down and ‘get it done’ but let’s not forget it’s the simple living that makes backpacking so awesome!
What are some questions you have about backpacking? Comment below!