It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or where you’re heading in life, the chances are you’ve thought about taking off with nothing but a backpack for company on more than one occasion. Well, the freedom that such a getaway affords is irresistible, after all. There’s something inherently romantic about the spontaneity of backpacking; from the dreams that we’re sold as young travelers to the reality of the journey ahead, little else will beat the feeling of finally giving in to your sense of adventure. In fact, all this talk of backpacking is giving me itchy feet again.
If you’ve not yet managed to escape the daily grind for something considerably more laid back I’d urge you to do so now. Well, none of us are getting any younger, right? Perhaps the thought of heading out on your own with the world on your back frightens you. However, I’d like to take a moment to offer some reassurance. With the right kind of preparation any journey can become the most incredible adventure – if only you’d give it a chance.
So, what do you need to know?
Conducting thorough research
If you’re to enjoy your first backpacking adventure it’s vital that you conduct your research. Where are you going to be traveling, and what will the weather be like? What distances will you be covering, and how long are you away for? What local customs, and cultural differences should you be aware of? Backpacking is an excellent way to wander from the beaten track, but it always pays to know your stuff first. Now is also the perfect time to familiarize yourself with the routes you’ll be taking; are there any particularly difficult stretches? What obstacles are you likely to come up against? Ensuring that you’re physically, and mentally prepared for the road ahead is absolutely vital.
Hitting the shops
If you’ve never been backpacking before the array of items on offer can be overwhelming. Take a step back and breathe; these are your essentials. First of all, you’ll need a decent backpack, which will comfortably accommodate everything you’ve got to take with you. Next choose a tent and sleeping bag, which should be able to withstand localized weather conditions. Finally select camping and cooking supplies, and seek out clothing that will keep you warm and comfortable. Compression clothing, which offers support for muscles and joints, is a particularly good idea for this kind of getaway. A back brace for women is an especially good idea if you’re prone to injury, or suffer from recurring aches and pains; look for those with high ratings to be sure you’re buying the best.
Packing your bag carefully
Now that you’ve collected your essentials it’s time to get packing, ensuring you have plenty of insulating layers, weather-appropriate clothing, and enough food and water to last. A first aid kit, sunscreen, and insect repellent will also come in handy, as will a seasonal animal guide, navigational equipment, maps, and a GPS system, and a portable cell phone charger.
If you’re likely to be leaving the country or crossing any international borders be sure to have your travel documentation handy, and ensure you’ve acquired insurance before you set foot outside of your front door. Emergency supplies, such as a flashlight, beacon, and space blanket will also come in useful. Well, you can never be too prepared. Oh, and hiking boots. If you’re buying brand new hiking boots take a little time to wear them in before you leave on your adventure.
Staying safe while backpacking
Safety should be your priority, of course – particularly if you’re backpacking for the very first time. As well as thoroughly researching your route ensure that you’re traveling with someone who’s been there, done that, and got the t-shirt; or a friend who’s as keen on the great outdoors as you are. It’s important not to tackle difficult terrain, or wild trails on your own. Ensure you have plenty of warm clothing and provisions to last the duration of your trip, and always tell someone where you are going. It helps to have several pairs of eyes looking out for you at various checkpoints, and for someone to be able to raise the alarm if needs be.
It goes without saying that you should prepare yourself physically for the challenge ahead, undertaking a few practice hikes in various weather conditions if you’re able to. Building your fitness levels will ensure you’re ready to tackle all manner of obstacles, while increasing your enjoyment of the great outdoors. Above all, be sure to listen to your body, and to your instincts. If you’re beginning to get tired or start to feel uneasy, stop for a while and assess your situation. Where are you in relation to your trail map? How much further do you have to go? Take a look at the weather, and the obstacles you’ve yet to face. There’s absolutely no shame in turning back, or adjusting your route if you need to. Hey, you’re living the dream regardless of how you get there.
Backpacking is an incredibly rewarding way of seeing the world, but it isn’t without its risks. By taking your time to plan and properly prepare for your adventure you and your travel partner will afford yourselves all kinds of rewards and opportunities – and stay safe into the bargain.