Whether it’s your first trip out this year or your first trip ever, here are my 9 backpacking tips — the simple, yet important things you can do before you leave home to make sure your backcountry adventure is as great as it can be.
1. Inspect your shelter.
If you have used your tent or hammock in the past and are breaking it out for a new backpacking season, take the time to inspect its seams, zippers, cleanliness and rain-shedding capability. Seam sealing cement, zipper lubricant and water repellant restoration spray are all readily available. My favorite of the latter is Nikwax Tent and Gear Solarproof Waterproofing Spray. Be sure to give yourself ample time to do repairs or treatments before your trip.
If you just bought a brand new (or new to you) tent or hammock, take the time to set it up and take it down a few times. The last thing you want to be doing is setting up your shelter for the first time in the dark or in pouring rain. Getting the routine down pays huge dividends on the trail.
2. Check your clothing stash.
Hiking clothes take a beating — particularly socks. The earlier you shop for upgrade or replacement gear, the better the chances of getting it at sale prices and/or in time for your trip. I always check the water repellency of my rain jacket by spraying some water on it. If the water doesn’t bead up and roll off, it’s probably time to treat it with waterproofing spray. If your jacket is too far gone, it’s a high-priority candidate for replacement.
3. Get your lighting ready.
Check batteries. Bring spares. I pack a set of fresh batteries for my Zipka Headlamp and carry one spare clip-on visor style headlamp that’s about the size of a quarter that I got at a promotional event (it’s featherweight and good insurance). Pack your primary headlamp within easy reach (I put mine in my backpack hood’s zipper pocket along with T.P. in a zip seal bag.)
4. Prepare Your Kitchen
While it’s not hard to find fuel canisters for my stove, it does require a side trip to get them — one I don’t necessarily want to make the night before a trip (or worse yet, making that trip only to discover they are sold out).
In addition to stocking up on fuel, I start planning my trail menu in advance. If others are joining me on my trip, I coordinate meals with them, so we don’t end up carrying excess food. Over the years, I’ve found that if everyone is responsible for their own breakfasts and lunches and dinners are planned and divvied up at the trailhead, it works out well. Fewer meals to coordinate means less haggling over dietary tastes or requirements to find solutions that everyone can be enthusiastic about.
5. Inspect your footwear.
An honest assessment of the condition of your footwear is probably the most important thing on this list. If another piece of equipment fails, you can often fashion a workaround, but if your boots fail, you can be in a heap of doggie doo. Make sure your boots have decent tread left and aren’t showing signs of seam failure or delamination. If you buy new boots, break them in before you hit the trail. If you’re shopping for new boots, check out my blog post on How to Buy Hiking Boots.
6. Assess your electronics.
How many gadgets you carry is, of course, personal preference. Because I carry a Go-Pro and cellphone, I make sure my software is up to date and have spare (empty and formatted) micro SD cards on hand. Especially important is updating my hiking (GPS) app and ensuring the trail I am hiking is covered. (As a related item, I make it a point to become familiar with the trail I am taking well before I start my hike. Knowing the terrain and ancillary side trails beforehand is just plain smart planning and helps you make smart decisions in the field.)
7. Check your first aid supplies.
Carrying rudimentary first aid items needn’t be complicated nor heavy. I clean out an old pill vial and fill it back up with a piece of Moleskin (for treating blisters), a few Band-Aids®, a pair of tweezers for tick removal (not shown in photo), a few pain relief tablets, some cotton swabs, and a small nail clipper. You can build and fine-tune a similar kit for your needs. Like my headlamp, I keep my kit in the top pocket of my pack for easy access. Separate, but important items to carry are sunscreen and bug repellant. You’ll find my on-trail suggestions for dealing with biting insects here.
8. Check your hydration systems.
If your water filter has a cartridge, when’s the last time you replaced it? Do you need to order a new one? Have you cleaned and sanitized all your filtering components (intake and output water sacks and/or water bottles)? If you use a hydration system (e.g., Osprey, Camelbak), it’s a good idea to give it a thorough cleaning (and drying) before you hit the trail.
9. Bring duct tape.
More years ago than I’d like to admit, I was shown a trick by a backcountry guide that I’ve used every time I hike. He wrapped about 18 inches of duct tape around a 3” x 1.5″ x .25″ piece of wooden lathe and tossed it my way. It weighed practically nothing. But that tape has been replaced many times over. I can’t begin to tell you how many trip-saving or trip-enhancing field repairs have been made — patching tent holes, splinting broken tent poles, strapping delaminated boot soles back together for a hike out to the car, etc. An alternative to wrapping the duct tape around a piece of scrap wood is to wrap it around your hiking poles (if you use them). However, I still prefer the scrap wood. It doesn’t leave gooey residue on your poles — personal preference.