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Backpacking Essentials
For Beginners:
What You Need To Get Started

By Diane Spicer

Beginner backpackers, you need to read about these essentials to shorten your learning curve. #backpacking #backpackingessentials #hikingtips #hikingforher

Backpacking essentials for beginners means one overwhelming thing:

  • If you're just getting started, you have a vast array of gear to choose from.

But maybe it's too vast.

As in:

"Where do I start finding the best backpacking tips

to sort through all of that hiking gear?"

You're probably looking for an outline of backpacking essentials, and I'm just the woman for the job! I've been doing this since forever (1970).

Let's break these backpacking essentials into 3 "rounds" of backpacking advice:

  • the basics of gear and food (think backpack checklists)
  • staying safe and sane on the trail
  • hiking hygiene

Add it all up, and how to get ready for a backpacking trip will be not only manageable, but maybe even fun. 

Let's get started on the (fun)damentals.

Backpacking essentials for beginners:
food & gear

Think about your daily life based on what you did today: you accessed and enjoyed food & water, shelter, and comfort.

Now think about your first backpacking trip.

You're going to need those same things, except you're going to have to carry all of it (or use a llama, mule, horse, or trail buddy to help you).

Which means you'll need a sturdy backpack, and sturdy boots to help your body bear the weight of all of your food, water, shelter, and other gear.

First tip: Stick with reputable outdoor gear manufacturers.

Bare bones list of essential items
for backpacking

What you need are these backpacking essentials, in this quick list (click links for detailed information):

1. Food ideas such as freeze dried backpacking menus, and food selection tips

2. Cookware, plus a stove (unless you want cold meals & beverages for the duration of your trip)

3. More backpacking kitchen essentials

4. Water treatment equipment and transport

5. Backpacking tent

6. Sleeping bag and liner (or a backpacking quilt) and sleeping pad (backpacking sleep system)

7. Hiking boots + hiking socks (the dynamic duo)

8. Clothing suitable for climate and weather conditions

9. Backpacking backpack

10. Trekking poles

Don't forget mosquito repellent!

You might also need a bear canister or other bear resistant food storage option, depending on where you decide to backpack.

Is a teddy bear and pillow considered backpacking essentials for beginners?

No comment on the teddy bear, but a backpacking pillow could spell the difference between restless and deep sleep in your tent.

Grab a Hiking For Her backpacking gear list here.

Additional tips to dial in 
backpacking essentials for beginners

To dig deeper into gear and how to backpack, explore these ideas.

When it comes time to pack up all of that gear, read about packing a backpack.

An example of the detailed advice you'll find:

  • For a thorough discussion of how to pick the best backpacking sleeping bag, read this.

Read these 40 backpacking comfort ideas.

  • Take your time, and write down questions or concerns as they occur to you.

If you don't even know what questions to ask, use the search box at the top of the page to find information on this website.

  • Use the blue TOP button over there on the right

This is a journey of discovery - enjoy it!

Mount Rainier in background with rushing Nisqually River and rocksBackpacking essentials for beginners include finding, and treating, surface water.

Backpacking essentials
for beginners include tips on
how to stay sane & healthy

The best backpacking gear can only get you so far down the trail.

What's in your head is just as important as what's in your pack.

Backpacking is hard work, so take good care of yourself at the end of a long day of hiking with these backpacking wellness tips from Hiking For Her. #hikingtips #hiking #backpackingtips

Learning how:
backpacking essentials for beginners

A great time on the trail boils down to accumulating experience and lots of knowledge.

The way to gather those things?

Maybe you could start with a few simple overnight hiking trips or a long weekend, to give yourself plenty of time to develop a strong skill set.

Or cultivate friendships and trail time with veteran hikers, like in our Over Forty Hiker private community of female hikers.

Another idea is to take an REI Co-op class in your area.

  • It accomplishes two objectives: you learn about backpacking, and you meet like minded folks who can become trail buddies.

You can also go solo, but slow down and really think about that. Here are some solo hiking tips to get you started.

But there's one more essential ingredient for feeling great on your backpacking trip!

Backpacking essentials for beginners: hiking hygiene

What's that essential item?

Good hygiene!

Who wants to be crusty and smelly on the trail?

OK, who wants to be less crusty and smelly on the trail?!

If you said ME, read this.

  • Those detailed hiking hygiene tips for female hikers are going to teach you how to deal with dirt, sweat, grime and mud.

And don't forget to put together your own backpacking hygiene kit; it's easy with these instructions.

Keeping your dishes clean on a backpacking trip is also essential. You don't want to make yourself or anyone else sick. Here's how to wash dishes in the backcountry.

Beginning backpacker? Here are the essentials you need to stay safe and comfortable on the trail. #backpacking #backpackingessentials #hikingtips #backpackingtips #womenhikers #femalebackpackers

Please don't get overwhelmed :/

This is plenty of information to get you started on learning how to backpack.

As a beginner, please don't get overwhelmed by how much there is to learn.  Forty five plus years later, I'm still learning all of the nuances of how to backpack!

  • Take your time reading through all of this information.
  • Take notes on what you need more time to explore. 
  • Go hiking every chance you get, with all sorts of hikers.

Repeat this process over and over again.

Here's an extra dose of encouragement if you're testing the backpacking waters as an older backpacker:

A bit of nostalgia, to show you 
how lucky you are



Ah, those words take me back to 1970, when I started backpacking.

Essentials for beginning backpackers were really basic back then.

And females who wanted to backpack were as scarce as hen's teeth.

So for a motivated teenager (read my story here), learning how to backpack was simply a matter of trial and error with some basic hiking camping equipment:

  • a huge hunter orange backpack
  • heavy leather boots 
  • tarp and rope
  • a few cotton and wool clothes 
  • an old Svea gas stove
  • an aluminum canteen (I kid you not)
  • a pot to cook oatmeal & soup, and a spoon to eat it.

Thank goodness technology has gotten us to a much better (easier, safer) place for a newbie backpacker!

How to get on the fast track to
backpacking success

I'll leave you with these "Fast Start" tips:

1. Select the right hiking group and learn from the veterans.

2. Take low cost classes from local community colleges or a hiking organization.

3. Take the Hiking For Her How To Plan A Backpacking Trip course.

4. Find a willing hiking mentor and watch her like a hawk!

5. Find a hiking buddy and learn together. Your trail mistakes will make hilarious memories some day.

6. Explore the Hiking For Her website thoroughly, and send me your questions.

7. Join our Over Forty Hiker private community.

What's next?

This page has given you links to all the backpacking fundamentals you'll need to start as a backpacker.

Now you have to plan for a long term commitment to this wonderful sport of hiking. Here are a few more resources for you:

You might like to read these next

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Backpacking Essentials For Beginners