Backpacking Essentials
For Beginners:
What You Need To Get Started

by Diane Spicer

Meet Hiking For Her's Diane

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

Backpacking essentials for beginners.



Ah, those words take me back to 1971, when I started backpacking.

Essentials for beginning backpackers were really basic back then.

Learning how to backpack was simply a matter of trial and error with some basic hiking camping equipment:

  • backpack,
  • boots,
  • tarp,
  • a few cotton or wool clothes,
  • an old Svea gas stove,
  • an aluminum canteen (I kid you not),
  • a pot to cook oatmeal

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

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 best backpacking tips?"

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!!

Let's break this 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 manageable and maybe even fun.

Backpacking essentials
for beginners:
food & gear

Think about your daily life: food & water, shelter, 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.

Tip: Stick with reputable gear manufacturers.

Bare bones list of essential items
for backpacking

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

1. Food ideas such as freeze dried backpacking menus, and food selection tips and cookware, plus a stove (unless you want cold meals & beverages for the duration of your trip)

2. Water treatment equipment and transport

3. Backpacking tent

4. Sleeping bag and liner (or a backpacking quilt) and sleeping pad

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

6. Clothing suitable for climate and weather conditions

7. Backpack

8. 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.

And a backpacking pillow could spell the difference between restless and deep sleep in your tent.

Additional tips

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:
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.

  • How will you respond to trail stressors? Animal encounters, poor weather conditions, gear failures... these happen sooner or later to every backpacker.
  • What can you do to prevent a medical emergency?
  • Do you know the best approach to pacing yourself?
  • Can you get restful sleep on a backpacking trip?
  • How will you deal with insects?
  • Can you recall tidbits of outdoor lore to keep yourself amused or to feed yourself if your food supply is compromised?
  • Healthy hikers know lots of tricks - time to learn a few!

A great time on the trail boils down to good gear + lots of knowledge.

The way to gather those things?

Maybe you should 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.

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

More essentials:
hygiene for hikers

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.

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

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 years later, I'm still learning 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:

Fast track to
backpacking success

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

1. Join a hiking group and learn from the veterans.

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

3. Find a hiking mentor and watch her like a hawk!

4. Find a hiking buddy and learn together.

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

6. Join our Over Forty Hiker private community.

What's next?

This page has given you all of the fundamentals.

Now you have to plan for a long term commitment to this wonderful sport of hiking.

You might like to read these next

  • Hiking Safety: Female Hikers Need A Plan

    Your hiking safety as a female hiker is not a matter of luck. Plan ahead, head off unsafe conditions when you can, react appropriately when things go wrong with these tips.

  • Safe High Altitude Hiking: Know Before You Go

    Safe high altitude hiking involves smart decisions, conditioning, and staying alert to warning signs of altitude sickness. Be smart about preparing for high altitude hikes.

  • Solo Hiking Tips: How To Stay Safe On Any Trail

    The weather is great, your boots are itching for the trail, but your hiking buddy is out of town? Go it alone with solo hiking tips from Hiking For Her.

  • Lightning Safety For Hikers: Tips For Survival

    Lightning safety for hikers involves knowing how to avoid the problem, or how to minimize your exposure to the dangers of lightning. Use these survival tips to keep yourself safe in the outdoors.

  • Water Crossing Safety Tips: Best Practices For Hikers

    These water crossing safety tips should encourage you to plan ahead, stay in the moment, and make smart decisions when faced with how to ford a river or stream. Or maybe turn back, depending upon conditions, weather forecast, and your stamina levels.

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Backpacking Essentials For Beginners

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Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer.

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