Ten Tips to Prepare For a Backpacking Trek

The first spring day that I can hike without my coat motivates me to grab my large backpack and prepare for a long trek.

Personal commitments prevent me from getting out in the back country until next month, but it’s never too soon to get ready for the great outdoors.

I blog repeatedly about my favorite suppliers and have a page on my blog dedicated to the resources I use entitled “Reliable Products for Sustainable Living,” (November 8, 2008, but continuously updated). This is a good opportunity to order items that need to be replaced. Most important, taking the following steps has ensured that my extended stay in nature is the fun side of adventure.


is a good start, but you need to think about what gear you plan to take including, sleeping bag, inflatable sleeping pad, tent, camp stove, fuel, food, water, clothing and other essentials.

Unfold your tent and check the seams. Make sure there are no tears in your sleeping bag, check your backpack frame and straps, test your camp stove, sharpen your knife and replenish first aid kit items. Make sure your clothing and shoes fit correctly.

Make sure you have the most updated maps. Trails may be rerouted due to changes in land ownership, severe weather or other reasons. It’s not unusual for unmarked trails to be overgrown or for new unmarked trails to be created. In many areas, trails that are navigable in one season may not be navigable in another season.

One gallon of water weights 8 pounds, almost 4 kilograms. If you do not have access to potable water, you either have to carry it or carry water purification materials. Add the weight of your gear, tools, food and items like a camera, journal, and cell phone – and it’s an easy 35-50 pounds or 16-23 kilograms.

Aron Ralston, the climber who cut off his arm to survive a fall, told interviewers that his biggest mistake was not letting anyone know where he was going. No one knew where to look for him. Cell phone signals are not always reliable, especially in mountains and canyons. Even the most experienced and careful outdoors person can get into trouble.

Nature is unpredictable. Once you get out on the trail, the planning continues. Make a mental or written note of where you find patches of edible plants, accessible water, and good shelter locations as you hike. The best way to stay out of a survival situation is to practice what you’d do if you were in a survival situation. If you have access to a wooded area, practice building a debris shelter, making a hand drill fire or twisting dogbane fibers into rope. You don’t have to master these skills, but knowing what is possible is often the difference between survival and disaster.

This may still not be enough, as I discovered on October 4, 1987, when the weather forecast for rain turned out to be 12-15 inches of snow. I had the right gear, but it was still a 3-hour hike down a mountain to safety. The danger in that situation was the snow-ladened trees had not dropped their leaves and when branches broke, the weight could cause injury.

Lighters and flashlight batteries are light-weight; it’s a good idea to pack extras. Larabars have no refined sugar, last up to 9 months, and are an excellent alternative when you cannot prepare food.

Study field guides and well-organized websites, so you have an idea of what lives where you will be backpacking. Wild edibles in season make a delicious supplement to purchased foods. In a survival situation insects and small animals that are easy to catch could be the survival difference. Again, you don’t have to eat them, but knowing what is and is not edible and having a general idea of how to prepare wild foods is valuable. I have fun discovering new foods.

In the back country you need to carry out what you carry in, so make sure you have a container that you can seal to avoid contaminating the other items in your pack. Biodegradable toilet paper is an alternative, but you will still have food wrappers and other products that cannot ethically be left behind.

Happy Trails.