Backpacking safety tips and best gear for enjoying the outdoors

While the past couple of years have been trying, at best, it has given us time to recognize, reevaluate and, in some instances, readjust the undesirable patterns we’ve fallen into. One benefit to our altered lifestyle is it has increased outdoor activities, such as hiking, backpacking and camping.

Although getting fresh air and being more active is a good thing, there are a few risks involved with outdoor adventuring. If you’re new to backpacking, you will benefit from a few safety tips and gear recommendations.

Hiking vs. backpacking

It’s normal to categorize similar activities into the same broad categories. It helps keep things simple and organized. Drawing and painting are both artistic pursuits, for instance. However, each has its own specifics that make it unique. Just like hiking and backpacking.

Hiking

Hiking is a vigorous activity. You walk along trails and often challenging terrains for purposes such as exploring, communicating with nature, getting away from the hustle and bustle, exercising or just relaxing. It can be done alone or in groups. And you can do it in a single day.

Backpacking

Backpacking is nearly the same thing as hiking. You do all the same things for all the same reasons. The critical difference with backpacking is it lasts more than a single day. Backpacking is a form of independent travel that carries all of your provisions with you on your back. It doesn’t matter if you sleep in a tent in the middle of the wilderness or you plot a route that takes you to a new lodging each night, both are considered backpacking.

Benefits of backpacking

Besides being an economical way to explore the world around you, there are many health benefits to backpacking. According to the Mayo Clinic, just the act of walking (without a backpack) can help you maintain healthy body weight, strengthen your bones and muscles, increase your energy levels, elevate your mood, improve your balance and coordination, strengthen your immune system, reduce stress and more. Additionally, backpacking is an earth-friendly activity. If done conscientiously, you will leave a very small carbon footprint behind.

What to consider before backpacking

If you are new to backpacking, before embarking on your first journey, be sure your fitness level is suitable for the activity. Hiking a few miles in one day can leave you tired and achy. If you are backpacking, you will need to repeat this activity day after day.

Before attempting your first multiday trip, check in with your doctor to get the thumbs-up. Then devote some time to building up your stamina with daily walks. Also, in the beginning, consider mapping out a route that has minimal miles to travel between stops and is on relatively flat terrain. As your body adapts to the activity, you can plot more challenging trips.

Safety tips for backpacking

Before you leave

  • Take a class. Consider taking a class or two on hiking, backpacking, wilderness survival, first-aid, or anything that will educate you on what to expect and what to do when backpacking.
  • Plot a route. Create a detailed itinerary of how far you will travel each day, where you plan to stop to rest and what your final destination is.
  • Inform others of your plans. Before leaving for your adventure, leave your detailed plans with someone who is not going backpacking with you.
  • Check the weather. The weather is constantly in flux. Check before you travel to make sure you are prepared.
  • Make a gear list. Don’t just hope you will remember everything you need to bring. Create a checklist days or weeks in advance to make sure you do not forget any essentials. Include all medications on that list, such as allergy pills or anything else you take daily.
  • Pack a first-aid kit. Pack a comprehensive but compact first-aid kit.
  • Bring bear spray. If you are backpacking through the wilderness, make sure to bring bear spray. It is the most effective way to stop an attack.
  • Bring a physical map and a compass. If you lose service or power, having a physical map and a compass on hand (that you know how to read and use) can be a lifesaver.
  • Create a backup plan. If there’s a problem, have a way out. This could be anything from an alternate route to packing an emergency beacon.

During your journey

  • Backpack with a buddy. While it isn’t unheard of to backpack alone, whenever possible, do it with a friend.
  • Stick to the plan. If you made a plan and informed others, stick to that plan. If you don’t, and something happens, you will be much more difficult to find.
  • Stay away from poison ivy. Identify and avoid brushing against all plants, such as poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac, that have oils that cause an adverse reaction.
  • Stay hydrated. Not staying properly hydrated can cause many problems, from headaches to fatigue and cramps. After three days, dehydration can become life-threatening.
  • Stay fueled. Without fuel, you will run out of energy. Eat smart to keep your strength up.
  • Be wary of strangers. While crime is rare on trails, it does happen. If you are alone, be cautious.
  • Don’t engage with wildlife. If you stumble upon an animal, in many cases, the best strategy is to not appear threatening and slowly back away. Do not run or start the animal.

Best gear for backpacking

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest 55L Backpack

This ultralight backpack has removable aluminum stays for rigidity. It is breathable, has a roll-top closure to keep out precipitation and has external pockets for items you need to access frequently.

Sold by Backcountry

Garmin inReach Mini 2 Compact Satellite Communicator

Garmin inReach Mini 2 Compact Satellite Communicator

You want to be prepared for emergencies. This compact satellite communicator has two-way messaging, an SOS and Traceback routing, so you can always return to where you came from. In tracking mode, the battery can last up to 14 days.

Sold by Amazon

Counter Assault Bear Spray

Counter Assault Bear Spray

When you’re in trouble, you don’t want an adequate bear spray. You want the best. This canister sprays up to 40 feet for eight seconds at maximum strength. It comes with a quick-access holster, so the spray is always within reach.

Sold by Amazon

Cascade Mountain Tech Trekking Poles

Cascade Mountain Tech Trekking Poles

These lightweight trekking poles are made of durable, aircraft-grade aluminum alloy. The cork handles add comfort, while the tungsten carbide tips provide secure trekking. Each 10.4-ounce pole extends from 26 to 54 inches.

Sold by Amazon and Dick’s Sporting Goods

Sawyer Products Squeeze Water Filtration System

Sawyer Products Squeeze Water Filtration System

Fresh drinking water is essential. This water filtration system ensures you will never run out as long as there is a nearby natural water source. It can filter out bacteria, protozoa and microplastics. It comes with a reusable 16-ounce, BPA-free collapsible pouch, two adapters, a straw and a syringe filter cleaner.

Sold by Amazon

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Allen Foster writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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