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I Wish I Knew These 5 Things Before My First Backpacking Trip

I have always loved day hiking, camping with family, and any excuse to be outdoors.

But backpacking...?

I had wanted to try it. Drawing inspiration from my late-nights reading Backpacker Magazine as a teenager, I imagined myself on a trail for multiple days sleeping under the stars! Does it get any better than that?

Without anyone to go with or learn from at the time… I didn't know how or where to start.

Then, a friend asked me to come on a last-minute backpacking trip to Mt. Washington. I enthusiastically accepted the invitation without more than a second of consideration. That same day, I went to a local outdoor store and started throwing things in a cart. After all, I had never been backpacking and my gear was pretty limited.

Here goes nothing…

Woah, I could have used a little more guidance. Here are 5 things I wish someone would've told me before my first backpacking trip.

Light Weight Is Always a Good Idea

I bought a 2 person car camping tent for this trip, and although it served its purpose… it wasn’t quite what I needed for the occasion. Okay… At the time, I was a college student waiting tables. I do cut myself some major slack here. Price had been a big factor in my decision.

That aside, the weight difference in a car camping tent and a backpacking tent is a lot! Every ounce counts when you’re lugging it on your back up a mountain.

Weight Distribution Is Important

I carelessly stuffed everything inside on the morning of our hike without realizing there’s actually a science behind packing for backpacking. It’s all about properly distributing the weight in your bag. Makes sense and makes the weight more manageable!

There are plenty of helpful guides and charts online if you need a visual on how to properly pack!

It Doesn’t Have to Look Good

I borrowed my mom’s hiking boots rather than wearing the boots I always hiked in because hers “looked cooler”. Still true that she has better fashion sense than me, but this hike was about what would make me feel comfortable physically… not what would look good in photos. I paid for that choice in vicious blisters.

If you're looking stylish and put together in your summit selfies, you go girl!

Research Gear Before Buying

Big pain in my wallet…OUCH! I ended up reselling all of the gear I purchased to buy more practical items for my new found obsession. Lots of time. Lots of extra work. Lots of $$ lost.

Finally, I have accumulated a great set of backpacking gear, but I wish I went for the right items from the beginning!

It’s Not As Easy as Day Hiking

I can hike, so I can backpack. There’s so much truth in that statement. Backpacking is hiking plus some. There’s extra weight involved and an overnight commitment. The additional weight was a big challenge for me on my first trip.

I had never hiked with my backpack while weight was inside, so a challenging mountain mission was probably a little ambitious. I powered through, but boy do I wish I had taken a couple of weighted day hikes before going all in!

I made it to the top of Mt Washington for anyone I made doubtful.

(photo for proof!)

Emily is a freelance travel and outdoor recreation writer for hire. Samples of her published work can be found at

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