Backpacking: An Easy Guide for First Timers

By on October 8, 2013


This guide will go over the basics in hiking and camping overnight. It will tell you what you should bring, how to pack lightly, and provide some other really good ideas.

Before you begin reading you should know that part of the charm of camping is figuring out how to do most of these things on your own and finding which methods work best for you. But since you’re new at this, this guide will go over the basics.


Step 1: Planning your Hike

There are a couple of things you will need to do in preparation for your hike:

Plan where you will be hiking on a map

Choose camping spots where there is water nearby. This will be shown on your map as either a river or a spring, or some other source of running water.

Decide on tent partners

Decide in advance who will be sleeping in which tent. This is important so as no one is forced to sleep outside at night.

Plan out meals

Make a list of what your group will be eating for every meal.

Also, in preparation for your hike, check the weather forecast. Use the weather forecast to plan what sort of clothing to pack.

Step 2: Packing


Pack all of the following individual equipment into your backpack, and divide up the group equipment between group members. A general rule of thumb for backpacking is if you’re not sure you need it, you probably don’t. Pack larger items in the large main pocket, and smaller items in the smaller side pockets.  Doing this will make these items easier to access.  To create extra space in your pack, strap either a sleeping mat, a tent, or a sleeping bag, or a combination of these things to the area underneath your pack as shown to the right:

Equipment: What to Pack (Individual Items): Make sure to pack all of the following items.


A school backpack won’t do. You will need a hiking backpack. Hiking backpacks come in two forms, internal framed and external framed. They both have their benefits. External frames have a lot more space to them and have more pockets making them easier to pack and unpack. Internal frames however are more comfortable and have a snugger fit. However, they come with one big pocket, so unloading can be difficult. Hiking backpacks come in a lot of sizes so if you don’t have one, go by a trail store and get fitted.

             -Sleeping bag

In figuring out what sleeping bag to bring you’ll have to decide on a balance between warmth and weight. Pack the lightest sleeping bag that will keep you warm enough for the weather.

-Sleeping mat

Sleeping mats are crucial to a good night’s rest on the trail. They help cushion the ground and keep you warm.

            -Personal First Aid Kit

This is absolutely necessary for a safe hiking trip. It’s more convenient to buy these pre-packaged. However, if you want to assemble one yourself make sure to include band-aids, moleskin, aspirin, after bite wipes, antibiotic ointment, alcohol swabs, and tape.    

           -Water + Purification

Make sure to pack at least two liters of water. Nalgene bottles are great for this because they are both durable and easy to pack in your bag. Along with 2 Nalgene bottles, be sure to pack a filtration pump.


Any light flashlight will do. Before you pack it, test it to make sure it has batteries. A flashlight will do you no good if it won’t turn on.

          -Hiking Boots

Hiking boots will provide more stability than regular tennis shoes. They will also decrease your chances of getting blisters.

          -Mess Kit

Your mess kit should include a bowl or plate and a utensil

-Pack Cover

If you don’t have one, an oversized trash bag will work. Just cut out a large hole in the center for where your straps come out.

          -Bug Spray + Lighter

These two things go together: not only is bug spray helpful in repelling bugs, it is also helpful in starting a fire.


There’s no dress code on the trail. Pack clothes that you will be comfortable in and do not mind messing up.

Also, pack clothes relevant to the kind of weather forecasted for the trip. For hot weather, a cotton t-shirt and athletic shorts work just fine. For colder weather bring layers. As you hike you’ll want to take off your outer layers.  Depending on how cold it is you may need to pack multiple jackets along with a windbreaker. If rain is forecasted pack a rain jacket. Always check the weather forecast for where you’re hiking.

Equipment: What to Pack (Group Items): These items will not need to be brought by every group member but they will need to be brought by somebody. And for many of these items they will need to be split up among multiple people.

          -A lightweight tent

Before you leave on your trip, make sure everyone has a tent to sleep in. Decide who is sleeping in what tent BEFORE you leave. You don’t want to bring extra tents, as that is extra weight. Traditional tents can be very heavy, especially those made for 4 or more people. Ideally you should have a 2 man tent made specifically for backpacking, as they are significantly more lightweight.

          -A Hiking Stove w/ Fuel

A good hiking stove is a small cartridge stove that uses compressed gas. They are lightweight but you will need to bring fuel to go along with it. For cartridge stoves you should use either butane, isobutene, or propane.

         -A Cooking Pot

This should be lightweight but also big enough to contain enough water to cook with.


Bring all of the food that was planned earlier for your meals.

Step 3: Hiking


Set a pace that everyone in your group will be able to keep. The general rule of thumb is to only go as fast as your slowest member. Make sure to take water breaks often as it is very easy to get dehydrated while hiking.

Step 4: Preparing Meals


There are many different options when it comes to eating on the trail. All of it depends on how much preparation you want to put into cooking.


For breakfast prepare a breakfast item such as pop tarts or energy bars. However, by simply boiling water, oatmeal or grits are good options also.

Tip: A good way to minimize cleanup is to just pour hot water into the oatmeal/grits package itself. You won’t have to worry about washing pots or bowls.


For lunch you can also boil a prepackaged meal such as ramen noodles, but you’ll probably not want to bring out your stove at this time. Boiling water often takes up to thirty minutes using a hiking stove. The ideal lunch should take less than five minutes to prepare. Two good examples of this are cheese, crackers, and summer sausage or peanut and butter and jelly. Both are very convenient in terms of packing and preparation.


Depending on how ambitious you are you can bring ingredients for a full meal, or just go with ramen noodles. Another option is to buy prepackaged trail meals such as linguini alfredo and add chicken or clams, or other canned meat.  Keep in mind the only thing you’ll have to cook with is a small stove so you should plan for meals you can easily boil in water. Do not bring food that will spoil overnight.

Step 5: Setting up Camp


There are three main things you need to do in order to set up camp: build a campfire, set up your tent, and cook dinner. The order of doing these things depends on how close to dark it is getting. If there is only one hour left of daylight by the time you reach camp, cook dinner first. Cooking is the most difficult thing to do after dark. If you have a few hours, it really doesn’t matter what order you do these things.

Building a Fire

Most campsites will already have a fire pit. If not, make your own by clearing out a circle about four feet in diameter. The first step to starting a fire is gathering firewood. With a lighter, set the “kindling” (twigs and leaves) on fire. Progressively add larger and larger pieces of wood to the fire, making sure that the fire is not put out in the process. Don’t put wood on a fire that is larger than the fire can handle.

Step 6: Breaking Camp


There are a couple of things you will need to do before leaving camp in the morning:

Pack up everything you took out the night before and clean the campsite. Do this by picking up any trash you see. The goal is to leave the site cleaner than you found it.

Also, before leaving camp you will need to fill up your water bottles. Find the nearest source of water and use your water filter to pump water into your bottles.

by benpayne


About The Survivalist

Total bacon buff. Explorer. Survivalist Expert. Zombie Fanatic/Hunter. Internet Entrepreneur

One Comment

  1. mirriam

    May 3, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    my problem about camping out is finding the correct bathroom location. haha

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