- I'll be your Guru -
If you've found your way to this page, you're probably asking yourself what to do next. Here you'll find a few specialized articles written just for you to get your feet wet with the idea of backpacking.
Backpacking doesn't have to be hard. The only hard part should be getting up to those hard to reach places and exerting yourself in the process.
How you get there and what you bring is the foundation of the process and if done correctly can make your life a whole lot easier.
Check out the articles below to get going!
Welcome to Better Backpacking!
I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am to help you get into backpacking. If you're an old pro, I'm even more excited to hear from you and the techniques you've learned throughout the years. For those new to the hobby, I want to tell you that I built this site with you in mind. I've spent time out there learning things the hard way and my hope is that you can learn from my mistakes.
The number one thing I want you to do is enjoy yourself. Backpacking doesn't have to be that overcomplicated task, in fact, it's actually very simple. It's the most simple way you can live and in doing so, it frees up headspace so you can focus on nature, your own internal thoughts, and the people you're with.
Backpacking is an incredible way to connect with friends and family. Sharing a sunset together or a swim in a lake that no one else can get to will be remembered for years to come. As you continue to grow and progress in backpacking, the places you'll go will be unforgettable. You'll push yourself and love every moment of it.
Welcome to the incredible world of backpacking!
At the far extremes of backpacking you have the crazy ultralight backpacker who counts every single ounce and and wears a pack that looks more like a school bag than a backpack while at the other you have the backpacker who is prepared for everything mother nature could send their way and possibly a nuclear bomb to boot. Neither side is right and neither side is wrong. It's personal preference so you have to decide which is right for you.
How you backpack is up to you. It's a personal decision and it should always be a personal decision. Just because something works for me, doesn't mean it will work for you. We all apply different methods to accomplish the same goals and while there may be better ways to do something, it doesn't mean that's the only way to do it.
As you build experience with backpacking, you'll find yourself changing your preferences. This is good! Continue to iterate and get better at the craft of backpacking. Work at finding a good balance between both quality of gear, weight, and functionality. Be intentional in your purchases and if it doesn't work, sell the item to someone for a good price and go out and find something that you believe will work better.
Throughout this website, I will tell you what works for me and what doesn't. If you like what you see, then great! If you prefer a different method, then great! The most important thing is that you enjoy yourself. If you're not having fun, then yes, you might be doing it wrong. The best part is is that you can always improve.
Types of Backpacking
You probably have this idea of an epic backpacking adventure and will settle for nothing less. That's great! Just don't count everything out just yet. I've come to love all kinds of backpacking, be it a quick overnighter or a 5 month long trek along the Pacific Crest Trail.
When I first got into backpacking, I thought I wasn't a backpacker unless I was traveling a dozen or more miles in a single trip, but that's totally not true. Everyone has their own preferences, time limitations, and reasons for being out there. I encourage you to go after what you think you might want to do, try it, and then try another kind to see what you like best.
If you want to get there to take pictures or video wildlife, then you might consider shortening your trips to 1-3 days. If, on the other hand, you want to cover miles and see mountains come and go in a matter of days, then try a 5-10 day trip. Either way, you're going to have a great time and there will be pros and cons to both approaches.
Through trying different types of backpacking, you'll come to learn varying techniques. Before I hiked the PCT, I never spent more than 4 nights out in the mountains. It was great, but I never learned the techniques of a Thru Hiker. Now that I have a long trail under my belt, I have applied what I learned from my Thru Hike to my regular hunting and backpacking trips. The result is a great balance of efficiency and comfort.
Explore different styles of backpacking. You'll be better for it!
Why Overall Weight Matters
Reducing weight increases stamina, endurance, and the impact to joints.
You might scoff at the idea of cutting toothbrushes in half and trimming unused lines off of a tent in the name of saving weight, but there's a reason why people go to such great lengths to save ounces. In an extreme example, if I strapped a 70 lbs. pack on your back and told you to start walking up that nearby hill, how far would you make it until you had to take a break? Furthermore, if I told you to hike with it all day long, what would you feel like after 4-6 hours?
On the flip side, if I tossed a 25 lbs. pack on your back and asked you to do the same things, would the outcome change? I believe it would and that's my point. Not only will your body thank you for cutting that weight, but you're going to have a much better time out there when you're traveling down a trail or through the woods hunting. We're out there in the wilderness to have a great time and there's no reason why we need to suffer more than necessary.
Counting ounces, trimming lines, and cutting things in half is how you achieve massive reductions in overall pack weight. Never EVER underestimate the value of a few ounces. Why? Because basic math tells you that ounces add up to pounds. You'd be shocked to see how fast this happens.
Let's say you can shave 3 ounces here, 4 ounces there, 2 ounces over there, and 3 more somewhere else. That's 12 ounces, nearly an entire pound! Don't look at the individual weight savings, look at the bigger picture.
What does saving a single pound of weight get you at the end of the day? Good question - it can mean the difference in your feet being extra sensitive, being able to power up that last hill to camp, or waking up the next morning feeling rested because your body wasn't working harder than it had to the day previous. The overall impact to your body will be reduced which in turn gives you increased endurance.
Never underestimate the power of saving a few ounces.
Choosing the Right Gear
Purchase purpose built gear!
Let's keep this simple. My best advice to anyone looking to purchase backpacking gear is to keep it activity specific. I've been down the rabbit holes of finding that perfect tent, shoe, or backpack that will do everything for me in one foul swoop and I'll tell you that it doesn't exist. Of course you can make anything work for what you're doing, but if you want your money to buy you happiness and the right gear, ask yourself what it is you're wanting to do with your backpacking adventures. After years of research and a silly amount of money spent on gear that didn't work for me, here are the top three questions I ask myself when buying gear.
What's my Purpose?
- Am I going to backpack in the snow? If yes, then I need to choose gear that is suited for snow adventures. While you can find a way to survive in the snow using a summer setup, I wouldn't recommend it at all whatsoever.
- Am I going to backpack mostly in the summer? If yes, buy summer weighted backpacking gear. If you think you might one day maybe try snow camping, then still buy summer gear because that's what you'll likely end up doing the most. In doing so, you'll be happier with your setup.
- Does this new backpacking adventure I want to go on require something special? If so, buy that thing on sale, used, or new because climbing a mountain in the snow with the wrong footwear will suck really bad. Again, I'm sure you can find a way to do it, but you risk not having a good time and if you end up hating it then you might never go again. Give yourself a chance to have the best time possible by either borrowing gear, renting it, or getting it used. Be specific.
How's the Quality?
- You don't always have to go with a name brand, but make sure you are purchasing gear from a company that knows what they're doing. There are big brands like Osprey who make great gear which can be found in most outdoor stores and there are brands like Exo Mountain Gear who are small operations that can't be found in stores. Whatever you do, just do your research and purchase from a reputable brand. They'll have better customer service, higher quality, and far better functionality.
Is there a Warranty?
- Backpacking equipment is expensive. Make sure your money is spent with a brand that will take care of you if things go wrong. Some brands have better warranties that others, so before you purchase, find some reviews online about the warranty and make your decision. Companies like Vortex Optics are known to have an incredible warranty that doesn't require receipt and that transfers from one owner to the next. As long as the Vortex item is a Vortex item, then you're covered. Understand the warranty and know what you're getting into.
Foot Care and Footwear
If your feet aren't happy, neither are you.
Let's just snuff out a common misconception that boots are required for backpacking. Boots are great for providing ankle support and stability while carrying heavy loads, but thanks to improvements in technology we've seen drastic reductions in the weight of our gear. A pack that used to weigh 8 lbs., now weighs 4 lbs. Materials are lighter and stronger and without much effort, you can easily attain a 35 lb. pack weight for 1-4 days of backpacking that includes food, gear, and water.
Boots were required to carry heavy loads, but since that's no longer the case, a backpacker can get away with using a comfortable trail running shoe instead. Long distance hikers live in trail runners for good reason. They're more comfortable, require no break-in time, and they're more gentle on the feet. Even backcountry hunters have made the switch to trail runners for their activities.
If you're a boot lover, I know how it feels to give a shoe a shot in the mountains, but I encourage you to try it out once to see how it feels. If you don't like it, you can always go back. If you're new to backpacking and you're confused on what footwear is right for you, just grab your favorite running shoe and try that out for a trip.
Unless you know you're going to carry heavy loads that require extra ankle support, most trail runners will do the job just fine. Having wore trail runners for a few years now, it is very hard for me to switch back to boots when the situation calls for it. The freedom a trail shoe gives you is second to none.
Lastly, if you are battling blisters or foot pain, try a different shoe. Go up a size to give your foot room, air your feet out and swap socks often, and do your best to keep everything as dry as you can inside and out. If you feel a blister coming on (feels like a hot spot), address it right away before it gets too bad by covering it with tape or a common blister prevention method (you can find these in any outdoor store).
Taking care of your feet in the backcountry is huge. Your feet carry you and do all the work so take care of them in return. Blisters and raw feet can get infected quickly and can be very dangerous and incredibly painful to walk on.
Search the Site!
Use the search tool below to search for content you might be interested in. Things like "backpacking," "hunting," or "footwear" will bring up various articles I've written on the subject you're searching for.