The Single Most Important Rule of Backpacking
BEFORE YOU GO!
Before you take one single step into the backcountry, it's important to know that backpacking is not black and white. Backpacking comes in a variety of styles and ranges all the way from backcountry hunting to long distance hiking (or Thru Hiking). Regardless of whether your hiking thousands of miles in a single summer, packing out an elk on your back, or just out for a quick overnighter, there's one thing you need to know about backpacking that will save you a lot of heartache.
Sounds simple enough to "hike your own hike," but I guarantee you that at some point or another you're going to compare your trip to that of someone else's. I personally did this for years and it resulted in me not enjoying those small moments in the wilderness that were all mine and no one else's.
"Hike your own hike" is a thing you'll hear long distance hikers say while on trail. It simply means to make your hike your own and enjoy yourself. When you begin comparing your gear, physical ability, and journey to a fellow hiker, hunter, or adventurer, you risk losing track of why you're out there in the first place.
A backpacking trip doesn't have a defined distance, elevation gain, or profile. If you're hiking in with camp on your back for any distance at all, then you're officially backpacking. Over time you'll become more comfortable and confident in the backcountry and when that happens your trips might look differently than they did when you started and that's all part of the journey!
Everyone has to start somewhere. If you're brand new and have no idea what the heck you're doing then don't worry! Do what you feel comfortable doing. If that means camping next to the truck at the trail head, hiking in a mile and making camp, or hiking in making camp then freaking out and heading home, then so be it! Each time you go, you'll learn and grow. You'll build upon your previous experience and before you know it, you'll be able to look back and see how far you've come.
My personal journey
On a personal note; I never thought in a million years I'd be able to hike more than 15 miles in a day without wanting to die. Furthermore, I never thought I'd have the chance to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada because I just didn't know how to do it.
After a few short years of learning, trial and error, and focusing on the basics, I was able to go after that goal of hiking just over 2000 miles of PCT in 2017 and I never would have done it if I hadn't started with a short trip into the woods for the first time all those years ago.
Before you buy a single piece of gear, hike a single step, or take a single picture, really think about this concept of "hike your own hike" because it's going to save you from yourself.
Learn to hike at your own pace, learn to enjoy whatever miles you end up hiking, and understand what you're doing out there in the first place and why.
Where to begin
Start small and work up to whatever big dreams you might have in your mind right now. Find your style, what makes you feel alive, and own it. If that means finding a quiet lake, stream, or view to camp next to then do that. If you want to cover miles and feel the feeling of exhaustion at the end of a long day then do that!
However you do it, just do it for you and hike your own hike.