A Beginner’s Guide To Wilderness and Backcountry Hiking Prep

Obviously, if you are on this page, you love hiking and want to level up from taking short hikes on your local trails and camping in established campgrounds with swarms of other people. Nature is calling and you must go, but being prepared can make the difference between an awesome adventure and a miserable time on the trail or even a deadly one. 

Below are some of the things to consider when you are deciding to graduate from day hikes to true wilderness and backcountry hiking. 

Planning Ahead For Your Backcountry Adventure

planning your backcountry hiking trip

I love a good spontaneous adventure as anyone, but when it comes to backcountry hiking and camping, doing your homework will literally save your ass and keep you from turning into a Missing 411 case file. 

Knowing what to expect, where you can find water, where campsites are, and so on will keep your trip fun and safe!

  • Visit the site for the park or recreational area you want to hike in and see if there are any news updates
  • Check to see if you need a permit. Many backcountry areas do for safety and crowd control reasons.
  • Get printed maps of your hike and plan your water stops and camping locations. Plan for covering 5-10 miles a day on your trip depending on the terrain.
  • Download a digital map and GPS program for your phone, and pack a power bank to charge it. 
  • Make sure to leave detailed trip info with friends or family in case something goes wrong.
  • Always take an emergency transponder. These will literally save your life if something goes wrong in the backcountry.

Planning What To Pack

planning backcountry hiking gear

When you are just doing a day hike, a couple of extra pounds in your pack really doesn’t matter. If you are going back country hiking and will be on the trail multiple days, having too much gear that weighs too much will really take the fun off things. 

The essential idea is to take exactly what you need. A loaded pack should not weigh more than about 20% of your body weight. This will minimize the risk of hurting yourself on-trail. 

Here are some things to consider bringing on your trip. Remember, just because it is hot during the day, it doesn’t mean the nights will be warm too, especially at elevation. 


  • Good quality, broken in hiking boots
  • Comfortable and lightweight camp shoes
  • Synthetic hiking pants or shorts
  • Long underwear
  • Synthetic or wool shirt
  • A fleece or hoodie
  • Rain jacket and pants
  • A warm hat/beanie and gloves


  • A sleeping bag or quilt suitable to the conditions
  • A good quality foam or inflatable sleeping pad (and repair kit!)
  • A good 3-season tent

Essential Items

  • A first-aid kit
  • Water filtration system
  • Headlamp and extra batteries
  • Two ways to start a fire
  • Duct tape or repair kit
  • Pocket knife or multitool
  • Digging tool for pooping in the woods

Eating Right In The Backcountry

backcountry meal planning and cooking

Water, shelter, and food are critical survival items, and eating right on the trail is an important consideration. You will be burning a lot of fuel carrying a pack and you need to replace that. Plus, not much beats eating a good meal in the middle of nowhere while you enjoy nature. 

Planning out meals for a hike is important but doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You can keep it simple and just get commercially prepared meals if you are doing a short trip, or save money and plan out and assemble all your meals yourself if you want to save money and have better dinners. 

In addition to the food itself there are a few things you will also need to make food prep easier/possible. Also, be sure to find out if you need a bear can. Many areas now require all the things might want to investigate to go in a bear can at night. 

  • Backpacking stove and fuel
  • Compact pot 
  • Cup or bowl for each person
  • Sponge and soap
  • At least 32oz of water storage


Leveling Up Your Skills

Going on a multi-day backcountry hike is not something you should jump into cold. Be sure you have gotten yourself ready for 2-4 days on trail, hiking with a fully loaded pack. Trust me, the second day of hiking, when your legs aren’t up to it, can be really miserable!

  • Do some preparatory hikes with a loaded pack 
  • Practice setting up your tent a few times
  • Practice with your stove and know how it works
  • Test out your water filter and make sure it works
  • Break in your hiking boots, make sure they fit, and don’t give you blisters
  • Brush up on backwoods etiquette and leave no trace principles
  • Learn to dig a cat hole (most people don’t)

Choosing a Destination

choosing your backpacking destination

Where you hiking depends a lot on where you live and how far you want to travel. From State Parks, to National Parks, Forest Service Land, BLM Land, and so on, there is lots of remote land all across the country to go wander in. 

When planning a backcountry hiking trip, you should consult other hikers, regional hiking websites, and even get some suggestions from local Facebook hiking groups on good starter trails to try out. 

Some considerations for your hiking adventure include:

  • The difficulty of the trail
  • Length of trail between stops
  • Is it out and back or a through hike
  • Trail conditions to be aware of

Final Thoughts On Backcountry Hiking

By now you will probably have noticed a common theme of plan ahead in this post. A backcountry hiking adventure and be an amazing adventure, but is inherently risky. 

Even a few miles from an established road, you are nearly completely on your own and in charge of your survival. Planning ahead and doing your research means you can relax a bit on trail, knowing that you are prepared for emergencies and have the thing you need to have a fun and safe adventure!

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