One: Choose your team. If this is your first time on an overnight backcountry trip, it is important to consider with whom you will be experiencing this. While overnight in the backcountry can be some of the most fun you’ll have exploring the wilderness, the experience can often test your temperament and your ability to react to unpredictable circumstances. It can be beneficial to go with someone who is more experienced. They can share their knowledge from being in the field. However, keep in mind that in the backcountry, you are responsible for your own safety and well-being. Be careful not to rely too heavily on your partner. If you aren’t the only newbie in the group, great! You can all experience a wonderful first together. Whether you travel with a group of first timers or a seasoned pack of pros, the key is to communicate early and often about each member’s expectations and responsibilities.

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Two: Choose a destination. Deciding where to go for you overnight backcountry trip can be the most exciting part of the backpacking experience. It can also be the most confusing. If you’re starting from scratch, doing a bit of online research can help give you an idea of where you might be headed. Stopping by a wilderness outfitter to pick up a guidebook or chat with local experts are great ways to nail down the best trek for your trip. It’s helpful if you can decide what type of terrain you’re looking for (wooded, dessert, alpine) and keep in mind your ability level. Understand the millage you’re committing to and how your stamina can be affected by carrying a 30-pound pack. For beginners, a one- or two-night trip is the best way to ease into overnight backpacking. Once you’ve chosen a route, get your hands on a map of the area and get comfortable using it. Consider any necessary permits you may need to camp or have a fire in the area.

Once you’ve chosen a route, get your hands on a map of the area and get comfortable using it. Consider any necessary permits you may need to camp or have a fire in the area.
Once you’ve chosen a route, get your hands on a map of the area and get comfortable using it. Consider any necessary permits you may need to camp or have a fire in the area.

Three: Get in shape. Even if you are physically fit, overnight backcountry trips can require you to dig deeper than you have before. Before the big trip, prepare your mind and body with day hikes that challenge you with their terrain, elevation gain and distance. It may be a good idea to complete a few hikes with a full pack. This will help your body get comfortable carrying the necessary weight.

Four: Gear Up. To make sure you don’t find yourself up a creek without a paddle… or a stove… it’s a good idea to make checklist of the gear you’ll need for your overnight. There are many reliable lists online, but some basics to consider will be a tent, a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, water purification system, cooking wear, appropriate clothing and food. It’s also wise to include a first aid kit. If traveling in a group some items can be divvied up to lighten your load. While it’s important to be prepared, try and think light. Carefully consider each item you put into your pack and ask yourself if it’s necessary. An extra water bottle may take up unnecessary space if you’re packing a filtration system that can be used at water sources along the way.

Carefully consider each item you put into your pack and ask yourself if it’s necessary. An extra water bottle may take up unnecessary space if you’re packing a filtration system that can be used at water sources along the way.
Carefully consider each item you put into your pack and ask yourself if it’s necessary. An extra water bottle may take up unnecessary space if you’re packing a filtration system that can be used at water sources along the way.

Five: Dress the part. No matter what time of year you embark on your overnight backcountry trip, it is important to pack the right clothes. Avoid cotton clothing whenever possible. Whether it gets wet from rain, snow or sweat, it takes ages to dry and can cause problems. Dressing in layers can be a great way to keep warm or cool depending on the changing weather. Convertible pants that zip into shorts are a great idea. Whether rain or shine, be prepared for the changing conditions that come with the wilderness. Wearing the right footwear is also essential for any serious backpacking. With the added weight of your pack, having a supportive sole and secure footing is more important than ever. Investing in a good pair of hiking boots or shoes is a great idea – just be sure to break them in before your big trip. Blisters can really put a damper on the experience. If you have room, throwing in a pair of sandals will be a nice treat for your feet once you’ve set up camp.

Six: Meal planning. Keep it simple. Anything you can cook simply by boiling water is a great choice. Remember, you have to carry in anything you plan on eating. The good news is that your pack will be lighter on the way out. Save time and keep your energy up with high protein, high energy, ready-to-eat foods like jerky, trail mix and dried fruits. Whatever you pack, don’t leave it exposed to the elements or the animals. Many backcountry areas will require you to store you food in bear canisters or hang it out of reach.

Seven: Leave no trace. The wonderful part about trekking into the untamed wilderness is the natural beauty you are sure to experience. Help to preserve that for other visitors and generations to come by having fires only in designated areas, packing out all trash and being careful not to disturb native plants or animals. While you’re there, keep your noise level down. Enjoy the quiet and preserve it for others nearby. Remember, the wilderness can also be dangerous. Be ready to adapt to the unexpected in a world without cell phones, running water or do-overs.

Eight: Before you go. Days before your first trip, it’s smart to do a trial run. Get dressed in what you plan to wear on the day of your trip and pack your pack as if you’re heading out the door. Practice setting up camp – even if that means there’s a tent in your living room. Check the batteries on your flashlight, the supplies in your first aid kit and make sure your sleeping pad has no leaks. Make sure you to leave your itinerary and expected return date with a trusted friend back home. If you don’t return on time, someone needs to know.

Nine: Have fun. Keep in mind that is why you’re doing this. There may be moments when you’re wondering what you got yourself into, but take a deep breath, look at the beauty around you and enjoy where you are. Be proud of yourself for your willingness to explore the unknown. With the right planning, spending a night in the wilderness can be an amazing experience.

There may be moments when you’re wondering what you got yourself into, but take a deep breath, look at the beauty around you and enjoy where you are.
There may be moments when you’re wondering what you got yourself into, but take a deep breath, look at the beauty around you and enjoy where you are.
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