We recently received a reader comment asking for more information about taking a first timer backpacking. I realized I have an old draft post on this very question! Right now may not be the biggest time of year for first time backpackers, but it is a time to buy gifts for these people. It may also be a good time to try out a new type of backpacking (snow backpacking!), so think about becoming a first time backpacker yourself!
Backpacking is the ultimate experience of unplugging, getting back to nature, and finding a sense of self-reliance that will stick with you forever. Even one trip is satisfying enough for lifelong memories, so the activity shouldn’t remain exclusive to those who are already experts. Introducing a friend, child, or significant other to backpacking is an amazing gift. Here are a few things to keep in mind that will help make the experience one worth repeating.
Provide your newcomer with a realistic description of the planned trip. Mileage, elevation, weather, and notable features of the area are all important things to prepare for mentally. Also provide him with a list of the items he will need to bring.
Offering gear to borrow can keep the idea of backpacking from becoming overwhelming, but make sure to lend gear that is a good fit for that person and the trip. Your newbie will be miserable in ill-fitting boots or a sleeping bag that’s not warm enough. A few thoughtful investments are worth it.
Choose a destination that is appropriate for the fitness level of the least experienced group member. Make sure this first experience in the wilderness is a great one, so there will be motivation to try it again (potentially with more challenges next time). Help your friend train for the trip by taking him on a few day hikes (in new gear) beforehand. Make sure he understands what he is getting into.
During the Trip
Long days on the trail can be tiresome both physically and mentally, no matter how strong and prepared you are. Keep each other entertained by playing trail games like “I spy” and “Twenty Questions,” sing songs or tell stories. If your first timer is having trouble keeping up with the pace, let him lead. It kills the spirit to get left behind, and the pace will likely still be good for everyone. Empower your newcomer with teachable moments along the way as well. Learning basic backpacking skills like reading the map, setting up camp, and decision-making will keep the experience interesting and prepare him for more independence on a follow-up trip.
One of the best things you can do for your first time backpacker is to surprise him when you get to camp. A game (cards, friendship bracelets), teaching how to make a great pillow out of clothing, or a special drink will make the whole thing worth it. It will bring the feeling of comfort and homeyness to a new place, and will likely become shared when that person takes his first newbie backpacking.
On my last winter backpacking trip in the middle of a 2-day snowstorm, my uncle brought Jello. He poured it into a water bottle and poured hot water over it. We drank the thick, warm stuff together around a fire we didn’t think we’d be able to start, and I can’t remember being happier outside. The leftovers got left in the snow overnight, and we had traditional Jello for breakfast. It was a great surprise. Here is the Backcountry Jello recipe and great story about that trip.
Have you been given a comforting surprise in the backcountry, or surprised someone else? Tell us about it in the comments below. Have a great trip, and Winter Solstice!