1) Backpack with friends who have experience.
Always go with someone for your first national park backpacking trip. Not only will the "pros" show you how everything is done and can give you extra tips, but you will have great company. Friends can help show you how to pack your pack, give advice on lowering your pack weight, and encourage you to keep going when you your lowest. Friends give you support and someone to watch your back – a wingman or wingwoman! Backpacking with friends gives you people to share not only an adventure with, but an experience. So often when you get home from an epic national park backpacking trip, your other friends or family aren’t that interested in your adventures because they just can’t relate; your friends understand the excitement and bond that come from that trip and can help you relive that experience.
Tip: Talk to your friends about what you are most concerned with. They will encourage you and support you with your concerns, and offer solutions that are realistic.
2) If you have new gear, such as a tent, practice setting it before hitting the trails.
Use your living room, your yard, a garage - wherever you can to practice using your gear before you head into the National Park. Not only does practice make perfect but you won't run into any surprises while setting up camp. Setting up a tent a dusk in the woods, when everyone is tired and hungry, is not the best time to learn. Also learn to pack your tent up yourself when it’s time to head out, so you know exactly where each piece of the tent is, including the stakes.
Tip: Invest in a lightweight tent (under 4 lbs) and down sleeping bag (under 2-3 lbs) that will last for years to come. When you first start backpacking you can borrow or rent gear from people, but having your own tent and sleeping back creates your own “space” and comfort.
3) Only go for one night.
Going for one night will allow you to see what gear you will actually use versus what gear you think you'll use. It's a good time to get used to your pack weight without causing the usual hip bone bruises or shoulder rub. The first night hiking in you may have your pack set up a certain way, but on the way back, you can move items around to be more comfortable or organized better.
Tip: Keep your first national park backpacking trip to under 2-3 miles your first time. If you forget something, or get too cold you won’t be far from the car
4) Consider bringing a dog along
Whether you travel in a group or solo, having a dog tag along not only provides for companionship and entertainment, but also a sense of protection. Dogs will alert you of wildlife, or anything suspicious. They also provide for comfort when feeling down and warmth on cold nights. Find out if dogs are allowed in the National Park you plan on going to, and if they need to be on or off leash. Most National Parks have several restrictions on dogs, if they are even allowed at all. Keep in mind that some dogs get more nervous in a confined space such as a tent, and if he/she is eager to get out their claws can go right through a mesh door in no time.
Tip: Have your dog carry its own pack. The dog will feel like it has a job, plus he/she can carry its own food and dog poop bags.
5) Be prepared for Weather
While backpacking The Bright Angel Trail at Grand Canyon National Park, we hiked 19 miles in pouring down rain. This wasn't a little sprinkle - it was a full blown rain storm with thunder and lighting. I was very thankful I had packed the necessary rain gear to help keep me dry and comfortable. I was very glad I brought a second dry wicking t-shirt and long sleeve to warm me up after taking off the wet stuff. Always check the weather before heading out, and when in doubt, throw a raincoat, extra shirt, or beanie in your pack.
Tip: Always keep 1-2 packets of hot chocolate or tea in your pack to warm up.
About the Author: Alicia Baker is owner of “Girl on a Hike”, a blog that follows Alicia and her hiking companion, Charlie, a Golden Lab, on their outdoor adventures. She has lived in Utah for four years, and loves exploring everything from the High Uintas to the San Rafael Swell and desert. In 2016, she and Charlie hiked and backpacked 700 miles. “Girl on a Hike” has been awarded as one of the Top 100 Outdoor & Hiking Blogs in both 2016 and 2017. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram & Facebook @GirlonaHike.