How to Prepare for a 2-Week Backpacking Trip if You've Never Been Before

Planning a backpacking trip? Follow this checklist made by Camping & Hiking expert Hannah K. and head on out. Welcome to the amazing world of backpacking!

Three backpackers make their way up a rocky trail on the lefthand side of the image. Extending beyond them is a green hillside with a bright blue sky above.

Photo by Dannii Coughlan

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For hiking and camping enthusiasts, backpacking is the next step in truly being able to experience all that the great outdoors has to offer. It can also seem daunting and overwhelming with the amount of preparation that goes into it. If you want to learn what not to do, read about my first thru-hike experience where I “sent it and regret it” because of the lack of prep work. Send it and don’t regret it by following these guidelines and checklist to make sure you have everything you need to stay safe and enjoy your time on the trail.

I also recommend that your very first backpacking trip is not a two-week trip, but maybe a simple overnighter for you to get a feel for what it is like. After your very first backpacking single-night trip, try a two night three-day trip, and then a four night five-day trip. When you feel comfortable, gradually add more nights and longer hiking days!

Choosing Your Trail

For your first backpacking trip, I recommend staying local or in a place where you may have been before so you get a sense of what to expect before you hit the trail. Maybe you have done sections of a longer trail and want to connect them together. Or maybe there is a beautiful trail an hour away from home that you have always wanted to hit. Regardless, stay local so that if you need to leave, you are close to home, comfort, and support.

Do Your Research

Research for your first backpacking trip will be the most time-consuming part of prepping because there are so many factors to look into. I recommend using AllTrails or HikingProject, as well as the state park/national park website to research the trail you have chosen. These websites and apps will have all the information you need to have a successful first backpacking trip. For example: 1. Season: Looking into the season you are hiking in, and thus, knowledge of weather is necessary. This will answer questions about clothes to bring and what temperature sleeping bag will keep you warm at night. This should also include any natural disasters (fires, earthquakes) that may have forced the trail to close. Look for closures or hurdles that may force you to go around the trail for a section. (For a first time backpacking trip I would avoid winter backpacking). 2. Conditions: Are there stream crossings I need to prepare for? How high is the water and how strong is it at this time of year? Is it possible for me to cross? Is there a fallen tree I can use as a bridge? What do I need to safely cross this stream (trekking poles)? 3. Bathroom Regulations: What do I do with my human waste? Do we bury it or carry it out? Each trail will have different regulations, so knowing what to do with your excrement is necessary to ensure the health of the ecosystem. 4. Dogs: Can I bring my dog? Does she need to be leashed or can she roam free? Not all trails are dog friendly so if you plan on bringing your dog along, make sure to choose a pet-friendly trail? 5. Campsites: Are there designated campsites or can I camp anywhere near the trail? Knowing if you have to camp at certain spots will alter how many miles you hike per day. If you can camp wherever you like, then you won’t have to be as strict with your mileage and can choose to stop if needed. 6. Water: Where can you refill water? Are there streams and rivers that I can refill my supply at or do you need to carry all your water? Is there potable water at the campsites? 7. Food Logistics: How long will the trail take you, how much food do you need, and are there places where you can resupply along the trail? Are there towns where you can go grocery shopping or post offices where you can ship boxes to?

This list may seem overwhelming, but answering these questions is crucial to staying safe on your backpacking trip. And we, your experts, are always here to chat and help out when we can!

Get Your Gear Ready

After you finish your research, it is time to gather the appropriate gear. First, think about your 10 essentials:

  • Navigation (compass, map, GPS)
  • Light source (headlamp/lantern)
  • Sun protection (sunscreen/hat)
  • First aid
  • Knife
  • Shelter (tent/hammock/sleeping pad and bag/quilt)
  • Extra food
  • Extra water
  • Extra clothes (always bring an extra layer)

Extra food and water are extremely important in case you need to adjust plans and end up staying on trail longer than planned. These are the 10 things you should have on every camping and backpacking trip, and arguably long day hikes in case your plans change.

Other things I include are your backpacking/camp kitchen. For this, a good stove and fuel, as well as your handy dandy spork, are worthy additions to your pack. I personally love the Sea to Summit Ultralight Spork that travels with me everywhere I go. The MSR Pocket Rocket Stove 2 Kit is another worthy addition that has been called the holy grail of backpacking stoves.

Finally, let’s touch on luxury items. Maybe you want to bring a blow-up pillow, a pair of sandals to wear around camp, or a book! Luxury items are different for everyone and can help make you feel more comfortable on your first trip.

Gear Weight

Another tip of advice, backpacking is less fun when your backpack is heavy. Aim for gear that is light, compact, and easily packable. Many long-distance backpackers are making the switch from tents to hammocks to save weight and space. I personally use the Nemo Hornet 2P Tent. It is lightweight, packs down small, and is perfect for my needs. I also use a lightweight air sleeping pad that packs down smaller than a Nalgene. I made the switch to a quilt recently to save weight and I love it!

Other things you can do to save weight are limit luxury items (you don’t need deodorant on the trail, I promise), cut your toothbrush in half (although how much does that really save), and resupply water on the trail instead of carrying it with you.

While some people are okay carrying 35lbs on their back, I prefer my 22lb pack and supplies! Your first backpacking trip should be about making you as comfortable as possible. While we want to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, being safe is the first step to enjoying the great outdoors. So, do what you need to do to feel safe and listen to your body!

A man stands with his back to camera and his head turned sideways so his face is in profile. Ahead of him is a downed tree and sunlit grasses. He wears a large backpack with a rolled sleeping pad attached.

Photo by Filip Havlik

Sharing Your Plan

The last thing I recommend doing before heading to the trail is sharing your plans with someone at home. Telling them where you are going, how long you will be gone, and even giving them notifications on the way if you can. That person will know to call emergency services if you aren’t where you plan on being.

A safety beacon or subscription service with an emergency button are great features to bring with you. All you need to do is press a button and help will be on the way! In case of injury or other external situations that may cause you to stop on the trail, a safety beacon/GPS will allow others to come help if needed.

So welcome to the amazing world of backpacking! Although it may seem daunting and overwhelming, it can truly change your perspective of the natural world around us. We see more, learn more, and experience more on our own two feet than we do at any other time. So follow this checklist and head on out!

Have any questions on the right gear for your needs? Hit me or one of my fellow Camping & Hiking experts up here on Curated and let’s chat about all things outdoors. We're happy to be a source of free, personalized advice and recommendations.

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Although I've been hiking for most of my life, I didn't start backpacking and camping until college when I joined the University Outdoors Club at my school. My first backpacking trip was ambitious, the Batona Trail in the Pinelands in New Jersey done in two days. To do that, we had to walk a maratho...

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