The ability to backpack is a construction of medical fitness, physical conditioning and the type of backpacking trip, not age.
If you are a responsible adult, the first step is to see your doctor. They will be able to tell you what kind of medical fitness you have and will either encourage or discourage you from backpacking.
The second step is to assess what kind of trip you want to do. Do you want to go into the wilderness for 8 days and 60 miles? Will you be climbing 10,000 foot mountains or trekking across the desert? You will need to have stellar physical conditioning. The good news is, if your doctor says your health is good, you CAN do this. It just takes time and commitment.
If you have poor physical fitness and you want to do a physically demanding trip, get some help. Physical therapist, personal trainers, other backpackers can get you on the right track. Join a backpacking group meet-up and let everyone know you are new to backpacking. At least a few of them will graciously take you under the wing and help you get ready.
On the flip side, if you don’t want to train like a marathon runner but you just want to sleep in the wilderness, you can do that too. A one to three mile backpack trip on level ground with a layover night will get you into the woods for two days with plenty of energy to do day hikes. If you have never done a trip before, this is the perfect practice to test yourself and your gear, even if you are training for a marathon backpacking trip. You don’t want to get 20 miles in only to discover you should have gone with a smaller and lighter sleeping bag or that your water treatment sucks. Be smart. Practice first.
Learning how to backpack has never been easier. There are countless YouTube videos for backpackers, both seasoned and newbs. Backpacking classes are offered through sporting goods stores and through scouting organizations. I first learned when I went on a backpacking training trip with my daughter through the Girl Scouts.
The Sierra Club offers backpacking trips for beginners at an affordable cost compared to other outfitters. The benefits of going with an outfitter include increased safety and skill development. Sierra Club leaders carry a satellite phone and are Wilderness First Aiders/Responders. They will teach you backcountry hygiene, water treatment and cooking. You will develop hiking skills and develop bonds with your fellow hikers.
So what are you waiting for?
- Sierra Club National Outings – An organization with a cause. Explore, enjoy and protect. They have other trips besides backpacking.
- REI – A co-op designed to help you get outdoors. You can rent equipment to try out. You may hate backpacking after all.
- Goodwill – Yep. I go to thrift shops for backpacking and outdoor gear. This is the perfect resource for hiking clothes that are quick dry and are dirt cheap. I have never found a backpack or water filter but you never know.
- Fusion Craftiness – This article details cooking in the backcountry and answers your hot burning questions about water treatment options.
- Lip Smacking Backpacking – This a great book for newbies and seasoned backpackers alike. It has recipes and describes food systems. This is my favorite backpacking cooking resource.
- Homemade Wanderlust – My favorite backpacking videos are here. Dixie will inspire and teach you. She has a Youtube channel and website with loads of material. My favorite series is her Continental Divide trek.
Disclaimer – You knew this was coming.
Backpacking can be dangerous. There are wild animals that can hurt you, weather that will try to kill you, mountains that you can fall off of and dying of dehydration and hyperthermia/hypothermia is a real thing. You can get lost too. The good news is you can mitigate these risks through proper preparation, training and just don’t go alone. If you don’t think you can backpack safely, just don’t go.
Please see your doctor before going into the backcountry. Don’t be that guy, the one that needs heart bypass surgery and attempts to climb a mountain. Your fellow backpacking friends will either have to carry you out, wait for help or dig a hole. Other than that, carpe diem!