We recently ventured out into the Southern Colorado mountains for our first backpacking trip and it was amazing! Before going, we did our research and made sure we were prepared as possible. If you are new to backpacking too, here are a few things we learned and tips in case you are heading out on your adventure!
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Our First Backpacking Trip
A few weekends ago, we headed out into the San Juan Mountains for our first backpacking trip! This is something that we have been wanting to do for a long time, and we finally made it happen.
I have to say, I love the simplicity of backpacking! You take only the essentials, and set up is super easy when you get to camp. Plus, you are able to see some amazingly beautiful areas that most people don’t get to access with normal car camping! Only the ones who can endure a long hike with a heavy pack get the reward of this view…
Are you venturing out for your first backpacking trip? Here are some things that we learned and thought others would find helpful as well!
1. Find an Area With Easily Accessible Water
We picked an area where there was a flowing creek right next to the trail throughout the whole hike. This made it super easy to get water, which meant we didn’t have to pack in a bunch of heavy water!
Do the research in your area and ask around for some beginner backpacking trails. Water is a must and you don’t want to be worried about it during your trip.
2. Don’t Overdo Your Mileage on Your First Backpacking Trip
Just going a couple of miles is totally fine for your first trip! You can even hike in a mile or so, just so that you are close to your car in the event that something goes terribly wrong or you realize that you forgot to bring something essential.
This will also give you more energy for hiking/exploring the next day if you want to go a little bit further. You can always take your day pack which is much better than carrying a heavy backpack too far!
3. Bring Easy Meals and Plenty of Snacks
For your first backpacking trip, don’t feel like you have to get super fancy with your meals! You’re going to be too busy with other things to be worrying about cooking a gourmet supper. Plus, I am willing to bet you’ll be pretty tired after your hike to camp!
We took some Backpacker’s Pantry and Mountain House freeze dried meals. They are super light, high calorie and extremely filling. You are going to want to be sure you are fueled properly for your hike in and back. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai
- Backpacker’s Pantry Sweet and Sour Rice with Chicken
- Backpacker’s Pantry Summit Scramble
- Mountain House Chicken and Dumplings
- Mountain House Chili Mac
We also like to bring a variety of snacks such as nuts, beef jerky, granola bars, and other lightweight foods. I love these little peanut butter packets! They’re small and super filling.
And always bring extra food! You might be surprised how hungry you get and you should be prepared if you end up getting stuck somewhere for an extra night.
4. Tell Someone Where You are Going and When You Will Be Back
Just in case something happens! You will want to be sure that you tell someone from home where you are headed so that if you aren’t back to work on Monday, they will know exactly where to find you!
5. Invest In Good Gear and Clothing
This is probably one of the most important things that we did prior to our first backpacking trip! Now, I’m not saying you need to go out and buy a bunch of brand new high tech gear. There are lots of ways to rent and borrow backpacking items. But if you are positive that you are going to want to backpack frequently, I’d invest in your own lightweight gear! The investment is well worth it.
Below I have listed most of the items that we took on our trip. We did extensive research before purchasing any of these items and we were looking for things that were high quality, durable, lightweight and had an amazing warranty. Oh, and a lot of these products are from Colorado companies, but that’s just a bonus 🙂 Scroll down to see my gear recommendations!
6. Do a Packing Practice Run
About a week before we left for our trip, we laid everything out that we were planning to take with us and then did a practice packing run. This really helped because it allowed us to see if we had over-packed and if we had forgotten anything important.
Do a practice packing run to be sure you have enough space for everything! This will also allow you to adjust your backpack a bit so that you don’t have to do it at the trail head when you are eager to get hiking!
7. Watch the Weather
Check the weather where you are going before you head out. This will help you pack appropriately and you won’t waste precious space in your pack!
Also, if you are heading to a high elevation, be mindful of afternoon thunderstorms. Clouds roll in quickly and you don’t want to find yourself exposed to the open when a thunderstorm rolls in.
My Picks for Gear for Your First Backpacking Trip
Like I said above, we did a lot of research on gear because we plan to backpack much more in the future. If this is a one and done trip for you, then definitely rent or borrow gear! But if you’re in it for the long haul, here are some great recommendations for first time backpacking gear:
We bought a Marmot Bolt UL 3P, which is similar to this Marmot Force 3 person tent because it is super lightweight, yet roomy enough for us plus our dog! The reviews were great and said that it is durable and spacious.
We decided to go with a Big Agnes sleeping bag for our backpacking sleeping set up. One, because we have their two person Dream Island sleeping bag and LOVE it. Two, they have an amazing warranty and make exceptional products. And three, we love supporting a Colorado business, especially one that is based in Steamboat Springs where we used to live when we first got married!
This sleeping bag is super light weight and cozy. It includes a hood to keep your head warm, and an extra bit of fabric at the top to tuck your hands under. Plus, it has a slot to slip your sleeping pads into so that you aren’t sliding all around!
Clothing is SO important when you are backpacking. You want things that are lightweight, breathable, water proof/water resistant, durable, quick drying and warm. Whew! That is a lot to ask of a piece of clothing! If you are going to invest in some new things for your backpacking trip, I think clothes are well worth the money.
We’ve really dialed in our clothes recently and have bought a lot of pieces that are versatile for all of the outdoor sports that we do (skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, camping, etc.). For backpacking, do not bring cotton! You will want wool socks, shirts, long underwear, etc. for their breathability, quick drying ability, and insulating ability. Here are my picks for both men and women’s clothing:
Water Filtration System
Be sure to invest in a water filtration system that is going to last and will make getting water a breeze! We have two that we use but we took only the Grayl water bottle on this trip.
The Grayl bottle is great because each person can have their own personal water bottle and filtration system all in one! Its convenient and cuts down on weight. Plus, this is great for travel if you don’t like to drink hotel or airport water! It works just like a French press for coffee – super simple!
The Katadyn Hiker Pro filter is a nice option because it allows you to filter water quickly through a pump. It is compatible with hydration packs and makes them easy to fill plus, it’s extremely light weight!
Backpacks are tricky because you are going to need to find something that works for you. We ended up going with this Osprey Ariel 65L pack for me and this Mystery Ranch Stein 65L pack for Nathan because they have lots of compartments and loops for attaching gear plus, they both a have a detachable day pack for hiking around your campsite!
For your first backpacking trip, keep your meals and cookware simple. Bring some freeze dried meals, something to boil water in, a small cook stove, utensils, and something to make coffee if you enjoy that! That’s it!
We kept it pretty simple for our first trip and here is what we brought:
The “Extras” for Your First Backpacking Trip
Ok, so these are things that aren’t necessities BUT, they sure do make for a more enjoyable camping experience in my opinion!
First off, we bought these Big Agnes backpacking chairs and they are probably my new favorite item! They’re super light weight, and it’s nice to not have to sit on a rock or the ground at camp after a long day of hiking. But what I love most about these is that you can carry them anywhere. They are great to take on a hike and don’t take up hardly any space! So you could easily keep them in your car for convenience. One of my favorite purchases we’ve made this year for camping!
Second, I’d highly recommend bringing a lightweight down blanket if you get cold easily. It will make for a more enjoyable experience all around for everyone! This Rumpl blanket is great if you need something extra on you at night or if you get chilly sitting by the campfire. They hardly weigh anything and are another “extra” that is worth it in my opinion. We don’t have this exact blanket, but have something very similar and were so happy we brought it along (or at least I was… I get cold!)
Do you have other questions about backpacking in Colorado? Contact me or send me your questions in the comments below!
If you are interested in car camping, check out my Top Camping Essentials post!