So you found some eager backpacking novices who want to join you on your next adventure? That’s awesome news! I love introducing people to my favorite place in the world.. the great outdoors. BUT.. it is very important to make sure they have a memorable, enjoyable and SAFE first experience in the backcountry. It takes a bit of extra planning, patience and preparation when you have beginners join you on a backpacking trip. Introducing this experience to new people can be just as exciting as the adventure itself. Backpacking can certainly seem daunting to someone who hasn’t spent much time camping or doing outdoor activities. So here are 10 sure ways to prepare and show your friends (or whoever joins you) an awesome and enjoyable time.
1. Pick an awesome place: Cater the location of your trip to the interests of your backpacking companions. Do they love fishing or swimming? Pick a great lake or river venue. Are they into physical challenges or a good work out? Choose a hilly or mountainous location to challenge them. Any trail with great views and options for activities to keep things exciting is a good starter trip for beginners. Check out my other blog posts for manageable trip ideas near you!
2. Backcountry Chef: Hiking makes for hungry people. Hungry people appreciate good food. Having tasty meals planned keeps people walking to camp for dinner when their feet are killing them! Everyone stays full, warm and happy. With some creative thinking, backpacking food can be more than just freeze-dried meals and granola bars. Who wouldn’t be stoked for chocolate chip pancakes or cheesy-bacon spuds after a long day’s hike? It takes a bit of extra planning, prep and weight in your pack, but for short trips, it’s totally worth it. Have everyone get involved in meal prep and cooking so they can see how easy and wonderful it is to indulge in a great camp meal.
3. Show off your backcountry MacGyver skills: Impress your friends with backcountry knowledge and skills. Not only will it make them feel safe with you, but they will take home some knowledge too. Get them involved! Starting a campfire, identifying critter prints and forest plants, knowing how to navigate, or choosing a proper campsite are skills you can teach to help them as backpackers. Bonus if you can show them what poison ivy looks like before they have a seat in an unsuspecting patch.
4. Bring a bit of booze?: If you break out a cold beer after a hike to a mountain summit…you will be a hero. Adult juice boxes (also known as boxed wine) is also a winner after dinner…with chocolate. All in moderation of course. Tip: A cool stream keeps beer at a perfect drinking temp.
5. Start small and keep mileage low: Best to try a day hike first, then advance to an overnight or two before heading out on a multi-day trip with beginners. Know your own limits when taking people with you. Being safe always comes first. Keep daily miles manageable and allow plenty of time for photos, layering up and down, and pack adjustments along the trail. And fun…save time for fun!
6. Campfires: I’ve never met a person who disliked a campfire. Try to select campsites where campfires are permitted (not all backcountry campsites allow open fires). Having a campfire is the epitome of camping! Extra points if you sneak along some s’more supplies! Bonus: Campfires keep bugs and critters at bay, can dry out damp clothes and gives you a reason to stay up longer and gaze at the night sky.
7. Be assertive: Being safe in the backcountry in a group setting involves everyone looking out for one another. As a more experienced person, you should be aware of issues that people in your group may be struggling with (and may not speak up about). Blisters, dehydration, fatigue or over-exertion can become real problems. Keep an extra eye out for your pals, and offer helpful advice and encouragement. It can go along way.
8. Proper planning: When you take beginner backpackers on a trip, they will rely on you to be their resource. The responsibility ultimately falls on you to take a lead role. Equip them with the important information of your trip (miles, location, times, wildlife, dangers etc). Be sure they know how to signal for help or find a point on the map. Provide packing lists ahead of time so they are equipped with the right gear. This puts people at ease and also ensures that you are all on the same page.
9. Be the undercover pack police: As much as you want people to pack a few extra luxuries to feel comfortable on the trip, you also don’t want them to be entirely miserable under the weight of a 75 pound pack. To avoid this, try to do a pack-up together so you can casually mention what may be useful and what is not. Three flashlights?…Unnecessary. Skinny jeans?…Uncomfortable. Fancy scented lotion?…Critter magnet, leave it home.
10. Be a Wilderness Advocate – It is up to you to be an advocate for the great outdoors. Show the people you take with you, the leave no trace principles. They will learn by example. Know that you can help others preserve the amazing places you get to explore together. It also helps them be excited and aware of the things around them. Someday they will pass it on to others too. Now that feels good !