Backpacking Basics: A Beginner's Guide to Going Off The Grid

by Katrina Wise on January 24, 2019

Over the past couple of years, I have developed a deep love for going off the grid and entering into the wildness for a few days at a time. Backpacking has given me a greater appreciation for nature and our planet. I’d love to share with you the ways to make sure your experience is amazing and worry-less by providing a few planning tips before you set out on your backpacking adventure.

Know your route.

It’s always a good idea to know what you’re getting yourself into. I recommend understanding the mileage per day, the weather, the terrain, elevation gain, and strenuous level. This will help you plan what to bring in terms of clothes and gear. For example, if there is little shade on the trail and the weather is forecasted to be hot, you’ll need to plan for plenty of water, hydrating snacks, and sunscreen.

Do some research on other people’s experiences with the trail, besides just the trail’s associated website. It’s always helpful to hear about the adventures of others so you know what you are getting into.

Buy or print out a map. In most cases, the trails will not be easily marked.

Allow yourself enough time to hike.

Once you’ve done your research, this will help you plan the timing of your hike. Timing is important so you can factor in enjoying the views, and avoid having to hike and set up camp in the dark. (If you enjoy night hiking and are not clumsy like myself then this recommendation may not apply).

Be sure to plan your food and water ahead of time.

As with backpacking trips, you will want plan every meal and snack that align with your hiking plans. In most cases, dehydrated meals are the way to go for dinner and lunch at the campsites, and a salami-cheese-cracker combo for mid-hike lunches. Bring dried fruit, trail mix, and energy chews for your long hikes.

Before your trip, you should double check if all campsites or trails will have potable water available. If there is an active creek nearby, bring purification tablets or a water purifier to ensure you always have safe water available to drink. Boiling your water is an option but is a time consuming process and often uses valuable fuel.

In situations where there is no potable or creek water available, measure the amount of water you will need for the trip such as oatmeal, dehydrated meals, and coffee. I recommend two water bladders and two 24 oz plastic water bottles. While using a plastic bottle is often controversial, these are significantly lighter to carry than a Hydroflasks. A perfect segway into my next preparation tip…

Pack light.

This is especially important if the hike is strenuous. What you pack is really depending on the duration of your trip and the weather, but be prepared to re-wear clothes.  Prioritize your food, water, and camping gear over clothes. Most of my trips have been 3-4 day trips in California, so here are items I am sure to include:


1 pair of hiking pants, 1 pair of leggings, 2 dry fit shirts, 1 lightweight hoodie, 1 beanie, 1 pair of gloves, 1 lightweight jacket, a few pairs of socks, a few pairs of underwear, & a bathing suit if it’s a summer trip.

All of which I layer on in the chilly evenings. If you noticed, I do not pack light on socks! Nothing is better than a fresh pair of socks after a long day of hiking.

Camping gear:

Sleeping bag, cocoon liner (if it’s cold out), pillow, air mattress, tent, headlamp, coffee filter, first aid kit, minimal personal hygiene items (i.e. deodorant, eye solution for contacts, wipes or sanitizer, natural bug spray), food, small rag, utensils, coffee mug, trash bag,  trekking poles, portable stove such as a MightyMo, portable kettle or JetBoil, & water bladder.

If you are camping with a friend or partner, I would suggest to divvy up the shared items such as food and tent. My boyfriend calls me the walking pantry; I carry all the food while he carries our tent and cooking gear. On the night before you leave for a trip, put your fully-packed backpack on and walk around the house or yard for a bit of time to ensure you can handle the weight and your pack is set up correctly.

Leave no trace

Most backpacking trips I have been on are primitive and do not have trash cans. If it’s a commonly visited trail, there will be charming animals such as foxes, birds, or squirrels that know: people = food scraps. Be mindful of this.

How can you help? At camp, only set out the items you need, and keep the rest stored in the bear or fox box.  Hold light weight items (such as plastic wrap) down with a water bottle or flash light so that they do not blow away. Bring a small trash bag. You’ll have to carry it throughout your trip, but you’ll become increasingly more aware of your footprint after the fact.

The beauty of backpacking is the personal growth you gain from being out in the wilderness, separate the from normal amenities of life. You might lose cell service, but you’ll gain a new kind of strength when lugging your stuff across an island or a mountain range. I hope these tips help with your next adventure!