10 Basic Backpacking Skills To Learn Before You Go Backpacking

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Today, we will be talking about the 10 basic backpacking skills to learn before you hit the trails. 

With out a doubt, backpacking is the best way to experience nature in a way that no one else can. 

In addition, tackling the backcountry is an incredible experience that creates memories that last a lifetime. 

woman standing by a mountain rock with backpacking gear

Furthermore, these skills will put you in the best position possible for success. 

Each one brings outstanding value. Most importantly, following them can make you fully enjoy your backpacking experience in a safe and environmentally acceptable way.

1. Learn basic backpacking skills for starting a fire

Campfire in Dinkey Creek Wilderness in California, USA hiking poles and backpacking tent in background

It should be noted, that one of the most important basic backpacking skills to know is how to start a fire. 

Campfires provide both warmth and ambiance when fire restrictions don’t prohibit them. 

Clearly, learning how to start and maintain a fire in various weather conditions is incredibly important for survival and comfort. 

Most important, is practicing before you hit the trail. Whether this is at home or at a campsite, you should have the skills under wraps before you are in a situation where you need them.

Furthermore, here are a few strategies you can choose from to start a fire. 

You can use matches, flint steel, a lighter, or fight starter cubes to get it going. 

Nonetheless, this all comes down to personal preference and what weight you can afford to pack.

Related Article: How to Make a Backpacking Campfire

2. Learn to pitch a backpacking tent correctly

 a backpacking tent showing the basic backpacking skills of pitching a tent in the mountains

When you are logging some serious miles, your tent is your sanctuary after a long day. 

Additionally, this is your source of safety and comfort. Although a naive beginner may think that pitching a tent is no big deal, it can be at first.

Tents need to be pitched tightly and correctly

Also, the rainfly must be staked out away from the tent body to keep moisture from condensing and dripping on you during the night. 

In addition, if there are some faults in the setup, rain and other elements can penetrate your shelter and ruin your gear and your sleep. 

Like starting the fire, you should go through and practice setting your tent up before you get on the trail to avoid any hiccups.

3. Learn how to stay warm to get a good night’s sleep

father daughter hiking in the snow

Your health and comfort need to be at the forefront of priorities while backpacking. After all, you cannot push yourself and enjoy nature without being healthy. 

Most importantly, warmth is a part of this. Especially when backpacking, the amount of gear you can bring is super limited. 

Everything has a weight component to it. Old geezers like to carry as little extra weight as possible. So, you need to prepare accordingly.

Besides a quality sleeping bag with a proper rating for nighttime temperatures, the best tip we have for staying warm during those cold nights is to bring a wool cap and extra socks. 

It should be noted, that most of the body heat you lose comes out from the top of your head and the bottom of your feet. 

Having a warm hat and cozy socks will save you at night

Or if you are an aging hiker, you can do what The Geez does and get these down booties. They keep my toes nice and toasty on those cold nights.

4. Learn basic backpacking skills of cooking over a fire

basic backpacking skills of learning to cook over a fire.

The way in which you cook on the trail is not usually over an open fire. 

It is far more efficient and safer to use a backpacking stove. 

However, if things go south, it is a good idea to know how to use a wood fire to cook.

Most importantly, starting a wood fire and cooking your food can be the difference between remaining hungry or being well satisfied. 

Also, a big variable is local fire regulations and permits. Especially in wilderness areas, there may be certain fire restrictions or bans on campfires altogether. 

Check regulations before you set foot on the trail.

5. Learn how to store food to keep your food safe and dry

sign that says bear habitat proper food storage required

Unlike other basic backpacking skills, food management is one of the toughest learning curves to conquer in the backpacking world. 

Because you must give your body an appropriate amount of fuel while also conserving weight, it can be a tricky balance.

Using dehydrated food and vacuum sealing loose items can keep weight and space impact down. Furthermore, consolidating unnecessary packaging is a great way to make the most out of the space given.

That being said, if you fail to keep your food away from wilderness critters such as bears, marmots, squirrels and the like you will end up with nothing left to eat. 

Be sure to properly hang your food at night where it’s allowed or keep food in a backpacking food storage vault.

Related Article: How much Food Should I take Backpacking?

6. Learn The Basic Backing Skills Of how to walk on trails and hills

group of hikers on the trail learning basic backpacking skills of walking on a trail

Although this sounds a bit brass, learning how to hike correctly is an important step. 

Absolutely, the way in which you conduct yourself on the trail, step after step, is crucial. 

One wrong step can lead to a minor fall with skinned elbows and knees. Worse yet, it can lead to broken bones, stumbling into a steep ravine, or falling off a cliff.

Above all, the key to walking on the trail is watching where you step and ensuring that the weight is distributed across your feet correctly. Doing this ensures that blisters will decrease, and your health can stay at a steady level.

7. Learn the basic backpacking skills of respecting wildlife

bear in the wilderness standing on a tree stump

At the end of the day, we are visitors in the wilderness. The animals that are out and about belong there. 

We are encroaching on their homes. If you can have that attitude, respecting wildlife can be very easy.

Absolutely, always keep your distance and do not approach wildlife. 

In some cases, this can be the difference between life and death. After all, your picture of the cute bear cub is not worth being attacked by the mother. 

The more you understand about the local wildlife, the better equipped you can be for respecting it.

8. Learning The Basic Backpacking Skills to watch the sky can save your life

mountains with stormy clouds.

Opening your phone and checking the forecast is great in everyday life, but this isn’t an option in the backcountry. 

Most importantly, if you can start to understand weather patterns, you can stay safe and plan for what Mother Nature will throw at you.

Moreover, watching the sky and interpreting pressure changes can be two great ways to predict the weather

If a front is rolling in, it may be time to grab that rain jacket or set up camp for the night. 

Hiking when it is thundering and lightning is not only dangerous but avoidable.

9. Learn the basic backpacking skills of first aid

mature man with injury to foot while hiking with trees and backpacking tent in background

Having basic first aid knowledge could not be more important. Unfortunately, things happen on the trail. 

Accidents happen and injuries occur more frequently than we care to admit. Whether it be a cut, sprained ankle, or broken bone, you need to be prepared for anything that can happen.

Definitely, the first step is having a high-quality first aid kit on hand. 

Make sure it has the essentials like gauze, bandages, tape, hand sanitizer, and other basics. 

In addition, paired with basic first aid knowledge, will have you covered for a majority of situations you may come across.

Related Article: 21 Simple Survival Tips for Hikers Over 50 

10. Learn Basic Backpacking Skills Of the different methods of navigation

young man holding compass and map while hiking

Your phone’s map app allows you to get directions in the backcountry. But what happens if you run out of battery? 

Undoubtedly, each year you hear of hikers and backpackers getting lost. So, you need to have basic navigation skills for your own safety.

Having an accurate map on you when backpacking is incredibly important. 

In addition to this, the knowledge of how to read it. Using a compass may help, but having basic orienteering skills as well is just as important.

Closing thoughts

Those are the 10 basic backpacking skills every hiker needs to know! Most importantly, when you follow these, you will be in a good position for a successful and safe outing. 

Also, when it comes to many of these points, be sure to prepare as much as you can before hitting the trail. 

When it’s time for your adventure, you can be efficient and maximize your time on the trail. 



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