It’s 10:27 pm. You’re tossing on your bed in an attempt to catch some sleep, but your mind won’t let you. Tomorrow you’ll break out of your comfort zone and go backpacking for the very first time. The thought of backpacking solo makes you a bit scared and excited at the same time.

Backpacking can be daunting for beginners. Which, to be honest, is quite expected. Hiking for days in a forest or a foreign country does tag several uncertainties; you can get robbed, you may fall sick, or worse still, get lost deep in the woods.

While those nasty things rarely happen, a ton of other unpleasant bummers can crop up during your expedition – which can easily be avoided by simple planning. We’ve put together a list of eight solid things you should know before going backpacking, but first…

What Type of Backpacker are you?

Preparing for your backpacking adventure depends on the actual backpacking type. While most backpackers hike through forests, others transverse across states or countries. Forest backpackers journey through nature and the hike may last anywhere from a few hours to several days. On the other hand, travel backpackers cut across states or several countries, and this may take days or weeks.

In terms of food and accommodation, forest backpackers have to carry sleeping bags or tents (since they’ll spend the night in the woods) as well as packed food to last them the entire hiking duration. Not quite so with travel backpackers – they have a myriad of choices when it comes to accommodation; they can book hotels, sleep on trains, couch surf, or even check into a hostel or Airbnb. The same case with food – they can eat in local food joints or hotels of their liking.

Regardless of whichever category you fall to, here are eight things you should know before heading out:


1. You don’t need a ton of stuff

Being a backpacking rookie, you may feel the urge to pack up every little thing. Six pairs of pants, lotion, shaving gel, deodorant, and your MacBook, right? Wrong. See, here’s the deal; you’ll be walking long distances with your backpack’s weight on you. The trick here is to make it as light as possible by only carrying the essentials.

You can always buy extra stuff on the way or just before starting your hiking adventure. Additionally, you need fewer things than you think, especially clothes.

A Reddit community called Ultralight is also a great place to learn more about ultralight backpacking. However, you shouldn’t worry too much about this on your first adventure.

2. Cotton won’t do you any good

Backpacking involves walking several miles. This can only be successful when in the right gear to avoid discomfort. When packing clothes, steer clear of cotton as it will pull heat from your body when wet, take forever to dry, smell horrible, and feel uncomfortable. A pair of jeans doesn’t make the cut either – try polyester or merino wool.

3. Your footwear is everything

As obvious as it sounds, your feet are your most precious assets while backpacking. A slight injury and you’re rendered immobile in the middle of nowhere. Invest in a good pair of boots or hiking shoes. Ensure they’re well-fitting. Avoid tight boots as they’ll make your feet swell after several miles. In case you’re hiking during a rainy season, consider getting waterproof boots. As for socks, go for merino wool socks – they prevent blisters and are also antimicrobial.

4. Get acquainted with the leave no trace principles

A couple of things might happen during your backpacking trip; you may feel hungry during midnight, smell like junk after hours of trekking, and yes, you will need to pee or poop in the woods. Answering nature’s call out in the forest might be a bit intimidating for the first time.

The Leave No Trace website lays out how to do it. A quick rundown is to remember to burry your waste, pack up the used toilet paper, and use a sanitizer to clean your hands. So remember to carry a towel, toilet paper, and a small bag to pack up the used toilet paper.

5. You might get robbed, fall sick or lose your way

The probability of such things happening is pretty low, especially if you are backpacking in a nearby forest. However, when backpacking in foreign cities with questionable security, it’s advisable to take preventive measures. So stash some money in a separate bank account just in case you fall into the hands of bandits. Get a map, a compass, or use your phone’s GPS to find your way around cities.

Depending on the country you’re visiting, you might need to get vaccinated before crossing over. Additionally, ensure you have all your meds available in case you suffer from a pre-existing health condition.

6. Travel documents and Permits

This mostly applies to travel backpackers as they’ll need the necessary travel documents when crossing airports. Some countries may require one blank page on your passport and a six months’ validity. You’ll also need to familiarize yourself with the visa or immigration rules. Apart from that, take note of the various forest rules when backpacking to avoid rubbing shoulders with the authorities.

7. You may run out of cash so, manage your money well

It’s always fun when you’re out there having the time of your life exploring different cultures until, well, you realize you can’t afford your way back home. So if you’re on a budget, spend your money wisely, especially in accommodation. A smart trick is to choose to stay in social hostels, which are not only cheap, but you also get to interact with other backpackers. Make a budget before going out and stick to it.

8. Researching ahead will come in handy

It can be frustrating finding yourself in a new city at twilight without the slightest idea of how to find a hotel to spend the night. You can get information on any town just by a click of a button – so do some prior research. Additionally, you can make a small list of all the cool things you want to check out during your backpacking trip. However, don’t be too rigid – leave some room for surprises.


Trekking in the woods for the first time can be an exciting experience. It gets better when you’re prepared for what to expect. The above tips will set you up for success on your first backpacking trip by eliminating the little annoying things that crop up unnoticed.

Kelvin Mwathi