One of the most important things when doing an overnight hike for the first time is choosing the right trail. In this section we will cover what things you need to consider, what online resources you can use and what’s the best backpacking route for first timers look like.
Before going on your first hike, there are 9 things to consider when choosing your first backpacking trail.
1. HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU HAVE FOR YOUR OVERNIGHT HIKE?
If you only have a weekend available to get away, you will need to choose a shorter trail.
If you can commit to hiking for several months at a time, then a long trail or a thru-hike is worth considering.
Consider your own fitness level and how much elevation gain there is on the trail. Keep in mind that a 1,000ft. elevation gain will be way harder than a gain of just a couple hundred feet.
Also think about how much time you have to get to and from the trail. If you only have a weekend, it’s good to choose a trail close to home so you can spend more time on the trail and less time in the car.
2. HOW FAR DO YOU WANT TO GO?
Think about how many miles you can hike in day – this will determine the distance of your hike and how many days you will spend on the trail.
3. TYPE OF REGION (TERRAIN WILL INFORM THE DIFFICULTY OF YOUR HIKE)
There are so many beautiful regions to backpack in, from the snowy mountains to arid desert and the humid Pacific Northwest. The weather and terrain of your trail will determine the logistics of your trip.
4. GROUP SIZE
When you’re hiking solo, you get to set your own pace and choose where you camp at night. A single person tent is usually quite small, which means you won’t take up much space and therefore have a lot of options for where to camp.
But if you hike with a large group you can shed pack weight by distributing communal items throughout the members of the group, like tent components, stoves, and food.
Also keep in mind that many places can’t accommodate enough tent space for a large group. And remember that if you choose to hike with other people, you’ll need to adjust your speed for the slowest member of your group.
5. PREPARATION TIME
How much time do you have to prepare for your overnight trip? Whether you want to get out this weekend or a few months from now will determine how much preparation time you’ll have and need to be adequately prepared for your trip.
Some hikes will require more physical training to complete than others, so make sure to assess your current fitness level and leave yourself enough time to train accordingly for a big backpacking trip or a long overnight hike.
6. TIME OF YEAR AND WEATHER
It’s important to take into consideration what time of year you’ll be hiking and the type of weather you think you’ll encounter.
Also, is the place you’re trying to go open to the public? Keep in mind that a lot of places close during the winter and early spring because they’re still covered in snow.
Will you need transportation to get back to the start of the trail (and/or to where you parked your car) after your hike?
If you’re hiking a loop or an out-and-back, it’s really easy; you’ll just end up back where your car is.
But if you’re hiking point-to-point, you’ll need to find a way to get back to your car and head home.
There are a few ways to do this:
- You can drive to the end point ahead of time and stash a bike or some other form of transportation for yourself.
- You could take two cars and ask a friend to leave one car at the end point for you.
- You could bribe a friend with a beer or a snack and ask them to pick you up.
- Or you can see what shuttles are offered in the area. On popular hiking trails, there are often shuttles that will take you from point-to-point to alleviate these issues. Make sure you book your shuttle ahead of time and you know what time it leaves so you aren’t stranded at your end point.
Depending on where you decide to go, you might need a trekking permit and you might need an overnight permit. Depending on the popularity of these places, you might need to apply for your permit days, weeks, or even months in advance.
It’s imperative that you check on the regulations of the place you plan on hiking and camping before you head out on any overnight trip into the wilderness.
For example, look into things like:
- Are you allowed to bring a dog?
- Are you allowed to have fires at the campsite?
- And where are you actually allowed to put your tent?
For more of our top hiking & backpacking gear recommendations, check out these popular buyer's guides:
Best Backpacking Sleeping Bags
Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads
Best Hiking Boots For Men (and Women)