Backpacking Tips for Beginners from REI

Gene Espy with gear from his AT thru-hike ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Gene Espy with gear from his AT thru-hike ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

A famous football coach began each season by holding something in his hand high enough for all his recruits to see and said, "This is a football!" He went back to the basics. Our friends at REI have a bunch of "back to the basics" backpacking tips for beginners we want to share with you.

With all the movies about the Appalachian Trail (AT) that will soon hit theaters, there are going to be flocks and herds of clueless noobs in blue jeans and flats/sneakers hoping to hit Katahdin before the snow flies.

The AT isn't the walk in the wilderness that some dream that it is; south of Pennsylvania, at least. In the next 20 years, we'll be more likely to see merging lanes than wildlife. There will come a day when someone will want to pave it and rent golf carts through Virginia.

But I digress.

For now, we're concerned with backpacking tips for beginners. REI begins in a social-media kind of way. First on the list is picking people to hike with and choosing where you'll hike. That makes sense.

Then REI suggests choosing how long you'll be on the trail.

Time and distance. A 1-night trip makes sense for beginners. Keep the roundtrip distance to 10 miles or less. It is reassuring to know that civilization is not too far out of reach.

Base camp trips. Got 2 nights? Consider this: Set up camp on Night 1, use Day 2 to relax or take a day hike to somewhere nice, then return to your base camp that night. This way you'll tote a full backpack on just 2 days.

I'm not trying to be critical, but they take a while to get to backpacking basics:

  • Getting in shape to hike
  • Figuring out what you'll need to carry & actually use
  • How to select the right backpack for yourself & your kids

REI concludes its backpacking tips for beginners with solid suggestions for what to wear -- "avoid cotton" -- and what to eat on the trail and how to store it overnight. You can read their entire treatise by clicking the link below. It's worth your time to read and share, in my humble opinion.

Several REI locations offer a ridiculously titled course they call "Thru Hiking the Appalachian Trail ~ Comprehensive Class" that takes all of four hours. The description on their website says,

In this comprehensive class, experienced thru-hike staff experts tell all. Get an introduction to all the logistics, gear, nutrition, & training necessary for an Appalachian Trail thru-hike.

Gene Espy will not be leading the REI course on what to carry on an AT thru-hike. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Gene Espy will not be leading the REI course on what to carry on an AT thru-hike. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

An introduction? Sure. A comprehensive class? That's absurd. But for $50, you'll probably learn a lot of helpful stuff to help you on any long distance hike.

You could buy almost everything you'd ever need for short or long hikes from REI's well-meaning salespeople. For personal, authoritative advice and fitting for serious gear, we hope you'll also shop at the many smaller outfitters along the AT.

When it comes to backpacking tips for beginners it all boils down to:

  1. Buy only what you'll actually use
  2. Buy the best you can afford
  3. Don't forget that you'll have to carry it all uphill
  4. Don't pay an extra dime for stuff just to impress people with brand-name gear
  5. Safety first. Then think about utility, comfort, price & weight. Please.
  6. When you realize you have too much gear, share it with others. Don't let it rot in a closet. Please
  7. Hike your own hike, but live to hike another day.

Please Note: No, REI didn't request this story nor are we compensated for it. This is about you, not us or REI. We are, however, grateful to REI for supporting the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and other groups that preserve and maintain trails across America.

Click Here for REI's "Comprehensive" Course on Thru-Hiking the AT

Click Here for REI's Backpacking Tips for Beginners

Tags: Appalachian Trail, Hiking, Hiking Gear, Camping Gear, News, Robert Sutherland Travel Writer, and Safety

About the Author Robert Sutherland:
Robert Sutherland is a travel writer enjoying life. Robert has two adult daughters and six grandchildren.
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