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Backpacking for beginners – the ultimate guide

All you need to know before your first backpacking trip

Chloe Best

You don't need to jet off to far-flung corners of Asia or South America to go backpacking! There are exciting and beautiful destinations just waiting to be discovered here in the UK, ideal for beginners who want to try their hand at hiking and exploring without challenges such as a language barrier or tropical climate. Get to grips with backpacking with our ultimate guide, including tips on where to go and the essentials you can't leave home without…

Where to go on your first backpacking trip:

When you're getting started, choose a backpacking destination that is fairly easy and not too far from home. This will give you the chance to test your abilities without getting into difficulty, and give you the chance to go back home if you need or want to. Start with just an overnight trip, allowing yourself plenty of daylight hours to reach your camp before dark. Also, don't go too far off the beaten track; choosing a well-established trail with other hikers and campers around means help will be at hand should you need it.

What to pack for your backpacking trip:

How much you pack depends on how long you're away for, but it's always best to travel as light as possible. You may think you can't go without that spare pair of jeans or boots, but it can soon add a lot of weight to your backpack making it difficult to carry. Here are a few essentials for an overnight backpacking trip…

Tent: Carry a light two-person tent that you can share with your backpacking buddy. Look for a specialist backpacking tent that is lightweight and technical, and folds into a small bag you can wear on your back or can be divided between yourself and a friend.

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Backpack: Get your torso measured by a specialist to find a backpack that is the perfect size for you. Look for a bag with a supportive structure, and take it out on a long test hike to make sure it's comfortable before you embark on your first backpacking trip.

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Sleeping bag: A must for overnight camping trips, a lightweight sleeping bag will fold down neatly and can be attached to your backpack for ease of carrying. If you're travelling in cooler weather, look for a slightly heavier bag to ensure you stay warm and have a comfortable night's sleep.

Camping stove: A camping stove is an essential addition to your pack, helping you to prepare hot food and drinks with ease. A single-burner gas canister stove is affordable, quick and easy to use, and can be found at stores like Go Outdoors for as little as £20.

Water treatment: You're not always guaranteed to get clean drinking water on your travels, so carrying tablets or drops to purify your water is always a good idea. Try Boots Micropur water purification tablets, which cost £7.99 for 50.

Kitchenware: You don't want to be carrying around lots of heavy equipment, but a couple of small pans, plastic plates and cutlery should be enough for eating on the go without adding two much bulk or weight to your pack.

Camping clothes: It's important to bring plenty of layers for your trip to ensure you're warm enough at night and don't risk either hypothermia or heatstroke. There's no need to buy specialist clothing for your first trip, fitness gear made out of quick-drying and moisture-wicking fabrics are ideal. You should also carry a waterproof jacket in case of any downpours, along with the essential – some hiking boots.

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Torch: While in high summer the sun rises early and sets late, at other times of the year it can go dark early, meaning a torch is a must. A head torch is ideal for navigating your way around if you're still exploring after dark.

What food to bring on your backpacking trip:

If you're travelling just for a night or two, you won't need to carry too much food around with you. Packaged noodles and rice meals are ideal for heating up quickly with minimal effort, while protein bars and trail mix are great fuel while on the move. Instant coffee and tea bags are a must if you can't forego your morning caffeine fix, while packets of porridge and breakfast bars are easy choices to get your day off to a good start. Just don't bring anything perishable!

The backpacking tips you need to know:

Be prepared: Make sure you're physically and mentally prepared for your trip by doing a few hikes of similar difficulty while carrying your backpack. You'll also want to make sure you're familiar with all of your equipment and know how to pitch your tent, use your stove and navigate your way around your chosen destination.

Stay safe: Stick to a designated trail and always leave a copy of your route with friends or family, letting them know where you'll be and when, so they're able to get help if you need it. Don't carry valuables with you unless you absolutely need to.

Pack in advance: Avoid overloading your bag at the last minute by packing a few days in advance. This will give you enough time to check you've got everything you need without over packing, and ensure you're comfortable with the weight of your bag.

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