Thinking about your dream backpacking trip all across Europe, where you eat your way through the countryside and the towns? How do the Southern Alps of New Zealand sound, as you walk the trails of the fellowship? Or are you more up for the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail, as you see everything between Maine and Georgia on foot? Whatever you’re thinking, here are seven things you need to know about minimalist backpacking.
You carry all your gear, often packing out trash, etc. Be kind to your back and shoulders and just pack light. This will also make you more eager to get up and going in the morning. After all, no one wants to hike when the load is too heavy.
It’s human nature to fill the space you have. Carefully choose what liter size backpack you’re going to use, and don’t get bigger than you absolutely need—you’ll end up filling it with unnecessary gear.
Reevaluate your pack contents
You packed! Great. Now repack. Get rid of the dead weight. Take everything out of your bag and seriously evaluate whether you need it or not. If you’re only going to use it ten percent of the time, it’s probably not worth it. Don’t be a packrat!
Water is always worth the weight
So, yeah. Pack light. But water is always worth it. That being said, know your environment. You’re close to a town? Take enough water until you get there and can refill. You’re in the desert? Take lots of water. You’re in the mountains surrounded by freshwater lakes and rivers? Take a bottle and a good filter.
Put the best foot forward
If there were an award for the most valuable body part when going on a backpacking trip, your feet would slide into first place no questions asked. Do your feet a favor and take care of them.
Try out your shoes ahead of time and make sure you’re not going to get blisters after your first fifteen-mile day on the trail. If you’re buying a new pair, break ‘em in before they break you. Make sure they’re light enough that your ankles don’t hurt from the weight. Have some flip-flops or Chacos for lounging around camp at night to give your feet a break—they’ll thank you for it.
Know your limits
Challenging yourself is good, but you definitely don’t want to put yourself at risk. You should know where the nearest town is. You should have a way to contact the outside world. Because you’re packing light, you really need to identify your limitations and plan accordingly.
Prepare for the worst
When you’re planning accordingly, think of the worst things that could happen. Are you in bear country? Is it flash flood season? Is there a chance the hostel is full? Could a wild band of outlaws kidnap you?
Preparing for the worst helps us be more confident and prepared when not-so-great things happen. You’ll be able to make the best of a bad situation if you’re prepared (e.g. you end up roasting marshmallows with the outlaws and swapping campfire stories).
Find the trail that fits you
What trail can you just not stop thinking about? Are you wanting something more social (backpacking across Europe and staying in hostels with all your new friends) or something more isolated (long days hiking the Appalachian Trail, sometimes without seeing people for a few days)? Are you looking for a trail with religious and cultural ties (the Camino de Santiago in Spain or the Shikoku pilgrimage in Japan)? What about a real endurance test of your mind and body—the Pacific Crest Trail, anyone?