Planning Your First Overnight Backpacking Trip

Finding Your Perfect Boot & Secondary Shoe

The North Face Vectiv Exploris Mid boots are comfortable to hike in, however, they have a very narrow toe. Keep in mind that feet swell during long hikes! Although they look very stylish, they did not work for me on the trail. I ended up with a pair of Merrill Moabs.

Whatever you do, don’t do what I did and select your first pair of boots because they “fit perfectly” in the store. It’s an easy mistake to make as a rookie, but trust me when I say you’re going to want boots that feel a little bit wide around the toe area, and not too snug anywhere else.

This is because after multiple miles hiked your feet will swell and, when they do, you’re going to be happy you have a little extra room to avoid friction burns and blisters.

There are plenty of boot options to go with. From ultralight-weight ones that don’t offer much toe protection, to ones that have reinforced siding to decrease the chances of a foot injury while you’re out on the trails, to water hikers. If you can swing it, I’d get at least two of the three listed. In my personal pack I carry my Teva (sandal style) water hikers so I don’t need to worry about soaking my daily hike boots when it comes time to cross a river or creek. When you’re just starting out, I recommend starting with a versatile boot. Find a pair that fits well, offers stability for your ankles, and has a little extra protection with mesh-venting the sides.

Teva’s feel great while walking and even better when dipping your feet in a fresh stream! These water-hikers are perfect for times when you don’t want to risk getting your primary boots soaked, but need to cross a waterway.

It’s important to keep in mind the traction of the soles as well. If you’re planning to hike off of the beaten path or do any wilderness thru-hiking, you’re going to be traversing a lot of different types of terrain. A good amount of “grip” on the earth will keep your ankles from rolling easily, and avoiding injuries on the trail is typically my biggest concern. I’ve acquired a weaker ankle from a previous injury so mid-level support is important to me. You’ll want to find your weak spots as a backpacker and then seek out the gear that supports you the best. There will never come a time that one particular brand always outweighs another, but, I do prefer quality, so I highly suggest a good brand when selecting your boots. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself with soles trying to tear away, or holes in the scuff areas.

Finding Your Perfect Pack

While I was at Nymph Lake and Emerald Lake in the Rocky Mountains, The Osprey Atmos/Aura AG 50s are great packs that really came in handy for my wife and I. They have a rain cover already built into the bottom compartment of the pack which made it much easier to protect our gear. Thunderstorms brew quickly in the mountains so anything that offers a faster gear swap out is a big deal!

Now that you’ve found the right boots, you’ll want to spend time fitting your pack.

To properly select the pack I recommend remembering to take these few things into consideration:

How much water will the bladder section hold?
Personally, I prefer the Osprey mouthpiece for my kits.

As you already know, water is extremely important when the body is expending energy, and hiking works a lot of different muscle groups, which can quickly lead to dehydration if not properly prepared for. It is estimated that for every 2 hours of hiking a person will need to drink 1.5 liters of water, even more so in higher heat temperatures. I carry a 3L bladder in my pack and I’ve made it 7.5 hours up mountainous terrain while rationing that 3.5L. However, keep in mind there are additional sources of water when you’re out on the trails so that you don’t have to ration like I do. You can bring emergency equipment such as a life straw or water treatment tablets. These will allow you to drink from natural sources of water without carrying additional weight like you would with a secondary hydration pack or hip bag. Make sure when you’re shopping for your water bladder that it will fit in the bladder section of your bag without a problem. Most hydration bladders fit the majority of bag spaces, so you shouldn’t run into too many problems when purchasing this essential gear accessory.

How much storage capacity is required for the time I spend backpacking? 
I prefer a 50L bag when taking multi-day trips, but for a single day/6 mile or less hike, I use a Cotopaxi 24L Luzon.

The carrying capacity of your pack can come in many different shapes and sizes but here is a short breakdown to help you plan.

0-10 liters – A few carry items, snacks, emergency kit.

Osprey Small Day Cinch

10-20 liters – Great for a quick and light hike.

Osprey Daylite

20-30 liters – For full day hikes, this would be a proper size. It allows you to carry light rain gear, snacks, a decent-sized bladder, water hikers and an extra set of warm/cold weather gear dependent on your destination.

Cotopaxi 24 Luzon

30-50 liters or more – These are best for overnight and multi-day trips. The extra space does add weight to your pack, but it allows you to pack all of the gear you’ll need to embrace the elements. Don’t forget to throw in a bear canister if you’re trekking bear country.

Gregory 50
How do I size my pack?
Technology Side-note: Osprey have started using their new anti-gravity technology and it really has been a game changer in load bearing.

Contrary to popular belief, packs aren’t just measured by your height. This means taller people don’t have to have a taller pack, and it also means shorter people don’t need a smaller pack. To properly measure your pack you will need a measuring tape and measure form the C7 (cervical section, where the bone sticks out from the back of your neck) to the iliac crest (top of your hips). Most packs are adjustable to a certain extent when it comes to length, but width around hips is usually within a few inches for snug-fitting. Be sure to try your pack on for comfort before taking it out on a trip. Many retailers will not replace used gear unless it’s a warrantied manufacturing defect.

Example measurements, but make sure you try your bag on when it arrives or while you’re in the store. Sizing varies individually.

Train, Before You Go

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the adventure part of backpacking and forget to do the training first. Just know that some trails are marked intermediate and difficult for good reason. Most hikers plan for 5-6 miles a day when starting out, but some experienced thru-hiker may go 16 miles a day or even more!

Intermediate and difficult rated trails are usually rated by technicality of terrain, the strenuous level, and dividing the vertical distance by the horizontal distance.

Sometimes you just need a breather in a meadow.

But, what does all of that really mean? It means if you’re not careful you can find yourself in a very bad situation very fast. Mother Nature has a strange sense of humor sometimes and many times it’s at the hikers expense. But if you properly train before taking on these endeavors, you’ll find a great sense of accomplishment when you’ve completed the trail.

I recommend starting at a local trail, and tracking your time, distance and usage of water during the hike. AllTrails Pro is an app that will track your route, even if you take a detour from a main trail. Trust me, it’s saved me before in a situation where I found myself lost in the wilderness. Check out the blog post for mapping your trail if you’d like to know more.

Fun fact: When my best friend (my wife) and I completed the first difficult-rated trail system it felt like we’d hit a huge milestone. It was life-changing and brewed up the idea of an innovation and technical gearing company, now known as HykLyt. Thanks to this milestone in our journey, we get to help others live theirs!

Pick Your Trail, Gear Out Essentials, And Go!

Now you have your boots, your pack, and you’ve trained. To really get out there, the only thing left is listing your essential gear, and then making sure you have any permits (wilderness/backcountry permits) required to enter the areas you plan to hike. There’s a bit of information to list out for both of those subjects so I’m going to break those down into separate articles for those who are interested. You can find the links at the bottom of this page.

Click here to see list of essential gear.

Click here to learn how to navigate national park permits, timed-entry to wilderness areas, and gain travel tips when visiting parks systems.

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Founder of HykLyt. Backpacker. Mountain biker.

8 thoughts on “Planning Your First Overnight Backpacking Trip”

  1. Great read! I definitely learned the hard way that the proper foot wear is very important. Hiking the Narrows in Utah I thought it would be ideal to throw on a cheap pair of water shoes while hiking through the river. Not only did they not offer the support I needed, but after carrying two children on my waiste for 3/4 of the trip my feet took a serious beating. The first chance I had to get on shore I threw my hiking shoes back on, just the additional padding on the sole and the grip on the bottom made a huge difference.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lisa, thanks for taking the time to read over the article. If you’re interested in reading the upcoming releases be sure to hit the follow button on the blog. Your support is very appreciated!!!


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