Learning skills for hiking
Hiking is not that complicated, step one pace forward and repeat. However, there is a lot comes around when hiking. Lets go over those skills for backpacking.
When you are just starting out hiking I recommend to do just that, start hiking. Look around for hiking trails near you and toughen up your feet and get used to walking all day. Start out with as much as your comfortable with walking and branch out to hiking with full gear on. That is the base skill that you need to get down, getting used to walking with all your gear on your back.
Topics covered in this article.
- Planner and statistic analyst
- Basic first aid
- Social skills for hiking
- How to safely work with tools and gear
- Fire, Shelter and basis search and rescue skills
Planner and statistic analyst
To get out there hiking you need to have your gear list in order, a gear list is not a set and forget sort of thing. You will be constantly making big or small adjustments to it with gear that is maybe better or lighter. Or will provide some more comfort where you need it.
Best way to get your gear list squared away? Weigh everything, get a kitchen scale and start a spreadsheet with every single item you plan on taking with you. And then start cutting and slashing. You have UltraLight hikers that cut the tags of their clothing and cut the handle of their toothbrush. I’m not saying you should start out with doing that, but it can make a huge difference to know exactly what everything weighs.
The hiker with a plan
The planning stage is something that takes a bit more when you are going to do a wilderness hike when you are away from society and alone. If you are going on a Camino hike in Europe I would suggest booking your first night and forgetting about the rest. Plans have a habit of breaking apart on a Camino. But it is always a good idea to have a backup plan in place.
What do I mean with a backup plan? Have something for water, food and shelter. These three will keep you OK in many situations. Next is a communication device where you can reach help with.
And most of all it is recommended to know what kind of weather you are dealing with while out on a hiking trail. It is always good to be prepared for the unexpected storm. But the basic temperature range can decide many different gear choices for you.
One of my favorite polar opposite to me people I have met was in a Newcastle hostel when starting out with my Hadrian’s wall path hike. She was a girl from Israel traveling through the United Kingdom. Every single night and event was pre booked and reserved. From hostels and campsites to museums she was going to visit. And as a bonus she carried around a huge folder with color coordinated tags for the different activities and days.
I am never going to be one of those hikers or travelers, things happen a bit more organically for me. If you are one of those hikers or travelers more power to you! I will take the walking through the night or huddling up in my tent somewhere in a field.
Basic first aid
During my outdoor school years I had the luck of receiving first aid training, since then I have been to several meetings and training’s to keep that part of the education alive. Not just for hiking it makes sense to know some basic first aid, but also in day to day life.
Learn how to treat a cut, a sprained ankle and carry a first aid kit. You never want to use it of course but you will be so glad for when that day comes and you are prepared.
If you do not have the time or funds necessary to get certified or trained at least do your own research on YouTube and on other channels. A tip here and there can make quite a difference when it counts.
Nowadays it is certainly not as much of a challenge to navigate out on trail. With your smartphone in your pocket you can even get a satellite connection way out in the middle of nowhere.
Should you rely on technology alone at all times? I do not think so, learn how to read a map and carry a map of the area that you are going to be staying in. Next is a simple lightweight compass for keeping your bearings.
Learn how to use your smartphone or GPS to find the trail and what signs you need to look out for. Having the latest technology at your fingertips requires you knowing how to use it to. Download the maps offline so you have a stable plan of where to go even without an internet connection or cell reception. And have a reliable way to charge your phone.
Social skills for hiking
One that may surprise you is that hikers run into to each other all the time, there are a few trails out there that are quieter than others. But the general rule is that you will meet a bunch of new people on hikes. The social aspect is different from trail to trail and it is up to you to read into that and adjust accordingly.
Tell something about yourself and don’t be afraid to talk to other hikers. On the different trails that I have walked there was a difference in the level that people seek other hikers out. But every trail there is small talk, and sometimes really deep talk within a couple of hours of meeting each other.
If you are looking for meaningful conversations you can find those with other hikers or Pilgrims on the Camino’s. More so in the latter group I have found.
Hiking is most often to see the sights and sounds of nature. Seeing the beautiful ocean while on a Camino, the long stretching and rolling hills of the highlands or the forests of America. Your responsibility as a hiker is to preserve the trails and scenes for the next generation of hiker that comes along.
If I ever catch you dropping your ramen noodle package or healthy vegan food bar wrapper out on trail I can feel an urge of ramming that somewhere where the sun doesn’t shine.
The world has enough plastic and trash in the oceans, don’t be that hiker that leaves a trail of food wrappers and butts everywhere.
Steps you should take to lessen the impact that you have out on trail is the Leave no trace principle. Take a trash bag for stuffing every bit of trash in, clean up your campsite so as to seem nobody has stayed the night there and take care when using your stove and campfires. And clean up others peoples trash whenever you find it.
It is not rocket science.
When hiking stuff breaks, that one tear in your brand new rain jacket. A hiking shoe that needs it repairs or any other item that can break. Learn how to improvise, adapt and overcome. To quote the Bear Grylls meme.
Although funny there is a measure of truth to that statement. Try to look at an item and find multiple uses for that item. It is not only a tarp for under your tent, but a rain cover when in a pinch, a picknick blanket and a place to store your gear in.
And the same goes for when an gear item breaks, can you use something else that will work the same way? Try to lay out your gear and think about every item critically.
How to safely work with tools and gear
Before you cut through that food package with your razor sharp hiking knife try to look beyond the package. Are you cutting it open on your leg or can the knife swing beyond and towards you?
Try not to be stupid when working with tools and gear while out on trail. Look up some basic safety videos on how to work with a knife or a stove. A trip to the emergency room is enough to cut your hiking trip and funds short when you need to be airlifted out of the mountains.
When I was younger I played around with homemade alcohol stoves a lot. Some scars from burn wounds I still have. Painful back then and dangerous when you are on trail. Everybody can be thoughtless sometimes, but try to limit the exposure to harmful events.
Don’t run down that hill, but walk and keep your hiking poles extended for more grip. When walking up a wet and slippery rock trail slow way down and test out the grip of your shoes on the surface. When lighting your stove pay attention if you have made a proper seal on the gas canister. And don’t put your face above it. Look out for the ultralight clothing and jackets, those things will melt and burn quite fast.
There are a million ways to get hurt in everyday life and on trail, be safe out there and keep your head in the game.
Fire, Shelter and basis search and rescue skills
Some knowledge of basic survival and bushcraft skills is very useful to have. Learn from books and apply that knowledge in practice. Learn how to make a fire with no firestarter. Know how to make an emergency shelter from your tarp if something happens to your tent. How to get dry when your soaking wet and cold.
I always recommend the book survive by Les Stroud for a good read on the subject. Carrying something high visibility is a good way to stand out instead of coming to the woods in full camouflage.
Text messages have better luck of finding their way out than calls and a Spot message can always get the word out in an emergency.
If you have any other skills that you think hikers and backpackers should know please share them down in the comments!
Happy and safe hiking, and hike for purpose!
I’m Frank, the main guy and owner of this website. Loves hiking, gear and bushcraft. And can get quite nerdy about them. In the woods several times a week preparing for my next hike. Always searching for another hill, which is quite difficult in the Netherlands. That’s why I search around several countries. More about me on the about page.
You May Also Like
Top tips to try on hiking boots
December 31, 2019
Winter hiking in the Netherlands
September 22, 2019
Ultralight Backpacking 103: The Skill Set
The following series on ultralight backpacking is brought to you by Gossamer Gear, a leading UL gear manufacturer since 1998. Gossamer Gear is a small, passionate company whose mission is to improve your experience with backpacking with the best ultralight products.
How is Ultralight Gear Different than Traditional Backpacking Gear?
I t can be easy to find ultralight gear and backpacking intimidating. At times the UL gear looks like it belongs on a spaceship, and UL enthusiasts can delve into confusing webs of technical specifications.
In reality, a lot of gear available at outfitters is considerably lighter than the backpacking gear of yesteryear. Lightweight backpacking is, in many ways, a natural progression of backpacking design and technology.
While beginning backpackers may be tempted to start out with the gear they are most familiar with, starting with newer, lighter gear can save them a headache in the wallet later on.
All backpacking requires learning a set of skills. Ultralight backpacking incorporates many of the skills already needed for success such as how to pack a pack, how to choose a campsite, and how to pitch a tent. Using UL gear incorporates the same skills that every backpacker needs to know to be comfortable in the backcountry.
Planning trips sounds simple but is much more complex.
Planning the items you will take with you requires research into the length, weather conditions, and trail conditions of your trip. Planning mileage involves correctly anticipating physical fitness, hiking pace, terrain, and trail conditions. Planning campsites involves anticipating convenient water sources and understanding how geography and elevation effect temperature and weather. Planning food and nutrition correctly requires an understanding of caloric needs.
Solid planning not only makes trips more enjoyable, but is an essential safety measure.
Hikers vary with how much they plan for each trip- here is an example of an Excel gear spreadsheet with items, weight, and quantity.
Some backpackers like to keep things organized with excel spreadsheets. Others prefer backpacking checklists. There are many helpful trail, resupply, and even food guides to keep you organized as well – especially for long trails such as the Appalachian Trail.
Our Gear Guide examined what to pack inside a ultralight pack. Now let’s explore how to pack a ultralight pack.
A traditional framed pack keeps weight balanced and secure over your hips with the benefit of a frame. Frameless packs require the user to balance the load over the hips by packing their heaviest items close to their spine and in the middle of the pack.
Besides good weight distribution, there are many tips and tricks to packing a frameless pack.
Some utilize a sleeping pad as a frame inside of the pack, others use tent poles as a frame inside of the pack. In lieu of a pack cover, consider lining your pack with a trash compactor bag for UL waterproofing.
The frameless Granite Gear Virga 52L (Virga 2 Specs Weight: 19oz Retail: $139.95) loaded up for a long hike.
Why I use this method:
- I like to pack my sleeping bag at the bottom, which positions my heaviest item (food) nicely in the center of the pack.
- I use a sleeping pad as a “frame” against my back, and I utilize my extra, packed clothing to keep the food close to my spine.
- My top layers consist of my shelter and “accessible clothing” and snacks. Accessible clothing refers to clothing I will utilize during the day such as my wind layers, rain layers, or fleece.
- Additionally, I often keep extra food to replenish my hip belt stores in this top layer.
Although I tweak this system depending on the hike, this general layering allows for good weight distribution and easy access to most needed items.
Every wilderness adventure requires a different level of navigation. When deciding which navigational tools to bring along, consider the region, geographic area, and conditions into which you are heading.
Many people bring a map and compass on every trip. Maps are a valuable navigational tool, showing intersecting trails, water sources, and emergency exit points. A compass will never run out of battery or get bad reception. Maps are always a great resource to have, but if you do not know how to use a map and compass, they are a useless. There are books and courses available to work on this valuable skill
Map and and compass navigation requires practice and know-how. However, knowledge weighs nothing. By utilizing map and compass navigation you save the considerable expense and additional weight of a GPS unit.
On well marked and well traveled trails, it is not necessary to carry traditional navigational tools, opting instead for a guidebook. Remember to use your judgement. If the trail seems at all confusing, bring additional navigation tools.
You won’t see a whole lot of topographical maps or compasses on the Appalachian Trail. You will, however, see a whole lot of guidebooks, such as Awol’s A.T. Guide | 7.8oz | $15.95
Lightweight backpacking wisdom denotes, “If you don’t use it – lose it!”
But what about first aid kits? Luckily, backpackers don’t sustain injuries every day, so first aid items will not be used regularly – right?
The secret to a safe, ultralight, and useful first aid kit is a combination of multi-use items and the knowledge to know how to use it.
Too many backpackers haul along large, expensive first aid kits with bandages still pristine in their cellophane wrappers. Rather than purchase a one-size-fits-all first aid kit, truly consider each item in your first aid kit.
What is your length of trip, experience level of companions, availability of front-country medical care, known allergies, or medical conditions?
For example, my medical kit for guided backpacking trips with nine beginning hikers is quite different from my first aid kit for a solo trip.
There are multiple ideas for lightweight or “ultralight” backpacking first aid kits. These are good places to start – however, first aid kits are most effective, lightweight, and safe when personalized.
The second portion of my first aid kit is made up of multiple use items. Although these items have first aid capabilities, they have a different primary use. Therefore, their weight is counted elsewhere in my gear list.
Wilderness First Aid and Wilderness First Responder courses are available from a variety of outdoor and outdoor medical schools.
Photos of tents pitched majestically on open cliff faces or mountain tops make for pretty Instagram posts. But campsite selection can make the difference between a cold and windy night on top of an exposed cliff, or a warm and comfortable night protected by rocks and trees.
When choosing a campsite, it is to adhere to both safety principles and Leave No Trace principles. That means camping at established campsites whenever possible. When choosing a non-established campsite, it is important to keep a few things in mind:
Choose a campsite with durable surface. Not only does this protect the fragile flora underneath the campsite but it also decreases the chance that your campsite will flood in the event of adverse weather. The campsite should also be at a slight elevation from surrounding topography. If adverse conditions arise you could find yourself in a pit of water instead of the nice flat campsite you’d imagined.
When using non-freestanding shelters, there are a few other important aspects to keep in mind. While some of these shelters offer complete weather protection, often the lightest options do not. When pitching tarps, utilize surrounding topography to retain optimal protection from the elements.
Tarp Camping using surrounding topography as a wind break
When using a three-sided tarp, determine which direction the wind is blowing from. That way the shelter can be pitched to either block the wind or to catch the wind to provide ventilation.
In adverse conditions, it is possible to utilize surrounding structures such as rocks to add a fourth side to shelters.
Leave No Trace
The most important skill any and every backpacker needs to learn is Leave No Trace. Leave No Trace is a set of seven principles that help guide people who recreate in the outdoors toward responsible and sustainable practices in the outdoors.
I’ve heard Leave No Trace described a couple ways – sometimes as Take Only Picutres Leave Only Footprints (but please do not take selfies with Bison). Really, LNT means to leave the trail just as you found it, or even better than you found it.
There is nothing more indicative of a novice or disrespctful hiker as a fresh fire ring smoking with the remains of the cans and aluminum foil from the night before. Or a tent set up on top of the fragile alpine environment. Or a toilet paper flower blooming too close to a water source.
Leave No Trace is the indispensable backcountry skill.
Ultralight Backpacking 101: A Psychological and Emotional Guide The following series on ultralight backpacking is brought to you by Gossamer Gear, a leading UL gear manufacturer since 1998. Gossamer Gear is a small, passionate company whose mission is to improve your experience with backpacking with the best ultralight products.… Read More
Ultralight Backpacking 102: The Gear Guide The following series on ultralight backpacking is brought to you by Gossamer Gear, a leading UL gear manufacturer since 1998. Gossamer Gear is a small, passionate company whose mission is to improve your experience with backpacking with the best ultralight products.… Read More
Andrew Skurka: The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide: Pioneering long distance hiker Andrew Skurka breaks down gear and the skills needed to use it in this classic guide
Bob and Mike Burns: Wilderness Navigation: Small, simple, and well written, the book integrates helpful exercises with straightforward explanations and makes navigation skills easy to learn.
Justin Lichter: Ultralight Survival Kit : The best twelve dollars you’ll ever spend and 4 oz. you’ll ever carry. PCT winter thru hiker Trauma shares practical tips and tricks garnered over his many thousands of miles.
Mike Clelland: Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips and Tricks: Don’t be fooled by the one liners and illustrations – this book has some valuable ideas for reducing pack weight while remaining accessible and understandable
Ray Jardine: Trail Life: Ray Jardine’s Lightweight Backpacking : Updated version (2009) Ray Jardine’s classic Beyond Backpacking
Tarp Photo Credit to Joseph
This UL series is brought to you by Gossamer Gear, a leading manufacturer of UL packs, shelters, sleeping pads, and more. You can keep up with their latest products, ambassadors, and deals by following Gossamer Gear on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek’s ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
Hiking vs backpacking: how far do you want to go?
Does all walking outdoors require carrying a massive backpack? How do you get to those magical, untouched wilderness spots that require more miles than you could possibly walk in a day? The answers to questions like these require understanding the differences between hiking vs backpacking.
The terms hiking and backpacking are often used interchangeably, and while the two activities overlap, they require vastly different gear. In this article, we explain the differences between hiking and backpacking so you understand what’s needed for each type of adventure, from gear and fitness to time and permits.
Hiking vs backpacking: what’s the difference?
Backpacking is when you take a long walk in the countryside carrying your camping gear on your back and camp overnight in the wild for at least one night (Image credit: Sawitree Pamee / EyeEm)
As we’ve previously written, hiking is defined as a long walk in the countryside, so backpacking is definitely a form of hiking, however not all hiking is backpacking. Backpacking is when you take a long walk in the countryside carrying your camping gear on your back and camp overnight in the wild for at least one night. Hiking doesn’t inherently involve any camping, so for our purposes, we’re defining hiking here as an activity that takes place in a single day, after which you go home and sleep in your own bed.
Hiking vs backpacking: gear
Put simply, backpacking requires a lot more gear than hiking does. What you’ll need for hiking depends on the conditions and terrain, of course, but the hiking essentials include items like hiking boots and a small backpack to carry your water bottle, extra layers and a map. Meanwhile, for backpacking you have to bring everything you need for hiking plus everything required for camping, such as a tent, camping stove, your best sleeping bag and sleeping pad. Now this obviously means backpacking is more expensive, but gear can be rented rather than bought, and while you’ll definitely be carrying more weight, there are ways to lighten your load with our ultralight camping tips.
Hiking vs backpacking: distance
There isn’t a set distance that’s required for hiking or backpacking; rather, you’re likely to be able to go further if you’re backpacking. Though you personally may be able to clock a lot of miles in one day, when it comes to hiking on an out-and-back trail, you always have to take into account the fact that no matter how far you hike out, you have to hike the same distance back, and ideally get back to the trailhead before sunset.
With backpacking, because you’re sleeping wild, you can potentially cover twice as much distance in a day as you can on an out-and-back day hike, and then go even further the next day. This means you’ll be more likely to reach those amazing out-of-the-way spots like secret waterfalls and hidden hot springs. There are no limits to the distance you can go as long as you have the supplies and the time.
Both are an adventure, but we’ll go out on a limb here and say that backpacking is even more adventurous.
Hiking vs backpacking: time
The price you pay for accessing barely-touched wilderness is of course a lot more time (Image credit: Bruce Shippee / EyeEm)
The price you pay for accessing barely-touched wilderness is of course a lot more time. For a backpacking trip, you’ll need to set aside at least the weekend, if not longer, whereas a good hike can easily fit into a half day or a couple of hours.
Hiking vs backpacking: physical challenge
You can definitely get a great workout on a challenging, steep hike, but you’ll be more tired at the end of a day of backpacking (Image credit: Jordan Siemens)
All types of hiking can be great exercise, but the extra time required for backpacking doesn’t just mean time on the clock – more time on your feet means you’ll want to be in good shape for backpacking. Plus, you’ll be carrying the extra weight of a heavy backpack, which is tougher on your legs and requires more balance. You can definitely get a great workout on a challenging, steep hike, but you’ll be more tired at the end of a day of backpacking.
Hiking vs backpacking: permits and fees
Though some hiking trails like Angel Landing – and of course National Parks – do require permits and fees for access, the majority of hiking is completely free beyond the cost of gear and doesn’t require permission, which means you can be spontaneous and do it on a budget. Because you’ll be camping when you’re backpacking, you’ll often need permits which usually come with a fee and means you’ll have to do a bit more planning to reserve campsites. However, you can always avoid fees and permits by camping on BLM land in the US, or wild camping in the UK.
|Gear||Hiking boots, daypack, water bottle, waterproof jacket and trekking poles||Everything you need for hiking plus everything you need for camping and a much bigger backpack|
|Distance||You can only go as far as you can walk between sunrise and sunset||There are no limits to the distance you can go as long as you have the supplies and the time|
|Time||You’re limited to the daylight hours available, and a hike can last as little as a couple of hours||At least one night with day’s worth of hiking on either side|
|Physical challenge||Depends on the terrain, conditions and distance||Distance plus the weight of gear means a good challenge, always|
|Permits and fees||Not usually required, unless in a National Park||Camping often (but not always) requires fees, permits and planning|
Hiking vs backpacking: the verdict
The truth is, you don’t really decide between these two activities so much as you choose where you really want to go (Image credit: vorDa)
The truth is, you don’t really decide between these two activities so much as you choose where you really want to go. If you can’t get there in a day, you’ll need to go backpacking which means more gear, more time, better fitness, possible permits and a good sense of adventure. If you can get there in a day, it doesn’t mean that you can’t spend the night there, but if you don’t fancy purchasing, or carrying, a lot of gear, you’re short on time or just prefer the idea of sleeping in your own bed, go for a day hike – you’ll love it.