It's no secret that the outdoor industry has historically been male-dominated.
But in 2019, the Outdoor Foundation found that 53.8 percent of outdoor participants were male and 46.2 percent of participants were female, representing the smallest gender gap on record.
While closing the gender gap in the outdoor recreation industry is definitely something to celebrate, the change has been slow and only made possible by women and femmes tirelessly fighting for representation in the space.
And although there may be more access for women in outdoor recreation, there are still strides to be made to make outdoor recreation more inclusive and accessible for all underrepresented groups, like people of color and people with disabilities.
To make the change, we must work to reduce the barriers to access. On my first women and femmes backpacking trip with LAAF travels, I learned helpful tips and tricks about all things backpacking, starting with how to plan a backpacking trip.
Planning is important for everyone, but even more so for women and people of color who might not feel completely at-ease in the backcountry.
Read on before you step those boots on the trail.
What even is backpacking?
First things first, what is backpacking? Well, essentially, it is putting all your belongings in an oversized backpack including your tent, sleeping bag, ground pad, food, and toiletries, then hiking into the wilderness to a campsite and spending a night unplugged and away from civilization.
It’s a great way to clear your head, be in the moment, and enjoy quality time with good company.
Can it be grueling?
If you choose to bring a tent, your favorite snacks, and cozy sweats, your pack is most likely going to be heavy and that makes every step feel a bit more challenging.
Is it worth it? Absolutely.
There is really no other way to spend a night away from cars, roads, and the buzz of civilization. Our bodies are amazing. It’s humbling and grounding to carry everything you need for a night on your back.
Also, talk about rewarding! After the hike, you get to set up camp and enjoy a well-deserved night's rest under the stars.
Where to get “gear”
Buying needed backpacking equipment, also known as “gear”, can be intimidating and is a huge cost barrier. You definitely don’t need the latest and greatest equipment to go backpacking!
Rent from your local outdoor shop, university outdoor recreation program, or REI.
Even better, borrow items from friends and family. Here are 10 clever tips to find backpacking gear without breaking the bank.
Planning a Backpacking Trip
Alright, so you have the gear and a will to explore. What now?
On my first backpacking basics trip with LAAF Travels, we learned what you need to plan a one-night backpacking trip.
1. Get a map
Decide where you want to go and look at maps. Google maps doesn’t have great trail information. Ideally, you want something that shows you miles, elevation gain/loss, and key landmarks. AllTrails is a great free resource to start exploring trails in your area. Better yet, stop by your local outdoor store and grab a trail map of your area.
2. Figure out how many days and miles
This is arguably the hardest part, there is so much to explore! The best advice is to start easy and work your way up. Carrying a weighted pack makes it more difficult to cover miles than your typical day hike. When planning your backpacking route, we recommend starting with a two-day and one-night trip. An ideal first backpacking trip could be around five miles a day with a total of 1,000 feet elevation gain. More elevation means that it will be more challenging to cover miles.
3. Pick a campsite
Many areas require a backcountry permit to backpack and camp overnight. Be sure to look on the national park or national forest website to check what campsites are permitted and how to obtain a permit. When picking your desired campsite, make sure it is within your mile and elevation limit. If permits are first come first serve, we recommend coming prepared with your top three choices.
Keep in mind that the National Forest Service, the National Park Service, State Parks and wilderness areas all have different permitting processes. Go to your state agency’s website and they should have information under a Camping Permits section.
4. Get a group or let people know if you are going on a solo backpacking trip
Ready for a weekend full of friends and happy trail talks? Or looking for a solo, soul-searching experience? Either way, let people know where you are going and when they can plan on hearing from you. Whenever entering the backcountry, it’s crucial to inform others of your whereabouts and plan. Send a quick, “Made it! Can’t wait to tell you about it.” text when you are back to service to let them know you are safe and sound.
5. Leave No Trace
We want to keep the trails pristine for our animal and plant friends and make sure wild spaces and ecosystems stay healthy for generations to come. The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace provides a framework of best practices for how to have a minimal impact when in the outdoors. Try your best to stick to the principles and put them into practice whenever you are in the outdoors.
The Unspoken Rule: Be Flexible When in the Backcountry
On my first LAAF Backpacking Basics trip, I learned the importance of being flexible when backpacking. You have an objective, that picturesque camp spot in your mind that you can’t wait to tell everyone about.
But a few miles in, you can feel burning blisters on your heels. It’s hot out. A couple of people in your group are slowing down and each approaching incline feels a bit more daunting. It’s around 4pm and you still have a good four miles to camp.
What do you do?
First, stop and check in with your group to see how everyone is feeling. It can be difficult to take into account everyone’s needs and goals, but safety is the top priority when traveling in the backcountry. If one person expresses any hesitancy, it’s worth reevaluating your plan.
It’s okay to turn around or cut your trip short.
If you won’t reach your desired campground until well after dark, and the thought of going more miles or climbing more feet sounds exhausting, change your plan!
Find a place to pitch your tent, preferably a designated campground, and enjoy yourself. It’s always better to rest easy knowing there are more adventures to be had than to be in a situation that may result in injury or rescue.
Helpful tip: If a designated campground is not an option and you can't keep going, choose a spot at least 200 feet away from water and the trail.
Join a Backpacking Basics Course to Learn More!
Backpacking can bring a lifetime of adventures. If you are ready to get started but overwhelmed by where to start, join a LAAF Travels Backpacking Basics course.
This two-day one-night trip will teach you everything you need to know about gear, pitching a tent, cooking tasty and nourishing food, and planning your next trip. Plus, you will be with a group of like-minded women and femmes who may become your go-to adventure buddies.
Sign up today!