By Michael Russell
After a great deal of research and carefully consideration you have finally decided that it's time to try backpacking. You have bought the latest backpacking trail guides and plotted your destination at the ultimate get-away location. But before you take off here are a few common sense tips that will keep you safe and help you along during your journey.
First and foremost, carefully and thoroughly plan your trips before you leave home. This step cannot be emphasized enough! Study maps and other sources of information to prepare for any physical or geographical roadblocks. Careful planning will help you achieve and maintain a healthy and positive attitude about the trip itself.
Next, determine what type of gear you will need to backpack. Beware of the "light gear" merchandise, as it may not always be the best purchasing option. Typically, you will also want to avoid any gear that is "all-in-one" as it may be bulky. Gear that is too large may become a safety concern as it makes people more at risk to falling down while too-small gear may compromise personal security. Give each piece of gear careful consideration and select something that feels safe and comfortable to you. More experienced backpackers generally progress to lighter and more efficient gear.
Once you have finished planning and purchasing items for your trip, the next step is to communicate them to friends and family members. It is highly recommended to print out a daily itinerary that includes a timetable with the corresponding destination and give a copy to friends and family. Include a topographical map with the itinerary and take note on how much time you will spend at each location and when you are planning on returning home. This is an essential tool because it could be your link to survival if you run into trouble in a remote area.
After planning and communicating your backpacking trip you are ready to hit the trails. The first rule of thumb is to listen to your "sixth sense", know when to turn around and go back. Questionable, dangerous, or even deadly situations can arise if you continually challenge your "sixth sense". Listening to your body is just as important. Keep hydrated by drinking a lot of fluids and eating on a regular basis. While hiking trails, many backpackers forget to stop and replenish their bodies. Dehydration is a real threat that many backpackers experience. Backpackers need to maintain energy levels high by drinking plenty of water and snacking frequently. Another threat for backpackers is hypothermia and hyperthermia. Hypothermia occurs when the body's temperature drops below normal and hyperthermia occurs when the body's temperature is higher than normal and your body can't cool down. It is essential to learn how to dress before your body becomes chilled and undress before you overheat.
Finally, always carry a compass and know how to read a map. The map is the ultimate tool in preparation and a compass will aid in travel direction. If a situation arises where you become disoriented on the trail, the map will allow you to re-focus and continue onward. Preparation is the best tool to prevent this situation from occurring. By taking into consideration the above tips, backpacking can be a very rewarding passage. Remember, careful trip planning is the key to backpacking along with familiarizing yourself with the area. As always, be aware of the limits of your body and maintain your energy levels. Most importantly, let family and friends know of your where about at all times.