Introducing Your Friends to Backpacking
Backpacking is an incredible hobby. You get to see some amazing things that you would never see if you stayed near the car, and it’s not at all unusual to want to share the experience with a close friend or a significant other. However, what seems easy to a seasoned backpacker can seem impossible to a novice. If you aren’t prepared, what you expected to be an exciting trip can turn into a disaster for all involved when you have a novice in tow. Blisters, exhaustion, and constant complaining can ruin a trip and strain a friendship.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to end this way. With proper planning, you can introduce a novice to the joys of backpacking and still have a great experience. However, there are several steps that you’ll need to take to ensure a smooth trip for everyone. To start, think back to the mistakes that you made when you first started backpacking, and what you learned from those mistakes. Many of these lessons about successful hiking that you learned over time have become conditioned behavior for you by now, things you do without even consciously thinking about them. Since you don’t have to think about these behaviors, it’s easy to forget that other people don’t know any better. This article will help you overcome these obstacles so that you can plan and execute an easy backpacking trip that even a new backpacker will enjoy.
The first step in introducing backpacking to a new hiker is to choose a good route. Choose a trail that’s short-a 4-6 mile overnighter is best. Someone who’s never backpacked before may not be in as good shape as they think they are. Even if your friend loves hiking, he or she may not be conditioned enough for the extra effort involved in backpacking. It takes a lot more energy to hike a trail with a pack on than it does to hike the same trail without a pack. Also, choose a trail with some sort of payoff at the end of it. For example, look for a dramatic waterfall, an expansive view, or an inviting creek. Give your new hiking buddy something to look forward to as they slog along the trail with you.
The next step involves dividing up the load. Depending on your friend’s physical condition, you may need to make room in your pack for some of the heavier items. This is another reason to choose a short route-it allows you to be the workhorse without too much discomfort. This is especially true if your friend does not have a frame backpack. If he or she only has a daypack, they should only attempt to carry a change of clothes and possibly some snacks. Everything else goes in your pack!
The final step is the most important: the five point inspection. Yes, your friend is an adult and should be able to take care of themselves. Remember, though, that people who have never gone backpacking before often have no idea how to dress or how to pack. I have taken novices down a short trail that should have been easy, but it quickly became tortuous for all of us. One of the girls was wearing a pair of sandals, the other had brought her entire CD collection and a personal CD player. There is a right time and a wrong time to discover that your friend has no idea what they are doing. The right time is before the trip starts, when you can actually do something about it. The wrong time is 2 miles down the trail, when your friend develops major back pain or a blister the size of a baseball. The five point inspection ensures that you are BOTH prepared for the trip. Here are the five points to inspect:
- Footwear- Check to make sure that your friend is wearing proper footwear for the trail. They should be wearing hiking boots that will provide them an appropriate amount of traction and support. Otherwise, they will develop painful blisters. If this happens, the hike out the next day will be even worse. If they can’t find appropriate footwear, the itinerary needs to change from backpacking to car camping.
- Pack- Next, go through your friend’s backpack. Remember, he or she has never been backpacking before and may not know the difference between essential items and unnecessary items. Also, they may think their pack weight is fine when the try the backpack on at home-only to have it seemingly grow heavier and heavier with each step taken along the trail. Overloading a pack with unnecessary items may be slightly more of a problem for girls than for boys, but both genders are vulnerable and all new backpacker’s packs should be inspected. If you find unnecessary items, remove them from the pack and explain gently yet firmly why they need to be left at home. If your companion can’t live without deodorant body spray or 15 compact discs worth of music for one night, you might want to reconsider taking them backpacking with you.
- Clothing- It may be warm enough for a short-sleeved shirt and shorts when you leave for the trail, but if it’s going to get cold at night you need to make sure your friend has some warm clothes, too. Make sure that they have packed appropriate clothing for the season and the terrain.
- Basic trail knowledge- Educate your new backpacking companion on basic trail practices, including proper practice for using the bathroom.
- Attitude-Having a positive attitude is one of the keys to an enjoyable trip. Make sure your companion is confident and looking forward to the experience. If he or she seems to be dreading the trip, you may need to change plans.
Also, if you are a guy who is trying to share his passion for backpacking with his girlfriend, try to make the experience as romantic as possible. For example, pack a bottle of wine in a plastic bottle and some small votive candles to go with dinner. Even if she doesn’t see the appeal in climbing up a mountain with a night’s worth of food, water and clothing on her back, these small gesture will hopefully warm her heart enough that she eventually forgives you!
Using these guidelines will ensure that your new hiking companion has a positive experience their first time on the trail. It may seem to you like you are babysitting, but remember you have knowledge and experience and your friend does not. It’s up to you to teach your friend how to backpack safely, intelligently, and with respect for the environment. If he or she has an awful experience on their first trip, they may never go out with you again. On the other hand, if you plan the trip carefully, you’ll both have fun and you might have someone new to accompany you on your adventures.