Have you wanted to try backpacking, but your uncertainty keeps you from it. Perhaps you don’t know what to do, or you aren’t really sure how safe it is. Ambassador Meg is here to help and has put together six common fears and how to get over them.

Trying something new, like backpacking, can be intimidating. How do you cook in the outdoors? Survive a night miles from civilization? What about wildlife? These are are valid concerns for both the backpacking noob and seasoned vet. Let’s take a look at common first-time fears for backpackers and how to overcome them.

Fear One: Carrying that Heavy Pack

Sure, you can day hike mile after mile with a small daypack, but what about those big, lumbering backpacking packs? When you carry your entire home on your shoulders, it can quickly feel like the weight of the world. How on earth do you manage?

For your first backpacking trip, tone down the intensity. Don’t go for the epic 15-mile-a-day trail with tons of Vitamin L (elevation gain) on your first-ever trip. When you’re on the trail, remember to take your time. The whole point of backpacking is to walk all day and camp, so don’t worry if it takes longer than normal to get to where you’re headed. Relax, enjoy the scenery. If you do find yourself struggling, use a walking stick or trekking poles to alleviate some of the stress on your legs.

Fear Two: Finding a Spot to Camp

How do you know where to camp when your out on the trail? What if you can’t find a spot and it gets dark? First, it turns out that many areas popular with backpackers (and even less popular areas) usually have obvious, established backcountry campsites along the trail. Determine how many miles you’d like to go before you stop prior to leaving the house. Make sure you check a topo map and look for a flat area for camping. Don’t forget to note possible camp spots on your trip plan.

Fear Three: Pooping and All the Bodily Functions

Hate to break it to you, but everybody poops. Sometimes people need to poop on the trail. I used to completely seize up when I traveled, even in the backcountry. Nothing was worse than squatting about waiting for relief to come! Pooping outside can be a little daunting if you’ve never done it before. My big tip for first timers is to find a place that has a little coverage so you don’t feel so vulnerable. If you must sit, try putting your bum on the edge of a rock or tree stump to help you out.

Wherever you go in nature, be sure to follow Leave No Trace principles. This means doing the deed at least 200-feet (70 adult steps) from water sources and the trail. Be sure to make a designated potty area well away from camp too! Some unwanted wildlife (like bears) enjoy digging up human waste. Pack out your toilet paper (use a duct-taped ziplock baggy if it grosses you out) and dig a hole six-inches deep as your “toilet.”

Fear Four: When Darkness Creeps in

Hey, it’s totally okay to be an adult and be weary of the darkness. The worst is when the wind is still and you can hear your heartbeat in the silence of the night. Don’t fret about what goes bump in the night, instead focus on something relaxing. If you find yourself getting nervous, play some soft music or use ear plugs. Sometimes I’ll throw a shirt over my head just to muffle any noises or lack-thereof. Remember, the more you get out and backpack, the less scary the night will be.

Fear Five: Wildlife

Lots of people are terrified of wildlife encounters, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret, wildlife is more terrified of you. Most of the time wildlife moves off before you even know it was there. Carrying weapons or bear mace is a personal choice. If it makes you feel more comfortable, then go ahead.

The best thing you can do to stave off wildlife is to be loud. Make noise, sing or shout “hey bear” while you’re hiking to let wildlife know you are around. The second thing you must do is keep your food safe from animals. This means using odor proof bags, a bear sack or bear canister. Always hang and store your food well away from camp so the scent doesn’t draw in any critters looking for a nibble.

Fear Six: Not Being Able to Keep up with the Pros

There’s a saying in the thru-hiking world called hike your own hike (HYOH). It means don’t worry about what other people are doing and go at your own pace. Sometimes, that can be really tough to do, especially if you’re the new person in the group. A great wilderness friend will be patient with you and understand that you are new.

Remember to HYOH and don’t push yourself too hard to keep up. It’s ok if the group gets a little spread out, it happens. If you need to take a break, say so. Part of being outdoors in a group is voicing your thoughts and needs. It’s all validated and you shouldn’t worry so much about your pace, focus on enjoying nature.

Want More? Buy the Book

As a freelance writer for the outdoors and a Hike Like a Woman Ambassador, it is my passion to empower women in the outdoor space. So much so, I wrote an ebook about it. If you want to learn more about how to plan and execute an epic backpacking adventure, pick up my book. It’ll cover everything from finding the perfect route to reading a map and what to do about your period on the trail. Seriously, we covered everything.

Happy Trails!

3 comments on “6 Common Fears for First Time Backpackers and How to Overcome Them

  1. Hahaha you nailed it with this list! These were indeed all of my main concerns 😀 For those planning their first trip: it will all be fine! Somehow it works out one way or an other. 😉

  2. wary / weary / leery. People sometimes write “weary” (tired) when they mean “wary” (cautious) which is a close synonym with “leery” which in the psychedelic era was often misspelled “leary,” but since Timothy Leary faded from public consciousness, the correct spelling has prevailed.

    • Thanks for letting us know! You’ll probably find a lot of grammatical errors here…we try but we’re far from perfect.

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