10 things I wish I knew before heading out on my First Backpacking Trip

First time backpacker and I survive the night!

In a recent post, I talked about how before you do or go anywhere, the first thing you should do is google “10 things I wish I knew”. 

After Googling and a ton of research, there were still 10 things, I forgot or wished I knew before I went backpacking.

I have been hiking and camping before, but this was the first time, I had strapped a backpack, and headed into the woods in an attempt to spend the night there.  Back in March, I headed out with my local trail society, The Happy Hoofers, for an overnight trek through Florida’s cow pastures, swamplands, and cypress forest.  I had done my research, I was going with season backpackers, I thought I was good.

Boy, was I wrong!

  1. Exercise – LEG DAYS should be every day.

My pack is about 25 pounds – which is about 20% of my body weight (please don’t do the math). I run, Kickbox, spin, hike, and do yoga, so I thought I was in perfect shape for this. By day two (of a two-day hiking trip), my legs were screaming at me, and not in a nice way.

This wasn’t the first, nor the last fence we climb over.

After my trek through the Andes and the realization that stairs hate me, I thought it should be easy to hike in flatlands with a backpack strapped to me.  It turns out this trip involved a lot of climbing over fences, trudging through marshlands, and sometimes having to run for your life.  Which would be no problem, if my 25-pound necessary survival bag weren’t strap to my back.

I came home barely able to walk, except doing that weird cowboy stride. 

Lesson learn, leg day should not be skipped.

2. Extra Coffee

When you write a whole post about why extra coffee packets are always necessary, it shows you how important it is.

If you want to read about it, please do, it is a funny story. But trust me, always pack extra coffee!

3. You don’t need the expensive camp food; Ramen and instant oatmeal work just as well.

I went out to buy a very expensive pack of “camping” food for this trip. I was going to dine on beef stroganoff with carrots for dinner, followed by a nice breakfast of eggs, bacon, and potatoes…Just kidding.

I was smart enough to read about how expensive “camping” food packs are and how most of the stuff you could ever want is at your local grocery store for half the price.  So, for only $20.00 I fed myself for two days.

Breakfast: I stopped at McDonalds on the way to the trail

Lunch: Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich, Apple Chips, trail mix

Dinner: Ramen Noodles and a packet of salmon

Breakfast: Oatmeal and dried fruit

Snacks: Apple Chips and trail mix

Remember whatever you bring on the trail, you must carry out – including garbage

4. Sunscreen, Sun hat, Sun Shirt!

I am pale, Scandinavia Irish pale. The slightest hint of the sun and I am frying like an egg. I forgot to bring sunscreen with me.

I was a little surprised how burnt I got on the trail, especially my one side. My other side was not that bad.  I forgot to pack sunscreen, and halfway through the day, when we hit the levee part of the trail, I was burnt on my one side. 

I am not a fan of long sleeve shirts because I get overheated, but I probably will invest in a pair of sun sleeves to protect my white arms and make sure I bring sunscreen.

Lucky I was able to borrow some, so I did not go from lobster red to having sun poison.

5. You don’t need to bring as many electronics

My pack

I have no idea why I thought I would need my Kindle out in the woods, but I brought it only to find that I was too tired at night to read. Even though Kindles are lightweight, I think next time, I will only going rely on my phone for reading purposes.

Weight is weight

Do yourself a favor, don’t bring every electronic you own in the hopes of using it

6. A camping chair is a must

I decided to forgo the camping chair because of weight (yet I brought the useless Kindle).  When we made camp that night, while everyone enjoyed their meal around the campfire sitting in a chair, I was stuck on the ground eating my Ramen.

Even the younger ones in the group bring a camping chair, they are lightweight and fold easily, and they give your tush a nice resting place.

7. Extra socks should be in reach at all times!

I can’t stress enough the importance of good footwear. When I go hiking, I wear sock liners and a good pair of socks.  I very much regretted that I didn’t have a pair of readily clean dry socks available. Halfway through, we had to slog through 2 feet of swampy cow pasture water, and even though it felt good during that time, having to walk miles with the water still in my socks was not fun.  The liners helped, but if I had to do it all again, I would pack a pair of good socks that I can reach without having to unpack my bag.

8. Earplugs and mask

The Bull, who woke me up at 2 am!

You would not believe how noisy it is out in the middle of nowhere.  Animals are more active at night; starlight is brighter when it isn’t near a city. Cows, for some strange reason, like to party all night. 

We made camp in a cow pasture at Fort Center.  There was a bull who decided we were cool enough to hang out with. 

It wasn’t a problem until 2 am when he decided to MOO right next to my ears. I screamed, which woke up the whole camp. Afterward, we all put in our earplugs and went back to bed, just in time to hear the alligators’ mating calls. 

Between the bulls eating and bellowing, the alligators’ booty calls, and every other creature that wandered by our campsite, it was noisy! 

9. Make sure you understand how your fuel system works.

This is one of those tips that I wished I listened to before heading out. Make sure you understand how your fire system works.  I didn’t and I almost set the wooden table and the woods around me on fire.

My fuel system, before I almost set fire to the table

The funny part about being in the middle of nowhere is that you can’t YouTube how to start your fuel system, and the veterans on the trail had never seen one like mine. So, we turned up the gas, thinking nothing was coming out, only to have the ignition start, which started a fire. 

Next time, I am going to practice with it before I head out.

10. Practice packing and unpacking your bag a couple of times so that you have a rhythm.

It took a couple of times to pack up my bag the first time at home, but I was able to get everything in it that I needed. 

The problem arose when I had to figure out how I jam all my stuff into my bag out in the middle of the woods.  There is a difference between packing your bag in a clean house verse packing your bag where there is sand and dirt all over the place.

I was the last one to pack up, and everyone was waiting on me.


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