What Is Backpacking? Basics, Tips, and Meaning

Backpacking means carrying your life essentials in a backpack for an immersive outdoor experience that involves hiking, backcountry camping, and even staying in cheap accommodations.

You can become a backpacker by traveling in your suitcase and finding affordable hostels as you hop from one country to another.

In this article, the focus is on the backpacking definition that involves adventures in the mountains where you get to enjoy nature along with your camping gear.

Backpacking in the wild had captured the attention of young people searching for a healthier lifestyle.

Since you now have the general knowledge about what backpacking is, it’s time for you to know more about what it means to become a backpacker in the wild.

Below, we have prepared sections that would be helpful should you decide to take on backpacking adventures or even if you are a veteran backpacker and just would want to add to the sea of knowledge that you have.

So, let’s go ahead and learn more about backpacking in the great outdoors.

Backpacking, Hiking, and Trekking Difference

You might have asked about what differentiates backpacking from hiking, or trekking.

To give you a gist of it, backpacking is just hiking with an overnight stay in the wilderness while trekking is a long journey that might take days or weeks which usually happens in high altitudes.

Nowadays, the line between backpacking and trekking has become blurry because people use the term interchangeably.

You can go on a backpacking trip in the Andes and call it trekking, or you can go on a short day hike and call it backpacking.

In general, the three terms are used to describe a journey in the outdoors with the main difference being the duration of the journey and the altitude.

Types of Backpacking

Yes, there are different types of backpacking and if you want to know which type you belong to or want to try all the backpacking types, then go ahead and see the information as follows:

Lightweight Backpacking

Lightweight Backpacking

Ultralight backpacking involves bringing lightweight gear with packs having a target base weight to not exceed 20 lbs vs the target base weight of regular backpackers which is over 30 lbs.

The base weight total does not include anything consumable and your clothing and footwear.

This type of backpacking has gained popularity over the years with lightweight gear flooding the market as this offers utmost comfort with less weight to carry around.

There are other variations of Lightweight Backpacking as follows:

  • Ultralight Backpacking – packs target base weight not exceeding 10 lbs.
  • Super Ultralight Backpacking – packs target base weight not exceeding 5 lbs.

The weights are the standard base weight. Each backpacker can have their own style where they add additional 5 lbs. to the weight and still categorize it under super ultralight backpacking. You can have a backpacking trip with 15 lbs base weight but still, consider it ultralight backpacking.



Flashpacking is a type of backpacking that involves bringing all the gear and gadgets that a digital nomad or a millennial traveler would need.

This can include bringing a laptop, tablet, smartphone, and other electronic devices that can weigh your backpack down.

The term flashpacking is a combination of the words “flashy” and “backpacking”.

However, some people might not consider this backpacking since you are carrying more weight and might not be able to appreciate the wilderness as you would if you are carrying a lighter load.

Adventure Backpacking

Adventure Backpacking

This type of backpacking is for those people who want to go beyond the beaten path and explore new terrains.

This can involve going to places with no roads, no marked trails, and even no people.

You can backpack in deserts, rainforests, and even the Arctic.



Thru-hiking is one of the most challenging types of backpacking as this involves hiking long-distance trails from start to finish in a single journey that can take a longer period like days, weeks, and even months.

Hiking on the Appalachian Trail (A.T) or the Pacific Crest Trail (P.C.T) involves long-distance hikes and is categorized as thru-hikes.

Multi-day Hiking

Multi-day Hiking

Multi-day hiking is a form of backpacking that usually involves hiking that starts and finishes at the same point. This type of backpacking is most common for mountaineers who want to spend multi-day trips on a target destination mountain range.

You can just go out spend nights in the mountain with your backpacking gear, cook some camping food, and go back to civilization.

Mountaineering Expeditions

Mountaineering Expeditions in the US

Mountaineering expeditions are group-oriented and usually, involve ascending mountains that are unclimbed or rarely climbed.

Climbing peaks like Mount Everest would be categorized under mountaineering expeditions as this would require weeks or months of preparation with a group of travelers.

Beginners Backpacking Trip Tips

For first-time backpackers going on your first backpacking adventure is a thrilling experience. But of course, you need to arm yourself with backpacking basics that will make your life and trip better.

Here are the backpacking tips for your first backpacking trip:

  1. Bring the right backpack for the trip. The right backpack should match the number of days of your backpacking trip. Do not bring a big backpack if you only plan to spend 1-2 days on your trip. If you have enough budget, go for a lightweight backpack that will have you save money in the long run.
  2. Research the weather, climate, trail difficulty, and wildlife of the place. This will help you prepare essential items especially if the place has a high chance of rainfall. Researching will also help you in planning your trip better as a first-time backpacker.
  3. Choose an easy trail to hike. As a beginner, when planning your first backpacking adventure in the wild, you should choose a destination with an easy trail to match your experience in hiking. An easy trail will give you the feel of how it’s going to be in the wild and if you’re ready to take on extreme hikes.
  4. Try to pack light as best as you can. Cut off unnecessary items from your fully-loaded pack. As a first-time backpacker you might want to bring as many items as you can but packing lightly will help you more especially in long walks.
  5. Do not bring too many clothes that take up a lot of space inside your pack. You can reuse your clothes during your hike. Choose hiking clothing that dries fast and can be easily reused the next day.
  6. Choose a reliable tent to bring as part of your camping gear in the great outdoors. The tent you use to camp should be waterproof, you would not want water to enter your shelter in the middle of the night. There are many lightweight low-cost tents on the market.
  7. Bring a light sleeping bag. There are several lightweight sleeping bags to choose from on the market.
  8. Bring water containers and a water filter. A water filter can come in handy for safety if you don’t have enough water and need to do a refill from a natural source.
  9. Bring enough snacks and food. You would much prefer having extras than starving. Some of the food that you can bring that won’t take up much space are dried fruits, nuts, and energy bars.
  10. Carry basic kitchen supplies in your pack. Deciding to go backpacking is fun especially when it’s time to cook. If you have an extra budget you can opt for cooking materials made with Titanium material that does not rust and is lightweight.
  11. Carry toiletries essentials. There are campsites without toilets especially if you choose backcountry camping. You will be outside your comfort zone so bring biodegradable tissues and also a mini shovel.
  12. Be a responsible backpacker in all your trips. Practice the Leave No Trace (LNT) principle especially if you decide to do a backcountry camping where no one maintains the site. Leave the wilderness without any trace of trash, pack up your trash and bring them along with you until you see a garbage bin for disposal.
  13. Save a Google Map of the trail. You can conveniently save a Google Map of the hike site that will help you search for trails.
  14. Ask locals for advice. Talk to the locals who know about the place to get tips on hiking and camping sites.
  15. Read a travel blog for inspiration. Read motivating articles about backpackers that will set your mind for your backpacking and camping adventure. Some recommendations include Exploringo and thebrokebackpacker.
  16. Bring cash. You might need money to buy extra food or water.
  17. Enjoy the trail and have fun in the wilderness.

Essential Gear for Backpacking Trips

Essential Gear for Backpacking Trips

After learning the backpacking tips, bringing the right gear to this exciting life adventure is also as important. Here is a list of the essential gears that backpackers should have on their b:

Hiking Boots

You will be with your shoes for long periods outdoors. To reach your destination, having good quality shoes is a must.


Socks are important to avoid blisters when hiking. There are different types of socks in the market and it would be best to ask an expert in a sports store before buying one.

Hiking Poles

These will help you save energy when walking on uneven terrain.


The backpack should have compartments where you can put your things. It is also important to have a rain cover in case the weather changes. There are a lot of affordable and lightweight backpacks in the market to choose from.


A multitool could come in handy when you need to fix something on the trail.

Hiking Clothes

Hiking clothes should be comfortable and should not absorb sweat. There are different materials to choose from depending on the climate of your destination.

First Aid Kit

It is better to be safe than sorry. Having a first-aid kit will ease your worries about possible untoward accidents when you camp.

Waterproof and Lightweight Tent

A good quality tent will protect you from the elements and keeps you dry even when it rains.

Sun protection

Bring a hat and sunscreen. There are open trails that will bring more exposure to the harmful rays of the sun.

Sleeping Bag

A comfortable sleeping bag is important for a good night’s sleep in the wilderness.

Flashlight or Headlamp

This is a must-have for a backpacker especially if you are planning to do some night hikes or camp overnight. You can also bring some lights that you can hang in your shelter.

Food and Water

Backpackers should never forget to bring food and water, especially when going on long hikes.

Basic Kitchen Supplies

If you plan to do some cooking during your backpacking vacation, it is important to bring some kitchen supplies.


Don’t forget to pack your toothbrush and biodegradable toiletries.

Hiking Watch

A hiking watch is a great tool to have while backpacking. It can help you track your progress, and keep track of the time.

Hiking GPS

A hiking GPS can be a lifesaver if you get lost on the trail and need to search for direction.


A compass is another essential tool that every backpacker should have especially on unknown trails.

Best Places Outdoors for Backpacking in the US

National Parks

National Parks in the US for hiking and backpacking

National Parks are among the best places to explore for your backpacking trip. Here are the several of the national parks in the US that you should visit:

  • Grand Teton- Teton Crest Trail – Wyoming
  • Glacier National Park – Highline Trail – Montana
  • Rocky Mountain National Park- Colorado
  • Yosemite National Park- John Muir Trail – California
  • Grand Canyon National Park – Arizona

Pacific Crest Trail

Pacific Crest Trail

The Pacific Crest Trail is one of the best places to go backpacking if you’re looking for a truly epic adventure in the world. This rugged trail winds through the mountains and valleys of California, Oregon, and Washington, offering breathtaking views and great opportunities for camping along the way.

Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail for hiking

The Appalachian Trail is another popular choice among backpackers in the US and even in the world. Starting in Georgia and ending at Maine’s Mount Katahdin, this 2,000-mile trail passes through some of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the eastern US and the world. Whether you’re looking for a challenging thru-hike, or just want to explore some easy day hikes, the Appalachian Trail is sure to deliver.

We hope that this article helped answer not just your question about what is backpacking but also added helpful information for your next fantastic adventure in the great outdoors. Safe travels!

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Article by Kyle

Digital nomad since 2010. I spend my time traveling around the world learning about new cultures and languages. I've lived in 4 continents and still have a lot left to explore!