My First Backpacking Trip

Introduction

Does everyone remember their first backpacking trip? Maybe it was just this year or perhaps it was decades ago. Did you love it? Hate it? Swear to never do it again? Or promise yourself that one day you’ll walk one of those long distance trails? Everyone has a story from their first backpacking trip and it can serve as advice or inspiration for future hiking. This story is a little bit of both for me.

 

You can see Clingman’s Dome in the distance…

 

There’s A First Time For Everything

There I was, at eleven years old, standing in the dark in a long line of other prepubescent and adolescent Boy Scouts, the light from a pickup truck’s headlights flooding the brush along the treeline with a dim orange glow. Beyond was only darkness. Above us were millions of stars, a blanket of black and silver sparkles that most of us, suburban kids who lived in a mid-sized U.S. city, had never seen the likes of before.

On my back was an ungainly beast of a pack with a heavy aluminum frame and a thick, cotton lined sleeping bag lashed to the bottom. I was woefully unprepared. I made every mistake I would later teach younger scouts to avoid after many years of trial and error after error after error.

My mom packed my pack, first mistake, and in her lack of understanding about water filters packed a dozen plastic water bottles for me to carry. My food was boil-in-a-bag rice and packaged chicken cooked in a small kitchen pot over a shared backpacking stove. I was wearing cotton. Yes, I said it, cotton. I know, I know.

And on the second day out on our trip, as we were halfway up what felt like an endless mountain (the tallest mountain in the state of Kentucky, Black Mountain, is just over 4,000 feet. We were not on Black Mountain) I did something I regret to this day. Exhausted and slumped over an over-packed behemoth of a pack, I took two or three of those plastic water bottles and pitched them right off the side of that mountain. It is my great shame to this day and I humbly apologize for my grievous error.

 

Don’t be that person… Photo by jkomusin @ flickr.com

Insight For A Thru Hike

So, what does all this mean for my Appalachian Trail thru hike? Well for one, I certainly won’t be pitching any plastic water bottles off any mountain sides!

Seriously though, as rough as my first trip was, it taught me a valuable lesson that Boy Scouts strives to teach; to be prepared. And that value is integral to the ethics of Leave No Trace, which I so grossly violated in my juvenile ignorance. Those two values, preparedness and Leave No Trace, are going to be vital to getting me to Katahdin.

 

So, what was your first backpacking trip like and what did you learn for your thru hike?

 

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Comments 11

  • Avatar
    pearwood : Dec 26th

    Wes,
    Ouch. My first backpacking trip was 1960 or thereabouts. I was the runt of the group with a pack that weighed a lot more than I liked. I was hot, sweaty, tired and unhappy. Thankfully I had competent trip leaders. I survived.
    Eventually I figured out that I did much better hiking at my own pace with a more secure pack so stuff wasn’t constantly off-balance or in danger of falling off.
    I’m planning a NOBO start date on the AT early 2022. I was going to do 2021 but decided I didn’t want the pandemic hanging over me and the community.
    Blessings,
    Steve / pearwood

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Wes Laudeman : Dec 26th

      Pearwood, it sucks you won’t be on trail this year but I respect your decision to postpone. Follow along with us this year and hopefully next year you can knock it out! Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Tony Dus : Dec 26th

    My first backpacking trip was in 1995. I actually thru hiked having never backpacked before. I started out with a 60 lb. pack. A 6 inch buck knife strapped to my shoulder strap, a teflon frying pan to cook the fresh eggs in my plastic egg carton holder etc, etc. Those first days were brutal stopping every mile to rest. I learned pretty quick watching the other hikers with embarrassment. I did a major gear dump at Blood mountain outdoor shop. The big lesson for me was no matter how hard life gets just take one more step.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Tony Dus : Dec 26th

    My first backpacking trip was in 1995. I actually thru hiked having never backpacked before. I started out with a 60 lb. pack. A 6 inch buck knife strapped to my shoulder strap, a teflon frying pan to cook the fresh eggs in my plastic egg carton holder etc, etc. Those first days were brutal stopping every mile to rest. I learned pretty quick watching the other hikers with embarrassment. I did a major gear dump at Blood mountain outdoor shop. The big lesson for me was no matter how hard life gets just take one more step. Sir Renity Ga.- Me 95, Lt. 98, Lt 2015

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Wes Laudeman : Dec 26th

      Tony, that’s awesome! I have mad respect for those who set out on a thru hike with little or no prior experience, that takes a lot of guts! Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Bearspray : Dec 26th

    Two years ago boyfriend and I set out with borrowed gear and packs (and no idea what we were doing) for an 6 mile out and back overnight. My pack was sized for my brother who is 6’1″. I am 5 foot even. We decided 6 miles was too short and added 2 miles to our first day. We had never hiked that far even without packs. I packed two books and a Kindle, the entirety of my water filtering knowledge came from Wild and A Walk in the woods and I had never slept on the ground before(ouch!). Then we woke up the second day to rain and hiked back on loose sand trails. I swore to never do it again… I’ve been out 4 times since then, but never back there, never again LOL!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Wes Laudeman : Dec 26th

      Bearspray, those first trips always generate great stories! Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Jeffrey Thorn : Dec 26th

    My first backpacking trip was April 1970, the same weekend apollo 13 had there mishap. My pack was a spartan rucksack at 18lbs. 7 and a half was a us army half tent. We hiked thirty miles in two days on the Batons trail in the New Jersey pinelands. It was the first of more than I can count trips, but it will always be my favorite.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Wes Laudeman : Dec 26th

      Jeffrey, that’s a cool way to remember your first trip! Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    David Singleton : Dec 27th

    The year was 1973 of my first backpacking trip. Loaded up a Kelty BB5 and walked from Ga. to Maine.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Wes Laudeman : Dec 27th

      Awesome! My first real pack was a Kelty! Thanks for reading, David!

      Reply

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