Backpacking Safety 101: Essential Tips for an Enjoyable and Secure Trip

Rilor Staff
Update: April 2, 2023
Table of Contents

Backpacking is fun. But it is not always a smooth-sailing trip. Learn the essential backpacking safety tips here. 

A Quick Overview

Backpacking is one of the modern ways to have fun and break from the modern world. Depending on the location or the nature of your trip, the thrill that backpacking gives can be unforgettable and replaceable. 

Still, this doesn't mean that you get all giddy right from the get-go. Similar to other outdoor adventures, backpacking is faced with different challenges that you can deal with if you come prepared. Since you are outdoors, you have to understand that backpacking can expose you to some dangers. And if not prepared, these dangers could actually compromise you. 

Fortunately, our expert backpackers from RilorWilderness know about the essential backpacking safety routine. From organizing your gears down to learning first aid, they have outlined some of the things that you need to do to keep the trip as incident-free as possible. 

How To Stay Safe While Backpacking

Backpacking is a nice thing, especially since it remains stress-free. So for safety purposes, the following tips should help you. 

Bring The Backpacking Essentials

Backpacking is an activity that will engage you in unfamiliar terrains, wildlife, and circumstances. So when you are dealing with the unexpected, it would really be better if you could have the ideal tools that can help you deal with the situation. 

In the grand scheme of things, backpacking should be streamlined when it comes to the weight and bulk of your backpack. It should be a lightweight endeavor. So when it comes to essentials, it should be only the most important ones. These are those things. 

  • Tent - For overnight adventures, a one-person or two-person tent is essential. They should be able to protect you from the elements. 
  • First-aid kit - Obviously, first-aid kits are integral to handling different injuries and illnesses that you could encounter while outdoors. 
  • Sleeping systems - Sleeping bags can keep you warm and cozy, even if you don't have a tent!
  • Headlamp or flashlight - Light sources are important for survival. They can help you navigate through the darkness. In some cases, they could help you call for help. 
  • Fire starters - Suppose that you don't know how to create fire manually. That's where fire starters come in. They come in different forms, but they are all helpful in keeping you warm.
  • Water filter - Water is essential for survival. Fortunately, portable water filters exist. And they can help you sanitize running water, you can see. Always remember that you should not pick water from stagnant sources or those that have obvious chemical traces. 
  • Knives - Survival knives and bushcraft knives are golden tools for survival. They can help you do a lot of tasks, including gathering foliage, hunting food, and making shelters. 
  • Navigation tools - Compasses, GPS devices, and maps are essential to prevent you from being lost. Learn essential navigation skills, including reading topographic maps. 
  • Whistles or mirrors - How to call help if you are in the middle of nowhere? Creating sounds or light flashes can help rescuers find you. 

Clothing And Proper Layers

Among the essentials that you shouldn't forget is proper clothing. Dress accordingly based on the terrain, weather, and temperature. If it is raining or cold, make sure that you have insulated rain gear. Oppositely, wear breathable clothes when the weather is hot. Make sure that you are wearing the correct footwear--whether it is a pair of hiking shoes or water shoes.

The right clothing can prevent discomfort and injuries. They can negate the possibilities of hypothermia or hyperthermia, which are both dangerous conditions you could encounter. 

Stay On The Trail

Staying safe while backpacking is quite synonymous with being less frisky. While backpacking, it is important that you stay on your objectives, as well as make sure that you can reach your destination. 

Ideally, backpacking trips should be made on designated trails managed by BLM, US National Forest Service, and specific state parks. There, they have pre-established trails that you can trek safely. And if done properly, you can complete the trail within a specific time frame. 

The key advantage of staying on these trails is that they prevent you from getting lost. If you don't veer off from the trail, then the chances of you getting lost are close to zero. There's no one that could prevent you from exploring. But until you are not confident in doing so, then just stay within the proximity of your path. Also, bring the essential navigation tools with you. 

Learn How To Navigate

Speaking of, keep in mind that navigation is one of the crucial skills that every outdoor enthusiast should learn. Never shy away from the opportunity to learn how to navigate. 

The wilderness is not similar to the cities. In your town or residence, there are numerous options for how you can find your destination. You can ask people to ask for directions. Or simply download Waze and other navigation apps to get to where you should head. 

In the forests or in the mountains, this modern convenience is not present. So getting lost is always a possibility. If you don't have your navigational tools, such as compasses or satellite GPS, it is easy to wander aimlessly. 

Before the trip, it is crucial that you have a map of your trail. You can ask the land managers or local authorities for this particular document. They can help you identify landmarks and other important locations where you can rest and pitch your tent. They could also help you identify hazardous areas, such as landslide-prone terrains and flash flood routes. 

Technically, your chances of being in danger while backpacking is minimal if you are not lost. So go ahead and learn how to use your navigation tools!

Wildlife-Proofing Your Food

Backpackers are required to stay nourished so that they can complete their trip. This should require them to bring portable cookware, such as stoves, utensils, and disposable bags. In some cases, they might consider bringing coffee makers. 

Now, doing these things can actually be of pleasure. In fact, we have a separate checklist of what campers and backpackers should bring for their outdoor kitchens. 

However, one of the things that you need to learn is that your food should be stored properly before and after you eat them. If necessary, put them in odor-proof containers. If you are traveling in bear country, you should store your food items in a bear canister. Don't place them inside your tent. Instead, they should be at a distance for your safety. You might also consider hanging your food containers in a tree via ropes. 

Dealing With Strangers

When it comes to backpacking, you are not alone. One way or another, you will encounter groups of other backpackers that are traversing the same way as you. 

There's etiquette when it comes to dealing with other backpackers and campers. In a nutshell, you should be polite but never too friendly. Just keep a distance and maintain a space so that your privacy (or theirs) won't be compromised. No one gets comfortable if someone is invading their privacy or me-time. 

Keep in mind that while assault and crime are not that common in hiking or backpacking trips, they could still take place. Hence, it is important that you are packed with some self-defense tools, such as pepper sprays. In some cases, backpackers prefer to bring concealed-carry weapons to defend themselves from two-legged or four-legged threats. 

Don't let others know that you are alone. Tell them that you have a company and that you are just waiting for them. For safety purposes, never reveal the area where you are camping. If you suspect that someone is following you, head back to the trail and report the case to the authorities. Always trust your gut feeling. 

Learn How To Make Noise

Interestingly, making a noise on the trail is a good way to stay safe. Specifically, this helps fend off the wildlife from coming your way. You should do this if you are backpacking in bear country. 

Most of the time, noises alert nearby wildlife of your presence. By nature, these creatures don't like interacting with people. So if they know that you are around, they will find a way to put distance from you. 

There are ways you can make sounds. Talking audibly is one (even if you are just talking to yourself). You can even sing, hit rocks, or swing branches so that they can make rustling noises. The sound you make doesn't have to be constant. You just have to do it from time to time to alert the wildlife around you. 

Don't Get Distracted

I know that it is much fun to go outside with as many entertainment systems as you want. In fact, it is no longer surprising that people these days are into the individualistic culture of wearing headphones or earbuds (whatever you might want to call it). 

While they are a cool thing to wear in crowded areas, we personally recommend that you don't wear them while backpacking. As I've mentioned, you can never rule out threats from two-legged creatures. And the best way you can protect yourself from them is by being able to avoid them ahead of time. 

Confrontations should be the last option. If possible, you should run away from potential fights because nobody knows what's going to happen. And the best way you can avoid your attackers is through situational awareness. Plugging earphones into your head can prevent you from noticing stalkers trailing on you. And it would be too late for you to spot them if you can't even hear their footsteps from a distance. 

So if you are backpacking, don't get distracted. Be alert, and always prepare yourself for a quick U-turn or lift-off. 

Prepare For The Trip

Securing the safety of your backpack trip starts before the big day. As much as possible, you need to train your body for the adventure. Depending on the level of technicality of your destination, you need to train physically for it. Do some morning runs and regular strength-training exercises so that you can take on the physical challenge of your trail. 

Mentally, backpacking can be overwhelming, especially if you are doing it alone or if it's your first time. It can be exhausting and frightening. Learn to meditate to reduce the stress you are feeling. Mindfulness is an excellent trick to keep your mind sane! Eventually, you will get used to these aspects and treat them as little inconveniences you can get by.

Final Thoughts

Although backpacking can be an exciting and adventurous exercise, safety should always come first. You can make sure that your backpacking trip will be safer and more pleasant by heeding the advice and recommendations provided in this article. Always do your homework and prepare ahead of time, carry the necessary equipment and emergency supplies, be mindful of your surroundings, and share your plans with people you can trust. You can reduce the risks and increase the rewards of backpacking by taking these measures.

Check other checklists and other camping guides that we have prepared for you:

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