The Ultimate Intermediate Guide to Backpacking

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There’s no feeling more rewarding than heading into the backcountry powered by your own two feet. Backpacking is the definition of freedom, adventure, challenge, and the joy that comes with discovery on your own timeline. 

As you transition from beginner to intermediate backpacker, your adventures require packing smarter and refining your skills in the backcountry. To help you continue to push your limits, our team put together a guide designed to take you to the next level.


1. Gear Up Wisely

As you spend more time in the backcountry, your backpacking gear should evolve to match your changing needs. It's time to assess what works, what doesn't, and where you can make upgrades to lighten your load and increase your comfort. Here are a few tips to get you started: 

    • Lightweight Backpack: Invest in a high-quality, lightweight backpack that fits well and features a hip belt and shoulder straps. Keep in mind that men’s and women’s packs are designed slightly differently to accommodate different body structures. 

    • Sleep System: Consider a lighter, more compact sleeping bag and pad with temperature ratings that match the environments you plan to explore. Many serious backpackers choose three-quarter length sleeping pads to cut down on weight while insulating their core from ground chill. 

    • Shelter: Upgrade to a lighter tent or hammock setup. Look for options that offer the best balance between weight, space, and weather protection. If traveling with a friend or small group, it pays to bunk together and spread out tent components between your packs. 

    • Cooking Gear: Opt for lightweight, efficient cooking systems. A small stove, a pot, and a spork may be all you need for most meals.

  • Clothing That Fits: As you continue to grow as a backpacker, you’ll find that a few outfits are all you need throughout your trip. Go for quality, not quantity. Hiking pants that fit poorly from the start will cause chafing or bunching by your trip’s end. To make sure all of your gear fits correctly, invest in a lightweight hiking belt that won’t add weight to your pack, while ensuring a custom fit. Unlike traditional leather belts, belts for hiking are crafted from performance stretch fabric that moves with you, and features a plastic buckle built as tough as your adventures. 

    2. Advanced Planning and Navigation

    With a few trips under your belt, you’re likely ready to go further from the beaten path. Which means it’s time to invest in your planning and navigation skills to keep your group safe when exploring remote areas. 

    • Route Planning: Learn to read topographic maps and mark terrain, water sources, and potential campsites for future reference.

    • Navigation Skills: Familiarize yourself with a map and compass, as knowing how to navigate without cell service is essential in the backcountry. For those planning to backpack regularly, investing in a portable GPS device is never a bad idea.

    • Permits and Regulations: Understand the permit system and regulations of the areas you're visiting to make sure you're following local guidelines.


    3. Food and Nutrition

    As the length and difficulty of your trips increase, so does the importance of packing lightweight, calorie-packed meals. Keep the following tips in mind when planning your backcountry meals: 

    • Think Calorie: Pack calorie-dense and nutritious foods to sustain your energy on the trail. Nuts, dried fruits, and energy bars make for protein-packed trail snacks, while legumes and other lightweight protein sources will keep you full all night long.

    • Cooking Options: Experiment with store bought dehydrated meals or learn to dehydrate your own for filling dinners that don’t add unnecessary weight to your pack.

    • Leave No Trace: The most important part of eating on the trail? Packing out all of your trash, including food waste. 


    4. Safety and Risk Management

    As adventures become more ambitious, safety becomes even more critical. Before packing up and shipping out, keep the following risk management practices in mind: 

    • First Aid: Update your first aid knowledge and kit. Consider taking a comprehensive wilderness first aid course, such as WFR or WFA, before heading into the woods. 

    • Emergency Devices: Carry a satellite messenger or personal locator beacon for emergencies where cell service is unavailable.

    • Weather Awareness: Learn how changing weather might affect your route and safety, and plan how your group will respond. 


    5. Environmental Responsibility

    Successful adventures include respecting our planet. Familiarize yourself with the following practices: 

    • Leave No Trace: Practice Leave No Trace principles diligently to minimize your environmental impact.

    • Sustainable Practices: Use biodegradable soap, avoid single-use plastics, and stay on designated trails to reduce erosion.

    On the trail, even the smallest of details make a big difference. Arcade was founded on the principle that there’s nothing more important than comfort while exploring new terrain. As a result, we revolutionized an overlooked accessory that makes a big difference: hiking belts. With a micro-adjustable buckle and tapered design, our hiking pants belts keep your pants secure while providing the freedom to move. Because when you’re on the trail, ill-fitting gear should be the last thing on your mind. 

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