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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

5 Things to Help You Prepare for a Backpacking Trip

A group of backpackers hiking down a mountain.
soft_light/Shutterstock

A long, multiday hike or backpacking trip is very different from a one-day hike. Here are some of the most important things you need to know.

I recently walked 250 miles in Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrim routes to Santiago, Camino del Norte and Camino Primitivo. My next plan is a four-day backpacking trip to bag the seven most northerly Munros in Scotland. All this stuff is on my mind, so I thought I’d share with the class.

You’ll Probably Get Blisters (and Other Foot Pains)

Walking long distances is hard on your feet—especially if they aren’t used to it. The first issue you’ll probably encounter is blisters. Unless you wear exactly the right boots and socks, your feet will rub against your shoes. On a one-day hike, this isn’t too much of a problem. Sure, your feet will be a bit sore afterward, but they’ll recover in a few days. On a multiday hike, though, you have to walk again no matter how sore your feet are.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and all that. If you can, find a boot and sock combo that works for you, and stick to it. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you and vice versa, so take the time to test out different socks on one-day hikes to see what feels best. Some people like to use a liner sock and an outer sock, while others prefer a good merino wool sock.

The bottom of a man's foot with several blisters around the big toe.
Don’t I have lovely feet? Harry Guinness

While you can do as much prevention as you like, there’s still a chance you’ll get blisters. This is where proactive treatment comes in. As soon as you feel a hot spot start to form, stop, and put something like a 2nd Skin square on it to prevent more rubbing. If you stop blisters from forming, you can make sure they don’t spread.

If you do get a blister, you can either cover it and leave it alone, or drain it with a sterile needle, and then cover it and leave it alone. Most doctors recommend you leave it be, but most hikers recommend you drain it, so walking is less painful. Whichever option you choose, if there’s any swelling, redness, or pus, seek medical attention—an infected blister is no joke.

And blisters are just one of the many foot aches you might encounter. There’s a reason footsore is a word, and “handsore” isn’t. Pay attention if things start to hurt and stop to address why. You might have the wrong insole, bruises from walking on a hard surface, or your boots might be too tight.

Don’t Pack Too Much

A woman wearing a large backpack, hiking uphill on a road in the fog.
Carrying a big backpack uphill is hard work. Harry Guinness

Unless you’re an experienced hiker, your packing list is probably too long and your backpack is probably too heavy. Every extra item you bring adds weight you have to lug for miles. You want to pack the least amount of gear possible.

It’s true—you’re packing for longer than just a few hours. So, you need clothes, food, and (possibly) shelter. You don’t want to get caught in a storm without a rain jacket. When it comes to packing, the key is to find the right balance.

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