Backpacking, or backcountry camping, is sometimes seen as an intimidating activity only meant for the extremely adventurous and in-shape. But the thing people don’t often talk about when it comes to this activity is how customizable it is. You can spend a few days backpacking in Grand Teton National Park or a few weeks exploring the Continental Divide Trail. You can plan to hike five miles each day, taking breaks to cast a line or read a book, or you can plan to hike 15 miles each day, covering a longer section of trail.
Backpacking is only as challenging as you make it, so don’t be too quick to dismiss it as something you aren’t capable of doing. Anyone who enjoys camping and hiking can take on backpacking with a little know-how and preparation. Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning a backpacking trip.
Apply for Backcountry Permits
Many areas — especially within national parks and along popular trails — require backcountry permits for overnight trips. The use of permits helps limit the amount of foot traffic within specific regions in an effort to protect the area’s natural surroundings.
When it comes to obtaining permits, you either need to plan far in advance or take a chance at receiving a walk-in permit the day of your trip. It’s common to start applying for backcountry permits in January for trips that will be taken over the summer.
Before applying for any backcountry permits, you should have a rough idea of the route you would like to take, the dates you would like to would like to travel and the number of people who will be in your group. You can find more information about backcountry permits in Yellowstone National Park here and Grand Teton National Park here.
Figure Out Travel Logistics
Once you’ve decided on a general route, you can begin planning more specific logistics of your backpacking trip. You might need to look into trailhead parking and shuttles in addition to standard transportation, especially if you plan on ending at a different trailhead from where you started. If your backpacking trip will last longer than a week, you will need to research food drop-off locations so you can mail yourself a food resupply.
I’d also recommend getting an idea of how many miles you plan to hike each day and figuring out the general area in which you plan to camp each night. Be sure to work some extra days into your trip so you don’t need to rush if something unexpected happens. And like with any trip, it’s a good idea to share your group’s plans with friends and family as an added safety precaution.
Gather Your Gear
Start a packing list and make note of any gear you might need to purchase or upgrade. If you are already an avid camper, you might be able to use most of the gear you already have, swapping out any heavy items for lighter-weight alternatives. When it comes to weight, you should consider the big three: backpack, shelter, sleeping bag. These will be the heaviest (and most important) items on your list, so focus on cutting down weight here first.
Be sure to test gear before any big trips, especially your hiking boots and backpack, to make sure you will be comfortable and well-prepared on the trail. You will also want to consider the wildlife native to the area. Bear canisters are often required for food storage, and bear spray can be a smart item to pack in areas where grizzly bears are present.
If you’re feeling lost when it comes to gear or don’t think you’ll use it enough to make the investment, you can look into renting backpacking gear from local outfitters.
Plan Your Meals
To me, food is always a priority, but this is especially true when it comes to backpacking. My appetite seems to double in the backcountry, which is can make things tricky since food is heavy. By planning your meals ahead of time, you are less likely to pack too much or too little.
Be conscientious of weight and likelihood to spoil when deciding on nourishment. You might want to skip fresh fruits and lunchmeat for dehydrated fruits and peanut butter. It’s also important to think about how you will cook your meals. Lightweight camp stoves are your best bet since fires often aren’t allowed above certain elevations or within protected areas.
Get in Shape
I know I said that backpacking isn’t only for the fittest, and I stand by that. But you will be carrying a heavy backpack for a number of miles, and this will be much more tolerable if you are physically active during the months leading up to your trip. This can mean anything from going for weekly hikes to starting a running routine, depending on the type of backpacking trip you have planned.
Be sure to keep elevation changes in mind, as well. If you live at a low elevation and your backpacking trip is at a high elevation, it will take some time for you to adjust. Consider traveling to your destination a few days early to get acclimated. (There’s plenty to do in Wyoming!)
Backpacking in Wyoming
Now that you know a little more about how to prepare for a backpacking trip, it’s time to decide where to go! Wyoming’s 98,000 square miles offer endless backpacking opportunities. Some of the more well-known areas include Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Medicine Bow National Forest and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). For more information on exploring Wyoming, visit travelwyoming.com.