Helpful Tips for Planning an Overnight Backpacking Trip

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There’s something special about striking out from a trailhead with your food and overnight gear strapped to your back. Traveling light, the anticipation of the hike is exciting and step-by-step you’re immersed in the unfolding landscape.

Whether you’re planning a solo trek or your family’s first overnight backpacking trip, with careful planning and preparation, a visit to the backcountry can be enjoyable, rewarding, and safe.

Preparedness and the right supplies are key to a successful backcountry trip

Plan Ahead and Prepare

Two backpackers ascend sandstone stairs in the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon National Park (Daniel Sayre, Share the Experience)

Key to the journey is planning. Check out the many agency resources online, tap into your friends that have explored the area you want to visit, join different social discussion groups to share experiences – opportunities to learn abound!

Food for thought as you plan:

Plan your food with bears and food storage in mind - see more tips below.

Reserve Your Permit

An orange backpacking tent pitched near a ridge overlooking Yosemite valley

Yosemite National Park (Marissa Brown, Share the Experience)

You may discover the backpacking area you wish to visit requires a permit, either with an advance online reservation or a first-come, first-served permit requiring you to arrive on-site at a visitor center or agency office to pick up in person. Many of these backcountry hiking opportunities require a permit process to manage access to the area due to space restrictions or to prevent damage to the natural landscape, and to preserve the visitor experience. You may also find some popular hiking areas use a lottery to ensure fair and equal access to the backcountry opportunity.

Packing List

Two backpackers rest on a rocky ledge and take photos

Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest (Alexander Smilor, Share the Experience)

Your experience level, the type of trip you’re planning, and the location will play a huge role in determining what gear you bring. Here are some basics to consider when packing for any backcountry overnight trip:




Food Recommendations and How to Pack Your Bear Canister

Two people rest in a field at sunset eating their camp dinner

Manti-La Sal National Forest (Stella Klaus, Share the Experience)

Bears exist in and around most of our public lands across the United States and are native and natural members of the wildlife community. When hiking and camping overnight in bear country, follow agency guidance for properly storing food while in the area.

Use these tips as you plan your menu:


A large group of backpackers traverse a narrow valley trail on a clear day

Trinity Alps Wilderness (Jack Dreyfuss, Share the Experience)

No website can truly teach you self-reliance and to travel safely in the backcountry, but here are few recommendations to get you started:

Backcountry conditions are constantly changing, so you must be prepared for the unexpected!


Yu Chen Hou eating dehydrated cake mix while on a backpacking trip

Denali National Park and Preserve (Yu Chen Hou, Share Your Story)

Read Yu Chen Hou’s story about an inspiring and memorable backcountry trip he took in Denali National Park. After months of preparing, he ventured out for a trip of a lifetime with college friends.

"On the evening of my birthday, my friends surprised me with a birthday cake. Rather, a dehydrated birthday cake powder mix, which really was the next best thing you can get in the backcountry. As I sat there eating the birthday cake, though we all had sore knees and aching feet, though the mountain wind had us shivering in the cold, we laughed. This is the moment I cherish and would go back for.

At the end of it all, as we walked back to the park road and waited for our bus ride out, I thought again. Even if I still don’t know exactly why the wilderness beckons me so much, I know that I wouldn’t go out in the woods without the friends that helped create these memories that I treasure.

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