Backpacking tips for beginners on the Hiking Trail

Make the most of your trip with our first time backpacking tips

Like anything in life, a bit of preparation goes a long way to ensuring success. Are you a newbie backpacker looking forward to throwing yourself into all the glorious landscapes, food and friendships of the Alpe Adria Trail?  Experienced through-hikers learn over time what is really necessary and what you can safely leave at home. But don’t worry, our first time backpacking tips will make sure you are properly prepared to have a good time on the trail.

Which backpack should you take?

You’ll be spending a lot of time up close and personal with this piece of kit so make sure you get the right backpack for your body and your needs. Outdoors gear technology has come a long way since the days of canvas knapsacks with metal frames. With tough yet ultralight fabrics, handy pockets and straps, and ergonomic designs, backpacks can actually be comfortable. Most of all, you need to find a backpack that is the right size and shape for your body, or can be easily adjusted to fit. Remember, most of the weight should be carried on the hips. On a long distance hike you will really notice the difference. 

The next question is the size of the backpack, which will depend on the type of trip, the conditions, and the equipment needed. Get a backpack with enough space but remember, if you take a backpack that is too big you will be tempted to fill it up! And a bulky backpack restricts freedom of movement and is more difficult to carry. Look for a pack made with durable, ultralight materials and a simple design. These usually have a large roll-top main compartment, minimalist padding, and exterior pockets for water bottle and things you need to hand during the day (hip belt pockets are handy).

Do your research and read the product descriptions carefully to make sure you are getting the right backpack for your trip.

How much should you pack?

The golden rule when packing a hiking backpack is to take as much as you need, but as little as possible. The key to success is the lowest possible carrying weight, especially for long-distance hikes because a too heavy backpack can quickly spoil the joy of the trail. A good rule of thumb is a maximum of 20 to 25 per cent of your own body weight. Make a backpacking checklist and don’t be tempted to put in extra items. On trails like the Alpe Adria you can book a baggage transfer service to take the weight off, especially for long stages when the backpack will start to feel heavy no matter how carefully you pack. 

Make sure your gear is protected

The weather can throw anything at you on a hiking trail, especially in the mountains, even on the sunny side of the Alps. Most backpacks aren’t more than shower-proof so an important beginner backpacking tip is to make sure your gear is protected with either a dry sack (or strong plastic bag) inside the backpack, or by packing your gear in individual dry bags. This helps you organise your gear so you can find what you need when you need it – another important first time backpacking tip! A waterproof pack cover is also a good idea.

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Pasterze Alpe Adria Trail © Kärnten Werbung Foto: Franz Gerdl

© Kärnten Werbung

Alpe-Adria-Trail – beim Ossiacher See
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Ultralight backpacking tips

There is a lot of expensive ultralight hiking gear available but some sensible adjustments may be all you need to keep to a comfortable weight without spending a lot of money. You may not want to go as extreme as cutting your toothbrush in half or trimming the straps off your gear (although some people do!) but something as simple as decanting toiletries and sunscreen into small containers is the sort of ultralight backpacking tip that can make a big difference.

Streamline your first aid kit – it should be able to fit inside a snack-sized ziplock plastic bag. Read on your phone rather than bringing a book. Photocopy pages from the guidebook rather than carrying the whole book.

If you are not using a baggage transfer service, resist the temptation to carry a lot of clothing. The hiking clothes on your back, one spare set and maybe some clothes for the evening is all you need – take a look at our backpacking checklist below...

Aside from what you are carrying in your backpack remember to consider minimising your worn weight. Due to the amount of energy it takes to move weight carried on your feet compared to your torso, it’s often said that one pound of weight on your feet is worth five on your back. Trail running shoes with a high level of sole grip and waterproof lining can weigh half as much as traditional hiking boots and will also dry faster if they get wet. Look at your clothing too – tights or shorts can weigh less than heavy hiking trousers and can be more breathable.

Backpacking food hacks and advice

It is absolutely essential to eat enough food while hiking, and even more important to stay hydrated. When it comes to food, don’t carry too much – you will often be able to resupply on the route and most accommodation offers a packed lunch service. Choose your hiking snacks carefully – energy-dense food like nuts and protein bars have the best power to weight ratio. Water is heavy so be strategic in how much you carry. You can usually find out whether there will be opportunities to refill your water bottle during the day. Carrying a lightweight water filter is another ultralight backpacking tip.

Jost Gantar;
Photo Hiking Alpe Adria Trail

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E19 Gerlitzen Alpe

© Kärnten Werbung
Alpe Adria Trail © Kärnten Werbung Foto: Franz Gerdl

The ultimate hiking backpacking list

We’ve already talked about packing as much as you need but as little as possible. Learning what should be on your backpacking checklist is partly a matter of experience. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

This is it, the essential backpacking checklist:

  • First aid kit
  • 2 x base layer hiking shirts
  • 3 x hiking socks
  • 2 x hiking trousers
  • Waterproof and windproof jacket and over trousers
  • Warm fleece or merino jumper
  • A warm hat, neck warmer and thin gloves
  • Sun protection – hat, sunscreen, sunglasses
  • Water system or bottle
  • Hiking map and guidebook
  • Dry bags or packing cells or compression bags
  • Headtorch
  • Toiletries
  • Toilet paper or tissues
  • Mobile phone
  • Rain cover
  • Money

Nice to have items that are lightweight flip flops to wear in the evening, a down jacket, and plastic bags for dirty laundry and rubbish. You may also want to have some comfortable clothes for the evening and/or nightwear. Depending on the type of accommodation you may need to pack a lightweight travel towel.

Packing your backpack properly can also make a difference to your hiking day. First, use the backpacking checklist and lay our all your items ready to pack. Next, divide them into categories for packing in individual dry bags or packing cells:
  • Equipment you won’t necessarily need during the hike such as spare clothing, a down jacket, toiletries, first aid kit and valuables. This should be in the bottom of the backpack.
  • Items you’ll want closer to hand such as your waterproofs and a warm layer, as well as your warm hat, gloves and neck warmer in case the weather turns or you cool down rapidly while sitting having lunch. This bag should be near the top of the main compartment.
  • Things you will definitely need during the day such as food and water should be at the top of the main compartment. Your water system may be at the back of your pack, or in a bottle on the exterior.
  • Small items such as sunglasses and sunscreen, your map etc. can be stowed in the lid compartment. Some small items such as lip screen and your phone/camera could be in waist belt pockets or attached to your shoulder straps.

A final important beginner backpacking tip when it comes to packing is to think about your centre of gravity. The general rule is to arrange weight distribution so that the centre of gravity of the backpack is above the centre of gravity of your own body. The heaviest load should be placed centrally and close to the body, i.e., in the main compartment on the inside, in order to keep the centre of gravity close. The further away your centre of gravity is from your body, the more difficult it is to keep your balance and the more strenuous it is to carry. 

If you want to be really clever on your long-distance hike on the Alpe-Adria-Trail you can think about adjusting the weight depending on the conditions. On easy, flat stages, you should put your centre of gravity higher, i.e. at shoulder height. On difficult stages and steep terrain, on the other hand, the main load should be closer to the hips, because the upper body is tilted further forward when walking. 

Follow these first time backpacking tips and have an amazing time on the Alpe Adria Trail!