Wilderness backpacking is a form of self-reliant travel that affords opportunities to see sights available no other way.
Carrying everything you’ll need to get along for several days in the wilderness isn’t everyone’s idea of a “vacation”, but if you don’t mind including some physical effort and additional inconvenience in your travel time, it’s an ideal way to truly “get away from it all”, and hopefully see some truly majestic scenery.
Before taking off on a backpacking trip, assess what kind of territory you’ll be traveling through. Distances on a map never look that hard to cover, but once you find yourself staring up at a 400-foot ridge standing between you and tonight’s camp, it’s a different story. Topographic maps will give you a better idea of what you’re getting yourself into, as well as being essential for navigation if you’re going off-trail. Unless you have an uncanny sense of direction, you’ll probably need a compass, or at least know how to discern north from the time. GPS can be nifty, but many feel it takes the adventure out of hiking, and it may not always work as well as the sales pitch suggests.
Find out what kind of weather you can expect at the time of year you’re planning to go. When’s the rainy season? What’s the temperature range? Keep in mind that going up in altitude is like going up in latitude. Daytime temperatures may be pleasant, but how cold does it get at night?
Even when wilderness backpacking, you will meet local people: those in the village where you do the final preparations, people living in the wilderness (there are few truly uninhabited places on earth), park guards and other authorities. While preparing, get some feeling for what the wilderness means or has meant for people living there or nearby. You should also do the normal checks on diseases, transport in and out, obstacles to access, local customs you should be aware about etcetera.
Check with the local authorities if you’ll be using a state/provincial/national park to see what fees there are for use of the park, and for the trails and campsites, if any. In some parts of the world, right to access may give you permission to hike on privately-owned undeveloped land, but elsewhere – especially the highly-territorial United States – be sure to get permission (unless you want to risk prosecution – or gunshot – for trespassing).
It is very important to be well prepared for your wilderness travels and hikes. You should pack the correct clothes, sleeping gear, food and drinks, safety equipment and first aid kit in case something happens in the wild. Do all you can to avoid going “freestyle” and heading into the wild without letting others know your plans, your destination, your expected return time, and a “hot” deadline at which your absence should be considered an emergency by a trusted friend. If parking at a trailhead, hide a spare key nearby and conceal a folded note above a visor indicating your identity and expected return day & time.
Physical fitness is decisive for a good experience. If you are not used to physical exercise, you should begin at least a few weeks before the trip. Avoid high-risk exercise which might inflict injuries, though.