The Blog

Travel

Beginner’s Guide to Backcountry Hiking

Going out for a hike can span the time of a few hours, an entire day, or even days, weeks, and months. While hiking and backpacking are two different disciplines to prepare for, they do have many similarities. Getting off crowded metropolitan hikes and popular AllTrails picks can be both scary and extremely rewarding. Venturing into the backcountry should be built up to and takes a bit more planning than hikes you may be used to. 

As a beginner’s guide to backcountry hiking, we will be focusing specifically on hikes that can be completed in one day and require no overnights on the trail. Our goal is to give you the knowledge and reference points you need to feel confident, safe, and prepared on your upcoming backcountry hike. 

Take a Hike

Have Proper Hiking Equipment

Since you are only planning for a day hike, you will not need too much in the way of gear. While it may not seem like you need all of these things, keep in mind that you will be miles away from any roads and even further from any cities. You may not even have cell phone service for the majority of the day. So, you will need to be prepared and bring the necessary supplies. 

The most important things to bring with you when you are hiking in the backcountry include: 

  • Lightweight Daypack → If you don’t already have one, you will want to invest in a daypack that is intended for hiking. These packs are designed to be comfortable and have easy access compartments for organization of supplies. Many daypacks also come equipped with a hydration system. 
  • Hydration System and Snacks → Water is of the most essential things you will need in the backcountry. Water will also be the heaviest thing you carry, but that doesn’t mean to skimp out. Bring more than you think you need the first time you head into the backcountry. Don’t forget to pack a few trail snacks and maybe lunch if it is a long hike. 
  • Reliable Hiking Boots → The style of hiking shoes you wear will be up to you. Some hikers prefer to wear trail running shoes, while others like to have the classic ankle support high tops. Just be sure that your hiking shoes are broken in properly and have little chance of giving you blisters. Comfortable footwear is the key to an enjoyable hike! 
  • Map of Area, Guidebook, or GPS → Most hiking areas will have hard copies of maps and guidebooks, but you can also opt to download maps onto your phone. Better yet, you can take a backcountry GPS with you. If you go the digital route, keep in mind that your battery will not last forever. So, if you download maps on your phone, consider bringing a portable power bank as well. 
  • First Aid Kit → You may think that this is an unnecessary weight to carry, but better safe than sorry in the backcountry. This kit doesn’t need to be extreme, but it is good to have a few standard first aid supplies in case of an emergency on the trail. 

It can be tempting to kind of skimp on your first round of hiking gear and buy the cheapest options. While a limited budget may be a factor here, consider purchasing higher quality gear second hand or scoping out some discounts at retailers like REI to get higher quality, longer-lasting gear at a lower cost. 

Do Area Trail Research

Make sure you take time to get to know the area before you wander into the woods to get lost! This can be done in a variety of ways. You can go to old school techniques and talk to people from the area that may know the trail systems well. This can also include consulting park rangers and BLM land managers. Oftentimes, this is the most reliable way to go about things, because they will have access to the most recent trail conditions. 

Another common way of researching backcountry trails is to check out websites like All Trails, Hiking Project, and Summit Post. AllTrails can be especially helpful as you can download the app on your phone to have access to downloaded area maps when you’re hiking. 

If those maps aren’t detailed enough, you should invest in a digital or hard copy topographic map of the area. You can find these online and at many outdoor retail stores. 

Beyond knowing where you are going, you should be researching the area’s climate, wildlife, and plants. Look into the weather ahead of time to be sure that you pack accordingly. If you are hiking in a mountainous area, check for afternoon storms. Being aware of area wildlife and plant life will let you know if there are any dangerous animals or poisonous plants to avoid.

Prepare Physically for the Hike

If you are an avid hiker on familiar city trails or low key hiking trails close to town, then you are likely already in relatively good physical condition. Part of researching the area you will be hiking will include knowing the terrain to expect. 

If you are going to be hiking in a notoriously hilly area or a drastically different altitude than you are accustomed to, then you should prepare before attempting the hike. While you may be mentally ready, not being physically fit in the backcountry can be a serious danger. 

As you ramp up to your first backcountry hike, try to fit extra cardio and hiking time into your schedule. Get your legs ready at the gym by utilizing the stair stepper and doing squats. Building up your stamina and strength, will make a difference in safety, as well as how much you enjoy the hike overall. 

Leave No Trace

As you go out into the wilderness to enjoy the solitude and beauty, remember that we are sharing this Earth with other living plants and animals as well. One of the most important things you can take away from this article is to learn the Leave No Trace principles. Keep our wild places wild as we protect our outdoor spaces together! 

Life on the East Coast vs. West Coast

Living in California, I’m sure you’ve seen everyone with their Bluetooth headphones and heard the subtle brag “west coast is the best coast!”. People who stand behind this common phrase often haven’t even been to the east coast. Well, I live on both coasts, so I’ll get to the bottom of this debate. I’ve lived in Orange County all 19 years of my life, but I attend Fordham University in New York City. I still have a lot to learn about the Big Apple, but going to college in this fast-pace environment made me learn a lot in a short amount of time. If there’s one thing I’d like to emphasize, it’s that OC and NYC are COMPLETELY different. Take a look at these nine categories I’ve decided to rate from each coast, and we’ll find out if East or West comes out on top.

  1. Weather – East Coast: 4 / West Coast: 10

The two coasts obviously have VERY different weather patterns. When I first told people I was going to New York for school, their initial reaction was “Wow! Good luck with that winter.” They weren’t wrong either. Cold rain, inches of snow, and average temperatures of 30°F don’t compare to a SoCal winter! Not to mention, New York summers are filled with hot heat and high humidity.

Winter in Central Park. It may be cold, but it sure is pretty!

  1. Food – East Coast: 9 / West Coast: 8

The most important category: FOOD! California wins for best Mexican food hands down. But you already knew that. New York has some of the best Italian food I’ve ever tasted, thanks to Little Italy. Other than that, the coasts are pretty equal when it comes to creative, tasty food spots. However, NYC’s East Village is home to uniquely individual food spots that satisfy every and any craving. West Coast is more reliable if you’re searching for a typical chain restaurant.

  1. Views – East Coast: 8 / West Coast: 8

This category is a tough one. If you head to the top of the Empire State Building, you’ll catch the most spectacular view of the NYC Skyline. It’s truly a view that you can’t get anywhere else. What the East Coast doesn’t have, however, is a West Coast sunset. Watching the sunset on the beach is a casual activity here in Southern California that you definitely can’t do in New York. But which is better…NYC Skyline or California Sunset?

View from the top of the Empire State Building.

Laguna Beach, California – December 2016.

  1. People – East Coast: 6 / West Coast: 8

One time I went with my roommate to get her nose pierced at a famous tattoo shop. After talking with the tattoo artist for a few minutes, he asked, “Where you from? You’re way too nice to be from New York.” So yes, the typical stereotype of a New Yorker is (mostly) true. New Yorkers are always in a rush (thanks to Subway System delays), so don’t take anything personal. City streets are filled with people that are trying to sell you tickets or grab your attention, so we unintentionally begin to brush people off. After living in New York for only a year, I’ve noticed personal changes. I walk way faster, I’ve become more opinionated, and yes, I sometimes forget to say thanks when a stranger holds the door open for me…forgive me! California’s laidback lifestyle offers more time for people to say thanks, have a casual conversation with a neighbor, and smile at every stranger who walks by.

  1. Fashion – East Coast: 9 / West Coast: 7

Fashion plays a HUGE role in a NYC lifestyle. After all, it is home to New York Fashion Week. City life promotes stylish outfits, no matter where you’re headed. Even if you’re simply taking a stroll through Central Park, you’ll notice mostly everyone has their outfits together. In SoCal, people tend to run errands in workout clothes, go to work in workout clothes, and sit around at home in workout clothes. I’m not complaining though, comfort is key!

  1. Entertainment – East Coast: 10 / West Coast: 6

Not going to lie, Southern California can get boring. Yeah, we have the beach and all, but the beach gets repetitive. SoCal doesn’t compare to the “City that Never Sleeps.” When I’m in New York, I see something new every day. Even the subway rides are filled with entertainment (shout out to the street performers). NYC has free comedy shows, free concerts, museums, pop-up shops, and much MUCH more on any day of the week.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met). One of many famous museums in NYC.

  1. Transportation – East Coast: 8 / West Coast: 5

Southern California and New York City are both known for having the WORST traffic. Unless you’re an Uber, Lyft, or Taxi driver in NYC, you’re better off walking or using the subway system. The MTA New York Subway is seriously the best transportation system. Yes, it gets crowded and the subway carts aren’t the cleanest, but you get places fast. For $2.75, you can go anywhere in the five boroughs, which is cheap considering you’d be paying for gas money anyways if you were driving a car.

D-Train Subway Line. Uptown & The Bronx

  1. Expenses – East Coast: 4 / West Coast: 6

There’s nothing cheap about living in New York or California. Good luck getting the penthouse suit with floor to ceiling windows that overlooks NYC. The expense of winter coats and sweaters adds up too…I spent over $1,000 on coats for last winter alone. Restaurants, grocery shopping, gas, movies, concerts, and pretty much any other activity are pricy on both coasts. When a free show or event comes around, don’t pass it up!

  1. Lifestyle – East Coast: 7 / West Coast: 8

The lifestyles on the two coasts are completely different. NYC is a fast-pace environment that motivates you to keep moving. If I sit around and watch Netflix for a day in New York, I honestly feel bad about it because I feel like it’s a day wasted. At home in California, I feel no shame lying in bed to binge watch my favorite TV show. This category is totally based on opinion, and I like the easy-going vibes that surround the West Coast.

Alright so which coast comes out on top? East Coast (NYC) or West Coast (SoCal)?

Totals – East Coast: 65 / West Coast: 66

Looks like the West Coast wins by one point!! I expected this to turn out pretty even, since I honestly don’t know which coast I like better. The lifestyles are too different to compare, and it really just depends on your personality. I love living in NYC, and I think it’s a great place to explore during my 20s. When it’s time to settle down, California will be a better fit. Even though the city life is great, Orange County will always be my home!