So you are taking your friend on their first backpacking trip. This is exciting! There’s nothing like introducing a friend to a new hobby and seeing their satisfaction when they successfully push themselves out of their comfort zone. Still, being a leader of a backpacking trip can be tense if you haven’t done it before. There’s a lot that goes into outdoor leadership, but you don’t have to have a degree or certification in it to ensure your friend has an excellent first experience. 

These tips will help you pull off a successful trip for your friend. What makes a trip successful? There are a few answers to that, but the most important mark of success is that your friend will want to try backpacking again.

view on backpacking trip

Set Proper Expectations

Make sure you and your friend are on the same page. Sit down with them beforehand and go over what their expectations are, and communicate what you expect drawing on your experience. This phase is important as it helps manage any nerves they may have and establishes you in a position of leadership. 

Being a voice of authority over a friend—who in every other setting is an equal—can be tricky. A good way to approach it is consensus decision making. Allowing your beginner friend to be in on the decision making process will boost their confidence, make them more engaged with the details of a trip and help them learn more. 

Hopefully, you won’t need to be authoritative, but risk management decisions may arise that require clear and singular leadership. Being prepared for this means being the leader. Setting those expectations beforehand will set you up for success.

backpacking trail over water

Picking the Right Trail

If you are used to long days and lots of mileage, you may not be sticking to your usual routine. Remember, what might be easy to you could be a struggle for someone else, especially when hiking with a heavy pack for the first time. 

When in doubt, look for a shorter trail with very achievable daily mileage totals. If for whatever reason you need to bail, this makes it easier. Cell service, which may not be what you’d typically look for in a trip, could be nice to have too, especially if your friend has kids or is nervous about being away. Again, this is good to discuss when setting expectations.

A rewarding end goal goes a long way in making a beginner a happy camper on their first backpacking trip. Look for trails with a nice lake to jump into or awesome views. When it comes to swimming and finding vistas, just like the rest of your trip, make sure you keep it LNT.

backpacking gear

Make Sure They Have Appropriate Gear

Do a gear shakedown to see what they have and what they may need to acquire before setting out. Most things can be sourced from home, borrowed, or rented from a local sporting goods store. Their gear may not be the lightest or the best, but they’ll work for getting their feet wet. 

There are a few key items to give extra attention to. The first is footwear because nothing ruins an experience quite like blisters. If your friend is investing in new hiking boots, make sure they have time to break them in before breaking trail. 

Another key is their sleep system. Proper rest at night will leave someone on their first backpacking trip more alert and prepared to be out in the backcountry. If your friend is investing in new gear, coach them on selecting a sleeping pad and bag that are compact, reliable, versatile and affordable. The Questar™ 20F/-6C bag and the ProLite™ Plus pad by Therm-a-Rest are proven to be excellent first pieces of gear. 

Tip: A backpacking pillow like the Air Head™ Lite goes a long way for making a beginner comfortable on their first backpacking trip.

backpacking snacks

Prepare to Get Uncomfortable

This isn’t your first rodeo, so be prepared to work to make sure your friend is as comfortable as can be. This may mean shouldering a little bit more of the load (wine and cheese, anyone?), setting up the tent by yourself, doing all the cooking, packing extra wipes and toilet paper in your poo kit, or helping them blow up their sleeping pad. 

If your friend forgets something, offer up yours instead. After all, you’ve done this a million times. A small mistake means your friend might not do it ever again. 

Offer Encouragement and Support

Your friend took a step and entrusted you with introducing them to a new activity. Hike behind them to ensure the pace is group-friendly. Knowing that someone has your back makes a big difference.

Patiently coach them through new skills like filtering water and bearproofing the camp. Creating a positive learning environment will mean they will improve each day, and be more ready for any subsequent trips. 

resting while backpacking

Keep it Fun! 

Maybe you picked a shorter trail. This means that there’s plenty of time to enjoy the day. Pack libations for a backcountry happy hour. Bring a deck of cards or a lightweight board game. Watercolors or books are creative ways to pass the time.

Try and remember what it was like on your first backpacking trip. It’s easy to forget what it felt like to learn and develop new skills outside of your comfort zone. Putting yourself in their shoes will help you be a good leader and a good friend.  What’s more, the experience just might teach you something new as well. 

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Updated. Originally Published September 25, 2020.