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5 Tips for Backpacking – Expert Advice from Melanie Webb

Get on the trail and go backpacking.

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5 Tips for Backpacking – Expert Advice from Melanie Webb
Photo: Sol Fitness Adventures

Sol Fitness Adventure's Melanie Webb has trekked through remote wilderness areas around the world. She's an outdoors adventure guide, an expert fitness trainer, and an Athleta sponsored athlete. And she loves helping people get connected to their bodies and their outdoor adventures!

If you’re heading out on a backpacking trip you'll need a bit of advice for a successful adventure. Plan your next wilderness escape with these five tips from Melanie Webb.

Train the Body. Naturally the first thing you need to do is get in shape! The most important muscles for backpacking are those that make up the core: butt, back, and stomach. They’re the biggest muscles in your body, the central point where all the forces exerted on the arms and legs transfer, and will take the brunt of the extra weight in your pack.

There are a number of ways to strengthen your core: with Pilates, abs classes, and dynamic warm-ups. Webb's concept of combining all the exercises you like, "flowing with core fitness" and doing "what feels good next" is a great way to train on your own.

Start by noticing your breath, coordinating it with your movements, and check in from time to time to see how your body feels doing the exercise you’ve selected. Your goal is harmony of the mind, body, and feelings. It’s okay to pause and think about what your body wants to do next, but don’t be afraid to just go with something that feels good now!

Know Your Gear. Backcountry camping has come a long way since our caveman ancestors slept in caves under skins of animals. Go to your local outdoor store and you’ll find thousands of high-tech items to choose from. But it’s not enough to buy the latest and greatest backpacking gear if you don’t know how to use them. Take that gear for a test drive before you use it in the wilderness—you'll save yourself a lot of trouble.

Case in Point: "Last year I led one of Sol Fitness Adventures backpacking trips in the Zion Outskirts when one gentleman, an accomplished outdoorsman, brought his new water boots. Within an hour his toenail had jammed to the point that blood was spilling out from under it and he was gimping in pain," Webb explained. "He was a good sport about it and cut the toe of the boot out, covered it with duck tape, and soldiered on; but had he not been willing to do so it would have been the end of the road for his trip."

Do your Due Diligence. Proper research for a successful backpacking trip is critical. Boxes to check off include:

  • Permits – Does your backpacking destination require permits? If so, how far in advance can you get them, is there a lottery, or do you have to show up in person?
  • Human waste – What is the environment you’re going to and what are the requirements for human waste? Will you need to use a poop-tube, and if so, are you up for that?
  • Water sources – This one is important. Are you carrying in your own water or are there sources that you can treat and drink?
  • Buddy system – Who’s your base camp point man, who knows your plans, route and when to expect you back?
  • Communication – Cell phone towers don’t exist in the backcountry, and if you're in deep canyons, satellite phones don’t work either. Do a little research so you will know what to expect.

Get Wilderness Training. You should consider acquiring wilderness first aid skills. If you’re heading out into the wilderness you should know how to recognize common illnesses such as hypothermia, dehydration, anaphylactic shock, as well as deal with accidents such as broken bones, lacerations, and head injuries from falls.

There are several certifying bodies offering Wilderness First Aid courses, which are more practical than the average First Aid classes for treating injuries in the wild. Don’t rely exclusively on Search and Rescue teams or your friends when you’re out there. You have a responsibility to your backpacking partners to educate yourself before heading out.

Listen to Your Instincts. The Navajo people begin teaching their children how to listen to the elements at a very young age. John Muir, who spent his adult life exploring the Yosemite, California, region, used to say: “Go to the woods, and hear their glad tidings.”

Take advantage of being far away from the negative energy of other people and the city buzz and get in touch with your prehistoric DNA. Not only will it enhance your life back in the real world, but also your instincts will help you detect many things in your environment: changes in the weather, danger, peace, joy, and abundance, which could end up saving your life, if not enhancing your adventure to the outdoors altogether!

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