Close this search box.

Backpacking for Beginners: Hike and Camp in Colorado’s Backcountry

Hiking on Cameron Pass trails looking to the mountains

Are you looking to take your family out for an adventure that won’t break the bank? Teach your kids essential skills that will last a lifetime? Well, backpacking for beginners and families can seem intimidating, but we now offer hiking and camping programs in Colorado’s backcountry!

Backpacking is a great, inexpensive way to enjoy time in nature with friends and family alike! And it can be easily scaled to meet your lifestyle, fitness level, and budget. First, though, let’s begin with some basic tips to get you outside and enjoy all Colorado’s backcountry has to offer.

Let’s dive into some steps to help get you, and any other beginners, backpacking with confidence:

  1. Logistics (Route, permits, weather, wildlife)
  2. Gear and Clothing
  3. The ABC’s of packing 
  4. Water Filtration methods 
  5. Food Planning 
  6. Leave No Trace Principles 
Guide, Josh Burke, teaching wilderness skills in the backcountry for beginners

Logistics for Backpacking Beginners

It is crucial to properly plan out your trip before setting out on your first backpacking adventure. Then you do not forget anything, nor will you put yourself in avoidable situations.

For your first few backpacking trips, here’s what we’d recommend:

  • Daily mileage for beginner backpackers is 7-9 miles of hiking per day
  • No more than 500 feet of elevation gain and/or loss
  • 10% or less gradient/steepness
  • Carry no more than 20% of your body weight

If you are completely new to hiking and carrying a pack, then reduce these numbers further, or start with one of our Fundamental Mountain Skills classes

With these numbers above in mind, the next step is to choose the right location, distance, and terrain for you. Once you have this, check to see if the area you have chosen requires a permit. It is important to have proper permits for local outdoor areas. If you’re not sure about regulations in a specific area, look online, or call the local parks office or ranger station to clarify.

Next is weather conditions. As beginners, backpacking in good weather certainly makes the trip more comfortable and pleasant. To better plan for your trip, check the averages conditions for the time of year you plan to backpack. Then, check the weather forecast 10 days out, 2-3 days before your trip, and the day of.

Weather in the Colorado Rockies can change rapidly, and afternoon thunderstorms are the norm in the summertime.

Lastly, while researching where you will backpack, find out what types of wildlife you might see on your hike. In Colorado’s backcountry you could see:

  • Elk
  • Moose
  • Mountain lions
  • Bobcats
  • Black bears
  • Coyotes

Be prepared with the right equipment to hang your food, carry bear spray, or anything else you need to make your trip safer and more enjoyable. Read our Safety Tips for Your Summer Backcountry Trips for more details!

hiking camping backpacking for beginners

Gear and Clothing for Backpacking

You may be thinking: what gear and clothing should I bring on a backpacking trip? Typically, beginners to backpacking pack too much stuff. And this significantly increases the weight carried which compromises the quality of the experience. Remember, no more than 20% of your body weight to get started!

When it comes to clothing, generally avoid packing any cotton.  Consider using cotton in the summer when you want to absorb water and help keep you cool on hot days, but do not use cotton for cold weather. 

CMS climbing and mountaineering Guide Dan Koepke mentioned, “I use cotton socks and t-shirts sometimes for working out at the gym and going for runs when it’s warm. But brands like Smartwool have improved my quality of life! I always prefer wool socks and underwear or synthetic and wool shirts and pants when I need to stay warm, dry, and comfortable – especially on long days while guiding, climbing, camping, or competing.”

Materials that work well to keep you warm or cool and comfortable:

  • Wool 
  • Polyester
  • Nylon
  • Down
  • Spandex 

As for clothing amounts, we recommend bringing 1 pair of undergarments and non-cotton socks per day. Another benefit of wool: socks and underwear may be worn comfortably for more than one day.  For pants and shirts typically less is better, at minimum 1 shirt and pants for every 2 days of backpacking. Bring the clothes you will be comfortable wearing, and definitely have enough to keep warm.  Check out our friends at Rab Equipment or Neptune Mountaineering if you need to stock up!

Essential Backpacking Gear to Pack

Let’s transition into appropriate gear to bring on your backpacking trip. The following list outlines the essentials backpacking gear:

  1. Navigation Tools: Map and Compass
  2. Satellite Communicator:ex. Garmin InReach or something similar
  3. Headlamp and extra batteries
  4. Rain jacket and rain pants (make sure they are waterproof!)
  5. Medical Kit 
  6. Pocket knife 
  7. Firestarter: Lighter, Matches, Flint and steel
  8. Camping stove with a pan/pot and camping fuel
  9. Water and Filtration device
  10. Food (think lightweight here)
  11. Tent with a rain tarp

Of course there are many other personal items we pack, but this will get you started. Our Hiking & Camping Courses are a great place to start if you want a gentle introduction to the backcountry, with the warmth of yurt to return to most nights.

Learning how to filter water backpacking for beginners

The ABC’s of Packing

When discussing backpacking for beginners and families, there are 3 essentials to consider to get the most out of you or your child’s backpack.

  1. Accessibility– When you are packing, you want to be sure to pack items in order of when you will need to access them. For example, your sleeping bag can be the first thing you can pack considering you will only need it for bed. On the other hand, your rain gear should be easily accessible in case of any surprise downpour.
  2. Balance– Balance is important when it comes to backpacking; if your pack is not properly balanced it can cause rubbing on one side of your body. Additionally, your body will be more fatigued and strained on one side.
  3. Compression– Compression is important because you want to get the most space out of your backpack. This will help get all of your items into your pack and not stress about leaving items behind. 

Danglers- If you can help it try to get everything you can into your pack and avoid leaving items hanging on the outside of your backpack. Having everything inside your backpack helps keep all of your gear together so you do not lose or break anything on your hike to the campsite.

Water Filtration Methods

When thinking about water filtration, there are many options you can choose from:

  • UV lights
  • Filtration sticks
  • Life straw
  • Iodine pills
  • Aquamira
  • Boiling water

All of these are viable options. A helpful tip when purchasing a water filtration system is to look for what bacteria and viruses are cleansed upon use. Additionally, if you are allergic to shellfish, we recommend avoiding water filtration systems that involve iodine.

cooking for a large group in a well accommodated yurt kitchen

Food Planning for Beginner Backpackers

As for what food to bring, we recommend bringing your favorites! Foods that are easier preserved outside of the refrigerator are the best alternative (freeze-dried meals work great). Premake your favorite items, or try some of the pre-packaged, lightweight meals that are widely available at places like REI or Neptune Mountaineering.

Additionally, if you plan to bring fresher products, we recommend using them within the first couple of days of your trip to avoid your food spoiling. Lastly, some camping areas require bear canisters or tying up your food at night, so make sure you are able to accomplish this.

Still not sure about carrying all your food and water for a few days? Not to worry, you can test it out by staying a few days at the Seven Utes Yurt at Cameron Pass!

Leave No Trace While Backpacking

There are 7 Leave No Trace Principles that all outdoor enthusiasts should follow to preserve the land we use for future generations and to leave a low environmental impact. Below are the 7 Leave No Trace principles: 

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly 
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Others

And finally, if you would like to learn more about trekking through the outdoors, Colorado Mountain School offers a range of Fundamental Mountain Skills Courses that can prepare you for your next adventure!

More To Explore

summer backcountry trip with Rainbow

Ignite Your Passion

Learn and Explore with Colorado Mountain School

Start Your Adventure

Stay Connected

Enjoy free tips and tricks from professional mountain guides, special offers and updates, and much more.

  • Hidden
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.