First Time Backpacker: Lessons Learned

by Nicole Wessner, Girls Who Hike Pennsylvania Ambassador

I always admired backpackers - disconnecting from it all, carrying everything they needed on their backs, experiencing things a day hike may not offer. I was hyped when I finally had a few free days to go on my first backpacking trip - But I underestimated what went into backpacking, and went into my first trip somewhat naive and ignorant to the process. My first trip was the Old Loggers Path, a 27.8 mile loop located in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania.  I was lucky, it was an amazing experience, but I learned a lot along the way - and maybe you won’t have to learn it the hard way like me.



Plan. Obsessively Plan. Going on a backpacking trip on a whim without any regarding for a plan wasn’t my best idea.

  • I didn’t plan out food meal by meal. I ended up packing too much food. Of course, you don’t want to be on the other side of the issue with not enough food, but just throwing items in your pack leaves a lot of room for error on this important item.

  • I didn’t plan for when I’d cross water sources - I was lucky, I wasn’t close to running out, but this was an afterthought.

  • I didn’t plan out my gear very well - I was never quite certain I had everything I needed and didn’t put a lot of thought into what unnecessary things I may have packed.

  • I did do one thing right - research the trail! There is tons of information about trails out there - official park websites, blog posts, books, etc. I found an official trail guide for this trail. It was amazing how accurate it was and it helped me know when I’d come across reliable water sources, where to camp, and exactly how far along we were on the trail at most times. I also found a blog post written by a girl that recently hiked the trail so I knew what to expect. Hopefully she’s found GWH!

Pack light! This might seem like common sense. I tried to pack as light as possible but my pack still weighed 22 pounds before food and water. I should have only packed the necessities for this trip and not the luxuries, but that was easier said than done.

  • Make a list of the items you can’t do without: shelter, water (and a water purifying tool), food, fire starting/food making gear, a first aid/emergency kit, etc. What did you pack that wasn’t on your necessities list? Are they worth the extra weight?

  • Plan with the other people in your group - do you have any duplicate items you could share, like a camp stove or water purifier?

  • Scour Pinterest for ultralight backpacking tips. I did this after my trip and it would have saved me pounds!


Shakedown hike. A shakedown hike is generally shorter and easier, done prior to your planned hike,  while fully simulating how you will be hiking (load up your pack, wear your boots, etc.). I lovingly referred to this as my shakedown hike for what I was hoping would be more backpacking trips; however, I regret not doing a real shakedown.

  • I just bought new boots that week and didn’t break them in before the hike (am I crazy?!). I was lucky I didn’t get blisters.

  • I threw things into my pack without much thought. What if something leaked? What if I forgot something? (Are you seeing a trend here about planning?)

  • Could I physically hike that many miles in two days with that much weight on my back?

Lastly, and maybe most importantly - Be patient. This is the far-less technical thing I learned, but as I reflected on the trip, I realized these things are what keep people going back to the trails.

  • Be patient with new hikers/backpackers. I was shown such patience on this first trip - pass it on. Seeing other people passionate about it, that are willing to share their knowledge, definitely made me feel more confident and relaxed on the trail.  

  • Go with the flow. Not everything will go right. You might forget something. It might rain. The trail may not be what you expected. But how often would I get to do something like this? So try to put a positive spin on things.

  • Accept that you can’t hike as fast with 25+ pounds on your back. This is a blessing in disguise. I was forced to enjoy the experience more (awful, right?). Don’t forget to soak it all up -  the views, the company (or the solo time), and the challenge.

Happy Hiking!


Nicole Wessner is one of our Girls Who Hike Pennsylvania Ambassadors. You can follow her adventures on Instagram at and join her local meetups at