Doing your first overnight or multi-day hike can be a bit daunting to start off with. What on earth do you pack? How are you going to carry all The Things? What if you get lost? What research do you need to do first? I have done multi-day and overnight hikes before but always with someone. Recently I went solo and did my first overnighter on my own. In winter. I probably should have done my first one in summer but I only started my 52 hikes in 52 weeks challenge in Autumn and needed a further challenge so winter it was. And boy, was it cold! But that is beside the point of this post. This post is to help you plan your first overnight hike with ease.
How to plan your first overnight hike
Buy a big backpack
You need at least a 40L pack if you are going overnight. A daypack isn’t going to cut it sorry. You are going to need something that will fit the kitchen sink in it. A kitchen sink doesn’t go on day hikes. A good pack is something worth investing in if you are going to be doing a lot of hiking. You don’t want to skimp here. There is nothing worse than finding a hole in your new bag or the straps dig into your shoulders after a couple of hours. Your basic hiking staples are a decent bag and a good pair of hiking boots.
Tips for choosing the right hiking bag
- Look at the fit of the backpack. For us more vertically challenged hikers, a shorter bag is much more comfortable to wear. I tried on my Pa’s hiking bag that he uses for overnight hikes and it nearly went down to my knees. I couldn’t imagine lugging it up mountains easily.
- The weight of the pack is also important. All those little extra grams, while on their own aren’t a worry, when you add them up you could be looking at a few extra kilos. Remember, all those extra kilos are going on your back. If you hike solo, you have no one to hand that weight over to.
- Padding. Padding is super important for longer hikes. You don’t want the shoulder or hip straps digging into you. Over a long period, this can get super uncomfortable. Look for a bag with sufficient padding on the shoulder and hip straps
- Attachment points. If you are on an overnight hike, chances are you want somewhere to attach your hiking pole or extra gear.
- Does it come with a rain cover or do you need to purchase one separately? You want nice dry gear when you get to your destination. A rain cover will help with this.
Pack sparingly but smartly
There are essentials that you will need to take on your overnight hike and some things that are just nice to have. It will also depend on where you are hiking and what time of year it is as to what you need to pack. Remember, all that gear is going on your back, just the essentials is enough to get you through.
You will need to pack:
- Food, enough food and snacks to last your trip. Avoid canned food, they are heavy. Have a look in your local supermarket to see if they stock dehydrated food, if not you can purchase online.
- Water. A hydration pack is a great investment. You don’t have to constantly reach into your bag and most packs have a little pocket for them.
- Clothing. Use the layering system, a base layer, mid layer and an outer. If you are in an exposed area, the nights could be chilly so make sure you have warm clothes in your pack. Also, spare socks. Trust me. You will thank yourself for this.
- A dry bag to keep everything, well, dry.
- Torch or other lighting and spare batteries.
- Basic first aid kit with your regular medications, plasters, tweezers, bandages, painkillers, matches, cotton buds, scissors, blister plasters, deep heat, hand sanitiser and any other supplies you may need.
- Sleeping bag (not optional) and mat (optional). You don’t really need a pillow. Stuff your spare clothes in a sweatshirt or empty pillow case and you have yourself a pillow. Granted, not as comfortable, but a pillow nonetheless.
- Something to cook on and in. Also matches or a lighter or else you could find your cooker rendered useless and your tummy hungry.
- You will also need something to eat with and on such as plates and cutlery. I know, common sense, but some people forget things. Once, I nearly went hiking without my boots. True story.
- Map, GPS and compass (know how to use ’em first or else they are as useful as the cooker without a lighter).
- A plastic bag to take your rubbish home in. Extra ones are also handy to sit on if the ground is wet and you don’t want a damp booty.
- Personal Locator Beacon, this is important if you are going remotely and by yourself. Injuries can happen to even the most experienced hiker and the weather can be changeable and unpredictable.
- Loo paper. For well.. you know..
- Tent or shelter if you aren’t going to a hut.
When you are packing your backpack, put everything in smaller fabric or plastic bags according to their type. For example, put all your clothes in one bag, all your cooking gear in one, your food in one and first aid in another. This will save you from rummaging through everything to find what you are looking for. You will just need to pull out the appropriate bag and Bob’s your Uncle. Pack the things that you will be using the most often at the top of your backpack so they are the most accessible.
Research your overnight hike beforehand
Do a bit of research about the hike you will be undertaking.
Things you need to know:
- The actual trail, what is the difficulty, how long it is and the trail conditions (ie is it a marked track, a poled track, are there any closed off sections due to slips etc)
- WIll there be any shelters or camping grounds?
- Do you need permission to stay overnight?
- If you are going to a DOC hut, do you need a hut pass? Do you need to book first or is it first come, first served?
- Do you need a pass or a permit?
- What will the weather be like?
If you hike in New Zealand, the Department of Conservation website has information on thousands of hikes all over the country, including distance, access, difficulty and more. This is my go-to website when researching new hikes. The Wilderness NZ Magazine is also a great resource.
Don’t be hard on yourself
If this is your first overnight hike, don’t be hard on yourself if it doesn’t quite go to plan. Maybe it took you longer than necessary to get your shelter up and shelter-ing, perhaps you forgot something and didn’t realise until you settled down for the night or maybe you didn’t manage to hike quite as far as you would have liked. It doesn’t matter. You can always try again. Think of it as a learning curve. Take those lessons and learn from them for next time.
Tips for making that first overnight hike easier:
- Pick a shorter hike for the first day so that you aren’t too tired when you get to your stop for the night. You can always build up. Plus, it’s a good excuse to go out again.
- Take it slow, it’s the journey that’s the most important thing.
- You could even pick a hike that you have done before but always turned back around when you got to the hut or campsite. Now is your chance to stay on.
- Don’t go too remote. Pick a place where there may be other people staying as well, it might make you feel a bit safer. Plus, you may pick up a few tips from more experienced hikers.
- Plan simple meals. You may not feel like cooking a bit ole extravagant meal after hours on the trail. Plus, less clean up and fewer pots and pans to carry.
- Practice pitching your tent before you go if you haven’t done it before. Plus, you won’t find any unexpected pieces missing if you have had a practice run.
- If rain is on the agenda, maybe put it off for another time. A little rain never hurt anyone but for your first overnight hike, you want to be able to enjoy it as much as possible. Plus, no one likes a soggy, cranky camper.
Enjoy the remoteness
Make the most of being away from home and somewhere new. No distractions from the TV, from your phone or computer or even your neighbours. Really, what could be better? Nothing is what could be better that’s what!
- Light a fire and be hypnotised by the dancing flames.
- Write in a journal.
- Watch the stars move across the sky.
- Listen to the noises in the night.
- Take a book (or an e-reader because it is lighter, just don’t get it wet. Or fall on it) and just enjoy your surroundings.
- If you are with someone, take a deck of cards and play card games without distraction or chat around the fire.
For your first overnight hike, try a hut
My first overnight hike on my own was to a backcountry hut so I didn’t need to worry about a shelter. That meant that I didn’t have to carry extras or pitch a tent. I will do an overnighter with a tent soon, but for my first, I wanted to minimalise my gear and just enjoy it.
In New Zealand, we are lucky that we have lots of backcountry huts available for use. I think there are around 900 Department of Conservation huts dotted around the country.
Huts are basic, they will generally have bunks, thin mattresses, a long drop, a fire and possibly water (usually rainwater or water from a stream) so you will still need to take your cooking gear, lighting and something to sleep in.
- Leave the hut in a clean and tidy condition
- When leaving, make sure all windows and doors are firmly shut
- Take all your rubbish with you
- If there are others there, be mindful that you are sharing the space
- Always pay your hut fees
Make sure you do some research on the hut beforehand. Some huts are first in first served throughout the year and others are bookings only during peak season. Popular huts (such as the Great Walk huts) you have to book year round. During peak season if your hut is first in first served you still may need to pack a shelter. Some huts are quite popular during this time It is not uncommon for hikers to sleep on the deck or outside in busy periods.
Tackling your first overnight hike can be a bit daunting. My best advice would be ‘just do it’ (taking a line from Nike here but if the shoe fits). Don’t worry about what could go wrong. Just make sure that you have packed and researched sufficiently and tie those bootlaces up, baby. Honestly, I love multi-day hiking. Nothing beats the serenity of being in nature. It is my happy place well and truly. Sitting down in front of the fire after a hard days trek is immensely satisfying, I am not sure any feeling can really beat it.
What would you add to the list?
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