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Let’s face it — whether you’re new to living in the mountains or have been here your entire life, venturing out for an overnight backpacking trip for the first time can be intimidating. My name is Jenn Cancellier and I’m director of event operations at the Indy and founder of the guiding company, Focus Backcountry. I’m here to provide a little insight on how to get started in backpacking.

I grew up in Peoria, Illinois, and moved to Colorado in 2007. I had very little experience backpacking prior to my move and through the years I’ve gained some knowledge as to what gets people outdoors or, better yet, what keeps them indoors.

Staying inside usually boils down to three things: lack of access to gear, lack of trail knowledge or lack of physical fitness. But nature is for everyone. Follow these tips and you’ll find yourself outdoors in no time.


Backpacking is cheap, they say. You should do it, they say; it doesn’t cost a thing. The trails are free! Well, we all know that is a big fat lie. Gear is expensive! Especially, if you are just getting started. But here are some basics every outdoorsperson should invest in.

• Boots or shoes with good tread

• A warm jacket

• A tent

• A sleeping bag and pad

For beginners, I suggest borrowing gear. Most likely there is someone in your social circle who can lend you a sleeping bag, tent, pack or jacket. If that isn’t an option, look into places that offer rental equipment or sell used gear. Mountain Equipment Recyclers and Gearonimo are great local shops that sell used gear at a hell of a cheaper rate than most retailers. As for hiking boots, you may want to wait on this purchase unless you are 100 percent committed to making backpacking and hiking a long-term hobby. If you have a good pair of trail shoes or tennis shoes, bring them and save up for other essential items.


Where to begin? First, invite a partner who has some backpacking experience, if possible. Having someone with backcountry expertise can really enhance your experience. Second, research the trails and surrounding sites before your adventure. I recommend newcomers hike in places they’re familiar with before taking an overnight trip to a new location.


If you don’t know the trail, spend some time day hiking before jumping into an overnight backpacking trip. This way you will get more comfortable with waypoints and surroundings. I spent a lot of time in the Sangre de Cristos range. When I’m on those trails, I am familiar with the area and its relation to civilization. Also, I study trail maps over and over again before going on a trip as I want to be as familiar with the space as possible before heading to the trailhead.

And, related to the first trip — don’t forget to research the gear you are considering. Ask the staff at any mountain outfitter for advice.


Backpacking takes a lot of effort, both mentally and physically. So, always consult with your doctor to make sure you are cleared to take on an epic backpacking adventure. Once the doctor says you’re OK to hit the trails, set a date for your first trip and begin planning your journey. Backpacking season is normally between June and August. Give yourself anywhere from four to six weeks to prepare yourself physically for more strenuous trips. Day hikes should become a part of your weekly routine. As you become more and more comfortable, start carrying your pack. Add snacks, water and maybe an extra jacket so you get comfortable carrying weight. There are also some really great home workouts on YouTube and Pinterest that can be done with a pack.

Last words of advice: Take your time! Start with shorter trips with minimal elevation changes. I am a sucker for secluded alpine lakes.

And do your research. The more you prepare before hitting the trails, the more confident you will be on your first backpacking journey.

Now get out there and get it! 

Jenn Cancellier is the founder of Focus Backcountry. Learn more at