Lying in my warm-weather sleeping bag, I watched frost slowly build on the outside of my tent for hours before realizing I wouldn’t be able to sleep that night. I tried to control my chattering teeth, and thought back to just hours earlier when sunshine and 70-degree temperatures welcomed me and my brother to the summit of Algonquin Peak, just outside of Lake Placid, New York. It was our first time backpacking—carrying our gear to camp over a multi-day hiking trip—and it was obvious we had a lot to learn.
And learn I would: In the following years I came to love backpacking, while working as an occasional weekend guide for New York City-based Destination Backcountry Adventures. I backpacked in national parks across the U.S., became a wilderness-therapy guide in Maine, and eventually relocated to a small town in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Over the years, I collected knowledge I was missing on that first night at the base of Algonquin Peak—the importance of using a sleeping pad (not just that sleeping bag) for insulation, how to dress properly, and what to bring and leave behind. With a little more research ahead of time, though, I could have avoided learning the hard way.
From a novice-turned-pro, here are a few things to consider before spending your first night in the backcountry—for a much better first try than mine.
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Bring the appropriate gear
These days, there’s no shortage of gadgets designed to make your time outdoors as comfortable as possible. But when you’re halfway up the side of a mountain with a 65-liter backpack full of stuff, you’ll likely realize you would’ve been more comfortable if you had left some at home.