If you've never gone backpacking before it can be a daunting experience when you prepare for your first trip. Trying to figure out everything you need to know about your destination and how you're going to fit all of your supplies on your back can be a real challenge.
When I went on my first backpacking trip I had no idea what I needed to bring and I ended up bringing a 45 pound backpack for a 1 night trip...luckily it was a pretty easy hike so I wasn't struggling too much.
But I've learned from my mistakes and I'm going to share with you everything I wish I knew when I started backpacking. These tips will help keep you safe and make your trip more enjoyable.
Choose an Easy Destination
Your first backpacking trip is going to be all about learning your gear and the basics of surviving in the back country. Your first trip shouldn't be a 100 mile multi-week hike in freezing weather to see if you can climb a mountain.
You want to ease into backpacking and get comfortable with your gear before you really push your limits. This will help you figure out what gear you can get rid of to reduce your pack weight and also if you are missing anything important.
After you've put your gear and yourself through the paces of a few easy trips then you can think about tackling some more challenging trails.
Some of the critera I'd use to find an 'easy' first hike would include:
- Lots of water sources - You need water so make it easy to get to it.
- Minimal elevation gain - The less up/down you're doing, the less energy you'll spend.
- Relatively close to home - Choose a location where you're familiar with the normal conditions.
- Popular/heavily populated trail - In case you get hurt you'll be able to get help from other hikers if you're in a popular spot.
- Survivable in worst case scenario - If I lost my entire backpack (food, water, shelter), could I manage to survive overnight?
Use AllTrails to Plan Your Route
AllTrails is for hiking what Yelp is for restaurants. If you're in a new city and don't know where to go, you can usually rely on Yelp to guide you in the right direction. It might not be 100% right but you can be pretty sure you'll find a good place to eat if you trust the wisdom of the crowds.
AllTrails works the same way by relying on people to rate trails after they've hiked them. But just like Yelp can get bad reviews (1 star reviews at a steakhouse because the person is a vegitarian...come on), I don't normally rely on AllTrails for the specific reviews. I mostly use AllTrails to help find popular trails (more reviews = more popular = more people) and to map out distances.
AllTrails also has a lot of handy filters so you can narrow down the trails it shows you based on how difficult they are, the length, loops vs out and backs, etc.
I'll cover the ideal distance in another section but for now I'd recommend using AllTrails to find loops that have a decent amount of ratings. If you find a trail with 1 review, it's probably not very popular and you should look for something a little more well known on your first adventure.
Minimize Elevation Gain
Elevation gain is just a way to quantify how much up and down hiking you'll be doing. Hiking up mountains is very strenuous and can be dangerous if you don't have good climbing technique.
Add in the fact that you tend to overpack as a beginning hiker and you have a recipe for a bad day.
Even if you live in Colorado or other mountainous areas, you should have plenty of options that don't involve constant up and down elevation changes. Save those for later when you've got your pack weight reduced and you feel a little more comfortable in your hiking shoes.
Look for Water Sources
One of the most important elements of backpacking is keeping a consistent supply of fresh, clean water. Hiking requires a lot of energy and your body will need more water than normal to stay hydrated.
When you're looking at maps of trails, you'll want to look for small streams and rivers that you can gather water from. You can also get water from lakes but streams are usually preferred because the water is constantly moving so you don't have to worry about stagnant water collecting algae or other nastiness.
Here's an example from AllTrails showing the Manistee River Trail. You can see where the rivers and streams touch the trail. These would probably be good locations to filter water.
You'll also want to make sure you look at the elevation. You may have a trail that goes right next to water but if you're hiking 100 feet above the river then you probably won't be able to get any water from it. Look for the topographic lines on the map or the handy dandy elevation chart that AllTrails shows at the bottom of the trail map.
Make sure you also consider the time of year when planning out your water sources. A stream might be there in the spring when the snow melts but it could be gone in August when temperatures are at 100+ degrees F for several weeks.
Go When the Weather is Good
Whether this means spring, summer or fall will depend on where you live but when you choose to go on your first backpacking trip should be based on the normal weather conditions.
I'd consider the ideal backpacking conditions to be partially cloudy and 75 degrees. Since you can't choose the exact weather conditions of your trip, just shoot for the month when you normally have closest to ideal conditions.
If you know July is always 100+ degrees, don't go then. If you know it always rains during August in your country, go at a different time. We're just trying to avoid any times of year that would normally have harsh conditions.
After you decide on the timing the rest is up to mother nature. You can't be guaranteed good weather but you can prepare for bad weather which we'll cover in a second.
Start with an Overnight Trip
Since you're probably going to bring too much stuff and forget 1 or 2 essential pieces of gear, I'd recommend starting with a short overnight trip.
You can survive an overnight trip with basically no supplies. So if you forget something really important like your water filtration or toilet paper/wipes, you'll be OK.
If you forget your water filtration after planning a 7 day hike in the middle of nowhere, it will be way worse than an overnight trip close to home.
Plan To Hike Less than 10 Miles per Day
The distance you can cover in a day depends on a lot of factors like your physical fitness, pack weight, terrain, etc. Until you've gone on a couple of overnight hikes, you probably won't have a good idea of what kind of pace you can maintain on the trail.
For your first trip you should plan on a maximum of 5 hours of hiking time at a pace of 2 miles per hour.
Most people hike around 2 miles per hour under normal conditions. If your pack is light, the gorund is flat and you're really trying you can get up to 3 m.p.h. or a little more.
What we're trying to avoid is this line of thinking:
- I'll wake up at 8 and have 12 hours of daylight to hike
- I'm in great shape, I can hike 3 miles per hour
- Let's do 36 miles in 1 day.
There are soo many little things that slow you down while hiking. Things like:
- Bathroom breaks
- Filtering water
- Snack breaks
- Filtering more water
- Stopping to catch your breath
- Making and eating lunch
- Filtering water again
- Stopping to take some pictures
- Setting up camp
- Cooking dinner
- Getting more water
- Trying to start a fire
All of these things add up and eat away at your time. Don't forget you'll have a 30-40 pound backpack you're lugging around as well.
If you want to read more on how to figure out your hiking speed you can check out this handy guide.
Get the Right Gear
Having the correct backpacking gear for your trip is crucial. When you're getting started with backpacking it can be intimidating. There's a million choices and everything seems really expensive.
Check out my ultralight gear list here for an idea of what brands/products to look at when you're getting started. I'll cover a couple specific pieces of gear in the next 4 sections.
Make Sure Your Tent is Big Enough
Your tent is your home away from home when you're backpacking. You'll be spending at least every night in it and possibly more time during the day if it's rainy or nasty outside.
Choosing the right tent is a balance between price, weight and size. First you'll want to decide on a budget, then figure out what kind of trade off you're willing to make between weight and size.
To figure out what size tent you need, figure out how many people will be using your tent. Backpacking tents are really tight on space. If you're going to be camping with 2 people and a dog, you won't fit in most 2 person tents.
If you're ever in doubt, size up to the next largest tent. Going up 1 size in tents (i.e. from 2 person tent to 3 person tent) will usually only cost you an extra 8-12 ounces but will give you a lot of extra room. There's nothing worse than being packed into a tent that's too small and constantly bumping in to your camping companions.
Practice Setting Up All Of Your Gear At Home
This tip mostly applies to your tent but it's a good idea for all of your gear.
Before venturing into the wilderness and using any of your gear, you should have already tested it multiple times at home. You never know when you'll get a hole in a sleeping pad or find out you're missing a pole for your tent.
Some other examples of things to test would be:
- Does your water filter work correctly?
- Does your stove light easily?
- Does your tent have all the stakes and tie outs you need for it?
Put all of your gear through the paces you'd expect it to go through in the wilderness so you're confident when you leave for your trip that everything is going to work.
Get the Right Size Backpack
When you're shopping for a backpack you're looking for the Goldilocks zone: not too small, not too big.
Having a backpack that's too small is a serious problem. You won't be able to fit your gear and you'll end up having to buy a new backpack later on. The exact size is debatable but I wouldn't buy anything less than 45 liters in capacity.
On the other side, you don't want to get a gigantic backpack because you probably won't need that much space and you'll be paying more for space you won't use. I'd limit myself to an internal capacity of 65 L.
The pack I use is an Osprey Volt 60 which fits everything I need for 5 day/4 night trips. If you're planning to do longer trips in the future you might want to go a little bigger but don't go crazy and buy a 90 liter pack before your first trip.
Get Your Backpack Sized/Fitted Correctly
After you figure out what size backpack you want, you'll have to get it adjusted to fit your body. Technically this step is optional but your backpack will feel 10x more comfortable if you have it adjusted correctly. If you can't go to a local backpacking store to have this done, you can try to do it yourself. Here's a video explaining the process and how to do it yourself.
Make Sure Your Sleeping Setup is Warm Enough
When you're shopping for a sleeping bag and sleeping pad, you want to make sure you're getting gear that will keep you warm in the coldest conditions you could encounter.
You can tell how warm a sleeping bag is by it's temperature rating.
You can tell how insulated a sleeping pad is by it's R-value.
Look for a sleeping bag rated for 20 degrees F or lower and a sleeping pad with an R-value of 3.0 or higher.
For the average backpacker who goes camping in the summer in moderate climates, you probably won't experience temperatures much lower than 20 degrees F overnight. If this is you, I'd recommend getting a sleeping bag rated for 20 degrees.
Even if you'll mostly be backpacking in good weather when it only gets down to 45-50 degrees overnight, you'll appreciate the 20 degree bag keeping you nice and toasty. Obviously if you're planning any winter hiking or you expect temps below 20 degrees, get a warmer sleeping bag.
For the sleeping pad I'd recommend a minimum R-value of 3.0. Higher is better but you don't need to go crazy and get something with an 8.0 R-value. In most conditions you'll even be fine with an R-value of 1.5-2.5 but you could get a little uncomfortable if the temperature drops unexpectedly.
Get Water Treatment Equipment
Even if water in the wilderness looks crystal clear 100% clean, you shouldn't drink it without filtering it first. There are all sorts of viruses and bacteria in the wild that you can't see and you'd never know if they were in your water until you got sick from drinking them.
The most popular options for water filtration are:
- Gravity filtration like the Platypus GravityWorks (my personal favorite)
- Squeeze filtration like the Sawyer Squeeze
- Pump filtration like the MSR Guardian
- Chemical treatment like AquaMira
- UV treatment like the SteriPen
Choosing the right water treatment option for your specific needs is a long topic that needs more attention than I can give it here.
My advice would be if you want to cheap out, get the Sawyer Squeeze. If you're OK spending a little more money on something you'll use for a long time, get the Platypus Gravity Works.
I started with a Sawyer filter but it got old real quick when I had to squeeze every ounce of water I wanted to drink. The Platypus gravity filter requires no effort and filters water just as quickly as my Sawyer.
Hand pumps are another viable solution but they tend to cost more and I'm not a fan of all the moving parts that could fail.
Chemical treatment is usually reserved as a backup since most people don't like the taste it imparts on the water. It also doesn't remove all the floaties from your water which grosses some people out.
UV light treatment is another option although it requires battery power which is more weight and another thing that can fail on you. It also doesn't filter out stuff like tapeworms which are found all over the world.
Don't Bring Cotton Clothing
Cotton sucks. It absorbs moisture easily and takes forever to dry out. Odds are most t-shirts you own are made of cotton. Your socks are probably made of cotton. All of this stuff should be left at home.
When you're backpacking there's a good chance you'll get caught in the rain. If you're going on a short 2-3 day hike, you have no choice but to complete the loop so you can get back to your car and go home. If it rains you have to suck it up and hike through it.
If you have synthetic clothing and socks you'll still get wet, but you'll be able to dry off much more quickly. This one is kind of hard to explain but as someone who has hiked through the rain for 6 hours in cotton socks, trust me, it's miserable. After that trip I bought 2 pairs of Merino wool socks and haven't looked back.
Pack the Right Layers
Layering your clothing is the key to staying comfortable while hiking. You don't want to be constantly changing your clothes to match your gear to the weather conditions.
The best way to do this is to wear a base layer of synthetic clothing that will keep you dry and warm.
On top of that you can wear an insulating layer like the Patagonia Nano Puff (my personal favorite) for additional warmth.
On top of that you'd wear a rain coat to keep you dry.
This setup lets you peel layers off/add them back on as the weather changes. I also bring a pair of shorts and a t-shirt (not cotton!) for those warm days when I'm hiking.
Don't Wait to Break In Your Shoes
When I went to Isle Royale in August of 2018, I got a blister after 6 miles of hiking. And over the next 3 days I hiked an additional 36 miles. My feet hurt BAD.
My blisters were caused by my cotton socks (stupid, stupid, stupid!) but you can just as easily get blisters from your hiking shoes.
If you decide to get a new pair of hiking shoes, don't wait until you hit the trail to break them in. You should wear them around the house and whenever you go shopping/out to eat/etc so you get used to wearing them and give them time to conform to your feet.
I'd recommend walking at least 10-20 miles in a pair of shoes before taking them out in the back country.
Wear Synthetic Fabric Socks
I mentioned this a few times in eariler sections but it's so important that it bears repeating.
Don't wear cotton socks. Either get Merino wool socks or some other synthetic material (just go on Amazon and search for "synthetic socks" and take your pick.
Your shoes and your socks are the only things separate your feet from the hard ground you'll be spending all day walking on. Invest in some quality socks and you'll thank yourself later. Some of the most popular backpacking socks brands are Smart Wool and Darn Tough.
Make a Packing Checklist
In case you haven't noticed yet, there's a lot that goes into planning a backpacking trip and the gear list can get really long. After your tent, backpack, sleeping bag and sleeping pad, you'll feel like you have most of your stuff packed but you couldn't be more incorrect. On my last backpacking trip I had over 40 different items I brought with me so the big 4 I listed above made up less than 10% of the stuff I packed.
The easiest way to keep track of your stuff is to make some type of a packing checklist. I manage mine in Google Sheets so I can keep track of what's packed, what's still left to be purchased, etc. You can also use this nice sheet from REI that lists the most common items you'll want to bring. I'd recommend making your own list though since you'll probably have items you want to add or remove from anybody else's static checklist.
Plan Your Meals
Backpacking burns more calories than just walking around at home. You're going to be really hungry when you set up camp at night so you'll want to make sure you bring a little more food than you'd normally eat at home.
In addition to your 3 normal meals you'll also want to bring along some snacks. Keeping your energy levels up during the day while you're hiking is really important in making sure your pace doesn't drop off.
Here's a quick run down of some of my favorite options for what to eat when I go backpacking. There's a million resources online to help you plan your meals out so just use this as a starting point.
- Breakfast - bars or cooked meals and instant coffee
- Lunch - tortillas, peanut butter, tuna, etc
- Dinner - freeze dried meals, instant potatoes, instant noodle meals, meat for protein
- Snacks - nuts, chocolate, dried fruits
Protect Your Food from Animals
After you've got your meals planned out, you'll need some way to protect it from animals.
Almost everywhere you go you'll be fighting off chipmunks and squirrels. These guys have no problem chewing a hole right in your backpack to get to your food so the only way to keep it safe is to hang it up in a dry sack. You'll also need some nylon rope or string so you can keep your bag of food high off the ground and away from trees.
I usually try to find 2 trees that are 10+ feet apart. I tie my rope between the trees about 6 feet off the ground then clip my dry bag right in the middle of the rope. This way my food is 6 feet away from the nearest tree and 6 feet off the ground.
The other type of animal you'll have to look out for is bears. Some places require bear canisters which are huge, bulky plastic containers that are completely bear proof. I wouldn't use one of these unless it was required by the park's rules.
If bears are a concern you should learn how to hang a bag PCT style which is best explained in this video.
Learn How to Read a Map and Use a Compass
I'll admit, there are some awesome apps out there for navigation and if you put your plane in airplane mode it can work for several days without needing to be charged.
But there's no replacement for good ole fashioned navigational skills. Before going into the backcountry it is IMPERATIVE that you understand how to read a topographical map and use a compass. This is a basic survival skill that could save your life. Don't skip out on it.
Get In Shape Before Your Trip
This probably goes without saying but backpacking is way different than walking. Most people would hear "walking 10 miles in 5 hours" and think it's a cakewalk. But walking through the woods with a 40 pound pack on your back going up and down hills is way more strenuous than taking a walk around the block.
So what can you do to prepare your body for backpacking?
The best solution is to simulate what you'll actually experience. If you can load your backpack up with 40 pounds of stuff and go for a walk, you'll get a good feel for what your hike will be like.
If you can find some stairs to go up and down or a steep hill you can walk up, even better. The hardest part of backpacking is going up and down. Elevation changes use the same muscles as when you're walking on a flat trail but ratchet up the difficulty.
If you just trained by walking up a steep hill with a fully loaded pack, you'd be in good shape for your first backpacking trip. Don't try to over complicate things or focus on specific parts of your body. Just train naturally by copying what you'll be doing when you're hiking and you'll be fine.
Watchout For Altitude Sickness
I live in Michigan which is about 600 feet above sea level. In 2017 I flew out to Colorado for the first time in my life and spent a few days hiking in the Rawah Wilderness.
About 30 minutes after landing in Denver, which has an elevation of 5,000-6,000 feet, I felt light headed, like I had been laughing too hard and got a little dizzy. Some people react more seriously to elevation changes and have all sorts of symptoms like nose bleeds and lethargy.
Once we got into the Rawah Wilderness the next day I felt fine and was able to hike up 4,000 feet of elevation gain. We got to our campsite at about 2 PM and set up camp at 12,000 feet above sea level. I was so exhausted I laid down in my tent and ended up passing out for about 2 hours while my body tried to catch up from the exhausting climb and the huge elevation change.
The problem is that elevation change affects everybody differently. Some people don't have any problem while others will have headaches and exhaustion so severely that they wouldn't be able to hike if they wanted to.
The only way to know how your body reacts to the elevation is to go and experience it. If possible, you should plan your trip to have at least 1-2 days of rest before you start your hike. Giving your body time to acclimate to the altitude will help you adjust and feel more comfortable.
Plan Your Pre/Post Trip Logistics
You might think that after planning out your hike and mapping out all your campsites and water refill spots you'd be done; but you're not!
Now you have to figure out how to get to and from your destination. If you're camping close to home, this is pretty easy. You should be able to just drive there and back. But you also have to find parking. The best way to do this is use AllTrails or other backpacking communities (Reddit, Backpackinglight, etc) to find people who have gone to the place you're going and see what they did for parking.
Another solution is to use Google Maps. Here's what the trailhead looks like for the Manistee River Trail. You can see where the 2 parking lots are located pretty easily. Make sure you're in satellite view so you can see these.
But if you're going somewhere farther away the logistics get a little more complicated. For the most part you'll be getting a hotel/AirBnB and a rental car unless you have friends or family nearby that can let you crash at their place.
If you do have to travel by airplane, make sure you pack your backpack inside of a duffel bag. All of the straps and buckles hanging off of your backpack can easily get caught in the conveyor belts at the airport so you need to have your pack protected.
If you plan to bring your backpack as a carry on then you should make sure you don't have anything that TSA might confiscate. Some examples would be:
- Trekking poles
- Stove (depending on how mad the TSA agent is they might take this)
And remember, you can NEVER bring stove fuel on an airplane. Not even a little local plane. You will always have to buy fuel at your destination if you fly.
Leave A Detailed Trip Plan With A Friend Or Family Member
If you get hurt in the wilderness it could be a long time before someone finds you. On top of that, you usually don't have cell phone service which means you won't be able to notify anyone. This is even more of a risk if you're solo backpacking in a remote location (which is why I recommended against both of those earlier).
Before departing on your trip, leave a copy of your itinerary with a friend or family member that will know when you return. Set up a specific date and time when they should expect to hear back from you and if they don't, they should notify the nearest ranger station to where you're hiking.
Here's a list of the information I'd include in this trip plan:
- Map of the trail I'm hiking
- Map of all the campsites I plan to stay at
- Precise arrival/departure dates
- Phone number for the ranger station
Learn Basic First Aid Skills And How To Use Your First Aid Kit
If you get hurt in the wilderness, you'll be entirely responsible for fixing it yourself. There's no one out there to help you and what would be a minor inconvenience at home could turn into a serious medical concern if you aren't properly prepared.
Trips, falls and cuts are par for the course when you're backpacking so you should make sure to pick up a first aid kit made for backpacking. These kits include almost everything you could need (usually they come with too much stuff!) for surviving in the back country.
Go through your medical kit and see what's in there. Understand what every single piece of equipment does and how to use it. You don't want to get stuck in the wilderness with an injury you can't treat because you don't know how your med kit works.
In the event of a serious injury you should try to stop the immediate risk (bleeding, burns, etc), call for help, and leave ASAP. Don't try to tough it out and finish your hike if you're seriously injured.
Bring A Phone/Camera For Pictures
Don't forget to stop and smell the roses! Nature is beautiful and the best part of going backpacking is getting to enjoy the awesome scenery.
If you have a phone made in the last few years you'll probably be able to take pictures that are good enough.
If you want to step up your photography game without breaking the bank or weighing your pack down, I'd recommend picking up a Sony RX 100. I got one on eBay for about $300 used and it takes really great photos. But to be honest, most of them look identical to my buddy's Nexus 5x. The only difference is night time photography where the RX 100 stands out.
Here's a side by side of the RX 100 and the Nexus 5x. See if you can tell the difference...
Nexus 5x is on the left. Sony Rx 100 is on the right.
Buy A Guidebook For Your Destination
There are tons of guidebooks available for almost every destination in the world. These guidebooks are usually written by someone who has been to that location many times before and knows it like the back of their hand.
These books great for figuring out specifics like what gear to bring, seasonal weather variations and other general info. But they're also really good for figuring out the hidden secrets that you might miss. Some of the best views and coolest locations are hidden a half mile off the trail and these books will let you make the most of your trip.
Learn The Rules And Regulations Of Your Destination
Different parts of the country have different rules and risks. If you're going into bear country you'll need special gear. But bear country (grizzly bears) in Wyoming means carrying bear spray while bear country (black bears) in Tennessee might mean a bear canister for your food.
There are even different rules for different parks that are just hours apart. When I went to the Rawah Wilderness I didn't have to bring a bear canister. But if I had gone a few hours further to Rocky Mountain National Park, a bear canister would have been required.
In addition to the specific rules and regulations, you'll also want to figure out if you need a permit. Some places like Glacier National Park fill up within days of the permit applications opening up. Other places don't even require a permit. Make sure you research this ahead of time so you don't plan your trip out then find out you cant' go because the permits were all taken 6 months before (which is what happened to me in 2018 when I tried to go to Glacier).
Learn Leave No Trace And Practice It
Leave No Trace is one of the most important things to learn when you start backpacking.
You should read the full guide at LNT.org, but the short version is that when you go backpacking, there should be no evidence that you were ever there (hence the name, leave no trace). These are the 7 principles of the Leave No Trace philosophy.
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Camp At Existing Campsites
All popular hiking trails will have pre-existing campsites that are used over and over again. You should stay at these campsites instead of creating your own in an unused location.
By staying in the same location as the person before you, you can practice Leave No Trace and keep the natural beauty of the wilderness in tact.
Bring Poop Supplies
This subject is an easy one to skip over if it's your first time camping but it's pretty important. When you're in the woods you've gotta have the right gear to poop.
When you need to go #2, find a secluded spot that's at least 200' away from the trail and any body of water. Dig a hole that's at least 12" deep and let 'er rip.
When you're done, wipe up, put the wipes/toilet paper in the hole and bury it. Then grab a stick or a stone and mark it like a tombstone so the next hiker will know you've already staked your claim to that ground and they shouldn't be digging around.
Don't Cook In Your Tent
It might be tempting to cook in your tent when it's rainy out but don't do it. Tents are flammable and you're trapped inside it when you have it zipped shut. Suck it up and go outside to cook.
Keep Your Gear Dry - Especially Your Sleeping Bag
Staying dry is really important when you're backpacking. Cold weather can cause hypothermia but being cold and wet means you'll be in bad shape much quicker than if you were dry.
If it's raining there's not much you can do to stay dry. But you can make sure your gear stays dry. And the most important piece of gear to keep dry is your sleeping bag.
This is even more important if you have a down sleeping bag. When down gets wet, it loses it's loft which is how it keeps you warm. Wet down will clump up and does nothing to keep you warm. You'll be in for a cold, rough night if you have a wet sleeping bag.
Synthetic sleeping bags are cheaper and are usually a good idea for people getting into backpacking for the first time. Synthetic down is more resistant to water but it's still a good idea to keep your sleeping bag dry.
The easiest way to do this is to bring a garbage bag with you and keep your sleeping bag stored inside of the garbage bag while you're hiking. You can also get a rain cover to keep the rain off your pack.
Treat Injuries Right Away
A small cut at home might not be a big deal. It stops bleeding after a second and it heals a couple days later.
But when you're hiking this could cause some serious problems. In the back country you won't be washing your hands multiple times per day and you won't be sitting in a nice, climate controlled office all day either. Being in the wilderness will expose you to the elements and all sorts of other germs/bacteria that you aren't exposed to at home.
If you're on a 5 day trip and you get an infection in a cut on the first day, you're gonna have a bad time.
Treat all injuries right away and keep them protected. Whether that means band aids, balms, ointments, oils, whatever. Be careful and pay attention to even the smallest wounds before they turn into big problems.
Weigh Everything And Don't Overpack
It's tempting to overpack and bring everything you think you could ever need when you're hiking. But if you do that you'll end up with a 60 pound pack and you'll be regretting your willy nilly approach to packing about 1 mile into your hike.
The best approach to keep your pack weight down is to use Lighter Pack and weigh all of your gear. Lighter Pack lets you enter the weight of every piece of gear so you can see exactly where your weight is going. Things that seem lightweight add up quickly and the difference between a 45 pound pack and a 35 pound pack is HUGE. You might only have to cut out 5 pieces of unnecessary gear to drop those 10 pounds but you'll be able to add miles to your daily hiking plan if you're carrying less weight.
Here's what my Lighter Pack looked like from my last trip.
And here's a good example of where those "extras" went. Now that I know this, I can easily start to reduce my weight by figuring out what's worth it and what isn't. For the record, I still think my 2 pound chair is worth it...
Drink Plenty of Water
Hiking is an extremely strenuous activity. The exact amount of water you need to drink will be different for every person but you should try to drink somewhere between 1x-2x your normal water intake. Just do what feels natural. If you're thirsty, drink more water.
If you've been hiking for a couple hours and you realize that you haven't even depleted your 2 liter bladder, take a break and rehydrate.
Eat Plenty of Food
This goes right along with drinking more water. Hiking burns about 500 calories per hour. You'll need to replace those calories you burn with food if you want to keep your energy levels up.
Make sure you bring more food (calorie-wise) than you'd eat at home. There's nothing worse than being hungry on the trail and realizing you have to hike 10 miles on an empty stomach.
Bring Backup Water Treatment
Water is such a crucial part of the human body that you need a backup system in case your primary means of water filtration fails. This is uncommon but it does happen and it will probably happen at the worst time.
I carry a small container of tablets that can each purify 1 liter. The tablets are cheap, lightweight and effective.
Sunburns are no fun and depending on where you choose to go backpacking, you could be exposed to a lot of sunlight. Since you can't just run home and grab sunscreen if you start to get sunburned, you'll need to plan ahead and bring it with you. Even if the forecast doesn't call for sun, you should be prepared for it.
Get A Headlamp
Don't bring your flashlight. You might think this is a good way to save $15 but it's not. Trying to cook with your hands while you hold a flashlight in your mouth is a recipe for disaster. Waking up at 3 AM to go to the bathroom while you mess with a flashlight is a nightmare.
Just spend the money to get a decent headlamp and you'll thank yourself later. They're also really useful around the house when you're working in dark spaces like the basement.