Nothing will bond a group of women faster and closer than experiencing the challenge of a backpacking trip — ladies only. You’ll test your boundaries as individuals (and maybe as friends!), plus the pictures, conversations and the exercise will be amazing. Ready to take on a challenge that will change both your friendship and the way you look at the world? Let’s organize a girls backpacking trip!
Don’t feel guilty
It’s worth mentioning before we even start, that for many of us, taking time off from our work and our families has the potential to make us feel bad. Once that starts to happen, there’s no turning back and the guilt will ruin your whole trip.Here’s the absolute truth: you have nothing to feel guilty about — everyone deserves adventure in their lives. Even you.
To help mitigate the guilt monster, decide that you’re not going to take on planning the whole trip. Delegate the tasks. Put one friend in charge of meal planning, another in charge of daily itineraries, another in charge of shopping. It also helps to have an online planning tool where you can keep all your lists and notes organized in one place. Facebook groups and Trimble both have good tools for creating private groups that allow everyone to be on the same page.
Also, it’s a good idea to set realistic expectations — just like a wedding, not everything will go perfectly with your trip. Build in some relaxation and quiet time, since being alone can help you recharge. Just because you planned the trip together, doesn’t mean you have to spend every moment together. Spend some time in the tent or hammock reading by yourself.
Finally you might want to make a rule about limiting smartphone use (not that they’ll work very well out on the trail). Make a pact to turn off your email and log out of your social media apps, so all you can do is take pictures and, in the event of an emergency, send out a text (which almost always works, even if you don’t have cell phone service).
Planning your trip
Having at least one experienced backpacker along for the trip will not only add peace of mind, but also reduce your learning curve when it comes to things like building a fire and other outdoor skills (though the tips in this article and reading a few backpacking books will go a long way too).
Where do I go?
The first step in planning any overnight backpacking adventure is picking where you want to go. Pick a trip that matches your skills and that you’ll find inspiring. Budget and time constraints should also be factored in. Try perusing outdoor magazines, check out some regional guidebooks from the library, and outdoorsy family and friends can all be helpful when choosing a trail that’s both appropriate and fun.
Depending on where you live, you’ll want to be thoughtful about what time of year you plan your trip (and let’s face it, most of us need to plan trips months in advance, just to work around everyone’s schedules). Though having the right gear means you can backpack just about anywhere at any time of year, you’ll enjoy your trip more if you pick peak seasons. Consider how crowded the trail will be, how bad the bugs will be (in Michigan’s upper peninsula planning a trip mid-May through mid-July means battling black flies) and of course the weather.
Terrain & distance
A good rule of thumb for beginners is 3-10 miles a day — but 3 miles up rocky terrain is considerably harder than 5 miles on flat land. Will your route be a loop? Out to a scenic lake and back? If you need to shuttle a car, make sure you have that adequately planned. Also, be realistic about your goals. Men usually like to cover as much distance as possible, but you and your girlfriends would probably rather hike at a more leisurely pace.
Guidebooks, maps & permits
Research which guidebooks, maps and permits you’ll need for your trip. Backpacker magazine is a great place to start, as is Trails.com. Be sure to check local regulations before you go. Can you have campfires? Are bear proof canisters required? What permits do you need to hike there?
What do I bring?
Remember, you have to carry everything you need on your pack — now is not the time to pack three extra pairs of shoes (your hiking boots and a pair of cheap flip flops to wear around the campsite are about all you need). Of course, what you pack will depend a lot on where you’re going and what the weather will be like. But for most spring-summer-fall backpacking trips, here’s a good list of gear you should consider (all affiliate links, but gear I recommend nonetheless):
Big stuff (do your research)
It’s a good idea to bring one luxury item with you that’s going to make your trip a lot more comfortable. Really only you can decide what that will be — and if you end up backpacking more, it’s likely that item will change. For me, I cannot sleep without a pillow; some people can just stuff a sweatshirt with clothes and call it good, but not me. So I bring along one of those little travel neck pillows. It’s a little bulky and kind of a pain, but it’s worth it to me to get a decent night’s sleep. Other people prefer to bring a higher quality mattress (thisAeroBed PakMat is on my wish list) or a place to sit & lean back while in camp (like a convertible chair sleeve).
There are two schools of thought when eating on the trail. You can either purchase pre-made backpacking meals either online or at a sporting goods store. These are lightweight bags of dehydrated food that you just fill with the right amount of hot water. These meals are easy and convenient (if expensive).
Or you can decide to assemble your own. There are lots of great backpacking meal recipes out there, especially if you’re willing to do a little pre-work beforehand. Like gear, it’s always nice to have one comfort/luxury item when it comes to food – it’s different for everyone. Some people bring chocolate, others a block of cheese (which, if you choose a hard cheese like cheddar, mozzarella or parmesan, actually keeps pretty well).
You can save yourself a lot of time and headaches if you properly label & package the meals. Determine the prep order: Dehydrated veggies & instant rice (and often spices) can simmer together, so put them all in one Ziploc bag. Sauce mixes all go in another bag. Then put the dry sauce mix bag inside the bigger rice bag — that way everything stays together. Then clearly but concisely label the directions, so that anyone can figure out how to cook the meal (instead of just depending on one person to know what to do). For example: On the sour cream & soup bag, write “sauce + 1c water.” On the rice bag, “rice/beef/vegs – simmer 9mins in 3.5c water, +sauce, cook 1 min.”
Finally, if you’re celebrating something special (reunion of friends, someone’s birthday, etc.), make the extra effort to add some style to that meal. A bright poncho can serve as a tablecloth, a bandana as a napkin, and even the votive candle from your emergency kit can add a festive flair. Depending on how much space you have, maybe consider bringing plastic wine glasses.
How am I supposed to get all that — in there?
This is going to take some practice. Generally speaking, put your sleeping back at the bottom (stuff sacks can be helpful in getting your sleeping bag as small as possible – if you can borrow an expensive, light sleeping bag from an outdoorsy friend, that’s the best), with the sleeping pad strapped to the outside. This makes a nice seat for breaks when you’re stopping & resting.
Put the cooking items, water & other heavy items in the middle. Stuff your clothes & other items around it (don’t pack a lot of clothes – see suggestions above). Put your toothbrush & other bathroom items somewhere convenient — many people choose to put it in their backpack’s lid/cover (sample/travel size toiletries are highly recommended). Make sure you’re putting items that you need to access regularly, like snacks, water bottles, maps and more (tampons? yeah, it can be done) in the side pockets where you can get to them without pulling out all the rest of your gear.
Divide up the stuff you’ll be using as a group: one person carries the tent, another the poles, another the cooking stove, another the meals, etc.
You need at least two liters of water per person per day, and more in hot weather. Collapsible bottles are nice, so are hydration systems (i.e. Camelbacks), but most people just use open mouth bottles, often called Nagalyne. Make sure you think about how you’ll purify the water — options range from chemicals you add to lake/stream water (drops or tablets, which are small and light) to ultraviolet pens that kill bacteria (easy but expensive).
Hope for the best, but prepare for the worstBackpacking is not for sissies. The extra work you put into preparing for when things go wrong could mean the difference between life and death (so for Pete’s sake, take it seriously!).
Stick to a plan
Always let someone know where you’ll be and how long you’ll be gone, and importantly, when you’ll be back. I am not kidding with this one. Set up a plan so that you contact them when you return, with instructions on what to do (who to call) if you don’t return.
Make sure you have an emergency kit that has first aid, firestarters, emergency blanket, a whistle, etc. It’s best if each person has her own. You can either buy a pre-assembled kit, or make one yourself. Include a supplemental phone charger/battery, lighter (wrap a long strip of duct tape around it for quick fixes), tinder, extra food and a warm hat and gloves — and you can do some amazing things with acondom or a tampon.
Finally, here’s a list of tips that are kind of random, but will certainly make your trip more enjoyable and safe:
You’re not an ordinary woman, and you don’t have ordinary friends (or at least not all of them). So why should your girlfriend getaway be like every other spa retreat? Get out there and have an experience with each other! So where will your next ladies-only backpacking trip be?
Or maybe you want me to plan one for you?
Jill Hinton Wolfe