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My First Backpacking Trip: Before and After

The thoughts and feelings before and after my first backpacking trip.

By: Katie Johnstone + Save to a List


In less than an hour I will be getting in my car and starting my drive to West Virginia for my first backpacking trip. I will be hiking 21 miles, 2 nights of camping and 3 days of hiking, at Dolly Sods in the Monongahela National Forest. I am going with my boyfriend who has done several trips like this before, so I feel comfortable that he knows what we are getting into, but I am still a little nervous! 

I have been on plenty of camping trips and have even done some backcountry camping at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky, but on those trips there has always been an option to hike out and get in the car to drive to get more food or water. On this trip, that really isn't an option..

For the past 2 months I have been waiting for this day to come. I have ALWAYS wanted to go backpacking and I could not be happier that the time has come. I have a good pack, a good pair of hiking shoes and plenty of supplies, but in my head I still feel like I am forgetting something. I know we have plenty of food and warm clothes, but I can't stop thinking that maybe it isn't enough. From what others have had to say, it sounds like there is plenty of areas for water, but in my head I think maybe it won't be as often as we might need. I bought a LifeStraw water bottle and have water purification tablets, but I still worry I might get sick from drinking the water.

Even though I have all these second guessing and nervous thoughts running through my head, I really cannot wait for that first step onto the trail. I know this is my first backpacking trip of many and I can't wait to share my experience once I return!


Where to begin... my trip was everything I imagined and more. It was beautiful, nerve racking, mentally challenging, physically challenging, filled with beautiful pine trees, never ending mountain ridges, open meadows, running rivers and one giant smile. 

The first hour of the trip had its up and downs. As my boyfriend and I drove into the Dolly Sods Wilderness I was so excited I was finally going on my first backpacking trip. After we parked the car, the excitement started to turn into the worry I felt before leaving Ohio. I wasn't worried about having enough water or food anymore, but the weight of my pack. I had never carried anything heavy like that on my back for an extended period of time. The beginning of our hike had a few steep inclines and I could instantly start to feel aches and pains in my back and shoulders.

However, at about mile 3 the excitement returned and I started to forget about how uncomfortable I felt. I turned my negative thoughts into positive ones and began to remember why I was doing this in the first place. I was there to prove to myself that I could hike 21 miles and live out of a pack for 3 days. There had always been something about a backpacking trip that boggled my mind about testing my limits. The next 6 miles seemed to fly by and before I knew it I was at one of the most beautiful campsites I had ever stayed at. Looking back, everything about that day had already made the trip worth it.

When I woke up the second day I felt as I expected I would, sore. I didn't let that get to me though. I was in good spirits and ready for another full day of adventuring. We only hiked 5 miles so we had a lot of time to explore some of the cool rock faces the trails had to offer. As a rock climber, it felt great to climb on rocks for most of the day. We climbed to one spot called the Lions Head and it offered beautiful views. 

That night we stayed at another beautiful campsite along a river and I sat down to write about how my trip was going. Nature has always been my place of escape, but there was something really powerful about being able to reflect deep in the wilderness, away from all the busyness of my typical day to day life. Like John Muir said, "Keep close to Nature’s heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean."

The last day we had a 6 mile hike out and I will admit it was a little rough. I was sore and the hike was mostly uphill, but that didn't keep me from smiling. I was so proud of myself. I was grateful that I got to spend a few days hiking in the woods, explore a new national forest and share the experience with my boyfriend. He was a great adventure partner and really helped motivate me when he knew I needed it the most. 

Overall, my first backpacking trip was hands down one of the coolest experiences of my life. I learned a lot about myself and what it means to live simply and off the bare minimum. I am ready to start planning my next trip and I cannot wait for all the backpacking trips my future holds. 

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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