How to plan for a summer backpacking trip

Backpacking offers an unrivaled way to connect with remote, wild spaces during summer. Hike for multiple days to places only accessible by foot with all your essentials on your back.

It’s June, and Washington temperatures are consistently soaring well into the 70s. With the sun out, you might find yourself itching to get out in nature. And who could blame you? Now summer is here, there are plenty of warm, dry days ready for you to bask and backpack in.  

Backpacking offers an unrivaled way to connect with remote, wild spaces during summer. Backpacking trips usually involve multiple days of hiking, often to places only accessible by foot all while carrying your essentials in a backpacking pack.  

With over 250,000 miles of trails just waiting to be explored in the United States, it’s little wonder backpacking and hiking are the country’s most popular outdoor activities

As Washington locals, we’re probably biased when we say the Evergreen State is the best place to backpack. With sprawling alpine wilderness and sparkling coastlines, Seattle’s backyard is full of hidden gems waiting to be uncovered in every corner.  

And when nature calls, GeerGarage has the gear to get you out! Our rental platform offers a sustainable alternative to buying new – Renting from local outdoor enthusiasts. 

Whether you’re an experienced backpacker or a beginner, ready to embrace the great outdoors, follow these steps to plan the backpacking trip of a lifetime!

Fun fact: a 2022 report from the Outdoor Foundation found that 10.3 million people in the United States went backpacking in 2021!

1. Decide where you want to go

It’s tough to plan any trip if you don’t know where you are going! Whether you seek the solitude of a tranquil lakeside retreat or the thrill of traversing rugged mountain ranges, the prep you need will vary depending on what you choose.

Your choice of where to backpack will be largely determined by how much time you have and how far you want to go. Depending on location and experience level, most backpackers will plan to hike at least three miles a day.

Think about your traveling party too – when backpacking as a group, you’re only as fast as the slowest member! Solo backpackers have more freedom in how fast and how much ground they’ll cover, but may need extra communications gear.

Summer backpacking

Time of year and weather conditions can also impact where you choose to backpack. During summer, be wary of wildfire hotspots especially over drier months. 

Research is your friend when finding a place to hike. Find out about terrain, difficulty level and any safety considerations that apply to your chosen trail. 

Tech Tip: The Hiking Project helps with finding hiking destinations. Users can filter hikes worldwide based on features such as trail difficulty, distance and it’s even dog-friendly! It can be downloaded as an app, replacing bulky guidebooks that can weigh your pack down.

Completed this research? Then you’re ready for step two…

2. Create an itinerary

Now that you’ve decided where you want to go, it’s smooth sailing (or backpacking!) from here. Create a plan of the distance you’ll cover each day, the sites you’ll stay at, and any attractions you want to see while backpacking.  

Check the weather and trail conditions routinely in the lead-up to your trip. This will determine if your itinerary needs any tweaking. For example, the weather changes rapidly in the Pacific Northwest, sometimes even the day before a trip!  

When creating an itinerary, base your route around available water sources, and ensure you have good water treatment options available (such as tabs, or a potable water filter, like Lifestraw). Nothing disrupts a fun backpacking trip faster than dehydration, and summer sweats usually require more water than other seasons. 

3. Get permits and make reservations

Now that you know where you’re going, determine if you need to obtain a permit for camping, hiking or visiting specific areas. For example, in Washington, backpackers might be required to display Wilderness Permits or Discover Passes to gain access to state parks and national forests.

If you’re time-poor and don’t have enough time to spend researching the necessary permits for your backpacking adventure, check out this guide by the Matador Network, which lists the permits needed for every national park.

Avoid hiking for hours to reach a campground and getting turned away because you hadn’t made a reservation in advance. During holidays such as Independence Day, Labor Day and summer break, beat the demand and make your reservation in advance.   

4. Gear up

When it comes to packing gear for backpacking, it’s critical to find a balance between necessity and weight. Every item you bring should serve a purpose and keep you safe and comfortable on the trail.

Embrace the simplicity of living with only the essentials and pack light. Prioritize lightweight and multi-functional gear to keep your backpack as light as possible. Pack heavier items closer to your back and towards the middle of the pack for better balance.

Gear up for backpacking

Some of the essential backpacking gear you’ll need for your next trip include a backpack (obviously!), tent, sleeping bag, cooking equipment and navigation tools (maps and compasses).

New to backpacking and not sure what you need to pack? Check out this handy backpacking checklist by Backpacker that makes packing easy.

5. Sun safety

Summer backpacking adventures can lead us to spots with limited shade and shelter, leaving us prone to sun exposure. Prolonged sun can cause sunburn, dehydration and even heatstroke, so it’s paramount to practice sun safety when backpacking

To reduce your risk of sunburn, apply sport-specific sunscreen with a high SPF to all exposed skin, including your face, neck, arms and legs. Reapply regularly, especially after swimming or sweating. 

The sun’s rays can be brutal here in Washington, and it doesn’t just impact your skin. Too much exposure to UV rays can cause long-term harm to your eyes. Pack sunglasses with UV protection at minimum, and choose polarized lenses to help you see the trail while shielding your eyes from the sun. 

While it might seem sensible to opt for shorts and t-shirts when hiking in summer, be aware of the risks in terms of sun safety (and tan lines!) Keep skin and scalps protected by wearing long-sleeved shirts, full-length pants and wide-brimmed hats. Ensure you don’t opt for heavy fabrics that could weigh you down though – wear lightweight, loose-fitting and breathable clothes, designed for sun, ideally. 

6. Venture beyond the beaten path

It’s time to unlock the extraordinary and venture beyond the beaten path. Lace up those hiking boots, fill up that water bottle, and hoist that pack on your back – let’s revel in the beauty of the wilderness.

There might be challenges along the way, but the gift of nature is always worth the sweat – if you’ve planned sufficiently. Find any outdoor enthusiast, like a GeerGarage Lender or Ambassador, and they will tell you that while you have to earn the breathtaking vistas that await, backpacking changes your relationship with the outdoors for the better.

Try it for yourself! Rent some backpacking gear with us from just $30 – our Lenders have what you need to make your next backpacking adventure a success.