For travelers who want to spend time in the great outdoors, backpacking tours are a great way to experience world’s most beautiful hiking trails and the adventures that come with them. Camping under the stars, swimming in pristine mountain lakes, looking out over scenic vistas… A backpacking trip can be the perfect way to reconnect with nature when you need a break from the pace of the modern world.
A backpacking tour, by definition, involves carrying everything that you’ll need for the duration of your trip with you in your backpack. This will include your clothing and personal items, but it may also include food, a tent, and additional camping gear depending on the type of tour that you choose. Regardless of what style of backpacking trip you choose, you’re certain to get close to nature and experience the authentic beauty of the land and everything it has to offer!
Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), USA
The Pacific Crest Trail stretches for 2,650 miles, from Mexico to Canada along the western United States. It passes through spectacular natural landscapes, varying from desert to a National Forest. Hiking the entire trail can take between four and six months, but the vast majority of backpacking tours along the PCT involve hiking a short section of the trail, for three days up to one week. Typically, these tours involve rough camping at basic campsites along the trail. The best time to travel the Pacific Crest Trail is from late spring through early fall, approximately April through September.
The Great Walks, New Zealand
New Zealand is renowned for its pristine natural environment, and the perfect way to enjoy it is on a backpacking tour of one of the country’s nine Great Walks. The tracks, located on both the North and South Islands, travel through some of New Zealand’s most iconic landscapes, and they tend to be moderate in difficulty. Many backpacking trips along the Great Walks feature basic accommodations with indoor plumbing. The average backpacking tour through the Great Walks is four to eight days, and the season for hiking runs from late October until late April.
Italian Pilgrim Trails & Walking Paths, Italy
Though Spain’s pilgrimage trails get most of the attention, Italy also features incredible historic paths, notably the Via Francigena, which connects the various countries of Europe to Rome. Most backpacking trips along this trail are about a week in duration, and they tend to involve more luxury than is usual for backpacking trips, staying in hotels with soft beds and hot showers at the end of each day's hike. The best times to visit are from April through June and September through October.
What to Look for in a Backpacking Trip
Backpacking trips can vary a great deal in terms of the level of intensity and level of “roughing it,” so it’s important to be clear about what exactly you want and what you’re hoping to get out of the trip. When you review guided and self-guided backpacking tour providers, be sure to consider how their style of guiding matches with your goals for the trip.
You might be most interested in a strenuous backcountry trip that involves camping in a tent and building your own fire each night, or you might be most interested in a walking/hiking trip over gentle to moderate terrain with hotel accommodation each night. Your perfect trip might be somewhere in between.
Average Backpacking Trip Length & Cost
Backpacking trips typically range from 3 to 8 days, though it is possible to find multiweek backpacking tours as well. Depending on the trip length and style. A three day guided camping trek on the Pacific Crest Trail or similar area runs about $800-$100, whereas a one-week luxury backpacking trip with nightly hotel accommodation in Europe could run between $2,500 and $3,500.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
Your most important piece of gear for a backpacking trip is…your backpack. Choose one that fits your body well -- a good outdoor specialty store will help you choose one that fits your needs and help you adjust it so that it balances well and distributes weight properly.
Your next most important piece of gear is a good set of hiking boots. Choose ones that fit well, and take some time to break them in before your big trip.
Because you’ll be carrying everything you need with you for the duration of your journey, it’s important to pack light. Two sets of hiking clothes, something to sleep in, basic toiletries, and several pairs of socks are all you really need in terms of personal items.
Many backpacking tours provide the rest of the gear you’ll need, including tents, sleeping bags, and camp stoves. In some multi-person tours, gear and food intended for the whole group will be distributed among the individual participants to carry. Check with your tour company to find out exactly what is included in the cost of the trip, which gear items you’ll be expected to provide for yourself, and how much additional space/weight you should plan to allot in your bag for group gear.
Most tour operators are incredibly responsive. If you’re not entirely sure which backpacking tour makes the most sense for you, reach out and ask!
Qualification & Training
Backpacking trips can be physically intense, so you should be in decent shape prior to your departure. Before you take a backpacking tour, you should train to be able to walk several miles with a full pack so that your body is used to that type of exertion. Training in advance is also a great way to break in your boots!
Any type of outdoor adventure comes with an inherent set of risks. Difficult terrain can lead to slips and falls that can result in twisted ankles and other similar injuries. There are also the risks of ticks stinging insects, venomous snakes, poison ivy, and aggressive wildlife. Temperature-related risks, such as heat stroke and hypothermia, are also possibilities. These types of risks vary by region, location, and season, so it’s a good idea to read up on your travel area in advance to know what you might potentially face.
Choose a backpacking tour commensurate in difficulty with your level of fitness, and always listen to your guide’s instructions when moving into new or unfamiliar terrain.
In the unlikely event that you wind up lost or separated from the group, it’s a good idea to carry a map and compass to get yourself oriented, as well as a whistle to help people locate you.
In addition, you may want to bring a few extra high-energy snacks (nutrition bars, chocolate, etc) in case you find yourself spending more time in the wild than anticipated.