About the AuthorBev Krueger, better known on trail as “Bookworm” grew up in Chicago and regularly visited local forest preserves with her family. Her love for the outdoors started at a very young age and she finds nature to be therapeutic. Bookworm currently works as a K-4 Physical Education teacher. Bookworm now lives with her fiancée and their 3 furkids, Nellie, Jasper, and Saphira. Her hobbies include backpacking, camping, hiking, and reading of course! 
At some point in 2016 I discovered the world of backpacking and I knew it was something I wanted to do. I had grown up hiking in the forest preserves near Chicago and had gone on various “glamping” trips with my family. The outdoors called to me in a way that I could not describe, it was a place that I knew I belonged. When I found backpacking I felt such a strong pull that it could not be ignored. I had no experience, had not spent a night in the woods in a very long time, and did not even know where to begin.
I turned to the internet for information; I spent hours watching videos on Youtube and read through dozens of pages of information. I started to purchase gear piece by piece, always aware of my tight teacher-salary budget. I figured it was more important to just get out there and try it out, rather than saving for ages to buy the “perfect” piece of gear.  I picked a simple children’s tent from Walmart that was pretty lightweight and DIY-ed a cat food can alcohol stove.

I purchased my final piece of gear, my Osprey backpack, and set out on my first overnight trip in April of 2017. It was a terrible trip! There was no water to be found and temperatures were unseasonably hot. I got bit by a tick after digging my first ever cat-hole. Then it stormed all night, I lay in my sleeping bag shaking in fear as thunder and lightning boomed around me and trees swayed in the strong winds. After surviving the night I reviewed my map and found the quickest route back to my car, desperate for water and a nap.

Those who know me know that I am a very stubborn person; I would not let this experience stop me. I decided that I needed to do even more research so that next time I could have a better time. Despite everything that went wrong I had never felt so satisfied with myself, I felt so good knowing that I went out into the woods, alone, spent the night in a storm and yet I still wanted more.

Learning in Missouri.

I dove into my research even harder than before, my partner would regularly use the word “obsessed” to describe my habits surrounding backpacking. I compared weights and prices of tents, watched dozens and dozens of reviews, and learned tips from popular hikers. Somewhere along the way I discovered the Appalachian Trail (AT) and I knew it was something I wanted to do. I knew I likely would not be able to complete a traditional thru-hike, I had a career and responsibilities now. However, I figured I could complete the trail in pieces over multiple summers (being a teacher really has its perks). I knew that if I wanted to even attempt something like the AT I had a lot to learn.

I continued to go on backpacking trips, always 1 or 2 nights at a time, to figure out what gear worked for me and what items I would need to change before taking on such a large goal. I purchased a new lightweight tent that used my trekking poles to set up. I also bought new trekking poles to go with my tent, my original pair didn’t feel very comfortable in my hands. I tried various pairs of socks finally deciding on Darn Tough, expensive but comfy. I went through a half dozen different shirts to find one that didn’t chafe my armpits and that wicked moisture well. I practiced hanging a bear bag over and over until I was sure my food would be far out of reach. I also tried a variety of foods and found that my appetite actually decreased with the intense exercise. By the time I set foot on the AT in June of 2018 I was ready, the next month would take me on the adventure of a lifetime.

Through trial and error on my practice trips I was able to approach the AT with confidence. I would not struggle to pitch my tent on the first night, I did that in my backyard instead. I popped my blisters properly using a needle and thread to let them drain overnight, something I practiced on a trip in Missouri. Of course on the AT I still learned something each day and I constantly thought about ways to improve on what I already had. But, I was as prepared as I could be because of the shake down trips I had completed.
When it comes to practice there are a few key areas you should focus on so that your future trips are the best they can be. Focusing on gear is one of the best ways to ensure a good trip, you want gear that is functional, comfortable, and usable. You should also be proficient in a variety of skills before you set foot in the woods. Let’s talk about each one below.

Waking up in Hawn State Park, Missouri.


When it comes to gear there are several factors that you need to consider about each piece and gear is very personal. What works for one person will not work for another and I have yet to meet 2 hikers with identical gear. The following points can help you to decide what gear to try out, but remember practice is what makes it better:

Is it functional?

Does the piece of gear work for you based on your needs?

When backpacking every single piece of gear that you carry must serve a purpose (and sometimes more than one, ideally). Having functional gear is of utmost importance, in some cases it could be a matter of survival.

For instance, a good sleeping bag is a key piece of gear and it must function well enough to meet your needs. Pick a sleeping bag (or quilt) with an appropriate temperature rating, you want to be warm enough to avoid hypothermia. If the bag you choose does not live up to the rating promised and it does not keep you warm you have the wrong piece of gear.

Another example that comes to mind is your rain gear. You need to choose something that is actually going to keep you adequately dry. There is no sense in carrying a rain suit that leaks the moment it starts to drizzle.

Items that are functional for me may not be functional for you. For example, when I cook I prefer to rehydrate foods by just adding boiling water. I opted for a DIY alcohol stove as a lightweight option. I would add about an ounce of denatured alcohol and light it, within a couple of minutes I had boiling water ready to use. If you prefer to cook your meals, this option likely will not work for you because you cannot control the flame, it is full blast or nothing. You may find that a canister stove such as the MSR Pocket Rocket is a better option.

Bell Mountain Wilderness, Missouri.

Is it comfortable?

Does the piece of gear feel good?

Comfort is a very important factor out on the trail. You want to be able to enjoy yourself on your trip, if you are carrying the wrong gear this will be impossible. Having comfortable gear could mean the difference of enjoying your trip or hanging up your boots and never venturing out again.

Back to my sleeping bag example from above, not only does your bag need to keep you alive and safe, it also needs to keep you comfortable. One of the most important factors you must consider when you choose a sleeping bag is whether you are a hot or cold sleeper. Personally, I sleep very cold (unfortunately I found this out the hard way). When I go on a backpacking trip I need a sleeping bag that is rated for colder temps than I will encounter, because I get so cold during the night. Even in summer months, I carry a 20 degree mummy bag to keep me toasty at night. If you are a warm sleeper, picking this bag would be torture for you.
Another example that comes to mind is clothing. When choosing clothing and footwear to backpack in you want to make sure you are comfortable. Make sure that your clothing is rated for the climate and terrain, but also consider how the fabric feels. My first shirt that I bought was from a second hand store, but I didn’t like how it bunched up under my pack. My second shirt came from Target. In store it fit great, but after a couple of hours on trail I had some of the worst chafe I had ever experienced under my arms. Try different articles of clothing to figure out what makes you feel good.

My first backpacking tent.

Is the gear usable?

Do you have the skills to use the piece of gear properly?

Finally you should consider if you can appropriately use your gear. There is no point in carrying gear that you don’t know how to use properly. Be sure to do your research before you are out in the woods and practice at home if possible.

Before venturing out into the woods I suggest practicing how to set up your tent several times. You don’t know how late you may be making camp, what the weather may be, or what terrain you may be facing. If it is dark, raining, and on a slight slope I guarantee you do not want to be setting up your tent for the very first time.  When you bring new gear home, open it up and get familiar with how it works. I recommend watching videos online if you are unsure of how to proceed. You may learn a trick or two to make set up/use easier.

It is also useful to know how to use pieces of gear like your stove before you are miles away from home. Be sure that you have the correct type of fuel and know how it works with your stove. Most of us can recall the scene in “Wild” where Cheryl attempts to use gasoline in her white gas stove, you do not want to be in that position because you failed to practice ahead of time.

First backpacking trip, in Sand Ridge State Forest, Illinois.


Before venturing out on your first backpacking trip there are some skills you will want to practice at home. Some of these skills will make things more convenient, whereas some may save your life.

Before your first trip take time to familiarize yourself with basic first aid techniques. Learn how to care for cuts, lacerations, broken or dislocated limbs, and bites and stings. Some people opt to take wilderness first aid courses which are a great option. Most people remember to pack a first aid kit before they go backpacking, but that kit is not very helpful if you don’t know how to use the components of it.

In addition to first aid, it is absolutely essential to practice using a map and compass before you are in the woods. Many of us rely on technology to keep us on track, but make sure you have a backup plan in case that technology fails.  If you become lost, knowing how to use these tools may keep you alive. Practicing these skills in a safe environment will make them easier to learn and it leaves room for error. Once you are out in the woods or mountains that room for error becomes very small.
In addition to survival skills it is important to learn basics about ethics in the outdoors such as Leave No Trace, right of way, and trail etiquette. Understanding and practicing these things will allow you and others to enjoy their time in the outdoors now and for years to come.

My first night out in the woods I had to hang up my food before bed, I wasn’t in bear country but I didn’t want any critters eating my snacks. I had a basic understanding of how to hang my bag but I had never tried it out. I ended up spending nearly an hour trying to find a good tree, attempting to throw the rope up over a branch, and then suspending my heavy bag in the air. Had I practiced this at home I am certain I would have had an easier time.

Remember, no trip is perfect. There will always be things to learn and try. If at first you do not succeed, try and try again. Practicing before your trip or completing shakedown hikes will not make things perfect the next time around, but practice will make it better.