Intro to backpacking…

My first ever backpacking excursion was a 4-day, 3-night hike in Patagonia, Chile called “The W”. It was 2013 and I was 31 and the longest I’d ever hiked prior to that was maybe 7 miles in beautiful sunny Hawaii.

We rented gear and overpacked and it was COLD. I rented hiking boots which was a huge mistake because I opted to hike in my more comfortable, lightweight running shoes the entire time (meaning I had to lug very heavy boots on my back for 4 days).

I learned A LOT during that trip, and subsequent trips, which makes me an expert and thus why I am including this section on my blog.

At the start of our “W” hike… still all smiles and optimism…

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General backpacking tips and tricks:

  • People that say you need hiking boots are lying. They are heavy and awkward and don’t really help you (unless you are hiking in wet conditions and need waterproof shoes). Hike in whatever is the most comfortable for you. If that’s your flipflops or rainboots, do it. My go-to is a pair of running shoes – Asics or Brooks for comfort, Saucony for traction.
  • If you’re going to be hiking in wet conditions, opt out and hike to the local pub instead.
  • Those hiking pants that zip off at the knee are ugly. Really really ugly. And pointless. Don’t wear them. Please.
  • Buy or rent the smallest backpack you can get away with. It’s like when you have a big house – you’ll fill it with stuff you don’t need. Bring the necessities and hike with someone stronger than you and make them carry the stuff that won’t fit in your bag.
  • Bring small things that bring you joy and don’t feel bad about it. I bring blush and mascara on every backpacking trip no matter what. It makes me happy and if you think it’s stupid you can stop reading and go take an un-fun backpacking trip.
  • Bring an inflatable pillow or construct something that resembles a pillow. Fill your sleeping bag stuff-sack with some clothes. It makes a big difference in how well you will sleep.
  • Bring a sleeping pad. Don’t even think about not bringing a sleeping pad. I recommend a Klymit pad; it packs downs tiny and is super lightweight. 
  • Research your sleeping bag before you rent/buy. As I mentioned earlier, the rating is the temperature that the bag will KEEP YOU ALIVE, not KEEP YOU WARM. They both matter.
  • Bring wine and try to save it for the second night if you can (I never do). By the second night you REALLY need that glass of wine. But don’t bring the bottle – it’s heavy when it’s full AND when it’s empty. Instead, put your wine in a Platypus collapsible water bottle that is conveniently (and coincidentally?) 750 ml. If you are like me and polish your wine off early in your adventure, you can full your Platypus with water once the wine is gone (boooooring and sad!)
  • If your hiking partner tries to convince you that whisky/bourbon or beer is lighter to pack in… do NOT believe them. Nick “Bearshield” Wheatley has tried to pull the wool over my eyes more than once. Who wants to end a long day of hiking with a glass of bourbon? Foul. Always opt for wine. And don’t opt for cheap wine my friends. Even after a day of hiking 15 excruciating miles, your taste buds know the difference. If there was ever a time to treat yourself, this is it.

Backpacking essentials:

  • Babywipes: I would NEVER EVEN CONSIDER backpacking without babywipes. Have you ever had to take a wilderness poo? Pray you never have to and pack babywipes, just in case. Also, they are good for taking makeup off, cleaning your pits, and freshening up your lady-parts. But you have to pack out everything you pack in so bring some bags to house those nasties.
  • As with camping, sleeping socks and a knit cap are essential for cold weather backcountry camping. Zipping your sleeping bag together with your mates bag and rubbing your cold feet on them sounds like a good idea but actually makes you colder. Stay in your own bag and tighten that zip cord around your head so tight that you only have a tiny hole to breathe out of. Then hope you don’t suffocate. That should keep you toasty.
  • Dorky people buy specific dorky backpacking clothes for a lot of money. Don’t be dorky. As with shoes, hike in what is most comfortable. And remember, you’ll probably be so tired and cold at the end of the night that you’ll sleep in your clothes and then be so tired and lazy the next morning that you’ll wear the clothes you slept in the night before. So less is more. Also, no matter what you do or what you bring, you’ll stink. There is no deodorant in the world that can help you. Embrace your stinky self – opt for one hiking outfit and lighten your load.
Example of classic Val backpacking attire


  • Valerie Wheatley

    Val grew up in Portland, Oregon but moved to Oahu on a whim back in 2013. She sold her house and all of her belongings and bought a one-way ticket. Since then she’s taken two around-the-world trips and has visited 60-ish countries while living out of a duffel bag.

    Val started documenting the Wandering Wheatleys travels back in 2013 as a way to update friends and family about her whereabouts and to relay humorous daily interactions. The only readers were her mom and her mother-in-law but that didn’t stop her!

    These days you’ll find Val dreaming up future trips, creating new travel content, managing a team of amazing travel enthusiasts, and chasing around her two adorable but naughty kids.

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