Whether you’re an avid backpacker or just getting into it, there’s no denying some of the obvious health benefits. It’s a great way to spend more time outside, stay physically active, and clear your head. 

While we’re of the strong belief that any backpacking is better than no backpacking, there are things you could be doing to maximize its benefits. 

If you’re reading this, we’re already pretty confident you love the great outdoors (so do we!). So, let’s talk about potential health risks you should avoid while on the trail, and things you can do to take advantage of the incredible mental and physical health opportunities backpacking and hiking can bring

Boosting Your Physical Health

Even in the dead of winter, you can work up a sweat while hiking a tough trail. There’s no question that backpacking is a great workout.  Even a leisurely hike can help you burn anywhere from 300-600 calories an hour. While it’s a wonderful way to boost your cardiovascular and muscular strength, that’s really only the beginning when it comes to the physical perks. Backpacking can help to:

  • Reduce your risk of heart disease
  • Improve your balance
  • Decrease respiratory issues
  • Boost bone density
  • Lower your blood pressure

Even short hikes or trips are good for your physical health. But, if you really want to take advantage of your active time on the trail, consider adding more weight to your pack, going on longer treks to build stamina, or challenging yourself with rougher terrains. Of course, make sure you’re taking the proper precautions and keeping yourself hydrated and fueled along the way. You know your limits and how far you can push them, but you don’t have to take risks your body isn’t ready for. 

Maximizing Mental Health

It’s easy for most people to see why backpacking is great for your physical health. But, it’s also a wonderful, natural mental health booster that can change your outlook on life. In a country where over 40 million adults are struggling with anxiety, mental health management is more important than ever. 

Think about the things you have to deal with every day. Technology keeps us “plugged in” 24/7, schedules are busier than ever, and for the last two years, we’ve been dealing with a global pandemic that has changed the course of life as we know it. 

Needless to say, taking care of your mental health should be a priority. 

Being outside and moving is already a great way to de-stress. Multiple studies have shown the mental health benefits of being in nature, including: 

  • Boosted mood
  • Better focus
  • Calmer thoughts
  • More energy

You can take those benefits one step further by being more intentional with your backpacking experiences. Try to practice mindfulness while you’re on the trail. Take in your surroundings and how you feel at that moment. If meditative practices aren’t your thing, consider snapping photos or writing in a journal while you take breaks. These are great mental health tools that will keep you focused and present, but they can also help you to reflect on who you are, where you are, and what you want your life to look like. Whether you started backpacking at a young age or yesterday, it allows you to clear your head and think about the things you want to accomplish in life.

Backpacking is also a wonderful way to meet new people and develop a support system of individuals with similar interests. That kind of support can keep you from feeling isolated, and encourage you to spend more time doing the things you love. 

Avoiding Common Mistakes

It’s hard to find any fault with spending time outdoors and hitting the trail.  But, there are things you might be doing that could hinder the health benefits, and even put you at a greater risk of injuring yourself.

The best thing you can do to keep yourself safe on the trail is to plan ahead and pack the right things, including: 

  • Navigation tools
  • Water
  • A first aid kit
  • Sun protection with the right clothing and SPF sunscreen
  • Rain protection
  • Extra clothing

Planning also includes familiarizing yourself with your location, checking the weather, and being cautious about any potential risks along the way. 

During your hike, be sure to pay attention to your surroundings. Not only can this help to clear your head, but it will help you to avoid things like slipping, tripping, or accidentally running into a poisonous plant.  

Finally, take your time. Don’t rush through your backpacking experience. By going at a more leisurely pace, you’ll build your strength and stamina, feel more relaxed along the way, and lower your risk of getting hurt.

By putting these tips into practice, you’ll gain even more out of each trek on the trail. The next time you get out there, think about some of these incredible benefits, and how something as simple as backpacking can add so much to your life.

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