Sat. Mar 2nd, 2024
5 Things I Learned on My First Backcountry Hiking Trip

In today’s post, Ontario Parks Deputy Program Coordinator Megan Birrell recounts her first backcountry hiking adventure.

Last year, I tried backcountry canoe camping for the first time. This summer, my camping team and I decided to take it a step further and try foot camping.

We selected Bon Echo Provincial Park’s Abes and Essens Trail as our hiking destination and planning began.

1. Beginner means beginner

The first lesson came when we chose our destination: even if you think you’re a good hiker and camper, it’s best to choose a beginner trail for your first outing in the backcountry.

Abes and Essens are considered an intermediate trail on the Ontario Parks overnight hikes website.

After walking through it, I can say it’s pretty accurate.


While we all made it out and had a great time, this trail was a little above our skill level and we should have tried an easier trail.

Don’t overestimate your abilities when planning a hiking or camping trip.

When in doubt, start slow.

2. Pack light (and let the stench take you away!)

people walking

This is a no-brainer for experienced hikers, but you really want to pack light!

When we went on our first backcountry expedition, we definitely overpacked.

This wasn’t a big problem when paddling…

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…it’s a big problem for hikes.

This time I didn’t pack too much and my back thanked me.

One place I had to learn not to overpack was clothes.

I was worried about smelling or wearing the same thing twice, but this time I gave in to the stench like many hikers before me.

Who cares if your clothes are a little stale? We all smell!

3. Have backups of essentials

Contrary to my last point about packing light, there are certain items that you should carry backups for regardless of weight.

In our case, this was navigation. I downloaded our trail map to use offline on my phone, which was great for tracking how far we’d hiked (and when we could break), but that map didn’t have it all.

A visitor to Emily Provincial Park mapping their hike along the trails.

At the front door, the staff provided us with a paper map for the trail, which highlighted things that weren’t included on my digital map (like where our site and outhouse were). A paper map is also key in case your phone dies.

Having these two forms of navigation working together helped us navigate the trail and get to our site without having to backtrack too much.

4. Don’t let a blister get you down

I thought it would be a great idea to go hiking with my full backpack and new gear two days before I left.

While this is It’s a good idea, but it’s also a perfect opportunity to develop some blisters before your hike.

fire walking shoesIf you, like me, get blisters before your hike, be sure to apply preventative bandages before you hit the road.

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Even if you trust your hiking boots, the heavier backpack and new terrain can cause blisters. Once you feel that familiar sting, be sure to cover the blister with a bandage or moleskin before it gets worse.

I thought my blister couldn’t get worse until it did. I took off my sock on a break and found a wrist-sized blister on my heel.

Long story short, I ended up wearing Crocs for the second day of our hike, which isn’t great for safety or ankle support.

Don’t be like me.

5. Plan during downtime

If you’re a casual backpacker like me, you need your downtime. The only time you can relax on a backcountry trip is when you’re not hiking.

Make sure you plan for it!


We hit the trail early so we had time to get settled in and enjoy our spot in the sun before we had to leave the next morning.

This is always my favorite part of any trip, those moments around the fire when you can talk about the day’s hike and enjoy some much-needed calories.

forest view

We learned from our previous backcountry experience and planned a second night at a car campground to further decompress from our hike and relax in the luxury of the backcountry.

It was a great way to get out of the walking mentality and back into everyday life. You can also eat fresh food and use a real plate, a nice change after a trip to the countryside.

Adding this second night was perfect and saved us from having to sit in a car for over two hours after a day of hiking when all you want to do is relax.

I hope you can learn from my lessons and mistakes, and make your first (or fiftieth) hiking trip a success!