This article originally appeared on The Trek, which can be read here:


Does everyone remember their first backpacking trip? Maybe it was just this year or perhaps it was decades ago. Did you love it? Hate it? Swear to never do it again? Or promise yourself that one day you’ll walk one of those long distance trails? Everyone has a story from their first backpacking trip and it can serve as advice or inspiration for future hiking. This story is a little bit of both for me.

You can see Clingman’s Dome in the distance…

There’s A First Time For Everything

There I was, at eleven years old, standing in the dark in a long line of other prepubescent and adolescent Boy Scouts, the light from a pickup truck’s headlights flooding the brush along the treeline with a dim orange glow. Beyond was only darkness. Above us were millions of stars, a blanket of black and silver sparkles that most of us, suburban kids who lived in a mid-sized U.S. city, had never seen the likes of before.

On my back was an ungainly beast of a pack with a heavy aluminum frame and a thick, cotton lined sleeping bag lashed to the bottom. I was woefully unprepared. I made every mistake I would later teach younger scouts to avoid after many years of trial and error after error after error.

My mom packed my pack, first mistake, and in her lack of understanding about water filters packed a dozen plastic water bottles for me to carry. My food was boil-in-a-bag rice and packaged chicken cooked in a small kitchen pot over a shared backpacking stove. I was wearing cotton. Yes, I said it, cotton. I know, I know.

And on the second day out on our trip, as we were halfway up what felt like an endless mountain (the tallest mountain in the state of Kentucky, Black Mountain, is just over 4,000 feet. We were not on Black Mountain) I did something I regret to this day. Exhausted and slumped over an over-packed behemoth of a pack, I took two or three of those plastic water bottles and pitched them right off the side of that mountain. It is my great shame to this day and I humbly apologize for my grievous error.

Don’t be that guy… Photo by jkomusin @

Insight For A Thru Hike

So, what does all this mean for my Appalachian Trail thru hike? Well for one, I certainly won’t be pitching any plastic water bottles off any mountain sides!

Seriously though, as rough as my first trip was, it taught me a valuable lesson that Boy Scouts strives to teach; to be prepared. And that value is integral to the ethics of Leave No Trace, which I so grossly violated in my juvenile ignorance. Those two values, preparedness and Leave No Trace, are going to be vital to getting me to Katahdin.

So, what was your first backpacking trip like and what did you learn for your thru hike?

Please consider a donation to Hike for Mental Health to help fund research and treatment for mental illness:

Posted by Wes Laudeman

Writer, hiker, and future teacher, I'm looking for stories and adventures that will last a lifetime.

One Comment

  1. Totally agree on leaving no trace. I don’t really backpack, and just hike casually, but I too have come across dirty trails because of inconsiderate hikers, and that does have me feeling a lil irked. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person


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