Backpacking is a popular activity partly because of how personalized it is. Every traveler can choose the paths they want to go on, the length of the trip, and the stops they will make along the way. Some trails might require more expertise and know-how, so many backpackers wonder if a guide is necessary for their trips.
Most backpacking trails don’t require the use of guides, but they can always be helpful companions. Guides can provide in-depth knowledge about the area and select the best trails for safety and sightseeing. If you’d like to get the most out of a backpacking trip, a guide can help.
A few areas require backpackers and hikers to travel with guides due to safety, but generally, the decision will be up to you. There are a lot of potential benefits to hiring a guide though, so let’s discuss them and see if you find yourself wanting a guide for your next trip!
Benefits of Having a Guide
The first main thing that a backpacking guide can offer you is an insider’s experience. These people have probably been down the path many times and know the area better than most. They will be able to point out interesting landmarks and give fun facts about the area that you might not have learned otherwise. Plus if you’re backpacking outside of the country, guides can help with things like language barriers and other cultural cues you might not be accustomed to.
Knowledge of Difficult Trail Areas
Another valuable aspect of trail guides is their knowledge of difficult parts of the trail. Some backpacking trips might involve things like crossing streams, scaling mountains, and finding overgrown trails. In this regard, an experienced guide can be a huge help. They will know the areas to avoid and the right way to attack difficult terrain.
Natural Hazards and Pitfalls
In a similar vein, guides will know the area and its inherent dangers quite well. If there are issues like flash floods, unstable ground, geothermal vents, or dangerous plants/animals, they will be handy sources of knowledge. It’s easy to stumble into trouble if you don’t know what to watch out for!
Staying on the Right Trails
Trail maintenance is a vital part of all hiking and backpacking trails. Staying on the established paths keeps the whole area in good shape. In addition, I know I’ve picked the wrong trail from the map more than a few times, so having someone with a concrete knowledge of the routes would help a lot. If you want to make sure you’re going in the right direction, a good trail guide can help.
Spot Wildlife More Easily
When it’s your first time on a new trail, you may be more focused on getting to the destination than observing your surroundings. In this case, a guide is useful because they know the area well and will be able to spot interesting plants, bugs, and wildlife that you may accidentally overlook. They will also know about the right times and seasons to spot certain animals.
Plan the Trip
Finally, a guide can be useful if trip planning is not your forte! Some of us just don’t have a head for times, trails, and difficulty levels. If you consult with your guide ahead of time or join a pre-planned tour, you will be able to save yourself from some of the stresses of trip planning.
How to Find a Good Guide
If you’re interested in finding a guide for your next trip, there are a few different places you could look.
Talk to the Park/ Resort Staff
If you’re going to be backpacking in a state or national park, there are sometimes guide services included in the experience. Check the park’s website or visitor center for information about the nearby trails and any tours or guide services that are offered. If you’re working with a park like this, the guides are sometimes free, but it’s a good idea to tip or bring some money just in case.
Go With an Experienced Friend
If you have friends or other connections in the area you want to backpack through, ask if they would be interested in being a guide for your trip. Locals who have hiked through the area frequently are some of the best guides. Plus if you’re friends, this would be a good way to spend time with them!
Visit Websites to Hire Guides
There are a lot of hiking guides who work for businesses, as well as those who freelance. If you have a specific area in mind, look up websites and forums for guides who are based nearby. Popular hiking destinations are bound to have a variety of options and some of the massive national parks have lots of guides for hire. You may not connect with the first guide you find, so keep an open mind and look at a few candidates before you choose.
Backpacking Without a Guide
If you choose to backpack without a guide, that’s fine too! It’s not for everyone. and some people prefer a more independent approach. However, you’ll want to take some extra steps when you plan out your trip so you can ensure it’s a safe and enjoyable experience.
Plan Your Route Ahead of Time
Planning your route is an essential part of any backpacking trip. You want to begin with a clear endpoint in mind so you don’t get lost or delayed. Make sure you know where all the trail makrers will be and bring an accurate map of the trail with you. Don’t make it up as you go, but start with a clear plan.
Research Potential Dangers in the Area
Understanding the surrounding area you’ll be traveling through is critical to trail safety. This step will help you as you pack so you bring appropriate gear. Pack for the right climate and season so you don’t get too hot or too cold. You will also need to prepare yourself for any dangerous plants or animals you might run into. Be aware of the predators that are around you and take precautions so you will be able to deal with them.
Don’t Travel Alone
Even if you don’t want a guide, make sure you bring at least one more person on the trip with you. Having a partner will help you deal with emergencies, adapt to challenges on the trail, and stay safe.
Guides aren’t required for most backpacking trips, but they can still be extremely useful! You’ll want to consider hiring one, especially if you’re new to the area and don’t have time to familiarize yourself with it. A good guide will be able to plan out the best route, spot things that you may have otherwise overlooked, and help you overcome any hazards or tricky areas on the trail. It’s definitely an option worth considering!
Whether you’re traveling with a guide or not, good preparation is a key step to any trip. You’ll want to make sure you can conquer the trail that you’ll be traveling on, so check out our tips on how to prepare for a hike before you head out! Building up your strength and endurance ahead of time will help you have a better experience on the trail.
Even the best backpackers have room to improve as well. Sometimes we make mistakes that we’re not even aware of until we correct them. There’s no reason to make backpacking harder than it needs to be, so we’ve made a list of some top mistakes to avoid when backpacking. Following this advice can make your next trip easier, safer, and more enjoyable!