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How to prepare to backpack in Colorado

Collegian | Trin Bonner

Living in Fort Collins comes with the added benefit of being thrown into a hotspot of outdoor recreation, and while the urge to engage in spontaneity can be fun, it is important to go into these activities with a plan. One of the best activities to participate in is backpacking, as it is a perfect introduction to outdoor recreation. Backpacking involves hiking to a site to camp at — it’s that simple. This article will outline how you can best plan and prepare for a trip to the backcountry.

Know your ability

Before you even pick a trail, take a look at yourself, and ask yourself a couple of questions: How far do I feel comfortable hiking on a given day? How will the weight of a backpack hinder my overall abilities? When answering these and any other questions you may have, it is always better to err on the side of caution. You may not know the answer to some of these questions, and that is OK.


Create your group

Backpacking is always more fun and safe with friends. If you have any friends or acquaintances who backpack, reach out to them. More often than not, people are more than happy to join your trip and help through planning if they’re available. I typically aim for three to five people to go with me.

Pick a trail, and research it

You finally get to the point where you decide where you want to go. You can utilize resources like COTREX and AllTrails to look up trails that match your needs. Always consider distance, elevation gain and where you will camp at night.

Many national forests require permits to camp there. Make sure you know what your permit entails if you get one. Colorado is also home to many bears, so most areas require bear canisters to hold your food. These prevent a bear from getting into your food and ruining your trip — or worse, putting you in danger.

Overnight, put your bear canister 100 feet away from tents. Try to camp near water, but make sure to follow local guidelines about where you can and cannot camp.

Create a gear list 

While backpacking, having the right gear will make or break your trip. There are many basic items you will always need, including a sleep system, a backpack and a bear canister.

The Student Recreation Center here at Colorado State University provides a rental service through the Outdoor Gear Rental program, which allows rentals of up to six items per person that can help complete your trip. Also consider items such as water filters. There are many different ways to do it, and if you understand your device, you can always have clean water. It is also never a bad idea to carry bear spray.

Most importantly, with all your gear, make sure you know how to use it before you leave.

Plan your meals 

Eating in the backcountry comes with many challenges, but it just takes a few quick Google searches to figure out how you can make some incredible meals.

The easy but expensive option is purchasing dehydrated meals. These will cost you anywhere from $10-$15. Luckily, there are many other ways to get all the nutrients you need for less money. It may seem obvious, but remember that you don’t have refrigeration in the backcountry, which means the ribeye must stay at home.


You can also make a lot of meals by just boiling water. This makes it so all you need is a pot and a stove. The only other thing to consider is packing at least one emergency meal that — hopefully — you won’t need to eat.

Check your work the day before and day of

So you’ve made your full plan and are ready to execute with your group. To stay safe, there are a few more things to do.

Check the weather. If it is raining and you are new to the activity, it might be best to postpone your trip.

Make sure you feel physically ready. If you don’t feel good, it is always OK to wait and go another day.

On the day of the trip, do a gear check. Make sure you have everything you need in your packs because once you’re out, the last thing you will want to do is come back early. If all that is set, get ready to take on the trail.

Backpacking is an exciting activity with some inherent risks. Make sure you tell someone where you are going, over what timespan and when to call for help if they do not hear from you. The most important thing to do is research, as this list is far from complete. Watch videos and ask questions, and if you don’t know where to go for help, you can ask the Outdoor Gear Rental desk questions about planning your trip.

Reach Adam Carlson at or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.

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About the Contributor
Trin Bonner, Illustration Editor
Trin Bonner, The Collegian's illustration editor this year, is a second-year student studying graphic design and minoring in religious philosophy. She finds inspiration in unique ideas and perspectives and is intrigued and driven by themes of the unknown and the existential. As an artist, she seeks to create works that spark humor and joy in her audience, and she sees it important to utilize her art as a means to make people laugh and smile, inspiring her to create comics and illustrations for anyone to enjoy. When she's not busy drawing, she enjoys playing and listening to music. To Bonner, music carries a sense of happiness, peace and tranquility she values having in her daily life. In the future, she hopes to create her own music that can be a source of peace, tranquility and happiness to someone else. Overall, she feels it is important to spread as much positive energy in the world as she can. Studying philosophy has guided her to value the good in life, and with the importance of that in mind, she goes through life attempting to spark a bit of positivity wherever she can. As illustration editor, Bonner hopes to direct the illustrations found in The Collegian toward having a sense of joy the readers can experience.

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    Terry WickstromSep 6, 2023 at 10:32 am

    You forgot one of the most important tips. Always tell someone where you are going and when you will return.