Lessons From Our First Backpacking Trip

We embarked on our first backpacking trip recently and chose White Sands National Monument as the location. One of the reasons we selected White Sands for this trip is because the backcountry sites are only 3/4 – 1 mile from the parking lot. You are walking through sand dunes but overall it is not a hard or long hike. We learned so much from this trip and I thought I would share our lessons learned in case backpacking is of interest or in case you would like to laugh at some of our silly mistakes.

White Sands Family Pic1) Everyone in your party needs their own pack. We incorrectly assumed that since we were not going very far we could make do with two backpacks and a daypack. Wrong. It really does not matter how far you are going; you need the same amount of gear. In the future our kids will carry at a minimum, their sleeping bags, sleeping pads, clothes, and water. The Husband and I can split everything else. For this trip the poor Husband was loaded down like a pack mule and it was almost too much.

2) Buy a GoPro and let the kids take turns carrying it. The kids didn’t complain about hiking because they were too busy video taping their surroundings. And as a bonus, you may find hilarious commentary on the video when you get home.

3) Weight is really important and lightweight items are a must.  It was supposed to be cold at night so we took our warm jackets.  Our jackets are not lightweight and ended up being one of the items that weighed The Husband down. The jackets might not have been as big of an issue though had the kids carried more of their stuff. Either way, space and weight is an issue so keep that in mind when packing.

4) Consider renting outdoor gear before buying. We rented a four person backpacking tent from our local outdoor store for this trip. The tent was great except that it was not long enough for The Husband. Length has never been an issue with our car camping tents so that never crossed my mind regarding a backpacking tent. If we decide to buy one we will definitely look for one that is longer.

5) Consider bringing along a surprise for the kids. We purchased glow sticks and glow lightsabers from the dollar section at Target and surprised the kids with them once the sun started to set. The kids loved running around in the dark to the glow of their new toys. We found they also worked well as night lights in the tent. We may bring glow sticks on every trip going forward.

Overall first impressions: I really enjoyed camping away from other people. It was so incredibly peaceful. We sat on top of a sand dune eating dinner while watching the sun go down. The kids spent hours playing in nature, which in this case consisted of sledding on and digging in the dunes. The Husband and I stayed up drinking wine while starring at the gorgeous night sky – we were treated to an incredible showing of the Milky Way. We watched the sun come up and illuminate the dunes while drinking coffee. Most importantly, we had an amazing time together as a family.  One that we will never forget.  We’re not ready to hit the Pacific Crest Trail yet, but I do not think this will be our last backpacking trip.

6 replies
  1. Malee
    Malee says:

    Hello, during what time of the year did you guys hike? I’ve never backpacked before either but thought this would be a great first trip since the distance is short. Do you think it would be difficult for the average person? I hike moderately in AZ so I understand the need to bring enough water but I’ve never had gear or hiked on sand before so I want to be more prepared. Also, I see that you guys have tennis shoes on, was it uncomfortable with the sand?

    • Caroline
      Caroline says:

      Hi Malee – thanks for visiting! We visited in early October. It was the perfect first backpacking trip for us. The sites are 3/4 to just over a mile from the parking lot. The sand does slow you down but it was a fairly easy hike. It took us less than an hour to get from our car to our campsite. I think this would be a fine trip for the average person. As long as you are active, which it sounds like you are, it shouldn’t be a problem. You do need a permit and they are issued first come first serve at the Visitor Center. We knew we wanted one of the closer sites since we were not sure what to expect on the hike, so we got to the visitor center right when they opened. Tennis shoes were fine, although I still occasionally find white sand in them :), as would be some kind of hiking sandal. I actually walked barefoot for a while because the sand felt amazing. The temp dropped as soon as the sun went down, so be sure to have warm clothes. I was surprised by the swing in temperature between day and night. Honestly, this trip is one of my all-time favorites. I loved everything about it. Let me know if you have any more questions. If you do end up going I’d love to hear about it!


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