8 Beginner Backpacking Courses to Get You Ready for the Real Thing

Young couple hiking on mountain trail

Are you looking for a beginner backpacking course to take? It's certainly a good idea to take the time to learn the basics of what's involved in this type of outdoor adventure before you head into the backcountry. There are several places where you can sign up to learn everything you need to know to get started backpacking the right way.

Beginner Courses

Learning to backpack is a slow process. Therefore, it can be a good thing to take a few classes to learn how to not only pack your gear but survive in the wild. Pros at camping have a few tricks up their sleeves that you can benefit from. As you learn the skills, you can start using them immediately on short backpacking trips and work your way up to larger adventures. Explore a few different classes to help you on your backpacking journey.

1. REI School (Various Locations)

If there's an REI store near where you live, you have access to beginner backpacking courses as well as many additional classes. REI offers courses in subjects such as hiking and camping, navigation, climbing, paddling, and many other outdoor adventure topics. The company has outdoor training options for people at all levels, from novice to advanced. Courses are held in the following locations:

  • Atlanta

  • Boston and New England Area

  • Greater Los Angeles Area

  • Greater San Francisco Bay Area

  • Philadelphia Area

  • Sacramento, Fresno, Reno Area

  • San Diego Area

  • Washington DC Area

However, you can also find virtual courses available, as well. While the physical courses can range in price from about $69, the virtual classes are free. Many of the in-person classes take about a half-day, while virtual classes take a few hours. For more information and a schedule of upcoming classes, see REI Outdoor School.

2. Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (Virginia)

The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) offers a Backpacking 101 course each year. The course begins with classroom instruction in Vienna, Virginia, and includes outdoor instruction in Prince William Forest Park and an overnight backpacking trip to a nearby location. In addition to the 101 class, PATC offers a 202 class, lightweight backpacking, wilderness first aid, and more. The fee depends on the class; however, the 101 class costs $100 for members and $125 for non-members. Students learn all the basics, from footwear and clothing to campsite selection and food preparation.

3. UC Davis: Campus Recreation (California)

The University of California Davis offers various outdoor skill courses throughout the year, including Introduction to Backpacking and Backpacking Adventures sessions. Classes are available to students of the university as well as those who are not enrolled. Prices are very affordable, starting at $200. The 4-day trips provide hands-on experience backpacking in desolate areas.

4. Outward Bound

Outward Bound offers an array of backpacking programs to help you set your bearings. This expedition site provides an array of different programs and challenges. For example, middle and high school students can attend an 8-day backpacking expedition in the Mid-Atlantic Appalachians for $2,450. Family programs are available in the Blue Ridge Mountains for 4 days for $1,494. There are also programs for veterans, adults, and teens. An experienced instructor teaches each class. Students learn about navigation, risk management, reading maps, and setting camp.

5. The Department of Natural Resources

Within many states, the Department of Natural Resources offers backpacking courses for camping enthusiasts taught by professional DNR agents. The backpacking and hiking basics classes cover gear, tents, sleeping bags, planning trips, and backpacking opportunities. Designed for those with little experience, instructors also go into the importance of footwear and safety. The cost of these workshops varies by state. Check your state's DNR website to find a backpacking course near you.

6. American Alpine Institute

The American Alpine Institute offers introductory backpacking and wilderness courses in the North Cascades in Washington. The 2-day weekend trip costs $375 and is designed for those with little or no experience. You learn to pack a backpack, nutritional guidelines, footwear, walking pace, and clothing within the course. You also learn how to wear your clothing and shoes, considering how the body changes and swells through the hiking trip. Trips for this course vary; therefore, you'll need to find a trip to meet your needs. You can also register for the course online.

7. AIM Adventure U

If you are looking for an online backpacking course, look no further than AIM Adventure U. This course offers several online backpacking courses to turn you from a newbie to an advanced camper. The Backpacking 101 course takes you through all the skills you need in a 10-part course. Classes are taught by experienced hikers and range in price. The beginner course is $125. However, you can also find backpacking and wilderness courses such as basic map and compass skills, wilderness weather fundamentals, and identifying wild plants.

8. Andrew Skurka

Using his own experience, Andrew Skurka created the Planning Like a Pro backpacking course. This program uses an online format organized with Google Classroom to take backpackers through all the basics for a backpacking trip. The course is taught by five different instructors with various levels of backpacking experience. The course covers how to select your backpacking trip, getting your gear, conditioning and fitness training, guidelines and resources, and food. The course costs $175, but the courses do fill up quickly.

Yellow tent mountains

Tips for Finding Local Backpacking Courses

These are just a few examples of the many opportunities to take beginner backpacking courses. There are likely to be classes offered in many additional areas, particularly near those where backpacking is a popular pastime. To find classes near you, consider the following tips.

  • Higher Education Institutions - Check with the continuing education divisions of local universities and community colleges in your area to see if they offer these types of classes.
  • AllTrails.com - Visit the AllTrails.com website to see if any classes in your area have been posted to the site's local event calendar.
  • Sierra Club Chapters - Contact the Sierra Club chapter in your area to see if they are sponsoring any classes. Even if the organization isn't sponsoring any backpacking classes, there's a good chance the officers will be aware of local training opportunities.
  • Outdoor Retailers - Visit stores in your community that specialize in outdoor products. The store may sponsor its own introductory courses or have flyers and brochures displayed for classes available in the local area.

Finding the Right Backpacking Course

Backpacking isn't as simple as it sounds. Knowing your gear, clothing, and the dangers can save your life in the wilderness.

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8 Beginner Backpacking Courses to Get You Ready for the Real Thing