Backpacking has never been easier or more enjoyable than it is today. It remains an ideal avenue for cheap and independent travel, and new technology makes it even easier to discover unfamiliar places and connect with new people.
So pack your bags—but pack lightly!
One of the best aspects of backpacking in another country is the many different environments that allow for adventures. Backpacking activities can make the journey much more fun.
If you’re not sure what to plan for your next adventure, you’ve come to the right place. Below, you’ll discover backpacking activities to keep you, your friends, and your family entertained.
These activities are broken into 3 categories:
Thrilling Backpacking Ideas
There’s no shortage of thrilling activities waiting for you on your next backpacking trip. We’ve rounded up four of the most popular physically and mentally demanding activities below.
1. Canoeing & Kayaking
Consider canoeing or kayaking if you’re going somewhere with rivers or lakes. Both means of travel will take you off the beaten path, where you can see beautiful sceneries hidden from the average tourist. You’ll also get some good exercise at the same time.
DID YOU KNOW? Kayaking burns 300-500 calories per hour!
Canoes have an open-top and are typically designed for two people using single-bladed paddles. That makes them ideal for a romantic trip across a lake, or a more relaxed and family-friendly session.
Kayaks, on the other hand, are closed-top and designed for one person using a double-bladed paddle. They are well suited to more adventurous journeys down streams and rivers. Kayaks can flip if the currents get too strong, but it’s usually not a problem to get back up again.
Want to Learn More? This guide on canoeing and kayaking explains the differences in detail, as well as the history of each vessel and some of the techniques you can use to navigate them.
2. Rock Climbing
Rock climbing is a demanding activity, both mentally and physically. You’ll need strong arm and leg muscles so you don’t lose your grip. You’ll also need to think on your feet (so to speak) so you know where to place your hands and feet next.
Rock climbing can be very rewarding, however. You’ll go where few others have gone before, challenge yourself, strengthen your muscles, and catch some amazing views.
You’ll need specialized equipment, such as ropes, a helmet, and a harness.
Beginners can often climb less challenging rocks with the help of a seasoned climbing mentor. It’s also a good idea to take a rock-climbing course before you go on your adventure.
Want to know more? Check out this beginner’s guide to rock climbing to learn the basics.
Trekking, as opposed to hiking, involves traveling by foot over longer periods of time. The journey often goes through rough terrains, such as mountains or jungles.
There’s rarely time for trekking games because the trek itself can be so challenging. Breaks are usually reserved for catching your breath and stocking up on food and water.
Trekking is worth the challenge, however — it takes you off the beaten path, where you’ll witness beautiful vistas that few others get to see.
Want to Learn More? Explore this beginner’s guide to trekking to learn what equipment you’ll need.
Zip-lining is a thrilling activity that involves whirring through the treetops from one spot to another by way of a pulley that’s suspended on a zip line, or cable.
Zip-lining is not for the faint of heart (or those who suffer from vertigo). But it’s a fun and adventurous way to get from one hill, mountain, or cliff to another.
It does, of course, require some special equipment that you can’t bring with you in a backpack. That’s why you’ll have to find a company that organizes tours and gives you an introductory course.
Want to Learn More? Review the equipment and safety measures for zip-lining in this guide.
Relaxing Backpacking Activities
There’s no shortage of options if you’re looking for some more relaxing backpacking activities. Nature offers plenty of opportunities for a good time, and not all of them involve you breaking a sweat.
Here are some ways for you take in the sights, learn about your surroundings, or even find local ingredients for your next delicious meal.
Bird-watching is always an educational experience—particularly if you’re going somewhere exotic with wildly different types of birds than your home country. You’ll learn more about the lives and behavior of birds, such as their eating habits and mating rituals.
You’ll need to invest in a pair of binoculars, and also bring a bird-watching guide with images and descriptions of local birds so you know what to look out for in the wild.
Want to Learn More? Learn about the birdwatcher’s code before you head out.
Fishing is not only a relaxing pastime, but it’s also a great way to connect with nature. You can observe the lives of fish while enjoying the sounds of the water flowing past you. And if you’re trekking in the wild, then fishing is also a means of feeding yourself.
You do have to know a bit about the different kinds of fish and what attracts them to a fishing hook, so it’s a good idea to learn more about the different fishing rods, knots, and bait prior to your backpacking trip.
You can find collapsible fishing rods that are suitable for backpacking because they take up less space.
Want to Learn More? This beginners’ guide to fishing has all the information you need.
7. Mushroom Hunting
Mushrooms are a sought-after delicacy that can be exciting to search for yourself. You’ll learn about what it takes to find mushrooms and the local flora and fauna that grow in the area you’re visiting when you go on a mushroom hunt.
We recommend you buy a mushroom guide book such as Mushroom Picker's Foolproof Field Guide. Alternatively, you can take a wild food and foraging course before you head out.
Why? Some mushrooms are edible, while others can be psychedelic or poisonous.
So make sure you read up on the different kinds, appearances, and properties of the mushrooms you’ll stumble across before you eat any.
Want to Learn More? Here’s a basic guide to mushroom hunting to get you off to a good start.
8. Outdoor Photography
One of the benefits of the digital age is that everyone has a camera on their phone. Why not make use of it on your backpacking trip? Whether you want to capture the beauty of the plants, animals, or landscapes in your surroundings, outdoor photography can be a rewarding activity for your trip.
Plus, you’ll have a photo diary of all the experiences you had! Just remember to insure your camera beforehand.
Want to Learn More? Read this guide on outdoor photography to learn about the equipment you’ll need.
Heading on your backpacking trip as a family? There are plenty of outdoor activities that are appropriate for everybody—kids included!
Here are some activities that’ll keep the kids entertained (and also tire them out for the evening so you can cozy up to your partner).
Turn your backpacking day-trip into an overnight trip! Teach your kids survival skills like how to pitch a tent and how to get your campfire going. Then, cook a back-to-basics meal for the whole family. Once the sun sets, weave a scary ghost story or roast marshmallows under a full moon.
If your kids start to get bored, there are plenty of travel games for backpacking trips that you can play to pass the time. Uno, Doble, and Catan are among the many options you have in this department.
Want to Learn More? This quick intro to camping essentials is a good starting point.
10. Outdoor Crafts
Spark some creativity by using the things around you to craft. Sticks can become tools, and stones can be turned into pretty decorations. Only your imagination sets the limits for what’s possible in the great outdoors.
It might be a good idea to plan to craft in advance, so you can bring essentials like scissors and glue.
Want to Learn More? Explore this massive list of outdoor craft ideas for children of all ages.
11. Hiking Games
Hiking is not only a way to stay in shape and build cardio, but it will also take you to many wonderful places. You can find shorter and easier hikes suitable for kids on almost any trail map.
Keep an eye out for the overall mileage, the elevation gain, and any unique features you’ll have to overcome before setting out. A rock scramble or a steep incline means the trail probably isn’t family-friendly.
Kids have short attention spans and might get bored easily on your hikes. Plan to play some hiking games like I-Spy or 20 Questions to keep them entertained! Call out things in your surroundings, like a frog in a stream or a colorful flower, to keep their focus on the natural beauty around them.
Walking long distances might also tire your kids out. A hike is the ideal time for a family picnic! A deck of cards can go a long way on your lunch break as everybody’s resting. Try playing Go Fish or a memorization game to help your kids relax without getting bored.
Want to Learn More? Here are some suggestions for hiking games you can organize.
12. Scavenger Hunts
There is no better place to organize a scavenger hunt than on your family backpacking trip. Get the kiddos running around through the forest or hills with the promise of a secret surprise at the end of your trip.
You can use items like leaves and flowers as clues to the location of the treasure. The kids will be engaged the whole time waiting to discover the treasure at the end, and the hunt is an educational way to get them involved in their surroundings.
There are plenty of ready-made templates for scavenger hunt printables online that you can prepare before you head out with the family.
Want to Learn More? Learn about the different scavenger hunts for the outdoors here.
How to Stay Safe During Your Backpacking Trip
The key to staying safe during your backpacking trip is being prepared. This includes planning for the activities you want to partake in beforehand, investing in the right equipment, and taking an introductory course when appropriate.
Establish Frequent Check-Ins with Family and Friends
Let family or friends know when you’re heading out onto a new trail and when they can expect to hear from you next. Accidents can happen anywhere anytime during your backpacking trip. Having check-ins with someone can help minimize the time to reach you during an emergency.
Consider Travel Health Insurance If You Plan to Backpack Abroad
It’s also a good idea to consider travel health insurance if you plan on backpacking internationally. You may have standard health insurance within your home country, but many of these plans provide limited or no coverage abroad.
Travel medical insurance plans are designed to cover unexpected injury, illness, or travel mishaps incurred while traveling internationally. Insurance may be especially important on a backpacking trip where you’re adventuring down unfamiliar trails and through different terrains.
Not all travel medical insurance policies are the same, however. Decide which activities you want to do on your trip, and then read the full Description of Coverage for any plan you’re considering. Pay special attention to the policy exclusions and make sure the activities you plan to take part in are not excluded under your coverage.
Learn how to choose the best travel medical insurance policy for your needs and budget.
Also review the conditions for each benefit. For example, a plan may cover mountaineering but exclude coverage for high-risk mountainside activities like spelunking. Many policies exclude coverage for climbs into altitudes that exceed a certain height. The policy may also require that you wear safety gear for a specific activity, like a helmet for rock climbing.
Discover the benefits of Atlas Travel insurance for backpackers.
So make sure you understand exactly what any given policy covers before you commit. That way, you’ll avoid unhappy surprises down the line.