Backpacking Trips & Courses

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Backpacking Trips

Embark on a Backpacking Trip with NOLS

On a backpacking trip with NOLS, you’ll learn to travel the wilderness with all of your gear on your back. You’ll learn new skills like packing and carrying a backpack, navigating amazing places on and off trail in a small team, and how to make your way through different types of terrain. Depending on your course, you might encounter challenges from river crossings and snowfields to deserts and thick forests.

With trekking poles in hand, get ready to embark on a backpacking adventure that will ignite your passion for exploration and leave you with memories that last a lifetime.

The NOLS Backpacking Experience

The best way to discover the world and your own potential is through immersive experiences in the great outdoors.

Master Essential Backpacking Skills for the Trail

Whether you're a seasoned backpacker or a complete novice, our expert instructors will equip you with the essential knowledge and skills needed to thrive in the wilderness, from familiarizing you with your backpacking gear to building backcountry campsites. Learn the art of navigation, campcraft, and Leave No Trace principles. Develop your wilderness first aid skills and gain the confidence to tackle any obstacle that comes your way. Our backpacking trips are not just about outdoor skills. We also emphasize leadership development, empowering you to become a capable and responsible outdoor enthusiast. Gain valuable leadership skills that extend far beyond the trail and into all aspects of your life.
Group of backpackers takes a short break on a grassy plain in Tanzania.

Expert Instruction Every Step of the Way

Our backpacking trips and courses are perfect for those who want to explore the outdoors with the support of experienced leaders. Our instructors are seasoned professionals with extensive experience in the wilderness. They possess the knowledge and skills to teach you everything you need to know about backpacking, from technical skills to leadership development. Whether you're joining us for your first backpacking trip or you're a seasoned backpacker looking to enhance your skills, our knowledgeable instructors lead the way, ensuring an enriching backpacking experience. Benefit from their expertise as they share their insights on wilderness travel, natural history, and outdoor leadership.
A course poses for a group photo on top of a peak in the Adirondacks.

Experiential Adventures for All Levels

We believe in learning by doing. Our hands-on approach ensures that you actively participate in the learning process, applying your newfound skills in real-world scenarios. You'll come away with practical knowledge and the confidence to take on future backpacking adventures. And no matter your skill level or preferred destination, our backpacking trips are designed to accommodate a variety of levels from beginner backpackers to the seasoned to suit your needs. Choose from a variety of durations and locations, including stunning national parks, remote wilderness areas, and international destinations.
Students hiking along the Olympic Coast at low tide.

Risk Management and Environmental Stewardship

Our experienced instructors are trained to assess and manage risks and ensure your well-being throughout the journey. We adhere to the highest outdoor expedition standards, providing comprehensive risk management protocols and emergency response systems. Additionally, we promote environmental stewardship, teaching Leave No Trace principles to minimize our impact on the natural world and preserve these incredible landscapes for future generations.

NOLS Backpacking Courses

Our backpacking trips offer a unique opportunity to explore stunning landscapes ranging from pristine lakes to narrow canyons, challenge yourself physically and mentally, and forge lifelong connections with fellow adventurers.

Watch and learn about NOLS backpacking skills

Backpacking with NOLS

The days begin early when you light your stove, cook and enjoy breakfast, and then organize and pack your pack. You're usually hiking by mid-morning. Lunch on the trail might be bread you baked the day before, or a trail mix of nuts and dried fruits. You may stop for a short class on natural history, or to learn how to cross a river, travel through boulders or snow, or move over a high pass. When you arrive at your new camp location, you'll first spend time choosing a Leave No Trace site, organizing camp, then preparing and enjoying dinner. If the day was long, a short evening meeting may wrap up the day. If the hike was short, there may be a class or discussion.

Backpacking Media from students and instructors

Backpacking Tips



Pack packing isn’t something you often think about as a skill until you’re actually packing up for the first time. And it isn’t just a practical need to get everything inside your pack: The way you pack your backpack can make the actual weight you’re carrying seem lighter, or can make you feel like you have an elephant hanging off of each shoulder.

  Read More on the NOLS Blog

Student demonstrating great pack packing skills in a vast Patagonia mountain range

Start your journey backpacking with NOLS


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Credit: Ella de Bruijn

NOLS Backpacking Trip FAQs

  • Q: How physically demanding are NOLS Backpacking Trips?

    Our Backpacking Trips cater to a range of fitness levels, from beginners to experienced hikers. While some trips may be more physically challenging than others, our instructors are skilled at adapting the pace and difficulty to ensure everyone has a positive experience. It's important to have a basic level of fitness and be prepared for moderate physical exertion.

  • Q: What gear do I need for my Backpacking Trip?

    We provide a detailed gear list for each Backpacking Trip, which includes essential items such as a backpack, sleeping bag, tent, cooking equipment, and clothing appropriate for the anticipated weather conditions. Our experienced staff is available to guide you in selecting the right gear and answer any questions you may have.

  • Q: How do I prepare for a NOLS Backpacking Trip?

    Preparing for a Backpacking Trip involves a combination of physical training, mental preparation, and acquiring the necessary skills. We recommend gradually increasing your fitness level through activities such as hiking, walking, and cardio exercises. Familiarize yourself with basic outdoor skills and consider taking a wilderness first aid course. Additionally, our pre-course materials provide valuable information to help you prepare for your adventure.

  • Q: Are NOLS Backpacking Trips suitable for solo travelers?

    Absolutely! Many participants join our Backpacking Trips as solo travelers, seeking to connect with like-minded individuals and embrace the spirit of adventure. These trips offer a unique opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and form new friendships with fellow backpackers. You'll be amazed at how quickly a group of strangers can become a supportive and tight-knit community.

  • Q: What sets NOLS Backpacking Trips apart from others?

    NOLS has been a leader in outdoor education for over 50 years, and our Backpacking Trips are designed with a focus on managing risk experiential learning, and environmental stewardship. Our instructors are experienced professionals who provide expert guidance and support throughout the journey. We emphasize the development of leadership skills, resilience, and self-confidence, empowering our participants to become capable and responsible outdoor enthusiasts.

  • Q: How far do participants typically travel per day on NOLS Backpacking Expeditions?

    The distance covered during NOLS backpacking expeditions varies depending on factors such as the specific course and terrain. On average, participants can expect to hike anywhere from 8 to 15 miles per day. However, it's important to note that the focus of NOLS expeditions is not solely on mileage, but also on skill-building, learning, and immersion in the wilderness.

  • Q: Which NOLS Backpacking Expedition offers the best experience in the US?

    NOLS offers a wide range of backpacking expeditions in the US, each offering a unique and exceptional experience. The best expedition for you depends on your preferences and what you hope to gain from the trip. NOLS has highly regarded programs in iconic locations such as the Wind River Range, the Rocky Mountains, Olymic National Park in the pacific northwest, and Alaska. These expeditions provide opportunities for skill development, leadership growth, and immersion in breathtaking wilderness settings.