Backpacking is a great way to explore and enjoy the outdoors and North Carolina (and our neighboring states) has plenty of places to get out there. As a backpacking guide, I have had the privilege of introducing many new backpackers to the area.

In addition, North Carolina and our neighboring states offer the perfect setting for new backpackers to practice their Backpacking basics.

We have plenty of routes that offer easier terrain and lower mileage as you ease into it. But they’re not just “practice runs,” you’ll also have plenty of beautiful scenery to enjoy along the way.

As you grow stronger and build your stamina, you can increase your distance or head for more challenging terrain.

One of the best things about the southeast is that we have options for every level of fitness!

Where to Go Backpacking in the Southeast

There are plenty of places to go backpacking in the Southeast. You can jump down to learn more about the differences between backpacking and base camping.

Base Camping Trips

False Cape State Park in Virginia

Merchants Millpond State Park in North Carolina

South Mountains State Park in North Carolina

Raven Rock State Park in North Carolina

Eno River State Park in North Carolina

Backpacking Trips

South Mountains State Park in North Carolina (backpacking routes)

South Mountains State Park in North Carolina (example weekend)

Gorges State Park in North Carolina

Carvers Gap to 19 East on the Appalachian Trail (TN and NC)

Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia

10 Best Landmarks on the Appalachian Trail

Gear for Backpacking in the North Carolina

Finding the right gear for your needs can be an overwhelming process. Not to mention – gear can be quite expensive! Plus, a lot of gear recommendations come from people in the Pacific Northwest or Rockies who experience different weather and environmental factors. (The idea of hanging something on your pack to dry does NOT work in the southeast with our humidity).

The good news is that I love doing research. With the right information, you can make a choice that will best fit your needs and budget alike. And, it’s specific to North Carolina and surrounding states.

You can find out more on the Backpacking Gear page. It continues to grow as I add more information.

Finding the Right Advice

Now you’ve got ideas on how to start, where to go, and understand the basics of gear. But it can be easy to get overwhelmed with all of the conflicting advice. And when you are planning your first backpacking trip, it can be hard to know what you should and shouldn’t do. And again, a lot of the advice comes from people who don’t live in the hot and humid southeastern US.

On top of that, how you backpack is all preference. While there are a few things you need to have for safety, the rest is up to you. I really don’t mind if someone on a trip has 40 pounds as long as they are keeping up with the group, not posing a safety concern, and are having fun.

Instead of telling you what to do, I’ll give you the background and the “why” so you can decide for yourself. A great place to start is on my Backpacking Tips and Tricks page.

Backpacking versus Base Camping

Base Camping

Base camping is where you hike from your car to camp. Usually, camp is at least one mile from your car. This campsite will serve as your base for the duration of your trip. In the morning, you leave your tent and gear set up and take a day pack to explore the area, returning to the same camp every night. It differs from car camping because your car is far away and you need to pack in everything you need for camp. Some of my favorite trips involve base camping.

The advantage of base camping is that you can bring more items since you only have to carry them in and out of camp. When you’re out exploring, you can go further and faster because you only have a daypack. The disadvantage is that your hikes revolve around getting back to the same camp every night. Also, you’ll want to remove all valuables from camp (your wallet, car keys, camera, etc.) when you head out for the day.


Generally, backpacking means carrying your gear and hiking to a location where you set up camp. In the morning, you break down camp, pack everything up and move it to the next location.

The advantage of backpacking is that you can be creative with your route. You can get a shuttle and hike back to your car, or you can do a bunch of loops. If you want to stay in one location longer, if the timing and miles work, you have that flexibility. The disadvantage is that you’ll be carrying everything you need for camp each day. This means some hard decisions may have to be made regarding what you pack.

When to Choose Base Camping versus Backpacking

Neither option is “better” than the other. They’re just different ways to get out and explore. I’ve found that the location and your purpose determine which option is the most suitable.

Some areas don’t have campgrounds where you need them and base camping makes more sense. Or there could be several views, waterfalls, etc. in one location and you want to spend the weekend exploring and photographing those scenic points. In this instance, base camping makes more sense.

Other times there are things you want to see that are miles apart and backpacking is the way to go. Or if you want to do a section of the Appalachian Trail, or another long hike, you’ll need to camp in multiple locations. Lastly, if you want to do a loop, you’ll likely need to consider a backpacking trip.

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