First off, you will need to decide when and where you would like to go backpacking. Once this is determined, you will need to figure out if you’ll need a permit to access the trail you have chosen. Remember to check the level of physical difficulty before embarking on your journey. If you’re a beginner, I recommend staying on marked trails.
Safety: It is paramount, that you remain safe throughout your hiking trip and always err on the side of caution. Most of the rescues performed by SAR (search and rescue) are because people are not prepared for bad weather, longer than expected outings, dehydration, hunger, and so on and so forth. Your first trip can be a wonderful experience if you take the time to do proper research. There’s no doubt, that each time you go backpacking, you’ll become more confident and start to realize the things you need and don’t need.
Navigation: If you are a beginner and you have no navigational training to speak of, not to worry, there are many marked trails out there to explore. Almost all the super long well-known trails have blazes on trees, rocks, and signs to follow. With that being said, it’s always a good idea and recommended to obtain a topography map of the trail. Even if you’re not an expert map reader; these maps will give you elevation, landmarks, and bailout points, in the case of an emergency. The rule of thumb, while following the blazes, is a single one means to stay relatively straight and a double blaze means ” sharp turn ahead”.
The Southern Cave Conservatory ( SCCI ) is the website with all the information, for exploring the vast majority of caves in the Southeast. If you decide that you would like to visit any of these caves on SCCI property, you will need to become a member; which will cost you $25 for 1 year. This is your best resource for finding “non-tourist” caves to explore. You might even receive a cool sticker. The good news is that their website has been revitalized and the information is plentiful (once you become a member). The days of showing up to caves unannounced and with no permit are over. You should be able to navigate the website with ease and complete any legalities necessary to visit any SCCI properties. http://www.scci.org/
Safety: Never go caving alone! Always have someone with you, or better yet, a small group of willing participants. Also, always let someone know when you are in a cave and what time you are expected to exit. It is imperative that you give the contact information to your above lifeline, of the local fire department or rescue group in that area; just in case you never call to check in. Personally, I give my wife a decent window so she does not call the cavalry to soon.
Navigation: Once you enter the cave, it will be your responsibility, as trip leader, to make sure you enter and exit the cave safely. There are a couple ways to navigate underground, successfully. First, as you move through the cave, make sure you look behind you frequently. Second, you will need some way to mark your path. That way upon the return, you can follow your breadcrumb trail out. This can be accomplished in a couple of different ways: using rock cairns (stacked rocks ), fluorescent markers (purchased at www.onrope1.com), or arrows already marked in the cave (not recommended as the first line of navigation). The fluorescent markers are my personal favorite to use when I’m caving. Whatever marker you chose to use, just remember to place one every time there is a change in direction.