Top Mistakes Made Backpacking for the First Time

(Source: Jesse Wagstaff)

If you have spent any time in the woods, you've almost certainly made some serious backcountry mistakes. We've done it without a doubt. In reality, due to all the foolish hiking blunders we've made over the years, we can only give "smart" hiking advice. Every one of the mishaps listed below (and probably more!) has happened to us at one time or another.

We've made every hiking misstep known to man, but we've learned from our mistakes and come back for more. Because, no matter how serious the blunders, the good trail moments always overwhelm the bad.


Cooking in your tent

Cooking dinner in your tent could seem like a good idea, especially if it's rainy and freezing outdoors. Before igniting a stove in a tight place, however, there are certain crucial consequences to consider. The obvious danger is that your tent will catch fire, which would be disastrous. The less obvious danger is that carbon monoxide gas from your stove is poisonous and might kill you, which would be considerably worse.

At times, such as while winter camping on a mountain during a snowstorm, you may require shelter to prepare a meal. If you must cook, do so in the vestibule of your tent (not inside it) with plenty of ventilation. If you can't do those things, ditch the cooking and have something dried or a sandwich.


Getting your sleeping bag wet

A surprise piece of advice: sleeping in a wet sleeping bag is a nightmare. Isn't that a startling realization? Nonetheless, it appears that this misunderstanding is a rite of passage for rookie backpackers. It's difficult to grasp the significance of the situation until you've been forced to sleep in a drenched sleeping bag. It's at this point that the wisdom truly sinks in.

Make it a habit to always keep your sleeping bag completely dry. As soon as it starts to rain, put your sleeping bag in a waterproof container inside your backpack. This is when heavy-duty trash bags come in handy. Even if your backpack does not claim to be waterproof (very few do), the extra security is worth it for such a vital piece of gear.


Blistering Feet

Blisters are one of the few things that may quickly ruin a camping trip. It's difficult to enjoy your surroundings while you're walking and every step hurts.

Blisters are caused by friction, which occurs when you wear shoes that are excessively tight, too rigid or rub against a specific area of your skin. When your feet are damp and soft, they might quickly develop.

This is one of the reasons we prefer to carry light trail running shoes rather than boots. They keep our feet ventilated, comfortable, and blister-free no matter how far we travel. Allow plenty of time for your hiking boots to break in before heading out on your hike. Also, regardless of your footwear, if you notice a hotspot, stop and handle it right away. Hiking through blister pain may seem straightforward at first, but you're creating long-term damage.



Every mile has about 2,200 steps, and nature is rarely flat. When you're weighing your pack in the comfort of your own home, keep that in mind. Once you're out on the trail, a heavy load will quickly become unbearable. 

Cutting pack weight is a skill that develops through time on the trail, as well as the confidence that comes with it. You'll notice what you need, don't need, and what you can update the more you get out there. To learn more about what your pack weight should be, read our previous article What should the weight of your pack be?

Bringing too much clothing, food, and unnecessary luxury items such as camping chairs, camp shoes, and extra cooking equipment are all common mistakes. Start with "The Big 3" — your shelter, backpack, and sleeping bag – when it comes to reducing gear weight. In the last few years, lightweight gear has come a long way. A backpack, 1-person tent, and sleeping bag for us usually weigh a little over 5 pounds. Your hike will be a lot more pleasurable if you pack light.


Flooding your tent

Always ask yourself this question before setting up your tent: Where will the water go if it rains? Flat spaces appear to be appealing places to pitch a shelter, but they're also where the water will collect. If it starts to rain in the middle of the night, you can wake up with a few inches of standing water in your tent, which is never fun. 

Look for appropriate water drainage when setting up your shelter, and never choose a spot that appears to have previously been a puddle. To limit condensation and freezing temperatures, choose established campsites, camp at least 200 feet from water sources, and avoid low locations in valleys.


Losing your food to animals

Proper food storage is critical - not only for you but also for animals. When wild animals are fed, their foraging behaviors change, and they learn to identify people with food. Bears that learn to associate humans with food, for example, must be kidnapped, relocated, and occasionally killed.

Improper food storage is equivalent to feeding wild animals by hand. There are many options for proper foods storage. Bear canisters, Ursacks, and properly hung bear bags are all solid options.


Bringing Untried Equipment

Testing gear is an important part of pre-trip preparation. Never take an item into the wilderness that you haven't tried since something is likely to go wrong. You might forget to bring the right kind of stove fuel, bring a headlamp with dead batteries, or struggle to put up a new tent in the dark and rain. Avoid these and other common mistakes by thoroughly testing your gear before heading out on the trail. Also, use a small checklist before each journey to ensure you don't forget anything important.


Clean Water

One of the most critical aspects of outdoor survival is access to clean water. Water will also be one of the heaviest items in your load. On your hikes, it's crucial to find the perfect balance between water and weight loss. Always keep an eye out for your next water source and hydrate while you're there. You won't have to pack as much out this way.

Filling a 3-liter hydration bladder, for example, will add about 7 pounds to your pack. If you're hiking in the desert, this is a no-brainer, but if you're hiking by clear rivers all day, it's an unnecessary burden.


Not Planning

Trip planning takes effort and isn't always fun, but it's essential, especially for those new to backpacking. Trip planning will help you avoid a slew of mistakes that will completely derail your journey. During the trip preparation process, you'll find the necessary maps, obtain permits, learn about current conditions (snow, fires, pests, etc. ), learn about trail closures or fire bans, and much more. Any of those items might easily ruin your trip or keep you off the trail entirely if you don't know about them. It always seems like a fantastic plan until you get lost on your way to the trailhead, realize you don't have the proper permit and learn that food must be stored in a bear canister.


Weather Conditions

In the wild, the weather is inherently unpredictable. Temperatures in the highlands can drop quickly, and conditions can shift from pleasant to perilous in an instant. Don't place yourself in such a predicament. One of the most dangerous situations for any hiker is being exposed to harsh weather without the proper equipment.

Bring a lightweight rain jacket even if the weather forecast calls for sunshine. Evenings and mornings in the woods are usually always cool, so bring a heavy jacket, hat, and gloves with you on every journey. You shouldn't be in the woods if you aren't prepared for rain and cold.


Knowing how to read a map/compass

Do you know how to read a map and use a compass to navigate? Are you prepared if you become separated from your group in the woods? Do you know how to ask for help and how to maximize your chances of finding someone who can help you? You're putting yourself in a perilous situation if you don't.

At the absolute least, every hiker should be able to navigate. You shouldn't be out in the woods if you don't. Never put yourself in the position of having to deal with being lost in the woods. The ramifications might be disastrous.


Leave No Trace

Leave no trace principles are essential. The more we visit natural regions, the more we have an impact on the flora and animals that live there. We will damage our most pristine natural regions if we do not do our share to reduce the influence. These are minor points, but you'd be amazed how few wilderness travelers are aware of or adhere to them. As a result, please do your part to ensure that our wild areas remain as wild as possible.


Learn from your mistakes

You're certain to make some big backcountry blunders throughout the years, no matter how hard you try. If you make a mistake, learn from it, make the necessary improvements, and get back out there. After all, having a good time on the trail will always outweigh getting stuck in the mud.

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