I don’t think anyone who goes out into the backcountry has had a perfect hike right out of the gate. And probably no one has had a completely perfect hike. I have made several backpacking mistakes. And I have compiled them here so you can learn from my mistakes and misadventures.
Packing too much
The first on the list of my backpacking mistakes, and probably one of the most common among newbie backpackers, is taking too much stuff. My first backpacking trip was only one night. I seriously brought two changes of clothes and pajamas.
Why on earth I thought I would need two changes of clothes for one day, I don’t know. Now when I backpack for multiple days, I only take pajamas and a change of socks and undies for each day. You don’t need three pairs of pants. You just don’t.
For first-timer backpacking tips click here.
I also brought a plethora of supplies I didn’t need. I didn’t weigh my pack, but I’m pretty sure it weighed around the 45-pound mark – way too heavy and full of unnecessary stuff.
Not bringing enough food
The mistake that sticks out in my mind the most is when I left some of my food in the car. And I was too lazy to walk back to get it. I was supposed to make peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. When I got about a quarter of a mile down the trail, I remembered I had not done that.
But instead of turning back for more food, I thought, “Nah, I’ll be fine. I have granola bars.”
It ended up being OK, however on my second day I did hike 14 miles on only oatmeal, a granola bar, and a fruit cup.
When you backpack you burn much more calories than normal. It is really important to make sure you have enough fuel to keep up with your exertion.
Not checking the weather
Not checking the weather or relying on the forecast 100 percent is another common backpacking mistake. While visiting Glacier National Park in Montana one summer, I had to pack out a sopping wet tent. We had no cell service in the park. The only place I could get service was at the Canadian border. It was Canadian service, and I didn’t want to pay international cellphone fees.
It had been a few days since I had checked the weather, and I relied on the old report of no rain. When I packed my tent in order to save weight, I did not bring the stuff sack. Unfortunately this was a mistake. It rained all through the night and I had to pack out a wet tent. Because I didn’t have the bag, the water ran through my backpack and down my legs all day.
If you find yourself in the situation of no cell phone service, the national park more than likely will post updated weather reports at the visitors center. I should have checked the weather there. Then I would have known there was a chance of rain. However relying on the weather forecast isn’t always foolproof.
Another time backpacking, I did check the weather the day before. It called for a zero percent chance of rain, so I did not pack my rain coat. I woke up the next morning to rain drops on my tent. It rained on my my whole hike out. What did I do? I just got wet.
Not getting an early enough start
If you have to make a certain amount of miles in the day, you need to know your hiking pace and give yourself extra time on top of that. That way you don’t end up hiking in the dark. Or picking out a campsite in the dark, causing you to sleep in a brier patch.
Before a four-day hike with my brother, I studied the trail map and planned out our hike. On day two we came up short and did not make our milage goal for that day. The trail passes through a developed campground. When we got to the campground, it was getting dark, and it was a great place to stop. So we stopped there instead of going the extra two miles to a place I had previously picked out. Plus we had flush toilets and running water.
That night was not a problem. But because we stopped soon, it added two miles to our next day’s hike. We did not get up early enough, and wasted time enjoying the amenities of the campground.
Then the hike took us longer than expected. We had to make it to the place I picked out on the map because there was no source for water anywhere between the campground where we stayed the night before and the place I picked out for our third night.
Hiking with the headlamps wasn’t terrible, but I wish we had gotten an earlier start.
Not check on water sources
It is important to never completely rely on a water source to be flowing. This on my list of backpacking mistakes is one I only had to make once. One backpacking trip, I planned a campsite in a valley next to a creek. However it wasn’t until I ran out of water just before I got to the creek that I began to worry about its being dry.
I crossed water sources during my hike that day and didn’t think of refilling my CamelBak. I knew I was going to camp near a creek. The closer I came to the creek, and the thirstier I got, I more worried about its being dry.
At one point, I stopped to refer to my guide book. And it said the last reliable water source was a few miles back. “Crap!” I thought.
Fortunately the water was flowing, and it was the perfect camping spot. But I learned my lesson.
Making mistakes while on the trail does not mean you are not a good backpacker or are not outdoorsy enough. It means you are normal. Not only can you learn from those mistakes, but sharing it with others helps them learn too. What backpacking mistakes have you made?