Common Beginner Backpacking Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)
It's common for people to make mistakes when they first begin backpacking. While some learning experiences can help shape you for the trail, others can make your trip uncomfortable or even dangerous. Instead of learning the hard way, identify common beginner mistakes and plan accordingly.
They are overconfident. According to a report looking into SAR missions in Utah national parks, it's not uncommon for teams to encounter people who physically can’t go on with a hike; in fact, hikers require the most SAR assistance of any visitors to area parks. Before you rush into an outdoor adventure, be sure you are fully prepared. You should also start small and build up your stamina and experience before planning especially rugged backpacking trips.
They don't spread the word. Before leaving on a backpacking trip, it's important to tell people where you are going and when you will be back in case an emergency leaves you stranded.
They can't find specific trailheads. Because more accessible trailheads tend to be crowded, you may need to navigate remote, maze-like trails to find solitude. Be sure you have a map and research the area before your trip.
They don't check the forecast. It's important to monitor the weather before you head out to make sure you avoid downpours and electrical storms. You also need to bring rain gear and warm clothing, especially if you plan to hike at changing elevations, which can lead to substantial drops in temperature.
They forget essential items. You may have all your food, hiking gear and camping stuff, but did you remember everything? Too many inexperienced backpackers rush into their trips without packing important items, such as sunscreen, lip balm, insect repellent and a first-aid kit. Make sure you are prepared for every eventuality whenever you leave civilization.
They get separated. When speedy hikers rush ahead and leave their slower companions behind, it can lead to serious problems. From sudden storms and darkness to injuries and wrong turns, there are all sorts of unforeseen issues that can lead to disaster. Remember, if you start as a group, it's generally best to finish as one.
They don't stake their tents. Sudden strong winds can occur unexpectedly, especially at higher elevations. Even one good gust is enough to carry your tent into thorny brush or over the side of a cliff or ridge. Take the time to adequately secure your tent so you won't be without shelter when night falls.
They practice poor trail etiquette. When backpacking, it's important to be respectful of other hikers and the environment. Good hiking etiquette means not talking loudly and avoiding interactions with animals. It also means staying on the trail when possible to avoid damaging vegetation. If you're not familiar with the concept, read about Leave No Trace Camping, which centers on appreciating the outdoors without making a direct impact on the environment.
They get caught in the dark. Nightfall means colder temperatures and navigation difficulties. Keep a close watch of the time and plan your hike accordingly. To estimate how much daylight you have left, hold your hand at arm's length and count the number of fingers that fit between the sun and horizon. Each finger represents approximately 15 minutes. Make sure you bring a headlamp just in case you get caught in the dark due to injury or a planning error.
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