Four of the Most Common Mistakes that New Backpackers Make

A famous man with the last name Einstein once said “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” If you want to try something new, you will make a mistake. No matter what it is that you’re trying, mistakes are part of life.

When it comes to backpacking, this is especially true. Sometimes mistakes are as tiny as taking a wrong turn on the drive to the trailhead; other times backpacking mistakes can be much more serious (say, if you forget to seal up your dinner in a bear canister). I’ve been backpacking for many years now and I’d be lying if I said I never make mistakes anymore.

Over the years I’ve taken lots of people out into the backcountry on their first backpacking trips, and I’ve noticed a lot of common mistakes those people make. With summer rapidly approaching, chances are one of the readers of this post will be heading out for their first backpacking trip. If so, check out these common mistakes, so you can be sure you avoid them.

Choosing the Wrong Backpack

Beginning backpackers often underestimate the importance of choosing the right backpack. There are an infinite number of things that you should consider when choosing a backpack, but there are three main things to take into account:

1)   Torso Length

Many people make the mistake of choosing a backpack relative to their overall height. This is in fact what you shouldn’t do, as you should instead choose your backpack relative to your torso. To make sure you get the best fitted backpack for your trek, visit a local outdoor supply store and get fitted for one.

2)   Backpacking Style

Some backpackers prefer to sacrifice some comfort for the sake of a light backpack. Other backpackers prefer to have a heavier pack if it means more comfort at the campsite. This choice is completely up to you, and it’s something to keep in mind when choosing a pack.

3)   Trip Length

For shorter trips, you’ll want a smaller and lighter pack. For longer trips, you want a pack that can fit more gear. If you plan on backpacking a lot, I’d suggest purchasing two backpacks: one for short trips and one for long trips.

Consider all three of the above things when choosing a backpack, and you’ll be comfortable and efficient when you hit the backcountry. Don’t make the mistake of choosing the wrong one, like many backpackers before you have.

Being Over-Prepared

The motto of the Boy Scouts is to “Be Prepared”. When backpacking, this advice is absolutely critical. Although, there is such thing as being over-prepared. I took my brother-in-law backpacking through the Sierras a few summers ago. It was an easy trek, just for two nights. He packed enough stuff to last a week.

My brother-in-law went out and bought all kinds of expensive, top-of-the-line gadgets that we just didn’t have any use for. All it meant for him was that he had to carry more stuff in his pack. While a USB powered camp stove is definitely cool, it’s a little much for the backcountry.

When prepping for your first backpacking trip, only take what you need; no more, no less. Find a backpacking checklist and make sure you’re not over-preparing. Even adding a small gadget to your pack might make a big difference if you’re going to be carrying it on your back for multiple miles.

Being Underprepared

On the flip side, many first time backpackers hit the trails underprepared. The effects of being underprepared can range from being uncomfortable to downright dangerous, which is why it’s important to make sure you review the backpacking checklist to make sure you’ve got what you need.

Make sure you have the right gear for the expedition you’re going on. This means making sure your sleeping bag will provide adequate warmth, your clothes are correct for the situation, and you’ve got a first aid kit that can handle anything that could happen. The last thing you want is to be up a creek without a paddle.

Ignoring the Forecast

I’ll admit: this is something that even I am still guilty of. I rarely let weather ruin a planned weekend in the backcountry, but if the forecast calls for serious weather than I typically rethink my plans. I’ve known some beginning backpackers that don’t, though.

If you’re a beginner, the forecast is especially important to pay attention to. Even a bit of light rain could mean you need to seriously reconsider what you’re packing. You might have to reconsider your clothes, your camping tents, and even the type of pack you’re bringing and its weight. Additionally, simply checking your iPhone weather app won’t cut it. Use the National Weather Service’s website in order to get the most accurate forecast.

This guest post was provided by, Ted Levin is an avid backpacker and birder, currently planning a summer trip through the Pacific Northwest. He also enjoys sketching and writing while in the backcountry. You can connect with Ted on Google+ and Twitter.

18 thoughts on “Four of the Most Common Mistakes that New Backpackers Make

  1. If the forecast is average I pull the plug no matter how much I was looking forward to the trip. The novelty of hiking and camping quickly wears off when you are cold, miserable and struggling.

  2. Thanks for the Reminders. I have always been one to carry a little too much stuff in my pack and have paid for it. I am trying to move towards more of the ultralight style now. But my biggest lesson that I learned over the years is to break in your hiking boots before going out.

    I had to learn this lesson the hard way over a few backpacking trips. If it wasn’t for mole skins I’m not sure what I would have done. Just remember that the stiffer the boot you buy the longer it will take to get them ready. A month of regular wear around town should help get the boots ready to go but check with the manufacturers website to verify.

  3. I agree with you that the forecast should be ignored. If for example the forecast sais that it will rain, many backpackers automatically pack raincoats and warm clothes, not preparing for the possibility of sunny weather. The trick is to bring as few specialised clothing items as possible. I have a waterproof poncho and swimming shorts with me all the time, but those are the only special pieces of clothing I pack. Always take clothes tha are easy to fold and take up as little space as possible.

    • I also make sure that my tent is waterproof if I go backpacking, because this no matter what the weather will be like I will be prepared, and I will be able to survive even the heaviest storm in my tent.

      • I think that the forecast should be read as more of a warning/mental check. I bring a waterproof shell for my upper and lower body. In summer that and a thin under armor warming layer are all I take for warming layers. It also allows me to strip down into a complete waterproof suit if my clothes got wet. That way I can still be somewhat warm while my clothes dry.

  4. You are right when you said something about choosing the right backpack. A backpack can make or break you out there in a camping trip. Having the right backpack at the wrong trip, and going to the right trip with the wrong backpack –are things that you need to avoid.

  5. Wow…and here I thought the most common mistakes was forgetting to secretly put your heavy stuff into your backpacking partner’s pack just before you get started…

  6. Getting wet and soggy is one of the worst situations when backpacking. Plan for any eventuality. Shelter, food, fire and clean water. Loads of people each year get caught out in the mountains and have to get rescued due to poor planning and using the wrong gear! The weather can change for the worst very quickly.

  7. Yeah, its weird how beginners swing to the extremes – either an absurd amount of gear or far too little. This is probably the one thing I noticed the most. Definitely keep an eye on the forecast and always pack your 10 essentials!

  8. Great tips. I totally agree with choosing a backpack according to your torso length. I have a long torso and it took me several backpacking trips before discovering that my backpack really didn’t fit me properly. It is definitely a good suggestion to actually get some help when choosing a pack to fit your body properly… it makes a huge difference in your comfort level and support.

  9. There are some mistakes backpackers do and regret later when they reach to the destination. but its always fun to look back on some of the silly mistakes we’ve made and laugh.. :)

  10. When I first started camping I always went a bit under prepared. I thought that was the fun of it at the time (dumb teenager)! Usually just brought a sleeping bag, fishing pole and whatever I could fit in my pockets.

  11. How about packing according to your weight? I am having a hard time bringing all the necessary equipment such as the sleeping bag and tent because I can’t carry it around for a long time. I am not tall either so this has been a problem when I go on trekking and camping. Luckily, my friends would let me sleep inside their tent.

  12. Rather than over- and under-prepared, I’d say “overpacked” and “underplanned”.

    About the only underpacking I regularly see is not bringing a whistle. Of all the ten (or so) essentials, that is the most likely to save you bacon when search and rescue is looking for you.

    The Boy Scout motto was not intended to be about bringing more stuff. It has always been about being prepared in mind and body for any situation.

    • Your exactly right Walter. I was a life scout, and that is how we were trained to think for all those years in the scouts.

      Always have a way to signal, a way to make fire, a way to make shelter and a way to treat water for drinking. Those are the 4 main principles behind being prepared.

      All the gear in the world wont save your arse, only being physically and mentally prepared and having the right plan in place is what gets you through your trips with out a hitch.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>