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.

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