We are not all born professional backpackers, it takes time for all of us to learn a new skill. Through learning from the mistakes of others who are more experienced and looking at the 7 most common backpacking mistakes made by beginner hikers, hopefully you can have a more enjoyable experience.
The 7 Mistakes
Packing everything but the kitchen sink
This is the most common mistake most new, and some experienced backpackers make. This could be a load of extra gear to completely unnecessary luxury items. Now don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with having a few luxury items. Even some of the most serious ultralighters probably have some kind of luxury items which they just can't do without. But taking items like a change of clothes for every day, an axe to chop firewood, your favourite porcelain mug and a knife and fork set from the kitchen, several extra batteries instead of just 2 or an extra headlamp just in case, these are just items which will weigh you down and make your pack heavier. Cutting weight is a skill that comes from experience and the confidence gained after years on the trail. The more you get out there, the more you’ll see what you need, what you don’t, and what items you can upgrade. Make sure you only take the things that are a necessity and ideally have some kind of multipurpose. While your pack might feel ok when you're trying it out fully loaded at home, nature is rarelly flat. If your pack is heavy it's not going to take long before you feel uncomfortable out on the trail. Check out other peoples gear list on the internet or click here for my Gear List Suggestions on my BLOG.
Shoes which don't fit properly, are brand new out of the box or don't work well can make of break your hike. Shoes that are too tight, too rigid or are causing a hot spot for blisters are a BIG no no!! Understanding which footwear is right for your feet is trial and error unfortunately. While hiking, your feet tend to swell a little so you need to make sure you have allowed for this. Another thing you want to avoid is your toes touching and rubbing on the front of your shoes while going downhill. Make sure that you have at least a thumb width distance from your toes to the front of the shoe or another trick is to tie your shoe up and tap your toe down on the ground. If your foot is hitting the front of your shoe, you'll probably find it's going to do that while you're going down a mountain and out on trail. This can cause issues with your toenails either hurting or in extreme cases, you toenails falling off. For those of you who think you absolutely need boots for ankle support, these can be heavy, bulky and tend to take a long time to dry out if they get wet. That’s one of the reasons I prefer to pack light and wear trail running shoes instead of boots. They keep my feet ventilated, comfortable, and blister free no matter how far I want to hike. Figuring all this stuff out before you get out hiking can save your feet and your hike.
Too much food
Everybody when they are starting out ALWAYS brings too much food. It's like we have a fear of going hungry or starving while out on trail. Some people think that because you are doing a heap of exercise you will feel super hungry throughout the day but that is not usually the case, in fact it's usually the opposite. If you're only out for a day then you might find you don't really feel that hungry at all. If you're out for 3-5 days you may eat a little more but "hiker hunger" doesn't usually kick in until a couple of weeks into a long haul hike. I'm sure after you've been out hiking and you get home, food usually tastes amazing but while out on trail over catering is common problem. Carrying a lot of extra food adds a lot of extra unnecessary weight to your pack and as a guide I recommend breakfast, lunch and dinner plus 3-4 extra snacks per day. The ideal weight you should look for is 850-900g of food per day in a waterproof food bag.
Not planning your water
You can quickly become dehydrated while exerting a lot of energy on trail. Sometimes it just seems like too much effort to stop and pull your water bottle out or maybe you haven't planned well and didn't carry enough with you. With the proper pre-planning you should always know where your next water source is going to be and how you are going to filter it. One key tip is to drink a heap of water while you’re refilling at a water source. By doing this you can reduce the weight of your pack and the amount you need to carry. Water is going to be by far one of the most heaviest items in your pack. So it’s important to strike the right balance between hydration and weight reduction on your hike. Carrying 2L hydration bladder and or a couple of water bottles is all you'll need if you’re hiking near water sources during the day.
It takes time to plan a trip and can become an overwhelming task, but it is extremely important, especially for beginners. By having a proper plan it can help you avoid mistakes which can derail your trip. By figuring out where you're going, learning how to read a map, getting permits, learning about current conditions (weather, fires, bugs, etc.), learn about trail closures or fire bans, and a whole lot more you can ensure you are safe and happy out there.
Not knowing any one of those things could easily ruin your trip or keep you off the trail altogether. Winging it always seems like a good idea until you get lost, you run out of water and can't cook your dinner or get caught out in a storm without rain gear. Check out my gear list suggestion.
Overly ambitious kilometre plan
It takes a while for your body to get used to doing big kilometres days. When you're just starting out and you've planned to do big 20-25 km days for 3 days it can put you off the whole hiking experience. Take it slow and listen to your body and enjoy the whole backpacking experience. When you're tired you stop, when something hurts, take a break. By pushing yourself too far you can ruin your hike.
Not planning for all kinds of weather
Weather can be unpredictable, especially when you are climbing mountain peaks and getting settled into a gully for the night. One of the most dangerous positions you can find yourself in is being caught in bad weather without the proper gear. Even if the weather forecast call for sunshine every day, you still need to bring a rain jacket and some warm clothes. If you are not prepared, you shouldn't be out there - no exceptions!
Those are by far the most common 7 mistakes made by beginner backpackers but there are certainly plenty more. The important thing to remember is that the way that you learn is by getting out there and making mistakes.
If you've made some backpacking mistakes which you would like to share please leave your story in the comments below. We can all learn from each other by sharing knowledge and experiences we've had while out on trail.
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This is also an additional great guide - Beginners Guide to Backpacking - Campgrasp.com