15 All-Too Common Beginner Backpacking Mistakes

We all start somewhere. We all begin as beginners, as novices. And even for experienced hikers, new gear constantly demands we play catch-up. An experienced backpacker in the early ‘90s might not know all the tricks of the trade in this new decade. I like to think I worked out my beginner kinks during my thru-hike, but I am still learning new hiking hacks. Whenever I hike now, I notice many people making the same beginner mistakes I (and many others) did when first starting out.

The Appalachian Trail community encourages you to hike your own hike, as do I. If you choose to do the things below with the knowledge that there is an easier way, then I applaud you for hiking your own hike. If you do them out of a lack of knowledge, however, then this resource is here to help. Note that this is far from a comprehensive list. Not all beginners make these missteps, and the mistakes listed are far from the only ones I’ve seen on the trail. The beginner backpacking mistakes I’ve chosen to highlight seem to be among the most common and the most easily fixable.

15 Beginner Backpacking Mistakes to Avoid

1. Not Eating & Drinking Enough

beginner backpacking mistakes: undereating

Beginner backpacking mistakes: not eating enough.

You know the type. The hiker rolls into the shelter near dusk, exhausted. Too tired to cook or even retrieve water for the night,  they pitch their tent and go straight to bed. It’s very common to lose your appetite in the face of total exhaustion, especially near the beginning of your thru-hike. But for once, don’t trust the message your body is trying to send you. Even if you don’t feel hungry, you need to eat something to keep up your strength. Eating after a long day of hiking is important, as is snacking throughout the day.

On a related note, keep an eye on your hydration level. Collecting and filtering water from a stream (not to mention lugging it through the mountains all day) is certainly inconvenient, but it’s crucial that you drink enough water. Thru-hiking is a demanding activity, so try to drink roughly a liter for every two hours you spend hiking (more if you are hiking in hot/arid conditions).

Monitor your food and water intake always. Without proper nutrients, your amazing camping trip will simply be an exhausting endeavor.

2. Overpacking

beginner backpacking mistakes overpacking

Beginner backpacking mistakes: bringing too much stuff.

This is one of the most notorious beginner backpacking mistakes of all. Whether it’s too much food, clothing, or gear, many newbies “pack their fears” in an attempt to control every possible variable. Try to evaluate the contents of your pack before setting out for the backcountry. You want to strike a balance between carrying enough gear to stay safe/comfortable and not carrying so much that you can hardly carry it all and your trip is miserable.

It helps to build a spreadsheet itemizing all of your gear and the weight of each item. You’ll be stunned by how much the little things add up.

Give yourself a shakedown or two to see where you can streamline your setup and eliminate weight. Take your gear out for a few practice trips and take note of any items you don’t use at all. If you haven’t touched it, do you really need to bring it?

Commonly overpacked items:

  • Clothing: you only need one set of hiking clothes and one set of camp clothes, regardless of your trip length.
  • Consumables: It will take time to determine how much food, water, fuel, and toilet paper you use daily—especially as your trail legs come in and your daily mileage grows. To begin, doing a few shakedown hikes before the big trip will give you a sense of how much to pack.
  • First aid: To be clear, you definitely need to bring a first aid/emergency kit. I’m just saying it doesn’t need to be massive. Maybe leave the SAM splint, ice pack, and saline solution at home in favor of more conventional items like bandaids, ibuprofen, and triple-antibiotic ointment.
  • Car camping items: Bulky two-burner stoves, elaborate kitchenware sets, Coleman lanterns, large knives/machetes, heavy coils of manila rope, folding trench shovels, etc. etc. All of these items have lighter, smaller backpacking equivalents.
  • Books: I like a good paperback as much as the next guy, but in the context of a thru-hike, a lightweight e-reader (or, even better, an ebook on your phone) makes much more sense. You can have a whole library at your fingertips without adding any extra weight.

READ NEXT – The Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Gear List

3. Underpacking / Forgetting Something Important

“Oh NO I forgot TP. Now my backpacking trip and life have both been ruined for good.” Photo by Mukuko Studio on Unsplash.

As often as beginner backpackers overpack items they don’t need, they fail to pack things they actually do need. For instance, you don’t want to bring a pair of jeans (completely superfluous) but neglect to pack an insulating midlayer (essential). Even if you’ve meticulously researched and assembled all the gear you’ll need for a backpacking trip, it’s a lot to keep track of, and it’s very easy to forget to pack something important when the Big Day finally arrives.

This applies to resupplies as well. After my first resupply on my AT thru-hike out of Hiawassee, Georgia, I realized I had forgotten something important: my toilet paper ration for the week. Sure, I remembered two boxes of snack cakes, but not toilet paper. Now, I know some people hike without toilet paper and go for the leaf approach. But I’m not that hiker. Always check to see if you have your necessities. You best believe I will never EVER forget toilet paper ever again.

Pro tip: inventory all your gear and keep a packing list on your phone. Review the list before starting your trip or leaving town after a zero to ensure you haven’t overlooked anything. Also, in hiking as in life, your resupply run to the grocery store will go a lot better if you make a shopping list ahead of time.

4. Not Considering the Weather

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Beginner backpacking mistakes: underestimating the weather. Pictured: this is me before Mt. Madison in the Whites in New Hampshire. Don’t let this be you.

While thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, I witnessed a couple on a day hike soaking up the persistent downpour of rain. If you plan to do a smaller hiker (not a thru-hike), then plan around the weather. Always check the forecast. Some mountains may require early morning summits for notorious rains in the afternoon. Having a rough time hiking in the rain or lightning can be avoided with just a bit of research ahead of time.

Even long-distance hikers can plan around the weather to some extent. In fact, backpackers should be even more aware of potential weather conditions. Don’t treat the weather forecast like the word of God: hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Weather can change on a dime in the mountains, so it’s important to be prepared for a wide range of conditions.

Weather considerations to bear in mind:

  • Temperature: Do you have adequate clothing to stay warm if the temperature drops? Do you have enough water to stay hydrated on a hot day? If you will be traversing snow, can you plan your day to cross the snow early in the morning before it begins to soften and melt?
  • Clouds: Do you have adequate sun protection?
  • Thunder and lightning: Are you going above treeline or over an exposed ridge today? Better check the forecast and aim to be up and over as early in the day as possible.
  • High winds: Are you camped in an area with many standing dead trees or branches? You should always check for widowmakers before making camp, but it’s especially important if there’s wind in the forecast.
  • Precipitation: Do you have adequate rain gear? Do you have waterproof bags for your sleeping bag, camp clothes, electronics, etc.?

5. Excessively Heavy/Labor-Intensive Food Plans

My first camping trip was in Big Bend National Park in Texas, and I carried cans of food I had sitting in my pantry. Being a broke college student, I didn’t see a problem with it. Now being an experienced backpacker, I hate to admit that I did that. Cans of food are heavy. Compare a can of food with a packet of ramen. I think I rest my case. If you happen to be working with limited resupply options where canned food is your best or only bet, I recommend transferring the contents of the cans into plastic bags (double-bag) and packing them in a safe place.

While I would never discourage someone from bringing fresh produce into the backcountry (sure, it’s heavy, but what a luxury!), I would caution against planning elaborate, multi-step dinners that involve lots of prep work. Gourmet cooking takes a lot of time, energy, and fuel that you may or may not be able to spare, especially as a beginner backpacker. Save the fajitas for back home and just eat your bell peppers raw as a side dish to an easy, dehydrated, just-add-water dinner. Keep it simple until you are more comfortable in the backcountry, and then decide if elaborate camp recipes are something you want to experiment with.

READ NEXT – Our Favorite 3-Ingredient Backpacking Meals

6. Not Properly Using Trekking Poles (Or Not Using At All)

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Beginner backpacking mistakes: trekking pole mishaps. Pictured: descending Longs Peak, Colorado.

When I finally learned to use my trekking poles properly, I experienced an increase in speed and efficiency. USE THE STRAPS. While hiking in France, I noticed a woman ascending a steep and snowy mountain by just holding her poles below the hand grips. I was nervous for her. By using the straps, you have far more power and stability. There are different ways to use your poles depending on the hike (downhill, ascent, flat).

READ NEXT – The Advantages of Trekking Poles 101

A related mistake: not using poles at all. While some hikers do choose to hike pole-free and find it more comfortable that way, I encourage you to at least give trekking poles an honest try before you rule them out. They may seem a bit dorky and awkward to use at first, but once you get used to them, they’re (sometimes literal) lifesavers. Trekking poles can save your joints a lot of wear and tear, prevent you from falling, and double as handy stabby thingies if you get in a jam and need a weapon to defend yourself.

7. Wearing Cotton

Wearing cotton is perfectly fine if you plan to do a day hike. However, for a multiday trek or long-distance hike, leave the blue jeans at home. The fabric tends to absorb odors (I know, I know we will all stink at some point) and, more importantly, retain moisture. Being perpetually soggy in the backcountry isn’t just annoying: it puts you at risk of hypothermia. Even in the summer, the mountains can get cold, and wearing wet clothes is like outfitting yourself with your own personal AC system that you can never turn off. Hence the saying “cotton kills.”

Synthetic fibers dry faster, which comes in handy during a cold downpour. If you prefer natural fibers, wool is much better for temperature and moisture management than cotton. Wool socks, such as the ever-popular Darn Toughs, are preferred by many hikers.

8. Underestimating the Threat of Blisters

Beginner backpacking mistakes: Not preparing to deal with blisters. Pictured: leukotape in action (OK, you probably don’t need to use THAT much).

Rare is the beginner backpacker who doesn’t get at least a few blisters in their early days. Left unmanaged, blisters can grow extremely painful and disruptive, ruining your hike, and can even lead to more serious health complications if they become infected.

It’s crucial that you come prepared with supplies like Leukotape (useful for covering existing blisters or protecting hotspots to prevent them from forming in the first place), a needle and alcohol prep pads for safely puncturing any blisters that do develop, secondary liner socks to reduce friction and rub on your feet, and hiking shoes that you have thoroughly vetted for comfort and fit ahead of time.

9. Not Knowing Your Gear

My first pack was from REI, and it hurt me, literally. I would come out of a three-day camping trip with huge bruises on my hips. I didn’t know the pack was not my size. For my thru-hike, I purchased a smaller-sized pack (which had to be ordered online instead of purchased in a store) and haven’t looked back. Knowing your pack inside and out will make you more efficient in packing up and hiking. Know how your pack should adjust to your body with weight in it, as well as how to pack for short and long distances. Your pack is an extension of your body; know it well, and your body will be happy.

In addition to knowing how to adjust (and pack) your backpack properly, you should be comfortable setting up your tent and know whether your “20-degree” sleeping bag actually keeps you warm on a freezing night. Don’t let your first backpacking trip be the first time you actually use your gear. If possible, take a few practice trips (or spend a few nights in the backyard) to learn the ins and outs of your setup. It’s probably best to avoid very complicated gear choices (frameless packs, trekking pole tents, etc.) as a beginner.

10. Not Following Leave No Trace

beginner backpacking mistakes

Beginner backpacking mistakes: Sleeping with your food. Photo via Cosmo Catalano.

We have all seen trashed campsites or even human waste littering the trail. I know not all those who litter the trail are beginners, but Leave No Trace is a big rule for camping that must be implanted in the beginner before the first step.

Always bring something to throw away your trash in, such as a plastic bag, and be prepared to pack out ALL of your garbage, including used toilet paper. Bury your human waste in a six-inch deep hole AWAY from the trail and campsites. Don’t sleep with your food and smellable items—either hang them or store them in a bear-resistant container so they don’t attract wildlife.

The Seven Principles are:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Others

11. Not Considering Time and Pace

Many beginners assume they’ll be able to travel both faster and farther each day than is really realistic.

As a beginner, your pace might not be the quickest. Therefore, you must evaluate an attainable timetable of when you will reach your destination. Evaluate your day’s hike by difficulty and weather. Then, approximate how many hours this will take. If you are unsure of how many miles per hour you can do, just assume a conservative one mile per hour at first.  You do not want to summit a mountain late in the day to find that your slower pace leaves you still miles away from your desired campsite when the sun sets.

Similarly, start out with relatively short days. Most AT thru-hikers start out with around eight to 10 miles per day until their bodies adjust to the rigors of the trail.

12. Not Streamlining Your Water Setup

beginner backpacking mistakes

Beginner backpacking mistakes: water setup. Pictured: Cnoc Vecto bladder filtering into Evernew collection bag via a Sawyer Squeeze with cleaning coupling.

Water is an area where many beginner hikers have room for improvement. I see a lot of hikers using finicky hydration bladders, bulky pump-style water filters, Nalgene bottles, and/or elaborate gravity-fed filtration setups. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of the above, a more streamlined system will be lighter, cheaper, and easier to use.

Experienced hikers often carry just a Sawyer Squeeze, a couple of one-liter Smartwater bottles, and perhaps an optional collection bag such as the Cnoc Vecto. This no-frills setup doesn’t cost you much in space, weight, or actual money, and filtering water this way is fast, simple, and clean.

READ NEXT – Platypus Quickdraw vs. Katadyn BeFree vs. Sawyer Squeeze

13. Failing to Read the Room (or Shelter)

It’s all about R-E-S-P-E-C-T, people. Many beginners envision long nights by the campfire, swapping stories and maybe even playing a little music. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but consider your neighbors before building a huge fire and staying up all night. A shelter full of AT thru-hikers eager to get to bed early so they can hit the trail first thing in the morning may not be the best setting for your shindig. If you’re camping with a large group and you want to stay up late at night, try to camp away from other people so as not to disturb them.

Common backpacking etiquette faux pas to avoid:

  • Using your outside voice after others have gone to bed
  • Walking around camp after dark with your headlamp on high beam (use red or low light instead)
  • Playing your music out loud on the trail (wear earbuds if you want to listen to music while hiking)
  • Not yielding to uphill hikers (they’re working a lot harder than you are on the downhill; step aside and let them pass)
  • On a resupply run, wearing your backpack into the store/restaurant (leave it outside instead—no one wants that)

14. Not Budgeting

Gear, supplies, transportation to and from the trailhead, etc. all cost money. And if you’re a long-distance hiker, the amount you’ll spend on those basics will likely pale in comparison to the amount you spend on hot food, lodging, laundry, shuttles, and other amenities of the Town Vortex. In fairness, many hikers successfully enjoy the backcountry on a shoestring budget. However, it requires a lot of discipline and the good fortune to not face injuries, family emergencies, or other unforseen circumstances that could throw a wrench in your finances.

Money is a common reason thru-hikers cite for not finishing their trails—and it certainly keeps many a weekend warrior from exploring the mountains as much as they would like, too. Whatever your financial situation, it’s important to set an honest, realistic budget that takes your backpacking habit into account.

15. Not Hiking Your Own Hike

Beginner backpacking mistakes: Remember to always HYOH.

Hiking your own hike (HYOH) can be related to the thru-hike or any hike. If you are hiking a thru-hike, hike when you want and how you want. Do not allow others to negatively influence your hike or to determine your pace, itinerary, or other personal choices. This principle can apply to any hike.

During my hike of the GR 20, for instance, I noticed huge groups of people hiking together. You might not think HYOH applies to group camping trips, but it does. Being a petite female, my chosen route in a scrambled rock ascent might not be the same as my six-foot boyfriend. I notice many beginner hikers trying to attempt the same scramble route as someone with either more experience or different body strengths. ALWAYS evaluate a route for your body’s dimensions and strengths.

When you’re new to the backcountry, it can be tempting to fall in with a group and follow their lead. This isn’t a bad thing, but don’t lose sight of your own needs, wants, and values just because the group is doing something different. Even experienced hikers are in no position to make personal decisions on your behalf. Only you can determine how far or fast you should hike, which towns and side trails to explore, or what gear you should carry.

Featured image: Photo by Hendrik Morkel via Unsplash. Graphic design by Zack Goldmann.

This article was originally published on 09/24/2014. It was updated on 08/04/2022.

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Comments 54

  • Blair : Mar 8th

    I have a question about trekking poles. I have never used them, but have definitely noticed their growing popularity over the last 15 years. I saw on another blog, not to use your straps, because that could be detrimental in a fall. Totally makes sense to me how getting tangled up in poles while falling could lead to injury. What are your thoughts or experience on this?

    Reply
    • Al H. : Mar 9th

      Funny…I cut off my straps when I got to Harper’s Ferry…that was several thousand miles ago…just too annoying to reposition around your hands over and over…just not that important. The entanglement risk you mentioned does seem real.

      Reply
      • CaptinOzone : Sep 28th

        But what about the possibility of seeing a pole go skittering down a steep hill or cliff after an otherwise minor fall?

        Reply
    • editaur : Sep 28th

      I deliberately took the straps off my main poles, and on other poles where I couldn’t easily remove the strap, I avoid using them. I’ve seen someone sprain a wrist when they fell with a pole that stayed upright. Sounds like the biggest mistake being made by the person the author cites was that she wasn’t using the handgrips. That’s just weird.

      Reply
    • TEEJAYZ : Sep 28th

      Use the straps. Hand goes in from the bottom.
      On flat ground it’s the strap and not your hands that will be taking the pressure. Long and steep downhills? Take your hand out of the strap and either grab the pole normally or put your hand over the top of it and use them like ski poles.
      Don’t use them to slow you down but to guide you. You never want to put all your weight on a downhill pole.

      Reply
    • EarthTone : Jan 4th

      99 out of a hundred times, my trekking poles have saved me from injury. I have been using the straps for several years and I still do. That 100th time though, I think the straps contributed to a shoulder injury that eventually needed surgery. (I continued hiking, knowing it was bad for three more weeks).

      I was heading downhill at a good pace, trying to catch my wife who was ahead. We had a car waiting and the promise of pizza and other town stuff was pulling us along. It had been a wet week and the trail was grassy with some soft mud underneath. As I descended on a slant, my legs slipped out to the right. I kicked out my right pole and all my weight came down on my left. Since I was strapped in, I couldn’t drop the pole and fall without it so as it took all the weight, it wrenched my left shoulder backwards.

      So it does happen, but I still take the time to put my hands onto the straps, because I have become habituated in using them that way. I just try to be more careful on certain terrain and will sometimes go out of the straps if I feel the need. That’s my story.

      EarthTone

      Reply
  • youguysarereallynuts : Mar 9th

    I know the not drinking is one of the mistakes I’ve made, but I have more.. Not using sunscreen, that can really ruin a hike, same with no hat. Also overestimating your abilities, and not knowing when to pack it in. I think a lot of beginners feel it’s important to finish the hike at any cost, but really, it’s a lot safer to know when to quit early.

    Reply
  • Deskrider : Mar 10th

    While I agree with everything on the list, the beginning hiker should also be aware of the importance of good, to great, supportive footwear. Having been in Scouting for a good many years, the numbers of young people who show up to a hike in tennis shoes is extraordinary. Lightweight boots that are comfortable, supply adequate ankle support, and drying capability is the most basic and important item to invest in.

    Reply
    • kheer : Jun 9th

      Do you have any advice on what brand of hiking boots to purchase? I’m a first-time hiker and am indecisive on what route to take! I’m looking for something that can be versatile in all conditions.

      Reply
      • Francine Brown : Sep 28th

        I highly suggest going to an outdoors shop where they will take the time to fit your foot. I went to Backwoods after 6 months of looking for hiking boots and spent over an hour with the gentleman working the shoes. Well worth it! I walked away with a pair of Saloman’s, wore them every day for two-three weeks, then went on a 12 day Philmont trek with absolutely no problems. Take the time to find a store willing to fit you and invest in good wool socks. Your feet will thank you.

        Reply
    • Leo Yermo Adan : Apr 16th

      Boots? NO WAY. Read Ray Jardin. Boots are worthless. Amazing how the fastest hikers NEVER seem to use them.

      Reply
      • Rachel : Mar 21st

        I’m a marathon trail runner and an UL backpacker, and I wear boots when I backpack. I have super weak ankles and have had ankle surgery essentially implanting a synthetic ligament into my bones. I think it’s appropriate for you to advise people to use light weight trail runners, or the most appropriate lightweight boots they can get away with, but from an education standpoint. I love Jardin, and he has some fantastic advise; but people still need to pack and dress in a way that’s appropriate to their individual needs.

        Footwear advice: if you can, try light weight trail runners and (if necessary) gaitors— especially in areas with fine, sandy dirt or ash/pumice. If you need the high-top ankle support, try for boots that balance appropriate ankle support while not costing you too much in weight. How does Jardin put it? A pound on the feet is 5 in the pack? Something like that.

        Experiment with what works best for you, and make choices that are right for your needs, and not because they’re what you “ought” to do. UL backpacking can be pretty hardcore, and UL backpackers even more so. And we generally advise away from big heavy boots. But even short trips are miserable if you roll an ankle, or can feel every rock on the trail through your minimalists runners (which, by the way, are what I trail run in.) Pick something that enhances your enjoyment in the experience, even if it adds a few ounces to your skin-out weight.

        Reply
  • nocmanus : Jun 25th

    As an Outdoor Instructor, I think number 8 is usually what I see the most. Also, people never consider footwear. They think they don’t need waterproof boots, or they don’t break them in before attempting a hike. Backpack, Footwear hugely important. Good article.

    Reply
    • Leo Yermo Adan : Apr 16th

      WATER PROOF BOOTS? You are kidding right?

      Reply
  • Kendra Smith : Sep 27th

    For a very long time I’ve wanted to hike the AT. It’s been a dream never acted upon. Now I just end up seeing movies reading books and hearing stories from hikers that have hiked the AT. I’ve gotten a backpack, bought a map, studied books made list….. Guess it’s not going to happen. It was just what it is,…… A Dream. To all those who have walked. I commend you… Well done ! Well done

    Reply
    • Shelagh : Jan 31st

      Kendra, don’t give up on your dream. Take a weekend and hike a small section of the AT. You’ll be so happy you did!

      Reply
    • PJ Rowland : Feb 28th

      Don’t give up on your dream. You don’t have to thru hike you can always do it in sections and take as long as you need. I’ve heard of people doing it in 10 years but they still did it. Not to the extreme of the AT but I dreamed of hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim for years and had decided it would never happen. About 3 years ago the bug hit me again and I started training to be ready to do it in case I got up my nerve. I mentioned it to some friends and 2 were interested in doing it also. Let me add that we were all 50+ and had never hiked a day in our life when we decided to make a 24 mile rim to rim hike. In June 2015 at the age of 52 my dream came true. It is scary making the decision and taking that first step but the reward at the end is worth it.

      Reply
      • A Jewell : Dec 17th

        PJ, I am 51 and never hiked before, but I’m planning to go the whole AT in 2019 with a couple friends. You just gave me some inspiration that I can do it! Thanks! I’m starting my training now. Blessed to be living near mountains so I can have altitude and trails to train on.

        Reply
        • Matt : Apr 25th

          I heard the oldest guy to thru hike the AT was in his 80’s so you guys in your 50’s got this.

          Reply
    • Eretria : Mar 31st

      Just because you can’t hike the whole thing in one go doesn’t mean you couldn’t do some sectional hikes. The reality is not everyone can take six months out of their life at one time. Make some smaller goals and see if that helps before you give up.

      Reply
    • c : Aug 4th

      me too

      Reply
    • Mary : Aug 24th

      Kendra,
      The trail is also a dream of mine. Don’t give up on it. I’m gathering equipment and want to hit the trail or parts of it in the spring of 2017. Lets try together. Contact me. [email protected]. I am almost 60 and not giving up!!

      Reply
    • DeAnna Murphy : Dec 27th

      Kendra,

      Don’t give up!!!! Section hiking is where it’s at! You control the section, miles and time that you want and can do. Same mountains and same beautiful journey. I section hiked some of the AT this Fall and had the time of my life and I can’t wait to get back. Go For It! I did it alone and so can you.

      Reply
      • Dave : Mar 10th

        Don’t give up on the dream. A friend and I have started section hiking twice a year. Will we finish the whole trail? Probably not but we’re out there. Since we’ve started doing this I hear so many people say I’ve always wanted to that. We are!! You can too!!!

        Reply
      • Ashley W Burns : Dec 17th

        Excellent post. So proud of you!

        Reply
  • editaur : Sep 28th

    On #8, you make it sound as though buying the pack at REI was your mistake. That wasn’t my experience – buying my first pack online was. My second, bought with a knowledgeable REI saleperson, fits great. The moral of the story is not where you buy the pack, but whether you or the salesperson knows how the pack should fit.

    Reply
    • Lori : Feb 28th

      Going back to REI five times to be fitted was a mistake — they did it WRONG, and all my packs were the wrong size, and my hips HUUUUUUUUURRRRRRTTTTTTTT every trip.

      Getting the correct measurement took googling and finding pages like McHale packs and ULA packs – both only available by mail – and viewing a video and reading how to have a friend help me measure my own back, and find out that all the stores were measuring me one to two inches longer in the spine than I really was. Since I was on the break point between a small and medium for most brands that made a REALLY BIG DIFFERENCE. And now I have a ULA brand pack that works so very much better than all the Ospreys in the world…. Sometimes the frame of the pack is part of the problem. Because not everyone can sit that funny shape on their hips and be comfortable.

      The real key to a good pack fit is to understand how to measure it yourself and not settle for things that make your back hurt. You can have the right size and it’s just the wrong $%#^& pack.

      Reply
      • Tucsonscott : Aug 5th

        Fitting a backpack properly is essential. I’m 6’2” and automatically assumed that I would need a size large or medium pack. I also suffered with an I’ll-fitting pack for years. Interestingly, through the process of fitting for a new pack, I learned that I have a fairly short torso (perhaps that’s why I’ve always looked good in vests, lol). In the end l found that a small version of my pack was the right recipe. So, the moral of the story is don’t assume your correct size and do your due diligence research when fitting for a new pack.

        Reply
  • Hikingmom : Sep 28th

    My first big hike we went with a guy who almost a foot taller than me and runs marathons for fun. He also was trying to get to certain points at certain times of day. I was completely miserable keepig that pace. The next time is was just my husband and me and we ambled more and took in more of the scenery. A much better trip!

    Reply
  • TEEJAYZ : Sep 28th

    I’ll take exception about “cotton unless it’s a day trip.” Cotton is actually better in very hot weather because it provides cooling. But if you’re on a day trip and it rains or snows it can absolutely kill you. It’s not the length of the trip but the weather that determines what you wear.
    But no mention of the 10 Essentials? Particularly a headlamp and a fire starter?
    Packing too much (aka “Packing your fears”) is probably the easiest winner in terms of beginner mistakes though.

    Reply
    • Joy B : Jul 20th

      Cotton just holds in so much moisture when I sweat and it’s hot out – so that’s a no for me. The damp cotton shirt in the heat with the pack strapped on softened my skin and rubbed blisters into my shoulders and hips (the kind of blisters you get on your feet from new shoes). I’ll stick with my wool blend Smartwool brand shirts for hiking in all weather. Cotton is a disaster for me (perhaps I sweat more than others?). Icebreaker is a great wool blend brand too. I’ll never ever take cotton shirts or underwear with me for hiking again.

      Reply
  • Dex : Sep 29th

    I think the advice given is good and sound. However, the advice on dealing with canned goods, not so much. I would not recommend repackaging the contents of canned goods. Once exposed to oxygen the contents will begin the process of spoiling. Depending on the temperature and the contents, it may take a few days or a few hours. If you are forced to carry canned goods, I would just suck it up, leave them sealed until needed, and take a rock and hammer the can flat once you have emptied it (makes it easier to pack out).

    Reply
    • Kat : Sep 29th

      Excellent point – bacterial food poisoning on a solo thru hike would be devastating

      Reply
  • reagan : Sep 29th

    i would add, taking some with your allowing someone to go with you who has other reasons for the hike than a hike. if a person plans on a flow hike through the woods for a couple of hours or if they think it will be party time at the tent every night…..or if they think its a good bonding activity (but they have no real interest in hiking itself) leave them behind. also…people who must use umbrellas or who cant stand bugs….leave them at home. i run into this at music festivals as well. if a person cant use a porta potty, be wet, be in crowds, or be around drunk people – they dont need to be there.

    Reply
    • Draggin'Tail : Feb 28th

      Although I think I understand and agree with your basic post (it is hard to read, typos?), I take affront to your comment about umbrellas. Whether desert sun or incessant 35 degree rain, my trekking umbrella is one of my pieces of go to gear. Hands free mount I might add

      Reply
      • Leo Yermo Adan : Apr 16th

        Totally 100% AGREE

        Reply
  • Jason Dunn : Sep 29th

    While cotton may absorb some odors, nothing stinks like a synthetic undershirt after a day of use. Wool, on the other hand, can be worn for days.

    Reply
    • Joy B : Jul 20th

      Ah yes! I thought it was just me. I love/hate the poly blends. Love them for keeping me cool and dry but hate them because I can’t wear them on day 2 without massive stench. I prefer and will always stick to thin woven wool blend shirts and underwear (and socks). I can pack less wool blend shirts than the poly blend. I suppose one shouldn’t worry too much about stench on the trail but it sure is nice to arrive at your destination and meet new people not smelling like sweaty socks.

      Reply
  • Ciara : Nov 24th

    I am a complete beginner on hiking for a week or two long trip. I was wondering if you knew of any books, guides, or the like that would be useful to plan my expected section hike of the Appalachian trail.

    Reply
  • Lauren : Jan 12th

    Great article! I’ve suffered from a “packed too heavy” problem on more than one trip, but I’ve never been on a thru hike, and plan to pack light! I hope to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2017, and appreciate these tips. Loved it! Keep writing!! Check me out, if you’d like: twotentsdown.blogspot.com or Instagram.com/twotentsdown

    Happy hiking!! 🙂

    Reply
  • Terry Gandy : Feb 27th

    Great article and good information. Thanks. One nice thing about trekking pole straps is they allow you to temporarily hang the poles off your wrists as you do a hand-to-hand climb.

    Reply
  • Steffy : Feb 28th

    Any thoughts on snake gators? I’m finishing the AT in the SNP this spring/summer and worried about any snake encounters.

    Reply
    • Shocktop : Aug 5th

      I started section hiking in SNP, and actually bought snake gaiters, but never wore them anywhere. I learned instead to watch where I step and sit, reach, drop pack etc.
      FWIW, PA after Duncannon was worse than SNP, snakewise, for me.

      Reply
  • Lonais : Apr 15th

    Madison, never use pole straps! Statistically it is one of the most common case of injury while hiking, even if you don’t fall. People break their wrist that way and that’s the reason why most modern hiking poles come without straps. Overall a good and useful article. Take care! Lo

    Reply
  • Joseain : Jun 17th

    This a great article and gives a good information. For #5 I would say that many of the people really don’t know how to use pole for hiking. So I thank you for making us aware about how to use them. I would also suggest to have trekking pole holder for keeping the pole safe. Also you can carry the pole with an ease.

    Reply
  • Hunt Man : Mar 24th

    very Informative, Check here Basics of Hiking http://www.outacts.com/15-hiking-guide-tips-tricks-beginners/

    Reply
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    Reply
  • Pat Gioko : Jun 9th

    This is great information and at the right time too. There is too much about how to enjoy backpacking but not enough about the mistakes to avoid for novice packers. Very informative especially for thru-hikers. http://easytravelgear.com/

    Reply
  • Melanie Campbell : Dec 3rd

    Great Information! I agree with Bringing Too Much mistake.
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    Reply
  • Jeffery Fernandez : Jul 23rd

    Most important rule: Do lots of research before you commit to anything. In particular consult Lonely Planet, Tripadvisor, Hiking People’s Beginners Guide and friends who have done this sort of thing before, but don’t rely on just one source. Holidays are extremely personal and what suits one person may not suit even their best friend.

    Reply
  • George Wynn : Jun 6th

    Carry at least three liters of water on any hike over five miles, or during hot or humid conditions. Also, don’t assume you’ll find water along the trail. Check with maps, guidebooks, rangers to locate reliable sources and learn how to get clean water in the wild.

    Reply
  • Beers : Aug 5th

    As an experienced backpacker from the early ‘90s the points you gave are great but haven’t changed for decades. I’ve hiked with gear from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 2000’s, 2010’s, and 2020’s. I love used gear and vintage gear. My dad gave me. “Backpacking one step at a time” from the 1970’s. Learned how to pack light and stay safe in the 80’s and 90’s. Great points but don’t think this new decade has new tricks. I’m always teaching young hikers old tricks. We now have lighter gear yes but after using it I find myself missing my old now vintage backpacks and gear and I mix it up old and new still super light though.

    Reply
  • Tim : Aug 10th

    In number 10, you noted improper food storage. This is a very common mistake unto itself. The exponential rise of the use of improper bear bag/food storage techniques is shown in the accompanying photo due to inexperience or plain ignorance is unfortunately commonplace. The consequences are the rising humanization of the bear population along the Appalachian Trail.

    Reply

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