Now that you’ve read all about what you need to do in order to venture out on your first backpacking trip, you can now learn what you shouldn’t do. Problems will happen, and you will have some blunders, but it’s important to remember that the good times will always outweigh the bad, and we all learn from our mistakes.
- Don’t Cook in Your Tent
It might seem like a very good idea to cook in your tent, especially if it’s rainy and cold outside. However, cooking in your tent brings with it several consequences, as it means you’ll be lighting a stove in an enclosed area.
The most visible danger is the risk of burning down your tent, which will definitely ruin your trip. However, there is the not so visible risk of carbon monoxide fumes. These fumes coming out of your stove are poisonous and even deadly.
There may be a few times when you need shelter in order to cook your food, especially if you’re camping during winter or get caught in a snowstorm. In those occasions, if you need to cook, do it in the vestibule of your tent and make sure the area is well-ventilated. If neither of those things is possible, stick to uncooked foods, such as granola or a protein bar.
- Don’t let your sleeping bag get wet
This tip definitely won’t surprise you, as every experienced backpacker can tell you that sleeping in a wet sleeping bag is the worst. Still, it seems that this blunder is a rite of passage for all new backpackers, as it appears to be difficult to really drill the point home until the person has experienced for themselves what it feels like to climb inside a slushy sleeping bag. It’s at that time where the wisdom really sinks in.
You should become obsessive about figuring out how to keep your sleeping bag dry. If you think it’s going to rain during your hike, or at the first sign of dark clouds, pack your sleeping back inside of a waterproof container before placing it inside your bag. Your backpack may say that it’s waterproof, but very few of them actually are waterproof enough to keep your belongings totally dry. Therefore, having an extra layer of protection between your sleeping bag and the rain is pretty much essential.
- Don’t punish your feet
There are a few things that can ruin a backpacking trip, and one of the quickest things to do so are severe blisters on your feet. When you’re using your feet as a mode of transportation, and you are experiencing pain with every step that you take, it’s going to be very difficult to enjoy your surroundings.
Friction is what causes blisters, by wearing shoes that are too rigid, too tight or shoes that rub against a particular area of skin. Blisters are more frequent and appear more easily when you have soft and/or clammy feet.
We previously talked about you wearing shoes that feel comfortable and are right for your hiking conditions, but we really recommend packing light and wearing trail running shoes instead of boots if you can get away with it. They will keep your feet comfortable, ventilated and blister free even through very long hikes.
However, if your trail conditions require you to wear boots, make sure that you take a lot of time to break them in before you take them out on a hike. No matter what footwear you decide to wear, stop immediately if you feel a blister developing. It may be easier to ignore a blister when it first appears and hike through the pain, but by ignoring any potential problems, you’re damaging your feet, and that small blister will become loads more painful over the next few days.
- Don’t Pack Too Much Stuff
While testing out your backpack’s weight in the comfort of your own home before your trip, it’s wise to remember that walking one mile requires around 2,200 steps, and you’ll rarely be walking on flat surfaces during your hike. Your backpack may feel at a comfortable weight on the flat surface of your living room, but once you’re on the trail, its weight can become very uncomfortable very quickly.
It takes some time, experience and confidence to gain the skill of cutting weight from your pack, as the more experience you have and the more times you’ve been out there, the more you’ll start to get to know what you need, what isn’t necessary and what items need to be upgraded.
Some of the most common overpacking blunders are packing too much food, too many clothes and unnecessary gear such as camp shoes, camping chairs, and extra cooking gear. In order to cut weight when you’re not sure where to start, start with The Big Three, which are your backpack, your sleeping bag, and your shelter. There is loads of lightweight gear available in today’s market, and you can find that you’re able to have a backpack, tent and sleeping bag that weigh around five pounds in total. A lighter bag will bring you that much more enjoyable.
- Don’t Swamp Your Tent
When you’re looking for a place to set up your tent, you always need to ask yourself this question: Where will the water go when it rains? It may seem appetizing to set up your tent and pitch camp on a flat area, but this is where the water will pool if it rains. If you’ve set up on a flat surface and it starts to rain during the night, you could very likely wake up with some inches of standing water flooding your tent, which is never a fun way to be woken up.
Look for proper water drainage when you’re setting up your shelter, and avoid locations that look like they were once a puddle. To reduce your chances of getting soaked, you should set up camp at least 250 feet from any water sources, to minimize your impact on the environment choose established campsites, and to avoid cold temperatures and reduce condensation don’t set up your tent in low spots in valleys.
- Don’t Feed the Animals
Storing your food properly is not only essential for your own health and safety, but it’s also necessary in order to protect the wildlife. When you feed wild animals, this creates a change in their foraging habits, and they learn to associate humans with food. This is very dangerous for wild animals, as they can often need to be relocated, retrapped and sometimes even put down when they link humans to food sources.
You know you shouldn’t feed wild animals your scraps of food, but it’s just as important to properly store your food. By storing your food properly, you are keeping wildlife wild, and it’s not hard to do. There are many options for storing food properly, including ursacks and bear canisters.
- Don’t Fail to Test Your Gear Beforehand
We’ve mentioned this before, but it’s important enough that it bears repeating. You must check your gear before heading out on your backpacking trip, and never bring items you’ve not tested, as something will definitely go wrong. You might not realize your headlamp needs different batteries, or your stove needs different fuel until it’s too late and the nearest store is hours away. You also don’t want to struggle to put up your tent in the darkness or during inclement weather.
Some things are bound to go wrong, but avoid as many mistakes as possible and make sure to test your gear beforehand. Another simple way to avoid mistakes is to use a packing checklist, to ensure that you do not forget anything critical.
- Don’t Scrimp on Planning
Not all aspects of planning your trip are always fun, and it can be time-consuming, but careful planning is vital for a successful trip, especially if you’re just starting out. When you carefully plan your trip, you’ll be able to avoid countless blunders that will ruin your trip and possibly put you off backpacking forever. When you’re planning your trip, you need to make sure you have the right maps, learn about weather conditions (upcoming storms, snow, etc.), get the necessary permits and learn about fire bans or tail closures.
If you are not aware of any of those things, your trip can easily be ruined or stopped before it even starts if it turns out the trail is closed. It might seem a good idea to wing it until you’re hopelessly lost, find out you need a bear canister for proper food storage or realize that you failed to get a required permit.
- Don’t Ignore the Weather
Weather can be unpredictable, especially in the wilderness. Mountain temperatures can drop quickly, and conditions can turn from pleasant to perilous in the blink of an eye. If you don’t have the proper equipment and you’re exposed to inclement weather, it can turn into a hazardous scenario, so make sure to be prepared for everything.
No matter the weather forecast, always bring a lightweight rain jacket. Pack a hat, gloves and a warm jacket as mornings and evenings are usually chilly.
- Don’t Leave a Trace
Make sure to employ leave no trace backpacking skills. The further we venture into the wilderness, the bigger the impact that we make to the area’s flora and fauna. Therefore, you need to do your part and minimize your impact so those pristine wild areas are not ruined and can continue to be enjoyed for years to come.
Some simple tips you can follow are:
Pack your trash and dispose of it in designated areas
No using biodegradable soap in or around water sources
Dig a hole to bury your poop
Follow proper food storage habits
No feeding the animals
Follow fire regulations
Know the area’s regulations, and follow them to the letter
No matter how much work you put into planning, the chances are that something unexpected will happen. When it does, learn from the experience, adjust accordingly and get back out there, as the fun times will always beat out the unfortunate scenarios.