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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Professor Hike: Top 10 Beginner Hiker Blunders

"I've made the mistakes so you don't have to."

by: Jason Stevenson, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Backpacking and Hiking



Today Backpacker.com launches this new “backpacking 101” blog aimed at novice hikers as well as experts who want to refresh their skills. Why? Because careless hikers are more likely to tumble off a cliff, poke a diamondback rattler, and otherwise get themselves in trouble’s way. And frankly, our nation needs more outdoorsy people, not less.

So Backpacker asked me, the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Backpacking and Hiking ($17, Alpha, 2010), to answer all of your camping, hiking, cooking, training, you-name-it questions. I’m no gonzo, Everest-scaling, bear-wrestling hardman, but I’ve hiked enough miles to recognize which mistakes first-timers tend to make. So let’s get started with part 1 of the first post:

The Top 10 Beginner Hiker Blunders 

1. Wearing denim like Johnny Depp on 21 Jump Street
News flash: Denim is cotton, so wearing jeans (and jean jackets for that matter, Mr. Depp) is a poor choice for any hike, especially in rainy or cold weather. That’s because cotton retains moisture instead of wicking it away like wool and polyester fabrics. Once cotton gets wet, it takes a long time to dry out; that moisture on your skin siphons away body heat through convection, leaving you shivering in your boots, and more susceptible to hypothermia (hence the aphorism “cotton kills”). Jeans are the worst of all cottons because they can ice up in below-freezing weather. I learned this lesson on my first hike with the Appalachian Mountain Club in New Hampshire, and I’ve remained cotton-free ever since, except on short summer hikes where getting chilled isn’t a danger. So the next time you see hikers wearing blue jeans, remind them that the 1980s are over and that Johnny Depp now prefers tri-corner hats and eye-liner.

2. Buying your tent or sleeping bag at Wal-Mart
Sam Walton was an Eagle Scout, but he didn’t become America’s richest man selling top-quality camping and hiking gear at discount prices. Yes, Wal-Mart does sell an Ozark Trails sleeping bag for $10, but I wouldn’t use it on a real Ozark Trail. It's fine to buy your beef jerky, trail mix ingredients, and propane canisters at big-box retail stores, but trust specialty outdoor stores and reliable brands for the gear that matters most, like footwear, raingear, sleeping bags, and tents.

3. Hiking a trail with a road map
Not all dotted lines are made equal. Thus, the map that helps you find the trailhead parking lot won’t help you navigate a trail. Hyper-detailed USGS topographical maps (called “quads”) are the gold standard for backcountry navigation, but they are often overkill for popular and well-marked trails. Much easier to acquire and use are designated trail maps that include topographical features like rivers, ridges, and peaks, as well as key info like hiking mileage and trailheads. Book stores and visitor centers often stock maps and guidebooks for local trails, while National Geographic’s Trails Illustrated series is great for U.S. recreation hot spots from Acadia to Zion. And don’t forget Backpacker.com’s new Print & Go weekend planners, which include gear checklists, driving directions, and waypoints for dozens of popular hike

4. Packing a first aid kit as if you’re landing on Omaha Beach
Morphine? Check. Gauze bandages? Check. M1 rifle? What? Most novice hikers either forget to bring a first-aid kit, or pack an entire pharmacy. Neither represents the right approach. You should bring a first-aid kit appropriate for the length of your trip, the size of your group (along with any individual medical needs), and your medical knowledge. The last one is important: If you don’t know how to use a first-aid item—like a suture kit—you probably shouldn’t be carrying it. Packing obscure supplies you’ll probably never use in place of additional bandages and painkillers doesn’t make sense. Basic first-aid essentials for most outings should be: adhesive bandages (various sizes), medical or duct tape, moleskin, sterile gauze, ibuprofen, Benadryl, antibiotic ointment, and alcohol wipes.

5. Being overhead saying, “Lightning can’t strike me—I’m not carrying anything metallic.”
If you think lightning only strikes metal objects, ruminate on this ancient Chinese proverb: “The tallest blade of grass is the first to be cut by the scythe.” Then substitute “knuckleheaded hiker” for the tall grass and “zapped by 100 million volts of electric juice” for the scythe, and you’ve got Professor Hike’s updated proverb on why you absolutely need to descend from exposed peaks and ridgelines when an afternoon thunderstorm is brewing. Lightning is attracted to tall, isolated objects, which could be anything from a clueless hiker standing on a summit to a lone tree. And even if you're not touching that lone tree, the lightning might strike the ground right next to it, or the ground current may surge up you. Secondary strikes can be just as deadly. What's more, lightning can strike targets up to 10 miles from the center of a storm. Trust me on that; I’ve got a few hair-raising tales from New Mexico to prove it. Instead, get into a forest or the low point of rolling hills, a ravine, or a gully.

6. Going ultra-light without ultra-experience
A regular backpacker going ultra-light is like a vegetarian becoming a vegan—it takes time to dial down a new, safe system. Definitions vary, but ultra-light hiking generally means having a base pack weight (your gear minus food and water) of 10 to 12 pounds. The advantage, of course, is that you have less weight to schlep, but your safety net also shrinks: You have fewer backup provisions (food, fuel, warm clothes) if things go wrong, like you fall in a river or rodents steal your food.

The more backcountry experience you have, the more safely you can go ultra-light simply because you’re better equipped with skills to, one, avoid such mishaps and, two, improvise if they do occur. However, even expert mountaineers can pay the ultralight price. Think of Joe Simpson of Touching the Void fame: During his and his partner’s ascent of Siula Grande in the Andes, bad weather prolonged their climb, causing them to run out of fuel for melting snow for water—something that later would contribute to Simpson’s fall into a crevasse.

That’s why ultra-light hiking should be a gradual goal and not a first-time objective. Reducing pack weight is a skill you hone after much experimentation. So how much weight should you carry on a typical day-hike? Is it 10, 15, or 20 pounds? It all depends on the circumstances. If you’re hiking a dozen miles alone on a mellow trail, you can carry a sub-10 pound load of water, snacks, rain gear, headlamp, and the always essential map, compass or GPS. But if the trail is unfamiliar, tricky, or remote, and you’re hiking in a larger group, you might want to add a small first-aid kit, warm clothing, and extra water and food that pushes your weight north of 15 pounds. That’s because carrying more gear—along with the skills to use it—is your best strategy to reduce risk.

7. Wearing boots fresh from the box
I’m not a fan of hiking proverbs, but there’s one that I consider gospel: “If your feet are happy, the rest of you is happy.” I wised up to that fact on a 95-mile trek (Scotland’s bonny West Highland Way) that I began with stiff leather boots I hadn’t worn in eons. Those boots shredded my feet on the first day out, and I spent the next week limping up and down Scotland’s green hills. Trust me, neither you nor your feet will by happy if you begin a big trip with untested shoes or boots. Starting weeks ahead of time, you need to break them in while mowing the lawn, walking the dog, or running errands around town. Trail shoes, which perform more like athletic footwear, conform quickly to your feet, while taller, rigid boots require more break-in time. Wear recently purchased shoes indoors at first, since most outdoor stores have return policies that exclude those worn outside. If your feet hurt or develop hotspots or blisters, apply bandages, experiment with different socks, and keep at it. Remember also that most people’s feet swell a half size or more by the afternoon.

8. Starting too late in the day
Showing up an hour late for a 7 p.m. dinner reservation is bad manners. But starting at 2 p.m. a hike that you intended to begin at 10 a.m. is bad news. Unless you want your 15 minutes of fame on the CNN ticker (“Clueless Hikers Survive Freezing Nights in Wilderness”), it’s best to start on time, or shorten your route. I learned this lesson the hard way on a 10-mile hike in New Hampshire that began four hours late, included a few frustrating wrong turns, and ended at the trailhead parking lot just before midnight.

Besides an early start, how fast you move matters, too. An athletic adult hikes at 3 mph, but that rate drops to 2 or even 1 mph when you factor in rough terrain, elevation changes, and rest breaks. Groups always move slower than individuals, and a snail on crutches will beat families with toddlers. If you find yourself starting later than anticipated, check your map for shorter routes or a cut-off trail to reach your destination before sunset. If you find yourself falling behind, avoid the lure of cross-country shortcuts, and instead keep moving, watch the time, and be prepared to finish using headlamps, which you packed for just such an occasion.

9. Ignoring the weather forecast
A little rain isn’t a reason to cancel a hike. That’s why we have Gore-Tex boots and waterproof jackets, right? But even the best equipment can’t provide 100 percent protection from the soggy remnants of a hurricane or an Arctic-born blizzard. So before every trip, I review the website www.noaa.gov, which uses a Google Maps interface to generate five-day forecasts for precisely where I’ll be hiking. These results are far more accurate than the traditional forecasts for the nearest town, which could be miles away and thousands of feet lower than a trail. Plus, you can read the “Forecast Discussion,” which is like eavesdropping on local meteorologists during their coffee breaks.

Thanks to a NOAA forecast, I knew ahead of time that a powerful thunderstorm would crash a recent backpacking trip in the middle of the night. So I minimized the danger by picking a sheltered campsite, pitching my tent away from lone trees and dangling branches, and tightening the guy-lines for my rain-fly. Sure enough, I awoke at 1 a.m. to witness a ferocious—but mostly harmless—atmospheric cannonade of light and sound. And by morning, as the forecast predicted, the skies were blasted clear.

10. Skimping on Leave No Trace
Litterbug? Not you. I bet you’re a committed recycler. Maybe you even wash and re-use zipper-lock bags. But on a camping trip, where do you dump the soapy water after washing dishes? Do you really strain out the food bits and scatter the “gray” water at least 200 feet from any lake, stream, or campsite? And do you use biodegradable soap? That’s what Leave No Trace (LNT) (www.lnt.org)—seven principles promoting ethical, low-impact outdoor recreation—advises you to do. It’s easy to practice LNT’s major rules: Carry out trash, keep away from wildlife, and minimize the impact of campfires. The finer points, however—like packing out toilet paper and building small fires—are harder to follow. But since Bambi doesn’t crap up your bedroom, you should extend the same courtesy. So here are Prof. Hike’s six tips to make the tough tenets of LNT more achievable:
  • 200 feet equals 40 adult strides.  
  • Use the rubber tip of a spatula to scrap leftover food from plates and bowls into your mouth.
  • Reduce odors by placing silica gel desiccates (those moisture-absorbing packets found in shoe boxes and other packages) into your trash bag, then double-bagging it.
  • Use dryer lint as natural fire tinder.
  • Carry versatile sanitary wipes instead of flimsy toilet paper.
  • Stop washing dishes, as veteran hiker Johnny Molloy advocates in this June 2007 Backpacker article.
OK, there you have it: my top 10 list of n00b blunders. Let us know what you would add to the list!

—Jason Stevenson




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Reader Rating: -

ALL READERS COMMENTS

elli
Dec 06, 2013

don't think I commited any of your 10, but did have to walk thru a seep that was overflowing with skeeters (and no bug repellant)

Good Article .. thx

sierracanon
Sep 25, 2013

There was the time I went into the Sierra in early July, and didn't bring mosquito repellent. It was a memorable experience hiking through meadow after meadow...

Mari
Aug 06, 2013

As a novice hiker, thank you for this. Honest, informative and funny! Would like to see more articles like this.

KPKL
Jun 20, 2013


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kilgore
Jun 07, 2013

I would add checking your tent to make sure all the hardware is there, and I always put together and fire up my MSR stove the night before to again, make sure the darn thing works. Its too late to find these things out when your in the middle of Nowhere's Land

RFritz
Jun 07, 2013

You missed a big rule.
Let someone know your itinerary and leave a copy in your vehicle. Trust me I speak from experience.

RFritz
Jun 07, 2013

You missed a big rule.
Let someone know your itinerary and leave a copy in your vehicle. Trust me I speak from experience.

Martin
Oct 06, 2012

corollary to #8, leaving your destination too late - plan your hike and hike your plan.

cmntr
Feb 27, 2011

Go to the USNO site (http://aa.usno.navy.mil/) to get astronomical data (morning and evening twilight ,sun rise/set and moon rise/set, and go to NOAA (http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/geomag/declination.shtml -or- http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/geomagmodels/Declination.jsp) or http://www.magnetic-declination.com/ to get magnetic declination/variance for the area you will be hiking.

Ben Arlo
Feb 23, 2011

I mean

http://www.tourcompanyreviews.com/holiday-tips-top-5---packing-rules-for-travelers for more blunders!

Ben Arlo
Feb 23, 2011

More packing blunders:

<a href="http://www.tourcompanyreviews.com/holiday-tips-top-5---packing-rules-for-travelers" title="Top 5 Packing Fails">

Adam
Feb 18, 2011

Once of the best articles I have seen on backpacker.com in quite a while. Informative, honest, and well written. Keep up the good work!

Speechless
Feb 18, 2011

@Eli - To get the point forecast on the NOAA site, first search on the nearest town/zip. That forecast page will have a terrain map on the right side. Find your hiking spot and click on it and you get the forcast for that patch of land.

My house is five miles from the center of my zip code and five hundred feet higher. The forecast for tonight in town is 22F, 40% chance rain/snow -- at the house it's 16F, 50% chance snow.

It's a great resource. Relevant to some other comments about smart phones on the trail, though, I can't get it to work on the browser on my iPod Touch -- the click seems to center on some place dozens of miles away. I'm guessing it would be the same problem on an iPhone.

Aaron
Feb 18, 2011

Very well-written and informative article! Good humor, too. :)

Ryan
Feb 02, 2011

@Thinkerer, your "Rule #11" should probably be the exact opposite. Many people get lost or into trouble simply because they only have their GPS enabled smartphones. And if we are talking noobs, what chance do they have when their batteries die, or it's too cloudy for GPS?

This whole article is about teaching the noobs not to make noob mistakes. Relying on a device that by nature is unreliable is a noob mistake.

Teach a noob how to use a map first, get them in the habit of alway having one with them, then let them come to the obvious conclusion that having a GPS-phone can be useful too.

Kyle
Jan 28, 2011

When I go camping it's usually in Canada in the middle of nowhere. Luckily I don't hike. I paddle to my destination. Between my brother in law and myself we carry one heck of alot of equipment. Yes, the 8 man tent for two people is a bit overkill. The folding table and chairs, ipods, speakers, and more complete our home away from home in the wilderness wherever we choose to make camp.

KristenB in Seattle
Jan 28, 2011

I'm not sure if anyone has mentioned this yet, but if you buy brand new gear from REI and you are a REI member you can return it even after it's used. Last summer I bought a new part of boots and even after some break in, they gave me bad blisters on a 5 mile round trip day hike. I took them back even after wearing them for break in and also on the trail and REI took them back - no questions asked. I highly reccomend becoming an REI member for that exact reason. The same rules apply to all of their gear, by my understanding. REI may not be cheap, but they take care of the their customers.

And regarding maps - I really like Green Trails maps if you happen to be hiking in WA state.

Mike
Jan 28, 2011

As someone pointed out above, you don't have to pay and arm and a leg at REI. Shop the clearance racks, REI-outlet (online), or look for one-of-a-kind items in the stores and offer a lower price. All this stuff is guaranteed and REI absolutely means that it's guaranteed. That's worth a lot. The used-gear sales are also a good idea. That gear is not guarateed so buy carefully. Most used-gear sales last only a few hours but in the last 1-2 hours the prices are further reduced. And it doesn't hurt to try asking a green vest for a deeper discount on a used item. They don't want to have to pack it back up for storage or donation.

Eli
Jan 28, 2011

Looking at the NOAA weather site, how does one go about finding the spot that you will be hiking in? It seems like you can only search for city and state. Can someone explain that? Seems like a good site though! And Thanks!

Eli
Jan 28, 2011

Looking at the NOAA weather site, how does one go about finding the spot that you will be hiking in? It seems like you can only search for city and state. Can someone explain that? Seems like a good site though! And Thanks!

Luke
Jan 28, 2011

Another benefit of buying name brands...a little too much sauce while camping one night and I ended up landing on my MSR Hubba Hubba tent, breaking one of the poles. MSR gladly fixed the poles as they are covered by a lifetime warranty. The whole process starting with me e-mailing them to when I received them in the mail took a little over a week. A lot of these companies love to see their gear continue being used and keep their customers happy. They will gladly repair gear at little to no cost.

If you're looking for good quality gear at a low (50% to 90% discount) price try going to on of the REI used/returned gear sales. Call your local store and find out when the next one is. Much of the equipment was returned because the owner didn't know how to use it, bought the wrong size, or didn't like the color. Otherwise, you can often find slightly damaged items which the manufacturer will fix under their warranty.

Bert Nemcik
Jan 28, 2011

Just a notion about terminology.

Somewhere, sometime, Backpacker needs to really define the terms thrown around in these articles.

What is Ultralite?

What is Lite?

What is Standard?

What is Expedition?

Let me suggest a few definitions.

Ultralight would be base pack weight of 6-8 pounds. Yes, it's possible today with Cuben material, titanium gear and good weather conditions.

Lightweight would be in the 10-12 pound range.

Standard would be 12-20 pounds base pack weight.

Expedition is 20 and above. My Dana Terraplane pack alone weighed 7 pounds. My ultralite gear total on a baby scale is hovering around 7.2 pounds. Big difference.

A tent that weighs 3 pounds is not "ultralite". It's light compared to a Eureka Timberline 2 like I used to carry but is no where near my 22 ounce tarp tent and ground cloth with titanium stakes. This is ultralite.

The joy in being a gear head is to figure out what the goal is and then plan for it, make the equipment to fit the need and then go and product test it in the field and see if it works the way you planned it.

The beauty of backpacking is that everyone does it his or her own way. Of all athletic endeavors, nothing is so personal, so rewarding or so enjoyable.

Bert "Shadow" Nemcik, AT02

Steve Cash
Jan 28, 2011

Here's my comment on the retailer discussion: When I am out there alone in the woods, how will the gear perform? I tend to over-scrutinize gear (like many of us), but that comes from years of backcountry experiences. Make the focus of your shopping on what you will be doing with that gear. Read online reviews by other hikers on your prospective purchases. Then, become your own gear tester. Evaluate your stuff in your own backyard and get used to it. Last night I tested a new stove and windscreen in snowy, windy, 20 degree weather - while on my porch. My own yard is my best testing ground. Then, I know what to expect from whatever I chose to take on a trip.

Luc
Sep 30, 2010

your wilderness FAK should foremost be in your head - that is how to treat head/neck injuries and make a splint, or stop massive bleeding, hypothermia etc. but bandaids and gauze? if you need to bandaid a scrape then you should consider calousing your impression of an "injury"

Cory
Sep 28, 2010

The economics of outdoor recreation! I bought a Walmart tent back in high school. The poles broke as I attempted to set up the tent for the first time. Took it right back and "upgraded" to a Coleman (I thought that was a fancy brand at the time). My Coleman car-camping tent has lasted for years through weeks of Adirondack rain and sun. It's great to get the best gear, but I don't have tons of money to blow on the latest, greatest thing. Check your local thrift store for apparel such as fleece, wool and jackets. It probably won't be the lightest, handsomest, most technical stuff, but it'll keep you warm and dry. I also use campmor.com alot for basic gear at affordable prices and am pleased thus far.

Jack D
Sep 28, 2010

I think this all comes down to experience. Whether it's with wearing jeans or shopping at Wal-Mart, you learn from your experiences for your next time out. I have bought gear from high end retailers and from the wal-marts and targets alike and have gotten burnt either way. I've learned what products I trust and which one's I don't, but I bet if you took a poll here the vast majority of people couldn't agree on what works and what doesn't. The best advice is to find out what works for you and stick to it. Comfort, both physical and mental, is the most important factor on the trail. And just an FYI, a great place to get some gear is a second hand store like goodwill. Many people donate gear because they've decided to upgrade / update or that they bought all this equipment for 1 weekend trip years ago and then they never used it again.

JReichert
Sep 28, 2010

Haven't shopped @ Wal-Mart for 3 years, haven't missed it one bit.

It's interesting how many people here would rather give their money to keep Communist China's economy booming while ours flouders, instead of visiting the mom & pop stores and specialty goods stores that generally stock many brands of American-made products, which of course supports AMERICA.

Why in the world am I sniped at for wanting to support American businesses and American workers, and furthermore buy a GOOD product, often with a lifetime guarantee, that I only need to buy once??

Anonymous
Sep 25, 2010

Number 11: You should always carry and have knowledge of using a map and compass they donít need to be charged. Batteries die and most of the time you donít get good reception on phones and GPS. If you choose to use GPS you should have a backup plan.

Thinkerer
Sep 24, 2010


Here is #11: Not realizing that it's 2010.

- Paper maps? All of my students have GPS enabled smart phones. I wouldn't make those my sole source of information, but we're talking noobs here, right? You do the math. Also, topos for your dedicated GPS can be found free online.

- Topo's are wonderful, but Google Earth (also available through your phone browser if you can stand it) is one of the best ways to scope out an adventure before you get there. The terrain scaling isn't perfect, but you get a rare bird's eye view.

- "Specialty Outdoor Stores" are delightful places to shop, but - like printed magazines - are fast becoming relics (or fashion outlets) in the age of internet marketing and sales.

Big retailers are commissioning "reliable brands" for their store brands (see previous Target comment) and some of the "house brand" equipment ranks as good or better than the "reliable" ones. An "Ozark Trail" sleeping bag is going to be just fine for a local car camping trip...someone who's launching into serious wilderness won't carry all that weight very far anyway. Now if certain magazines could get serious about their website they might just find that their readership, revenue and impact are increasing again...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Re #4: I have three (cumulative) first-aid kits; the "boo boo" bag (always bring for day hike scrapes and blisters), add the "uh oh" bag for weekends and more serious things, and add the "OH SH*T" bag for extended, distant trips where medical assistance may not be available. The "Wilderness First Aid" book is in the second one.

The thing that nobody remembers to bring? A small vial of baking soda to neutralize wasp/bee stings.

Eric Nelson
Sep 24, 2010

It is evident the person who wears Levis hiking has never gotten them fully soaked and had to hike out in them. Talk about chafing! As for toughness, there is nothing better than a pair of nylon pants with double knees and seat.

OK, so Walmart, Kmart, Target, Sears, etc. have ressonably priced stuff for camping, but not for a weeklong backpacking trip. You can't get a 40 degree 1 lb. 3oz. goose down bag at any of those stores. I refuse to carry any more than 40 pounds on a 5 night trek. And when it comes to comfort, weight and features, there is nothing like an Osprey or similar quality pack.

All these blunders, I am certain, are from experience, either by the author or his acquaintances. I'd say #3, 7 and 9 are the least followed. It never ceases to amaze me, even after being told and after reading about not doing it, that both teens and adults still go backpacking in fresh boots. Good list. I am going to use it with our Venture Crew.

bikernoj
Sep 24, 2010

Gee, there is a lot of support for WalMart junk! In my experience, there is a HUGE difference in quality between WM "gear" and good name brands, especially when it comes to customer support.

The REI tent I bought 7 years ago has only ever needed the rain fly seams sealed and the cord in the poles replaced. The Mtn Hardware shell that has been through 8 years of Colorado hell is still as good as the day I bought it, and I absolutely LIVE in Patagonia base layers! You buy what you like, but I'll continue to INVEST in the gear that lasts.

Anyone who thinks a $5 knife is anywhere near as good as a high quality one likely uses their blade as a screwdriver or pry bar (probably puts their kitchen knives in the dishwasher, too). Here's a hint: the steel they make Wal-Mart specials out of is cut out with the steel they make Benchmades from!

Ask any hunter how many knives they take with them and what brand they are; I guarantee that the WalMart shoppers take 5-10 different ones, while the Barminski owners only take ONE.

Ernie
Sep 24, 2010

I would also add overdressing for a winter hike. I've seen beginners use mittens and scarfs for a snowshoeing/x-country skiing hike.

Also, some people carry EVERYTHING that they think they'll ever need, like a couple of hardcover books, a folding chair, a big, heavy skillet. Once I had to help evacuate a fellow hiker whose pack weighted about 40 pounds--and we were just doing an 8-mile day hike!

Trailtalk Phil
Sep 24, 2010

Good list! My son works at a fairly high end sporting goods store that has a good spectrum of quality. He asks about the hike and what the experience level is of the hiker before making recommendations. He saves people a lot of anguish and will send them to other stores if necessary knowing they will come back because they trust him. The big three: Boots, backpack, and bag. If you are not comfortable with those three things, you may have a miserable trip.

Thinkerer
Sep 24, 2010


Here is #11: Not realizing that it's 2010.

- Paper maps? All of my students have GPS enabled smart phones. I wouldn't make those my sole source of information, but we're talking noobs here, right? You do the math. Also, topos for your dedicated GPS can be found free online.

- Topo's are wonderful, but Google Earth (also available through your phone browser if you can stand it) is one of the best ways to scope out an adventure before you get there. The terrain scaling isn't perfect, but you get a rare bird's eye view.

- "Specialty Outdoor Stores" are delightful places to shop, but - like printed magazines - are fast becoming relics (or fashion outlets) in the age of internet marketing and sales.

Big retailers are commissioning "reliable brands" for their store brands (see previous Target comment) and some of the "house brand" equipment ranks as good or better than the "reliable" ones. An "Ozark Trail" sleeping bag is going to be just fine for a local car camping trip...someone who's launching into serious wilderness won't carry all that weight very far anyway. Now if certain magazines could get serious about their website they might just find that their readership, revenue and impact are increasing again...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Re #4: I have three (cumulative) first-aid kits; the "boo boo" bag (always bring for day hike scrapes and blisters), add the "uh oh" bag for weekends and more serious things, and add the "OH SH*T" bag for extended, distant trips where medical assistance may not be available. The "Wilderness First Aid" book is in the second one.

The thing that nobody remembers to bring? A small vial of baking soda to neutralize wasp/bee stings.

Scott
Sep 24, 2010

I've gotten a lot of gear at Target. Their Eddie Bauer-branded gear is actually made by Kelty. I've had an EB tent for years; never a leak, never a bent pole. My son has an EB backpack that's a little small, but he's very happy with it. Ditto for the mummy bag. I'd like to see BP include low-end gear in their tests, but Wal-Mart and Target don't advertise in BP.

D_Harry
Sep 23, 2010

If $ is an issue, why even bother with Walmart? There's plenty of DIY backpacking projects out there (catfood can stoves, sleeping quilts, and even making your own pack - or taking a razor to an existing pack). My faithful Coleman from Walmart has long been replaced by stoves far lighter. Car-camping? Walmart can't be beat but more specialized gear for serious in these LNT times requires a specialty retailer.

Ed
Sep 22, 2010

How about this blunder....spending $1000 at an outfitter to go on a backpacking weekend, when you could have done it for one third at W/M. Spend your money on footware. I love Wenzel tents! Never have a problem.

Rodger B.
Sep 22, 2010

I run the sporting goods department for Wal-Mart in Peoria Il. Granted not everything W/m sells is top quality, but you know what,neither is everything in your top end stores either. I can and have set up numerous backpackers with durable,long lasting equiptment. the only thing that i have found tp steer away from at W/m is boots,they are ALL very poorly made and usually tend to fall apart very quickly.I will be the first to admit that not all W/M associates have the outdoor Knowledge or experience that I have. the key to shopping W/M is know what you want and what you expect out of it,you will get good durable product at a very reasonable price. or go to your specialty store and pay out the A$$.

reader
Sep 21, 2010

I understand denim for briars and undergrowth, but here in the humid South, it's hot, heavy, clammy and doesn't breathe. You're really asking for it if you try jeans in the Smokies any time of year. Give me technical fabric any day!

Although Wal-Mart has a good return policy (except for tents), I *never* buy Coleman anything! The instructions, if there are any, are always incomplete, always in -2 point type, and their so-called customer service does not ever respond to email, and never seems to know their own products if you ever get a human on the phone.

Hal Summers
Sep 21, 2010

Wearing boots out of the box should be wearing boots, period!

The vast majority of hiking can be done in trail runners and light hiking shoes. The only reason I put on boots at all is when I have to traverse snow. Other than that it's trail running SHOES all the way.

James D
Sep 21, 2010

Drinking too much water or not drinking enough water.

Martin Kristoff
Sep 19, 2010

I have gotten many supplies from Walmart including canisters and and line and lanterns frome coleman that work just fine for the price I pay for them. Half my equipment comes from Walmart which I pay about one third of the price for from outfitting retail places.

Florida Native
Sep 17, 2010

Some of these make sense, but others make me think you are just trying to sell something.
.
Denim: Well, if you are going somewhere wet, I agree. However, if you are not likely to get wet, denim jeans provide great protection when pushing through bush and thorns.
.
Wal-Mart? Now I know you are just trying to sell something. My 1st tent was an expensive name brand from an outfitter. When it started tearing up, I replaced it with a Wal-Mart Ozark Trail. I spent about $30 (vs. a couple hundred) and it lasted MUCH longer than the expensive one! I back country camp extensively, and I am not gentle with my equipment! When I finally had to replace it (due to parts getting lost when I loaned it out), I went right back to WalMart for another Ozark. It even stood up to a couple strong Florida summer storms that tore up the name-brand tents of the folks I was with! (They all replaced their damaged tents with Wal-Mart brand like mine since mine stood up to the storm.) Another example, I have several pocket knives, including some $100 high-end ones, and the absolute best is a 3" Winchester I got at Wal-Mart for $5. Itís the one I always have with me (except in the airport of course). I have had it for several years and can't seem to break it no matter how bad I abuse it (e.g., I split firewood by sticking the pocketknife in and hitting it with a rock!) It also holds an edge great. I think a top beginner blunder is starting your shopping at an outfitter - You should start at Walmart and only go to the outfitter for things Walmart doesnít sell.

Phil from DE
Sep 16, 2010

Lightning is even more dangerous as the current may creep/jump on the surface for quite a long distance. (Hole soccer teams have been reported injured that way by a single lightning event). With rock surfaces (mountain hikes) this effekt is even worse (also: watch where you set up your tent!). Also some ravines in the mountains are prone to rockfall, caused by thunder noise: mind that if you are looking for cover. Best to check a mountaineering guide for advice BEFORE the trip! If in a hurry: I liked this advice-page on lightning: http://www.torontohiking.com/html/lightning.html
(Oh. *DO NOT* huddle in a slight depression, under an overhanging rock, or in a small cave!)

the buckaroo
Sep 16, 2010

Talking about Top Ten Blunders...been hiking the High Sierra in Levis since the late '50's. What about comfort & durability does this writer not comprehend. Scraping granite wearing wonder fabrics doesn't cut it...& becomes an expensive proposition. The only place where caution should be heeded, this side of Hawaii, is the Pacific Northwest.

Yes, I have the "camp potato" lightweight pants (Mt. Hardwear). Patagonia & MT. Hardwear are my choice for all things outdoors...but Levis fill the trail bill. Shorts are a toss up...comfort rules. The Levis pluses far overwhelm the cotton drawback...even ounce counters would have to agree, begrudgingly.

As all things change through technology, some remain unimproved for the wildness, where beginners should not tread...blue jeans, sierra cup and belt knife. The rest is subjective gibberish.

peace & cookies

Dave wannabe
Sep 16, 2010

I fourth that comment. Hate this article for that very purpose.

Jenni
Sep 16, 2010

Still trying to figure out what a 20+ yr old glam TV show has to do with backpacking.

Dave
Sep 15, 2010

Thirding Dave's comment.

Dan Dube
Sep 15, 2010

Ha ha. I second Dave's comment.

Dave Coulier
Sep 14, 2010

Really? You've stretched out a "Top 10" list into two parts, separated by a full week? That's quite a commercial break. I think you should reconsider the title.

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