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The Wrong Way: Top 52 Hiker Mistakes

Your guide to 52 common mistakes hikers make--and how to avoid them.
wrong wayDon't get caught in the dark with these tips. (Supercorn)
AT HOME

1. BURYING YOUR RESERVOIR
Few flubs are more irritating than a leaky water bladder that soaks your pack on the drive to the trailhead. It happens when the pressure of other gear against the bite valve pops it open. So place the reservoir atop everything else en route to ensure it doesn’t get squashed. If your plastic bladder has a leaky seam or small puncture, you can repair it with Seam Grip—the waterproof sealant designed for tents. Empty the bladder first, and allow 24 hours for it to dry.

2. NOT BAGGING DEET-BASED BUG SPRAY
Deet melts nylon and polyester and can damage harder plastics like buckles and water bladders, so toss repellents in a zip-top bag.

3. OVERCONFIDENCE
According to a 2008 study of SAR missions in Utah national parks, fatigue, darkness, and insufficient equipment accounted for about 42 percent of rescue calls. Such mishaps, at their root, stem from foolhardy planning. So set sane goals and honestly estimate your hiking speed. Dan Westerberg, who leads trips for the Boston Appalachian Mountain Club, typically assumes an average speed of 1 to 2 mph, then adds 30 minutes for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain.

4. NOT SETTING A TURNBACK TIME
This is a recipe for unplanned bivies. If you don’t reach the goal by the turnaround time, go back anyway. Note: The descent often takes half as long as theascent but that depends on terrain.

5. CAN’T FIND THE TRAILHEAD
The more accessible the trailhead, the more crowded the trail. So finding solitude often means navigating remote, mazelike dirt roads. “For turn-by-turn directions to a trailhead, visit or call the local park or forest recreation managers,” says Diane Taliaferro, recreation manager at Santa Fe NF. They’ll also provide info about 4WD tracks, washed-out roads, and theft-prone lots. Or get directions at backpacker.com/postatrip by bombsiting (manually placing) the trailhead on a map: Sign in (or create a free account) to the site, then use the map editor tool to scan for your trailhead using a topo, terrain, or aerial map. Drop a waypoint (bombsite) (1) onto the map editor, then plug its UTM or lat/long coordinates (2) into a GPS (or Google Maps or MapQuest). Tutorial: backpacker.com/hikes/usinggps

6. BRINGING A LEATHERMAN IN YOUR CARRY-ON
Find rules for knives (plus stoves and fuel) at tsa.gov.

7. POOR PACKING
>> Get gear checklists for all types of trips (snow, desert, swamp, and more) at backpacker.com/checklists.
>> Don’t bury stuff you’ll regularly need deep in your pack.

ON THE TRAIL

8. COMMITTING CRIMES OF FASHION
Ever notice how many stories about rescued hikers include the line, “The missing man was wearing jeans and tennis shoes”? Insufficient clothing contributed to 10 percent of rescue missions in national parks in 2007. Avoid:

>> Wearing cotton Once damp, it stays damp, sucking away body heat. Opt for adjustable layers of wicking fabrics like wool and polyester. Layering order goes: longsleeve (or tee), pullover, down jacket and/or rainshell, and hat and mitts for quick microadjustments.

>> Starting with too many layers Ten minutes
into the hike, you’ll be overheating
and need to shed clothing. Start from
the trailhead a little chilled.

>> Letting yourself sweat The moisture on your skin siphons away warmth.

>> Not adding layers right when you stop You’ll soon be shivering.

9. LETTING YOUR WATER FREEZE
Reservoir hoses require more work than bottles in frigid temps, so think twice about bladders. To avoid bottle freeze-up, stow them upside down in your pack.

10. NEGLECTING TO CHECK THE FORECAST
Recent tragedies on Mt. Hood, Mt. Washington, and Denali spotlight the potential lethality of severe storms. Be prepared by getting a pinpoint forecast for your route at weather.gov (since frontcountry forecasts often don’t apply to the backcountry or high elevations). Note: Temperatures drop about 3°F for every 1,000 feet of vertical gain.

11. IGNORING STORM SIGNS
Watch for clues like winds from the south, developing cloud cover, and a freefall in barometric pressure (measured by an altimeter watch; some even have storm-warning features). If weather deteriorates, descend to safe, sheltered areas (lightning is attracted to isolated, pointy objects like lone trees, ridges, and summits).

12. GETTING SEPARATED
Letting the speed-demons blaze ahead while the slower hikers fall behind begs for disaster. If a sudden storm, darkness, a wrong turn, or injury befall you, communicating with other team members will be difficult or impossible. That’s why the “Start as a group, hike as a group, finish as a group” mantra is smart. Try these strategies:

>> Cajole the speedsters to slow down, and put a person in front who sets a moderate pace.

>> Designate a reliable sweeper to bring up the rear.

>> Redistribute weight from slower hikers to fast ones.

>> Agree to stop at every trail junction. Because
spreading out is inevitable on any hike, this will
reduce the chance of someone taking a wrong turn.

13. GLISSADING WITH CRAMPONS ON
If a point catches on the snow, you will likely break an ankle—or cut yourself badly

14. DORK MOVES
>> One minibiner or keychain thermo-compass is allowed. No more.

>> Stuff dangling hillbilly-style from your pack ruins your balance and screams noob.

15 NOT USING SUNSCREEN
Those skin-frying rays pass through clouds, so sunny or gray, reapply every two hours.
the wrong way
16. CLIMBING OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE

What goes up doesn’t necessarily come down—especially on steep terrain. An Oregon dayhiker learned this last February when he ventured off-trail and got stranded on a ledge 350 feet above the Columbia River Gorge. Unable to move, he called 911 (his only smart move) and waited all night until rescuers reached him. He’s not an anomaly:
Cliffed-out hikers accounted for 11 percent of SAR missions in Yosemite in the 1990s. Prevent such ordeals by scanning the terrain ahead—and behind—to ensure you can return via the same route. Never take shortcuts you don’t know or can’t see the length of (like a gully on a peak). Most people find downclimbing harder than ascending because footholds are less visible. Four more tips:

>> As you move up, memorize the hand- and footholds you use.
>> Face toward the rock, not out, and test all holds to make sure they’re solid.
>> Move your feet, then your hands so you stay in balance and not scrunched up.
>> To get a better view of holds, lean out, arms straight and locked out (see below).

17. GAITERS ON WRONG
Stick buckles outside the ankle so they don’t trip you.

18. BEELINING UP
Except on tiring-to-kick, hard snow, switchbacking is more efficient.

19. PACK COVERS
They leak. Instead, put gear in waterproof stuffstacks.

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