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Backpacker Magazine – March 2011

The Wrong Way: Top 52 Hiker Mistakes

Your guide to 52 common mistakes hikers make--and how to avoid them.

by: Jason Stevenson; Illustrations by Supercorn

Don't get caught in the dark with these tips. (Supercorn)
Don't get caught in the dark with these tips. (Supercorn)


NAVIGATION

20.NOT DOUBLE-CHECKING YOUR POSITION
Getting disoriented is easy. Just ask Civil War General Lew Wallace. At the Battle of Shiloh, he marched 25,000 Union troops the wrong way and ended up behind enemy lines. Hikers are no better: Lost or missing persons accounted for 42 percent of rescue missions over a recent three-year period in the White Mountains—even more than injuries. So use a map to verify your direction of travel after each turn. Do the topo lines indicate you should be climbing or descending? Should that peak be ahead of you or behind? What landmarks should you mentally (or digitally) photograph? Also check the sun’s position—it’s in the east in the morning, and the west by afternoon. Two routefinding Bermuda Triangles in particular are barren summits and open fields, where the intersection of multiple trails breeds onfusion. When you approach a summit or field, record your route’s compass bearing, or mark the path with a rock or stick so you can find your way back to it.


the wrong way
21. GETTING CAUGHT IN THE DARK (Above)
Nightfall means cold temps and difficult routefinding. To estimate how much daylight is left: Hold your palm at arm’s length and count how many fingers fit between the horizon and the sun. Each finger represents about 15 minutes. Example above shows one hour, 15 minutes until dark. If darkness descends, no worries—that’s what a headlamp is for. Just make sure you pack it (see #7, p. 40).

22 CUTTING SWITCHBACKS
It causes erosion and can lead you (and others) off route. Tip: Sticks crossed like an X mean there’s no trail that way.

23. TAKING A SHORTCUT
Alarm bells should sound when you hear any of these phrases: “Is this gun loaded?” “Jump it, you wuss!” and “Let’s take a shortcut.” Michael Hays should know. Last June, the Ohio hiker shattered his kneecap on an off-trail descent of Maine’s Katahdin. If not for vigilant rangers who noticed he was overdue, and a lucky helicopter flyover that spotted his orange poncho, Hays might have stayed there permanently. The problem: If you become lost or immobilized away from a known trail, rescuers won’t be looking in the right place. Is there ever a good time to take a shortcut? Maybe, if: You can see your destination and all the terrain in-between; have the skills to navigate to it or backtrack; and won’t be violating LNT ethics.

24. FORGING BLINDLY AHEAD
Few lost hikers try to retrace their path, deluding themselves that help is just around the corner. But backtracking to your last known point is the best way to get back on course.

25. USER ERROR
GPS is a fabulous tool—if you use it correctly. Two Mt. Hood hikers realized this in 2006 when they got lost in a whiteout using a GPS configured to conflicting datum settings and a compass declination set for New Hampshire, not Oregon. That’s why it’s vital to practice with compasses and read the GPS manual on how to import tracks, bombsite waypoints, and set preferences.

26. NOT USING A MAP ON FAMILIAR ROUTES
Even on trails you’ve hiked dozens of times, you can make a wrong turn. In fact, the more well-known a route, the more our brains tend to shut down. German researchers tested this using a driving simulation. As the subjects drove the same course multiple times, the parts of the brain involved with situational awareness became less active as the drivers memorized the route. The more you think you know a place, the less you actually think. So always bring a map or a color-copy of key sections. Print topos at backpacker.com, or buy local quads at outdoor stores or Map Express (mapexp.com). Go to backpacker.com/navigation101 for a tutorial on the basics.

27. SETTLING FOR BAD RECEPTION
Cloudy, rainy skies won’t block a GPS signal, but overhead foliage, canyon walls, and water on the antenna will. Find a clearing or highpoint, make sure the antenna is dry, then check what accuracy (in feet) you’ve obtained.



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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
Red
Jul 22, 2014

Good article, but #20 has the story of Lew Wallace really fouled up. His force was about 1/4th the size given. Based on vague/disputed orders, the position of his division at the time, and pre-existing plans with the other div commanders he had marched by the route he chose. (He wouldn't have been behind the enemy lines had that wing of the army not collapsed!) Further communications and the long delays of courier communication over muddy roads then prompted him to backtrack.

Marc Strickland
Jul 27, 2012

From one old timer to another, I love your put on hiking to the noobs.

dudley f ward II
Apr 11, 2011

Ive been a hiker since i was fifteen and hiked the toughest part of the tuscaroara trail in pennsylvania. it is covered with rocks right on the trail. i mean footsized to meteorites. my pack then was a cheap academy broadway external frame pack . i packed 23 pounds and never felt tired . i was never unbalanced wearing it on the trail. now i have a carson long external frame and i carry 29 pounds with water . i usually go alone so i have to be extra careful .i always have a first aid kit good for 3-5 people and it weighs 1.5 pounds. I use a cheap propane stove and it uses the big thirty two ounce propane bottle . i'm 6'5" tall and weigh 425. if anything one should consider that all information you get here at backpacker is good as long as experience is the rule . i might choose heavier impractical gear for some but the ayoff i get is to be boyscout prepared and gourmet living for under $500 a season including food (a season is the middle of march through november.oh one more thing ...even if its waterproofed down shells suck because when they get wet its over. period.

philmont_man
Apr 04, 2011

i have been backpacking several times. when i was being taught to hang bear bags the ranger told us to wrap each end of the rope on the trunk of a different tree. this will help against bears.

also in the case of bears we were taught the BEARmuda triangle. it is formed by the sump, bear bags, and fire pit. all tents should be at least 50 feet from this barrier.

and if a bear was after my food i would not risk pissing it off an would get AWAY and get help.

EmGlad
Mar 30, 2011

I think bringing a smart phone is a great idea... My iphone battery lasts 3 days in idle, and although the new built-in compass app seemed a laughable addition to the new phone, I've found it's great on hikes. It even gives your current long/lat, which I make note of whenever I 'beep' into a spot with signal. A valuable bit of info to try and text, if you are lost.... after trying to get thru to 911. Not to mention all the pay apps out there. I need just 2, a great GPS app that saves me a couple hundred on buying a unit and a survival guide with sections for food, water, bears, knots, maps, weather, edible/medicinal/poisonous plants, camp, beyond first aid, survival and case studies. Done deal

Kevin J
Mar 29, 2011

Is there a prize for collecting all 52 mistakes?

Snowbird
Mar 27, 2011

I agree with #44 that burning ticks is not a good idea. However, that was NEVER the intent OR correct technique. You're supposed to be paying VERY close attention, and SLOWLY bringing the burned out match-head CLOSE to the tick's butt. YOU DON'T TOUCH IT! You only go close enough to get it to back out. Once it's moving, you pick it up with tweezers. This technique is last ditch, and used in places you can't get tweezers in correctly. In a tight spot, it avoids the risk of squeezing the tick accidentally with the tweezers. That said, it also requires good eyesight, good light (bright white LED headlamp is ok), a tolerable seat, and a STEADY hand. It works easiest and best when used on your hiking buddy or pet; not solo if possible.

Ernest Snomin
Mar 25, 2011

It says 2.5 oz of fuel. I'm assuming they mean liquid fuel. I use the MSR 4 oz cannister and quite frankly for solo hikes it lasts forever. I took it on a 75 mile 4-day hike on the A.T. through the Smokies and used it on overnights with friends. It only takes a few minutes to boil water with my MSR Pocket Rocket and lasted a long time. Even when I was going to empty the cannister and throw it away, the last use lasted over 30 minutes and boiled 1 cup of water in sub-freezing temps with a steady breeze. At 4 oz per can, I'd take it on a weeklong trip if I'm going solo.

Dave N
Mar 21, 2011

No 1.: Forgetting to file a trip plan with friends, family or ranger. Ask Aron Ralston why this is No 1.

No. 2: Forgetting to pack all 10 essentials. They're called essentials for a reason.

Old Timer
Mar 21, 2011

Hey you young backpacker whippersnappers with all your lightweight noiseless gear that's all neatly packed and doesn't swing around and grab branches or sound like a group of Christmas carolers. Hey, just who do you think you are? I'll load up my kelty 100L external frame pack and still clip all this to the outside: bear canister, bear mace, crocs, sleeping pad, tent poles, gps, leatherman, thermometer, water bottle, camera, and a pouch with food and tobacco. I've been doing this for 25 years, hey, wait up... lol

Moondoggy
Mar 20, 2011

Don't let them diss you on your external pack they are just jealous ! External packs weigh alot less than even the most exspensive Gregory! I have seen a new Gregory pack break at the straps ! The new stuff is pretty but doesn't last! I have a 1976 Kelty external that is still in top shape!

Kathy M
Mar 20, 2011

I agree w/most of comments. My first 40years were car camping, the majority w/o tent or sleeping bag and before water filters. Then I learned about backpacks.
Camping has always been our cheap vacation, a little gas for the car, food from the kitchen cupboards and gone for the weekend. I still use my external frame, it fits and allows cool breezes on my back during brief standing stops.
I'm a noob - my 10 degree bag and 10x12' 3mil plastic are bungeed outside my small pack. I carry a rain poncho that covers me and the pack in an outside pocket.

My preferred destinations are Yosemite high country or John Muir wilderness. I've never lost food to a bear or come home sick. I boil extra water before bed at camp to reduce the amount that needs to be filtered.

I agree w/a PLP being better than a cell phone, which doesn't even work at my home, let alone in the granite lined canyons. Problem is the nearest REI is 3 hrs drive from me. And purchasing one definitely doesn't fit in my measly budget. Therefore I have to rely on attention to detail and smart planning. We study maps, keep up with compass practice, and will settle for less thrilling but safer locations when necessary.

We need more solutions for people on limited budgets, not lists that make them feel inadequate and guilty. Parents shouldn't have to settle for marathon TV just because the experts say they aren't equipped to take their kids on an overnight hike.

Pat
Mar 20, 2011

I prefer pack covers over just using waterproof sacks for gear. I have used pack covers where it has rained for 5-6 days straight with no leaks what so ever. I like how they keep my pack from getting water logged.

MTmtbackpacker603
Mar 20, 2011

I agree, mostly,and I do mean mostly, common sense, but way over generalized. I take issue with the recommendation not to carry a rain fly. They are realatively inexpensive, somewhat durable, quite waterproof and much lighter to carry than a pack soaked with rain plus they keep your pack quite protected while hung in camp. Also, one should carry a firstaid kit that reflects one's experience and training. The hiker with an advanced first-aid course under his or her belt is fine carrying a minimalist kit. However, someone with wilderness training likely requires more. Professionals such as EMTs, paramedics, nurses, mid-levels or physicians need carry kits tailored to their level of expertise. Carrying medical gear--or any gear for that matter--that you do not know how to use is foolish and, possibly dangerous, but it is equally foolish to travel poorly prepared for the worst.

Old Eli
Mar 20, 2011

Some good advise mostly common sense. One point I agree with is when you realize you are lost ,backtrack to your last known position.I always have crocks and fuel on the outside of my pack. Fuel(alcohol) is in a sealed bottle with rubber bands holding it inside of loops. Another good tinder for fires is wood chips from a planer.Use the old boy scout method of steel wool and a battery too.

big buck backpacker
Mar 20, 2011

I get all new gear every six months to keep up with the new trends in backpacking... BAH. Seriously guys- who the heck cares what kind of gear you use as long as its appropriate to the area. I have a little compass and thermometer. I hang stuff from my pack and never passed someone who snobbed me for it. Well maybe at the local hike shop but they are just trying to make a sale.

Rob
Mar 19, 2011

I always dangle things I may need often to avoid having to dig through my pack, or if the item may effect the contents in my pack, for instance, getting things wet or muddy.
I "dangle" a pair of crocks to be available to ford a river, my gps, and usually a hat/bandana. In the winter, my microspikes dangle, usually a peeled layer, and yes, a thermometer.
I've been doing this for many years. It's what works for me.

Steve
Mar 19, 2011

What happened to the rule of be aware of your surroundings?
I have witnessed some very dangerous instances recently.
For example groups of people descending a rock field single file. Descents like this should be done one at a time until the first person is clear. A baseball sized rock can kill.
Also be aware of what is going on around you. I am a big game hunter (required to wear bright orange) and it never fails every season there are groups or individuals out in the forest without bright orange. Think about it, you are now sharing the trail with large numbers of armed hunters and you are wearing a brown jacket? How stupid can people be?
Think about what is going on around you. Are they logging in the area? Those trucks are loaded very heavily and canít stop on a dime and they certainly are not going to back up for you and your minivan.

Doug
Mar 19, 2011

Don't count on SPOT working fir you unless you are in Kansas. Useless in the mountains unless you are on a peak. Much over rated.

Will G
Mar 19, 2011

Gee, you guys are easily offended. Obviously, stuff dangling is old timer not noob; that is for sure.

As for cell phones: Backpacker promotes iPhones and their hiking apps religiously.

I believe the author here was merely suggesting that as Western technology addicts, you may want to realize that a. your cell wont work in deep woods and canyons; b. you wont be charging it for several days and may want to leave it turned off until you need the emergency service or are on top of a plateau; and c. your adventure is a good chance to ignore facebook for a week and be free from constant text captivity. But addiction is addiction after all.

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