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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)


Waking up in a soggy sleeping bag is a definite buzzkill. To stay dry:

1. Pitch your shelter on dry, flat, well-draining surfaces, like pine needles, rock slabs, or bare dirt. The leakiest part of a tent isn’t the ceiling or walls, but the floor. When rain collects under the tent, the pressure of your gear and body lets it seep through the fabric. So avoid shallow depressions, spongy turf, and runoff zones, which pool water. If you’re using a footprint (a plastic tarp beneath the tent), tuck the outer edges under the rainfly to keep water from inundating it.

2. Waterproof the seams. If the tent or rainfly seams have lost their repellency, coat them (inside and outside) with a sealer like McNett Seam Grip, then reapply once a year.

3. Orient your tent so the smallest cross-section—usually the rear—faces into the wind. That tactic, along with staking out guy-lines, stops rain gusts from blowing droplets underneath the rainfly.

4. Pack the tent in this order: rainfly, canopy, footprint. So if you’re pitching it in rain and wind, the footprint comes out first, then you stake the canopy, and lastly you set up the canopy with the fly draped over it.

If it fails, no stove or fire. And don’t forget good tinder, like dryer lint.

Widowmakers kill. Pitch your tent away from dead trees and limbs.

For max comfort and convenience, follow these organizational tips:

>> To warm up fast on chilly mornings, pick a site with southern exposure, and avoid low spots since cold air flows downhill.
>> Evade mosquitoes by picking open areas with breezes, sun, and no standing water.

>> At campgrounds, grab a spot near the latrine and water spigot, but not so close (or on the main thoroughfare) that constant traffic—and odors—will bother you.

>> Locate campfires and kitchen areas downwind from the tent to keep smoke and smells away from your sleeping spot. Hang bear bags 100 yards downwind from both.

>> Site backcountry camps 200 feet (40 adult paces) from any trails, rivers, or lakes. This is also the distance catholes should be from campsite, trail, water, or drainage.

>> Don’t hang damp clothes inside your tent. They won’t dry. Place them inside your sleeping bag.
>> Putting boots near the fire will crack the leather and melt the soles. Air-dry them upside-down.
>> Don’t store a wet tent unless you want mildew. Hang to air-dry.

Sudden strong winds can carry it afar; one editor lost his shelter over a cliff in Glen Canyon. On snow or sand, bury deadmen (guylined logs or rocks) instead of staking.

If you sleep cold, you might need a bag rated 10°F below the nighttime low. An insulated mat also helps. Note: Bags lose loft with use, so launder yours every 40 nights or so.
alaska arctic
A bear’s sense of smell is seven times better than a bloodhound’s—and the odor of jerky carries for miles. Ergo, hang a bear bag. Even if bruins aren’t present, proper technique will protect food from marauding varmints.

1. Before sunset, locate a suitable tree with a sturdy branch 15 to 20 feet off the ground. It should be at least 100 yards downwind from your campsite. Typically, deciduous trees offer longer, stronger branches than conifers.

2. Put a fist-size rock in a sock or glove. Attach it to a 50-foot nylon rope. Toss the cord over the branch. It should rest at least five feet from the tree trunk. 3. Tie or clip the bear bag to the rope and hoist away. Make sure the bottom of the bag is at least 10 feet off the ground. For more security, add a mouse hanger (p. 34); you can also throw the rope over a second branch on a nearby tree and tie the bag to the middle of the rope.

4. Wrap the rope end around the trunk several times. Tie it off with several overhand knots or hitches.

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Star Star Star Star Star
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.

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.

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?

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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