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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)

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Reader Rating: -


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.

Scotch at the end of the trail?
Mar 18, 2011

Where we've been taking a bit of booze for around the campfire or something similar, we've preferred Jack Daniels or maybe Jameson Irish Whiskey--they're smoother. Your mileage may vary of course.

Patrick Lilly
Mar 18, 2011

#6, "Bringing a Leatherman in your carry-on," while something some people probably do need to be reminded not to do, is NOT a hiking mistake. It is strictly a POLITICAL mistake. Rather than working harder to knuckle under to the government's unconstitutional demands, outdoorspeople should be joining the political backlash to get rid of the fascist TSA--and just staying away from air travel until that is accomplished.

Mar 18, 2011

Nice article. It was a good refresher for spring.

Mar 18, 2011

The best method of hanging food is to counterbalance it. The old "tie the line to the trunk or a rock (as in the picture) went out with Davy Crockett. It might protect against smaller vermin but not bears. If there is any chance that hanging is going to work it must be counterbalanced. And you have to do it right, most people dont know how.

Also, if you are traveling without a canister, odor control is critical. Eat dinner on the trail before you arrive at camp. Bag you food the way it will be hung so you dont have to rummage around and handle everything at camp - it goes up in the tree and then you go to sleep.

Even so, hanging should be considered a delaying tactic at best. Do not be so far away that you wouldnt wake up and hopefully scare off the bear BEFORE it gets the food down.

Mar 18, 2011

I also don't appreciate the 'noob' reference, it makes this magazine come off as elitist and that's not usually the tone of it at all.

I have two tips to add:

1. if you really think you might need rescuing, take a PLB instead of a cell phone. You can rent them at REI. Ditch the Spot messenger, or at least don't rely on it to get you rescued.

2. bring thick, soft rope for bag-hanging. We brought para-cord on our Yellowstone hike and regretted it immediately: it's too thin & burns skin. Also, each hiker should have their own rope; hanging multiple bags on one rope is too heavy to hoist (esp. with para-cord).

Hiker Girl
Mar 18, 2011

Most National Parks do not allow you to hang your food, they require bear canisters. The reason is that in more populated areas, bears have figured out how to break the lines. They will, however, usually leave the bear canisters alone because they have seen them before and can't get into them. It's extra weight, but people should be aware.

Also, when there are places that people camp a lot in parks, because they only allow camping in certain areas, please please please clean up food messes. You endanger everyone when you don't clean up. I know this is second nature for people who backpack a lot, but if you're new to it, please be aware!

Mar 18, 2011

backpacker -- why do your links never work? (Check the poison ivy link)
Mar 18, 2011

Wow! So much to think about!
Talked with LuckyJoy Wednesday and she still hasn't made plane reservations. It may just be the two of we.

Mar 18, 2011

If my external frame pack with some stuff dangling from it says noob to someone, than so be it. My pack is also canvas and from 1983. It may say "to cheap to buy a new pack", but no way noob. New gear is great, but everyone can't afford the newer lightweight gear. Nine different countries and counting for my old pack. Hope it holds up for another 28 years.

Mar 18, 2011

If my external frame pack with some stuff dangling from it says noob to someone, than so be it. My pack is also canvas and from 1983. It may say "to cheap to buy a new pack", but no way noob. New gear is great, but everyone can't afford the newer lightweight gear. Nine different countries and counting for my old pack. Hope it holds up for another 28 years.

Mar 18, 2011

1 pace = 2 steps

Steve Cash
Mar 18, 2011

Jason, good list. It's interesting to see peoples' different perspectives on things (like the pack cover). That's how we evaluate things that we take for granted, or like the bladder leaking in your pack while in your cars truck - see as a good common sense practise that might not be obvious until too late.

On the cell phone issue, the hardest part may be for people back home. Tell people (& write it on your itinerary) that you will be out of range &/or your phone will be turned off. Family, friends or clients who expect you to always answer your call or text immediately may get panicky and indignant that you dont 'pick up.' Trust me on this one. Cell phones can be great, but they can create undue expectations. Tip: Update your voicemail to remind people that you will be unavailable to receive cell calls, texts or messages.

Another lesson is to not climb with pressing post-climb deadlines. A too tight schedule like a Mt. Hood summit bid, decent, and afternoon flight... well, can add stress, which leads to rushing, which can lead to an injury. Give yourself time for unforseen delays.

Mar 18, 2011

Great list!

I usually have to store my pack outside my tent or hammock, and I've found a cover is a good way to keep my pack and other gear mostly protected. Garbage bags, etc are an option, but I prefer the durability and adjustability of a cover, and haven't had any issues with leaking so far.

And for what it's worth, I bring my cellphone every time just in case. Use the tools at your disposal and don't act like such a purist unless you are wearing animal pelts, building your own shelters, and catching your own food. The point is to be safe and have fun, not prove how cool you are.

Mar 18, 2011

A "pace" is, to some people, = 2 "steps." It's left over from the era when everyone had to learn the "left, left, left, right, left" thing. I think this author meant:
40 x 2 = 80 steps
200 ft/80 steps = 2.5 ft/step
After a day on the trail, that is about as far as I can step!

Mar 18, 2011

Sherpa 12--I could be wrong, wouldn't be the first time, but I believe a pace is two steps. It's very subjective, but two steps could approximate five feet.

Mar 18, 2011

I did not know that there is a hiking elite of snobs looking down their noses at me as I hike?

Mar 18, 2011

Since when did hiking become an elitist activity. I am not a "noob" but why would anyone criticize anyone for carrying a cell phone or hamging dangly things from their pack. If i want to carry a black hefty bag as my backpack or do anything else that doesn't harm the environment, what's it to you or anyone else? Or should I adopt this attitude and shun people from an activity I love just because they don't hike like I do? That way if there is a forest fire we can use the bodies of the "noobs" and other outcasts as a shield from the flames. I'd like to meet this author on a trail.

Mar 18, 2011

I had a freezing problem with my Insulated Camelback's hose freezing by the bite valve cover. I found a tip, possibly on Backpacker to use Duct Tape to secure to bite valve cover to the hose. Problem solved. Also you have to sip on it every ten minutes or so to keep it flowing.

Mar 18, 2011

I admit it: I take a cell phone with me now when I backpack, mountain bike, do a back country ski.... Maybe my testosterone levels are falling, but what's wrong with having a back-up? When the Kim family in Oregon got stranded in the coastal mountains, they could not make calls. But it was the "pings" off of cell phone towers that allowed the three survivors to be narrowed down to the proximity of those towers. I have also called my wife when I get out of the wilderness to let her know that if I am not home soon, it was probably some whacko who picked me up hitching a ride home and not a grizzly or cougar who got me!

Mar 18, 2011

Noobs should do themselves a favor and take a beginners class with the AMC/ADK or other hiking organizations.
"mini-bears" can be more of a problem than black bears, but it amazes me on how many hikers hang their food right in the shelters.
On the cell phone discussion: A lot of long distance hikers bring cell phones to take pictures (my phone is actually better than my camera) or update their blog with at the end of the day. Key thing is to either leave them off or place them in airplane mode to save the battery. A back-up battery is a good idea. Bringing a wall charger is a must (mooch some juice when you hit a town). Bag your phone/spare battery in a plastic bag as electronics don't like water.

Mar 18, 2011

Not being a seasoned hiker, but having a good grasp of the English language, I find no difficulty understanding this list. I am an occasional hiker and have been doing so since I was a kid. Im 47 now and have forgotten things I learned when hiking with my family. I don't do several days out at a time anymore because I can't carry weight on my back anymore, but these tips are good for telling anybody about basic trail ethics, lifesaving techniques (having been lost on a few occasions when I planned poorly) and gear info. I hear what some are saying about the terms usage like noob etc., but hey, if you were reading an article in ANY sport magazine they use terms like that. So what? It's all in fun and if you are so oversensitive to it then maybe being in sports isn't for you. Watcha gonna do when you overhear a SAR team member mumble under their breath, here's another noob who shouldn't be out on a trail....go crying to mommy? Buck up and go play in the sandbox! (Said with looove, not snobbery ;)

Mar 18, 2011

How can 40 adult paces equal 200 feet? A 5 foot pace??? I don't know of anyone shorter than Shaquille O'Neal with a 5 foot pace, even on asphalt. Most people can't comfortably step off a 3 foot pace. Now we're telling people to dig a cat hole that is 40 paces from our drinking water. That is, 40 paces over rough terrain (off-trail, right?), that might get you 80 feet away. Ewwww. Think again.

Mar 18, 2011

I did not know that there is a hiking elite of snobs looking down their noses at me as I hike?

Mar 18, 2011

Dry bags are heavy, kayak or canoe use only. Line your pack with a trash compactor bag, or two one for clothes & sleeping bag, one for food. It easily lasts for a month long hike.

Mar 18, 2011

Dry bags are heavy, kayak or canoe use only. Line your pack with a trash compactor bag, or two one for clothes & sleeping bag, one for food. It easily lasts for a month long hike.

Mar 18, 2011

On the cell phone issue. I wouldn't recommend taking a cell phone at all. Not a bad idea, but honestly telling people to pretend they don't have it is like asking people to pretend they don't have arms. Not going to happen. I prefer a Ham Radio. It's easy to get your license, and if you have a decent QRP model or HT you can typically find someone nearby that can help you.

Mar 18, 2011

Personal preference always tends to get mixed up with the gospel in these articles. Of all the things that really "screams noob"-- it's Backpacker Magazine. At least these articles get ya thinking, which is the best way to avoid mistakes.

Mar 17, 2011

Who takes a cellphone hiking with them hiking anyways? I bet it is the same textbook reading hiking/biking/rafting/kayaking wannabe outdoorsy city slickers that think wrote this article and hang out/work at places such as the US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, NC more than they spend out on an trails.

Mar 16, 2011

thought the list had some good points. lots of good info.

Mar 16, 2011

gtfo? really? way to make people feel comfortable learning about hiking and such. computer noob or not, just not a cool thing to say. everyone starts out a noob at some point.

Mar 16, 2011

RE: #14 -- "Stuff dangling hillbilly-style from your pack ruins your balance and screams noob." Um, "hillbilly-style?" Really? Okay, never mind that. Wearing a backpack at all "throws off your balance." Having stuff on the outside of your pack doesn't make an appreciable difference, and your body gets used to it. This "mistake" is just a preference, one taught at NOLS schools. Then again, they also tend to carry 85L packs, which is something else I'm never gonna do. So how exactly does looking like a "noob" affect my hiking, and why should I care what others think? I suspect it doesn't and that I shouldn't; maybe my opinion on that will change once I'm a Triple Crowner (only 2 trails down, laments the guy whose pack screams "noob"). One last question: for my CDT hike, where do you suggest I store my ice axe?

Mar 16, 2011

Emma, I suspect if they're reading Backpacker, they probably know what those terms mean.

And I still like my pack cover.

Mar 15, 2011

What is wrong with pack covers? Waterproof dry bags are heavy, bulky and make accessing your gear difficult 100% of the time.

Where a pack cover only makes your gear difficult to access while you are actually using it.


Mar 15, 2011

if they cant figure it out from the context, they can google it. or are they computer newbs, too? in that case, gtfo!

Mar 15, 2011

It's not that this isn't a good list, but it's written in a lingo that only seasoned hikers will understand. Newbies often don't know what "bivvies" or "reservoirs" are - possibly they last hiked when a military surplus canteen was the height of chic.


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