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Gear Reviews

10 Gear Fails You're Smart Enough to Avoid

We all make mistakes. Learn from these classic backpacking gear fails, and you'll make better ones.

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Hiking too far in new boots

Master Sgt. Dean Welch

Most modern light hiking boots don’t need a long break-in period. Too bad the only way to know for sure is to try them. Start with something short, and save yourself from days of nasty blisters.

Leaving bite valves open

gear fails: leaving hydration bladder bite valves open

The 1990s were a dark time: boy bands were on the radio, jeans were 10 sizes too large, and the best show on television was about a bunch of ‘Friends’ who spent all their time stuck in the city. Adding insult to injury, your trusty hydration bladder bite valve would leak at the slightest bump. Countless soaked tents and sleeping bags later, bladder producers have graced us with a solution: the shut off valve. Now it is just up to us to use it.


Forgetting the declination

gear fails: Forgetting to account for declination on your compass

Have a map and compass? Nice work. But while maps orient toward grid north, your compass points towards magnetic north, which is slightly different. To get it right, adjust your declination, the difference between true and magnetic north, before you leave.

Leaving food in your pack

Gear fail: Leaving food in your pack makes it vulnerable to kangaroo rats

Sure, everyone worries about bears, but you should also fear the kangaroo rat. Right now it’s eating seeds, but it would much rather eat all your tasties. If you don’t want your expensive pack turned into Swiss cheese, you’d better make sure all those snacks make it to the bear bag.

Letting your boot laces snap

Gear fail: Don't let your shoelaces snap without a backup

All it takes is one shoelace snap and your super-sweet boot becomes a hellish blister-torture device. Keep one of these on your wrist and you’ll always have a backup.

Bringing an empty fuel canister

Gear fail: bringing an empty fuel canister

Unless you want to be the jerk who keeps everyone from their morning coffee, you better keep track of exactly how much fuel is really left in that canister.

Storing gear wet

Gear fails: storing a soaking wet tent

After a rainy weekend on the trail the last thing you want to do is unpack and dry all your gear. But assuming you don’t love the smell of mildew, a few minutes after each trip can save you a ton of scrubbing later.

Loading your pack incorrectly

Gear fail: loading your pack poorly

An unbalanced pack will have you wobbling all over the trail, working much harder than need be just to stay upright. Keep the heaviest items tight against your spine and you should do just fine. Learn to pack your backpack with help from our deputy editor Casey Lyons.

Pointing bear spray into the wind

Gear fails: pointing bear spray into the wind

FACT: Bears are awesome. ANOTHER FACT: Spraying yourself in the face with bear spray is not awesome. To do it right, keep the wind at your back, wait until the bear is within 50 feet, and leave as soon as the bear retreats.


Gear fail: forgetting any of the items you should pack

The ultimate gear fail: leaving your gear at home. Make sure to use a packing checklist so this never happens to you.

The best gear in the world doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t know how to use it. Protect yourself from these 10 embarrassing—and occasionally painful—gear mishaps with a little help from the experts at BACKPACKER.

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