45 Quick Fixes to Make Your Next Backpacking Trip Better

Unlearn your bad hiking habits today with these simple, instant changes to your routine.

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You rely only on your phone for navigation. Always bring a map and compass, too. They never run out of juice.

You cut a switchback. The trail crew put the path there for a reason. Accept it, respect it.

You don’t check the forecast. Really? Go to weather.gov. Two minutes of research can save you a weekend of gear-choice regret.

You don’t seek up-to-date trail info. Ask a ranger, someone who has been there recently, or check an up-to-date online forum.

You skimp on your sleeping pad. Conduction—heat transfer from your warm body to the cold ground—is your enemy. Buy the best-insulating sleeping pad you can carry.

You buy the wrong-size tent. Today’s shelters are so light you should consider getting a three-person tent for two people. Way more comfortable.

You freeze in your sleeping bag. Go for a bag that’s rated at least 10 degrees below the lowest temperature you expect.

You store your headlamp with batteries inside. They’ll lose power faster. Also, if you can’t lock your headlamp, flip the batteries around to prevent accidental turn-ons.

You carry your water bottle right-side up in winter. Which part of a pond freezes first? The top! Same with your water bottle. Pack it upside-down and sip ice-free.

You buy a tasteful forest-green puffy and brown pants. Upside: You blend in. Downside: Only bright gear will get you found when your bushwack goes awry.

You sag your pack. Wearing it too low negates all that fancy suspension. Position the hipbelt so it curves around the top of your pelvis.

You sweat when it’s cold out. When you stop, you’ll be really cold, immediately. Layer down or moderate your pace—you’re running too hot.

You think that fuel canister will last the whole trip. Draw a fuel gauge on your canister and you’ll never wonder again..

Your compass is . . . wrong? Unlikely. At the trailhead, don’t orient your map when it’s sitting on your car’s hood. All that metal can confuse the needle.

You assume vacuum-sealed food doesn’t smell. Maybe it doesn’t to you, but a human’s sense of smell is nothing compared to that of a mouse, bear, or other animal.

You see a moose and think, awwww. Yes, they’re kind of cute, but also kind of blind. They might decide to aim those dinner-plate hooves at you just in case. Give them space.

You think baby rattlers are deadlier than mature ones. A study of envenomations in California puts the “baby rattlers inject more venom” myth to rest; bigger means badder.

You think that coiled pit viper is sleeping. Nope! It’s getting ready to strike—rattlers can strike one-third to one-half the length of their bodies.

You cook in the tent vestibule while wearing the clothes you’ll sleep in. And all a grizzly can think is, “Mmmm. Tamales.”

You start your adventure when the sun has already risen. On a long (or risky) hike that may take more hours than daylight, start fresh in the dark and finish tired in the light.

You don’t tell anyone where you’re going. Leave your trip plan with a responsible party back home. List trails and itinerary, and what to do if you don’t return on time.

You allow the group pace to make you miserable. Nobody wants to slow the group down or be the first to complain. Screw that. Speak up if you need to stop.

You don’t set (or you ignore) a turn-back time. You didn’t read Into Thin Air? Another mistake.

You are too eager to hit the trail. Check your essentials list—and trail info—twice before you leave home.

You ignore storm signs. Southern winds. Plunging barometric pressure (buy that altimeter watch). Descend to safety. Now.

You stow a full hydration bladder in your pack and throw it in the trunk. You’ll risk a rupture and flood. Also, leave a jug of water in your car for when you return.

You separate your group. It isn’t a party—or safe for that matter—if you’re not together.

You overestimate your pace. Plan to average 2 mph max, plus 30 minutes for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain.

You take shortcuts. Also known as “getting lost.”

You hike with your head down. Footing is important, but you’re missing all the views and navigation landmarks. Slow down.

You shake dry after peeing. Shake dry isn’t really dry. Instead, use a pee cloth, like the Kula Cloth ($20), which wicks up whiz and lets it evaporate.

You camel a liter of water before you leave camp. It won’t hurt you, but it won’t hydrate you for the long haul. Instead, sip a few ounces every 15 minutes to optimize absorption.

You skip breakfast. Welcome to Bonk Town, population you. Your body burns carbs to sustain moderate exercise. No carbs, no vroom.

You eat a huge lunch. You indulged to fuel up for a big climb. And now you feel lethargic. Snack often—it’s better to feed the furnace throughout the day.

You don’t add enough water to your dinner. That semi-reconstituted food is going to pull moisture from your body instead, potentially resulting in an upset stomach.

You forget that water boils at a lower temp at high altitude. Add at least 10 minutes to rehydration times when you’re above 8,000 feet. Basic physics (trust us).

You only pack sweet snacks. Don’t neglect the salt. Your body needs electrolytes. (Plus, no variety in the snack bag leads to food fatigue, which leads to bonking.)

You let someone reach into your gorp bag. Gross! You don’t know where those hands have been (see above). When sharing food, pour it out.

You sleep naked. Skinny-sleepers offload sweat and body oils, which diminish a bag’s loft, so they need to wash theirs more often. Baselayers make the best PJs.

You forget stuff. Make a laminated packing list—one for dayhikes, another for backpacking trips. Run through your checklist before you head out.

You post location details on Instagram. Giving exact directions to a stunning spot advances the doomsday clock.

You leave hot embers glowing when you go to sleep. If you can’t spare water to do this right, don’t make a fire. No excuses on this one.

You stay inside when the weather sucks. Gear up and get out there.

You gear up for your fears. If you pack less, you’ll experience more.

You only learn the hard way. Experience can be a cruel—and slow—teacher. Study up before you start.