Easy backpacking mistakes and how to avoid them

Imagine this scenario: You just arrived at your first lake or river. It’s the end of your first day. You’re tired but in good spirits. As you unpack and set up camp, you realize there’s one less dehydrated meal than you anticipated. You look around, frowning, knowing that you’re going to be a bit more hungry on the trip than you imagined. This is just one of many backpacking mistakes people make as they venture into the unknown. However, you’ll be good by having a checklist and preparing your backpacking essentials!

Let’s dive into some of the biggest backpacking mistakes and how to avoid them, so you have a smooth trip into nature.

backpacking mistakes hiking

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Backpacking Mistakes

Almost all of these backpacking mistakes I’ve either done or seen happen. Be smart; learn from me and master the backpacking essentials!

Packing too much (usually) or too little

This is the most common backpacking mistake but also the easiest to correct. I’d say this happens more frequently for a single overnight and then for a newer backpacker heading out on a 4+ day trip. Let me tell you straight up; you don’t need everything! Again, you don’t need everything. You’re going backpacking, not to a fashion show in Paris.

Identify your primary necessities:

  • The Big Three (Tent, Pad & Bag),
  • Your food/water
  • Clothes

Once you’ve done that, make sure you don’t bring all the food. You’ll be surprised at how much you don’t eat as you will be exploring or napping, which occupies your time. Yes, you’re going to chow down on some grub, but you don’t need to go crazy and pack an entire grocery store. Never try to use backpacking to lose weight but also understand you won’t fall apart if you happen to burn more calories than you consume. Basically, trust your gut.

After sorting out food, see where your pack stands. If you feel it’s not too heavy, this is where you may want to bring some luxury items. Those are case-by-case, but I think the most common would be a hammock. Never necessary, but sometimes nice to have.

backpacking essentials

Forgetting gear

This is one of the easy backpacking mistakes that can be corrected with the least amount of effort. Make a checklist. My brother has forgotten a meal before in Wyoming’s backcountry. I’ve forgotten plenty of things (never anything major, thankfully). Using a checklist helps keep you on track and prevents you from making a serious error that could put you in danger.

Having a significant other or friend read your list verbally also helps a lot.

backpacking guide how to learn gregory packs

Poor tent location

This one goes two ways. The first is poor tent location when it comes to weather. NEVER. NEVER pitch a tent in a ditch/divot/bottom of a slope. If it were to rain, you will be wet. My buddy did this in Canada and had about the worst night of sleep ever. Remember, learn from our bad backpacking mistakes.

Secondly, on a more interpersonal level, try not to set up a tent near another already existing tent. Respect their privacy, even if they have the most amazing view in the world. They beat you to it. You surely wouldn’t like it if you hiked 8 miles into the wild and then end up having a stranger camping seven feet away. It ruins the experience for everyone.

backpacking essentials

Poor trail knowledge

Heading out onto a backpacking trip, you should have a good portion of the hike memorized. Where specific landmarks are, their distance, an understanding of where water is located, any confusing areas marked down, etc. TL;DR: If you go backpack, make sure you know what’s happening.

Yes, there are spur-of-the-moment trips, but even those require you to be in the know. If you go on a trip unprepared, you are risking a lot. For me, personally, the most significant of backpacking essentials is to focus on knowing where your next water fill-up will be. It’s your life source. You could be in grave danger if you miss a crucial water spot.

For example, when I backpacked in northeastern Arizona on Mt. Baldy, I knew we would camp next to a stream on night one, but there may not be another water spot until day three. This understanding allowed me to pack extra water in case we didn’t stumble upon another creek. We didn’t, but we had enough water for dinner before hiking down a couple of miles to fill up.

Backpacking Ice Lake Basin Colorado Hiking

Other Random Tidbits to make backpacking life easier

  • If you’re crossing a stream, tie your shoes together for better-secured transport
  • Flip flops aren’t a great camp shoe. Aim for something light and comfy but closed-toe. (I ripped open the bottom of my foot on day 2 of a backpacking trip due to flip-flops.)
  • Get everything in your tent at the first sign of rain/weather. It’s tough to dry things quickly in the wild.
  • If you’re cold, boil water before bed and put it in your Nalgene. Then put that in your sleeping bag.
  • If you’re in an area with animals, hang your bag in a tree or place your bear canister 50 feet away. Being safe is always the right move.

Minimizing your mistakes on the trail will make it much more memorable. Y’all are out here to have fun, create beautiful photos, and take a break from the real world. Avoiding these easy backpacking mistakes to improve your trip will pay off in the long run. If you have questions about backpacking essentials, shoot me a message or comment below!

Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.

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