You know I always try to be open and transparent about my experiences and practices out on the trail and even though I am an ‘outdoor recreation professional’ that doesn’t mean I’m immune to making mistakes!
We will all make mistakes while hiking and backpacking at one time or another, the real question is – how quickly will you recover and learn from your mistake after it happens?
I also think the more we recognize and talk about our mistakes with other hikers, the better off we’ll all be on the trail.
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Listen to Episode 13: Hiking Mistakes I’ve Made, So You Don’t Have To
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Here are mistakes I’ve actually made while hiking:
Not hanging my food overnight: I’ve literally only done this once, and I did know better, but a series of unfortunate events left us stranded without a long enough rope to actually hang our food – and that was the one and only time I’ve ever had a bear steal my food (and destroy some gear in it’s rummaging!)
Wearing the completely wrong boots: I started off my long-distance hike in boots that really did not fit my feet and continued to wear them through horrendous blisters and lost toenails because everyone said ‘you just need to break them in’ when really…. I just needed a different style and size of boot.
Losing the trail: While hiking on a pretty established trail after a harsh season with lots of downed trees and bushes, going over and under trunks and branches – I very suddenly found myself completely surrounded by dense brush that was taller than I was. There was zero sign of the trail, no visible landmarks that I could see to try to backtrack, there were only crazy, mangled willows closing in all around me. I realized this is how people get lost and die in the woods. Luckily, I did have a map, compass, and Garmin InReach with me, and I was able to get back out of it – so I don’t really think I was in danger of dying this day, but I was shocked at how quickly and easily I became disoriented and think of the many hikers who think they don’t need to master backcountry navigation because ‘they’ll just stay on the trail’
Not bringing enough Pepto while backpacking.
Not knowing when to admit defeat: In my case, this happened once when I set out to check off some local bucket list hikes to alpine lakes, but the janky dirt road to get to the trailhead was closed. Completely tore up, under construction, do not pass go, do not hike to Bob and Betty Lakes. Since our bags were packed and we were obviously dressed to hike, I sulked my way to a different local trailhead – but it was an easy stroll through the woods, there were no views, there were lots of other people and groups on it, and it was almost 3,000 feet lower in elevation than where we planned to be so I was ridiculously overdressed for the beating sun and lack of wind on this trail. It was miserable. I was in such a bad mood. For me, the whole point of hiking is to have fun! Unwind! Relax! It wasn’t any of those things. With the mood I was in, I should have just called it a bust, went home, and rescheduled my dream hike for another day. The more we force ourselves to hike when we don’t actually want to, the less likely we are to keep getting back out there and doing it. Sometimes we need to admit that today is not the day, whether it’s because we aren’t feeling well or because our plans fall through.
Bringing too much food: I actually have made this mistake too many times to count. For me, I think it’s a ‘pack your fears’ situation where I’m afraid of running out of food, so I often pack too much. I do think this is a very personal decision and takes lots of practice to get used to how much food you need on a given day hike or backpacking trip. But food can be heavy, so this is something I continuously work on trying to keep my pack weight lower.
Bringing way too many first aid supplies: After guiding groups of hikers on backpacking trips for other companies where we were required to carry extensive emergency supplies for the entire group, that habit died hard and I also felt the need to carry a GIGANTIC first aid kit just for myself, even as a solo hiker – which in my mind, that kit was still significantly smaller than we carried on group trips, so I thought it was good. But it really was more than was necessary just for me, so I have pared that down to just the essentials over the years.
Not checking the elevation profile close enough: On one trip, I really thought the ‘hardest part’ of the trail was behind us and we should set up camp, leaving us a relatively easy-going last day of the trip – I didn’t realize that the next morning we would have to hike up and over the Continental Divide, which was an extremely long, steep incline that added an unexpected challenge to our day. What actually happened was, when I checked the map, I saw a line splitting our trip but dismissed it as the edge of one county and the beginning of a new county – which was true, but didn’t really mean too much to me at the time – I didn’t look closely enough at the topo lines to realize that the county line also coincided with the Continental Divide, which is a significant geological feature you might want to know about as an unsuspecting backpacker passing through.
Not drinking enough water + electrolytes: This hasn’t happened to me much, but every once in a blue moon, I’ll hike and hike and hike and not realize until it’s too late that I’m dehydrated and just feel like total crap! It’s hard to recover from that, rehydrate and feel like yourself again once that happens.
Losing my roll of toilet paper in the depths of the void that’s between my trash compactor bag and my pack.
Forgetting tent poles: Or any other pertinent piece of gear! But I did forget tent poles and stakes once back when I had a free-standing tent. Now I always look over my backpacking gear checklist as I’m packing things into my bag, while I’m inside my house, and then also do a double check in my head as I’m packing things into my car – did I grab my food bag out of the fridge? Did I grab my trekking poles? Camp shoes? Filled up water bottles? Did I actually pack sleeping clothes or I just thought about doing that? – and then might physically double-check anything that I’m doubting or don’t remember for sure if I packed it or not.
Not letting my lady parts breath enough during the hottest parts of a humid south eastern US summer.
Packing too much, like a book I’ll never read.
Grossly underestimating the weather: Growing up in the northeast, I had no clue and never would have guessed that the mountains in Georgia get a winter. A damp, icy, freezing winter. I did not pack for that and had to buy gloves and a warm hat the first chance I got. If you’re hiking in a completely new region or climate – maybe do a little more research into the weather ahead of time or ask the locals what it’s actually like there. I learned the hard way that Georgia isn’t all sunshine and peaches.
Pissing off the local wildlife.