Common Beginner Mistakes to Avoid in the Wild
Heading into the backcountry without the appropriate preparation can make you uncomfortable, but it can also be dangerous. Luckily, it’s possible to prevent a number of mishaps from occurring with the right adventure planning. The following avoidable backpacking mistakes are common among beginners.
Wearing Cotton in the Backcountry
Cotton fabrics are comfortable and great for many situations, but exploring the deep wilderness isn’t generally one of them. Since cotton easily absorbs moisture, it doesn’t take very long to become soaked, and when paired with cool temperatures, wet clothing can quickly become a hypothermia hazard. Plus, sudden storms are common in the mountains, which leads to the old hiker adage: “cotton kills.” Instead look for synthetic or wool fabrics that wick moisture and dry quickly.
While hiking, the most efficient way to pack your gear is going to involve putting the heaviest items closest to your back, and the lighter items on the outside. Many backpackers keep the heaviest items in the center of the pack with bulky items on the bottom. But packing is partially a matter of preference, too.
Generally speaking, you’ll want items that you need to access quickly to be accessible. So, you may want to keep a water filter in your front pocket, and snacks in your hip belt pockets. Items that you won’t need until camp can stay in the bottom of your pack.
Additionally, how you lift your backpack matters. Instead of hoisting your backpack onto your shoulders by a strap, grab the loop between your strap. This is a weight-bearing strap that’s designed to bear the brunt of the weight. This will help you to prevent tearing or straining your pack straps over time.
Carrying Loose Items on the Outside of Your Backpack
While it can seem convenient to carry items on the outside of your backpack, doing so can actually work against you. When loose gear flops in opposing directions, you’ll potentially be wasting energy as you huff it up steep switchbacks. In order to optimize each step, you should either pack everything in a pocket or fasten items securely to the outside of your pack.
Freezing Your Water Filter
Some water filters cannot be frozen because the interior fibers can crack, which leads to ineffective filtering. If you leave your water filter out with the rest of your belongings on a particularly chilly night, it’s possible that it won’t keep you safe from harmful bacteria and viruses in the future. But, usually, there’s no way to determine if you’ve damaged the internal components of your filter. One way to avoid freezing is to sleep with your filter in the footbox of your sleeping bag on cold nights. It’s also a good practice to periodically switch your filter out for a new one.
Not Eating Enough Calories
Depending on the pace, length, and elevation of a hike, it’s possible to burn around 5,000 calories per day. And the heavier your pack, the more calories you’ll be burning. It’s incredibly difficult to carry enough food for multi-day backpacking adventures when you burn so many calories. But it’s possible to increase your nutritional intake while you’re in the backcountry. Some strategies that help include dehydrating your own meals, and drinking calories (in the form of shakes or electrolytes). A good rule of thumb is to try to consume 300-500 calories per hour. This will help to keep your energy levels stable while you walk.
Forgetting to Check for Ticks
If you’ve ever been backpacking on the East coast, chances are you’ve had a run-in with a tick. These nasty little creatures are known for carrying a range of different diseases, including Lyme disease. When undetected, Lyme is capable of affecting your joints, heart, and even your nervous system. And latter stages of Lyme disease can be really tough to treat.
Since deer ticks (the particularly tiny ticks) are known for being carriers of Lyme disease, it’s important to check your body for these little creatures. They may look as small as the size of a pinhead, often going undetected even during regular tick checks. But keeping your eyes peeled for these creatures may reduce your chances of contracting a chronic illness.