How Not to Prepare for a Successful Overnight Backpacking Trip

This spring, I teamed up with nine other bloggers to talk about mistakes we've made outdoors. I've made my fair share and had trouble narrowing it down to the five I covered on Adventure-Inspired. To be fair, there's a significant learning curve with pursuits like rock climbing, backpacking, hiking, skiing, biking, and all of our other outdoor favorites. I've learned from my mistakes, for the most part, but there are anecdotes attached to each of these tips because I still make mistakes on a regular basis. Hopefully, you can learn from them and avoid them on your next backpacking trip!

1. Rush the packing process.

The night before I took off for Old Loggers Path in Pennsylvania this summer, I found myself running around like a mad woman. I was pulling gear out of my closet left and right, realizing there were things I didn't have, and realizing my trip partner and I hadn't talked about things like which tent we were taking. Given it was a short trip close to home, the lack of packing time wasn't a huge issue; I ended up throwing extra stuff in my car just in case. Had we planned a trip that involved a flight or specialized gear, I'd have been significantly more stressed.

When you're heading out into the backcountry, making sure you have everything you need is essential. If you rush, you're likely to forget things, bring things you don't need, and/or risk wasting valuable time organizing gear. Take the time to make a list and talk to your trip partners in advance to allow time for adjustments.

backpacking with too much weight Backpacking with too much stuff

2. Take too much stuff.

If there were a "Queen of Overpacking" title for backpackers, I'd have it without question. Though experience taught me what I can leave at home, I still typically carry more than I need. On a recent trip, my partner challenged me to let him look at my gear before we left and decide what could be left behind. I let him, but still managed to convince him to bring a backup stove. Ridiculous, right?

There's a difference between being prepared and over-prepared. If you're prepared, everything in your pack will have a purpose. When you get back from a trip, dump everything out of your pack and set aside items you didn't use. Then, unless it'll compromise your safety, consider leaving those items at home next time.

backpacking speed You're not going to move as quickly as you think

3. Expect you'll walk faster than two or three miles per hour

When I first started backpacking, I expected to cover 10-15 miles in areas like the Adirondacks in a few hours. I also expected, given I was in decent shape, it wouldn't be that difficult. It's just walking, right? If you've been backpacking, you'll know how wrong I was. Even traveling at a good clip, we'd get ten miles in five hours, not including breaks, and I'd be exhausted.

Backpacking is hard. You're walking on uneven terrain, likely uphill, and you're carrying stuff. Hopefully not too much stuff. You won't walk at the speed you'd walk on a city street, even on a day hike. Unless you're going light and fast, or are conditioned to be on your feet for dozens of hours like an AT thru-hiker, a pace around two or three miles per hour is a safe bet depending on the terrain. Plan your stops and campsites accordingly.

campsite Finding the perfect campsite

4. Don't check in with local authorities.

Imagine you're driving down a gravel road in a state forest in the dark. You've never been to this forest before, and you haven't had cell service for an hour. You think you're ten minutes from your destination when you come face to face with a "bridge out, follow detour" sign. You follow the detour, but when you come to the end of it, you don't have a clue where you are.

Before you leave on any trip, contact local ranger stations and look for any relevant warnings or requirements for the area you're visiting online. If I'd done that on a recent adventure, I would've known about the road closure and understood where the detour took me. I got lucky and everything worked out, but that might not always be the case. Local authorities tell you if permits are required, if there are access issues where you're headed, or if there's anything else you need to know in advance. Plus, letting them know your plans will come in handy if something goes wrong.

5. Bring new gear and apparel with you before testing it out.

To make sure I was prepared for my first real backpacking trip in college, I bought a pair of legit, full leather backpacking boots. After getting over the sticker shock, I found myself stoked to have a real pair of boots. So stoked, in fact, that I didn't spend any time breaking them in. It's a rookie mistake I paid for dearly in the form of quarter-sized blisters on both ankles for the duration of the trip.

Before you leave, make sure your boots are broken in, make sure your pack fits, and make sure you know how to use all of your gear, including how to repair it. Don't get into the backcountry and figure out you haven't a clue how to use the new stove you brought, or get a few miles into a long hike and realize your new boots are giving you blisters.

6. Don't read trip reports or maps thoroughly.

Early on in my backpacking career, my uncle, a veritable expert on the Adirondacks, showed me a map of a route he wanted to try. It was a loop that covered several of the High Peaks and looked as beautiful as it did difficult. Before I opened my mouth to start planning an itinerary, my uncle pointed out how few and far between water resources were. The route was more challenging than I initially thought; you'd need to carry two days' worth of water from the get-go.

As impatient as I am, I've learned how important it is to go through every detail for every trip, no matter how straightforward it might seem. My uncle pointed out something I'd missed in my excitement that could've gotten me in trouble. A closer look at a trail map will help you identify water sources, plan stops, find campsites, and determine how fast you'll be able to go. A simple Google search for trip reports can give you incredible insight into routes you're looking at from people who've been there. Couple this with tip number four and you're good to go.

backpacking weather Prepared for bad weather

7. Don't check the weather often enough.

When my friend and I planned our trip to the Loyalsock State Forest this year, I packed for summer conditions, including a 45-degree sleeping bag. He mentioned we'd see rain on the second day, so I supplemented my shorts and t-shirts with a waterproof jacket. Turns out the temperature was slated to drop to 45F on the first night. I woke up shivering in my summer clothes, layered up with what I had, and tried to sleep through the rest of the night.

It sounds obvious, but checking the weather report is one of the most important things you can do when you're planning a trip. Check early and check often; Mother Nature can be fickle, especially if you don't know what's coming. When you're out there, be sure you're completely on top of the weather at all times; it can change in a hurry. If we were deeper in the mountains or out on the trial longer, the story might've ended differently.

Given the number of backpacking trips I've been on, I can think of at least a dozen more ways not to ensure a successful trip. And I'm sure, dear readers, you do too! What else do you have to add to the list?


*Katie is a regular contributor to the Sierra Social Hub as part of #TeamSierra. Visit her site for more outdoor inspiration: Adventure Inspired
posted by
Katie Levy
Blogger at Adventure-Inspired
Katie Levy is a self-proclaimed outdoor adventure addict and loves sharing her passion for playing outside with anyone willing to listen. Though currently based in Philadelphia, spending her formative years in upstate New York and two years in Alaska fostered a lifelong passion for the outdoors. After 13 years as a competitive swimmer, she followed that passion on backpacking trips in the Adirondacks, on sub-zero winter hikes in the Chugach Mountains and up Mount Rainier. These days, if she's not out on the trail, you'll find working on her other passion, Adventure-Inspired, or getting her WOD on at CrossFit Love. Team Sierra bloggers receive promotional consideration from Sierra Trading Post.
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