5 Common Backpacking Mistakes That Can Cost You Your Life

Heading into the backcountry requires some survival knowledge and attention to safety. You can't plan for everything you might experience on a backpacking trip but you can prepare yourself with quality gear and enough knowledge to spot dangerous situations. Keep reading to learn the 5 common backpacking mistakes that can put you in serious danger.

5 Common Backpacking Mistakes


Common backpacking mistakes Chris hiding under rocks to avoid hail and lightning above tree line


1. Ignoring poor weather conditions- Last week as I quickly descended Flattop Mountain with dark clouds closing in on this section of Rocky Mountain National Park, I came across multiple people still climbing the mountain (without rain jackets). Having been in multiple storms above tree line I felt obligated to warn these folks of the potential hazards. Surprisingly, they showed little concern for the impending storm. The continued to hike in their t-shirts and shorts. Minutes later the sky opened up and punished us with marble sized hail and lightning.

Bottom line, lightning kills people every year. If you ignore the weather forecast and don't watch the clouds forming above you, you may be putting yourself at risk. You should always bring clothing for changing weather, know how to protect yourself from lightning and be prepared to turn around if weather worsens.

2. Ignoring the risks of bears or other wildlife- Many parks require the use of bear canisters or other safety measures. You must secure all food and other scented items (including toothpaste) inside the bear canister or properly hang it from a tree to avoid any unwanted visitors. Be sure to check your pockets for random granola bars or wrappers. Not taking care of your food properly will put you and others in your group at risk.

Backpacking safety Photo by Ann Cowley


3. Not telling people your plans- The easiest thing you can do to protect yourself in the backcountry is to clearly tell someone back at home exactly what your plans are. Whether this is a spouse, your mother, a friend or neighbor, make sure they know when to expect you back and the route you plan on taking. If you don't make it back on time, this person can alert search and rescue crews and guide them to where you might be found.

4. Not having a solid water purification plan- Water is life. You've got to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and healthy. Assuming you can't carry in enough water to survive a multi-day backing trip or thru-hike, you'll need to purify water. You can choose the water purification method that works best for you but be sure you understand how to do it properly. If you are relying on batteries like in a Steri-Pen be sure to bring back-up batteries. Also, it's a good idea to bring iodine tablets as a backup in case your purification method doesn't work out.

5. Not having quality gear to protect you from the elements- If you end up in an isolated wilderness area wearing a soaking wet cotton t-shirts as the sun sets, you are going to be cold. Always wear fabrics that will wick moisture away from your skin and dries fast. Hypothermia can set in quickly. To protect yourself you have to have clothing and other sources of warmth (a sleeping bag) that are warm and dry. Not having a warm and dry place outside of the elements can quickly turn into a dangerous situation.
Andy Hawbaker
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Andy Hawbaker
Andy is a hiker, backpacker, snowboarder and outdoor fanatic. When he isn't exploring the Rocky Mountains, burning marshmallows or scratching his dog behind the ear, he shares his experiences here on the Sierra Trading Post Blog.
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