Backpacking Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make

Avoiding backpacking blunders in the backcountry

As you know, getting out on a backpacking trip can be complicated, taking lots of preparation and planning. Even our team of skilled outdoor enthusiasts here at Outdoor Outreach have run into some backpacking trouble themselves. From not knowing what to wear, to having trouble navigating the backcountry, our staff have a few backpacking blunders to share in hopes that others might be able to avoid them in the future.


A few years ago, I soloed a trip in South Africa. Most of the route is off-trail, but easy enough to navigate. On the 4th day on the trip, I planned to exit the high country along a narrow mountain pass. I was feeling confident and quickly picked out the path. As I started down the pass, the terrain gradually became steeper and steeper. After about an hour I was practically down climbing 4th class terrain when suddenly the path fell away to a 30ft. cliff edge. I was just about to attempt the down-climb when something in my head yelled “STOP!” What was I doing? Something felt very wrong. I sat down and took a closer look at the map. The realization slowly sank in that I had missed the correct path, mistaking it for a parallel gully. I took a deep breath and retraced my steps back to the top of the escarpment. I had lost 2 hours, but gained an important lesson in backcountry navigation. Don’t ignore the signs. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. By slowing down and not jumping to conclusions I was able to find the correct path.

– Dustin Punches, Youth Programs Senior Coordinator

DON’T: Bring the wrong set of keys to a backcountry cabin AND not bring a tent for your stay during thunder storm/rainy season in high alpine environments. DO: Ask others for help, you might make some new friends.

– Matt Smith, Youth Programs Manager

Don’t wear tank tops while backpacking.  You may think they would be good for keeping you cool but actually they expose your skin to direct sunlight and don’t cover enough of your shoulders, where your pack’s straps will chafe.

– Josh Osias, Youth and Environmental Programs Coordinator

I’m not one to carry a lighter around with me. I’m not much of a fire worshipper, and I don’t often find the need to have a lighter handy. This came back to bite me when my friend and I backpacked into the Laguna Mountains for the night. We backpacked in all of the food, water and cooking gear for a hearty pasta and vegetable meal, only to find out neither of us had remembered a lighter for our stove! We ended up eating our cold snacks that were supposed to be for the next morning. Luckily we were planning on leaving the next day and we had enough cold food to get by. If this had happened on a longer trip it could have really messed up our whole itinerary and caused us to end our trip early. From now on, I make it a point to put a lighter or two on my checklist and I always triple check that I have one before leaving for any camping trip.

– Steph Halper, Program Operations Coordinator

I was on Day 1 of a 4 day backpacking trip in Mammoth Lakes and we started off the trip by hiking up and over Duck Pass (elevation 10,800 ft).  I was moving + grooving and felt energized the whole day. When we finally got to our campsite, next to the beautiful Pika Lake, I sat down to rest and immediately started feeling off.  I was dizzy, nauseous and had a massive headache. My one and only experience with altitude sickness ensued! Within a half hour I was so ill I couldn’t keep my eyes open and I had to put myself to bed before dinner. I felt much better the next day, but was sad to miss out on our group’s first night in the wilderness. My advice… Drink water, water and more water! The Wilderness Medical Society recommends drinking 3-4 liters when above 10,000 ft in elevation. And take it slow with lots of breaks sprinkled in, especially on Day 1!  Happy Trails!

– Molly Morelli, Finance & Administrative Director

Quality gear is paramount to any successful backpacking trip. That’s why we’re proud to partner with Eagle Creek, a company of seasoned travelers and outdoor enthusiasts that make versatile gear to take you beyond your comfort zone. Eagle Creek sponsored Outdoor Outreach’s 2018 Lead the Way event, and we’re so grateful for their ongoing support of our work here at Outdoor Outreach!


Outdoor Outreach is a San Diego-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides adventure-based youth development programs serving 1,700 vulnerable and at-risk youth each year. Through those programs, we’re helping youth build resilience in the face of challenges, and confidence in their power to make a difference.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.