Backpacking Mistakes

In a few weeks I’m going to be hosting an “Intro to Backpacking” Seminar at Harriman State Park.  I’m hosting this event via the Meetup Group “Hudson Valley Hikers.”  Meetup events tend to get a lot of RSVP’s, but also a lot of No-Shows. In order to vet people out before giving them a spot at the seminar, I’ve asked them to email me questions about backpacking.  Some of them are pretty good and I’ll be sharing the answers via a series of posts called “Ask CampingJay.” This post will discuss Backpacking Mistakes.

Backpacking Mistakes

Timothy Asks “What was the biggest mistake you/team ever made for a backpacking excursion? How did you and/or team work around the mistake?”

I’d like to provide two answers for this question.  The first will address a mistake I made as a beginner and the second will address a more recent mistake.  Note: I won’t call myself an expert at any point, we are all always students.

Beginner Backpacking Mistakes

On my first backpacking trip, I had no idea what I was doing. I brought a lot of extra stuff I didn’t need, like books, an iPad, and a pair of sneakers to wear in camp.  On the other hand, I went really short on stuff I did need. I only had one lousy sandwich for food and 1 liter of water.  The hike I planned only covered 1.5 miles to the shelter and involved an elevation gain of about 500 feet.  Despite this easy goal, I was pretty miserable! The hot sun and my lack of physical conditioning left me wanting for water in the worst way. Fortunately a group of friendly Boy Scouts came to my rescue and helped me filter water from a nearby stream.

CampingMeg, CampingJay (me!) and Evan.

I tell a lot of people this story because its important to realize that everyone starts somewhere. I do my little demos and seminars to help others avoid the same mistakes I’ve made.  I learned everything I know about backpacking the hard way, and I’d like to help others have a better time of it.

More Experienced Backpacking Mistakes

A more serious mistake was over-estimating how far my crew could walk in the snow with heavy packs. This February a group of us from HVH went on backpacking trip in southern PA. We’ve been working on Pennsylvania’s 220 miles for some time, and bit off more than we could chew in an attempt to accelerate our timeline.

Two days before the hike, there was a heavy snowfall. By the time we started hiking, most of the snow at ground level had melted and the weather looked warm and sunny for the first day. The second day’s weather looked awful, so we elected to try and pull off extra mileage the first day, stay at a hostel for the night, and then maybe do minimal mileage the second day, if anything.

Unfortunately, despite great weather, snow along the trail on our first day really slowed us down and took a heavy toll on our energy levels.  One of our hikers ultimately decided she couldn’t make it to town and she and I spent the night at a lean-too site.  I used my scout skills to make a nice fire out of what seemed like really wet snow-covered wood, then we melted water for hot coco and roasted marsh mellows.  It turned into a great night, but it wasn’t really what we had planned on. Here’s the full story, if you’d like to read it:

Being able to make fire from wet wood is a potentially life-saving skill when winter backpacking.
Being able to make fire from wet wood is a potentially life-saving skill when winter backpacking.