Top Mistakes To Avoid When Backpacking/Hiking

Hiking is one of my favorite ways to get some fresh air and explore a new area! However, it isn’t always an easy hobby and there are some risks that every hiker has to prepare for. Some dangers are out of our hands, such as bad weather or wild animals blocking the trail. But there are other mistakes that are easy to avoid if you take the right steps!

Some common hiking mistakes include:

  • Overpacking 
  • Wearing the wrong shoes
  • Not bringing enough food and water
  • Wearing moisture-trapping clothing
  • Leaving safety equipment behind
  • Using an outdated or unusable map
  • Rushing downhill sections
  • Hiking alone
  • Straying off the trail

These mistakes can and should be avoided at all costs. As long as you understand the dangers of these habits and plan ahead properly, you’ll have nothing to worry about on your next hike! So let’s explore these mistakes and what you can do to fix them.


One of the most common mistakes to see on the hiking trail is overpacking. This happens to hikers of all skill levels and it’s easy to let yourself think that you can handle more weight than you actually can. Maybe that backpack doesn’t feel heavy in the parking lot, but it’s going to be a nightmare when you’re halfway up the mountain.

Obviously, you do need to take some equipment on the trail with you though. The real trick is finding the right balance of necessities and weight. A good general rule to follow is that a hiking pack shouldn’t weigh more than 10% of your body weight. So if you weigh 200 lbs, your pack shouldn’t be more than 20 lbs.

Make sure you have a good backpack that distributes weight evenly as well. If all the weight rests on a couple of small points, you’re going to get sore in no time.

Wearing The Wrong Shoes

Another common mistake is picking the wrong shoes for the trail. I used to just grab a pair of old running shoes before leaving for a hike, but that left me with sore feet and blisters. Athletic shoes are not made equal when it comes to hiking!

Road running shoes and heavy boots are bad choices for a hike, even if it’s an easy one. You should never wear open-toed shoes either since this leaves your feet exposed to plants, rocks, branches, and other painful obstacles. A good set of hiking boots or trail running shoes are essential for every hiker.

If you’re looking for a good place to start, check out our post here about proper hiking shoes.

Not Bringing Enough Food And Water

Hiking is a physically demanding activity, and you need to make sure you have plenty of food and water on hand. A good rule of thumb is to bring 2 cups of water for every hour that you plan to hike. If you’re just doing a quick 1-2 hour hike, you’ll probably be fine with a single water bottle. But otherwise, you need to consider other solutions, such as a water filter or a camelback water pouch.

Water is quite heavy, so it might take up a good portion of your pack’s overall weight. To lighten the load, you should try to drink about 4 cups of water before you start the hike. This gives you a good base level of hydration.

Food is also important! It’s fine to reward yourself with a big meal after a hike, but you should always bring along some snacks as well. You should look for foods that are rich in carbohydrates, sugar, protein, and healthy fats. These give you both immediate and long-lasting energy, plus it’s nice to have something to munch on.

Dried fruit, energy bars, jerky, trail mix, granola, crackers, and dark chocolate are all great choices for trail food.

Wearing Moisture-Trapping Clothing

Another major pitfall is choosing the wrong clothes for hiking. Moisture is your worst enemy, especially if you’re worried about getting cold. Lots of fabrics are fine for everyday use, but they can become terrible choices on the hiking trail.

Cotton and denim are two of the worst things to wear on a hike. Cotton absorbs water and it’s hard to get it fully dry. You’ll be dealing with a damp, sticky shirt in no time. Denim has a similar problem, plus it’s a bit too stiff. You’ll want to wear light, moisture-wicking fabrics like polyester and fleece.

Layering is also your best friend! Make sure you bring a few different options, including a warm jacket, a waterproof layer, and some gloves/mittens.

Leaving Safety Equipment Behind

It can be tempting to leave some important gear behind, but there are some necessities you should always bring! You never know what might happen on the trail, so you should cover your bases. You can add, remove, and swap things as needed, but you should always bring:

  • Sunscreen and a brimmed hat
  • Bug spray
  • Navigation tools
  • Trail snacks
  • Water
  • A flashlight
  • Fire-starting equipment
  • A first-aid kit

Using An Outdated Or Unusable Map

Maps are important for every hike and backpacking trip. They’ll help you plan your route and recognize any important landmarks along the way.

However, some hikers make the mistake of using maps that are no longer accurate. Make sure you look a the most current version so you can stay updated on new routes as well as any changes in the landscape.

You also need to be wary about using digital maps. It’s certainly easy to look up a map on your phone, but once you lose service, you could end up getting lost. Consider printing out a physical copy of the map to bring with you.

Rushing Downhill Sections

When you’re on the back end of a hike, it can be tempting to rush down slopes. After all, the hardest part is going uphill, so why not enjoy the downhill portion?

This mindset can be quite dangerous though. It’s much easier to lose your footing on downhill sections, and there’s a greater risk of slipping and falling off the trail. I understand the temptation to go faster, but don’t let your pace get out of control!

Hiking Alone

Hiking by yourself is another dangerous habit that hikers should avoid. When you’re by yourself, there’s a greater risk that you could get lost. If there’s an accident or emergency, you also won’t have any backup. There’s no guarantee that another group will fin you, so you need to bring someone else along to watch your back.

Wild animals are also more likely to approach a lone hiker rather than a group, so you’re endangering yourself even more. Always bring company along! This will also help you to pass the time and share the experience.

Straying Off The Trail

Finally, never leave the hiking trail! It can be very tempting to forge your own path through the woods, but this behavior is dangerous to you and damaging to the trail. You could run into noxious plants, wild animals, and unstable footing.

Many hikers like to take shortcuts up the sides of switchbacks, but this is extremely bad trail etiquette. It erodes the structure of the trail and can lead to rockslides. It also disturbs the natural environment. Trails are created and maintained for hikers, so stay on the path and enjoy it from there!

Final Thoughts

Hiking is a lot of fun, and it’s an easy activity to get into. However, both new hikers and experienced ones need to remember that the trail can be dangerous! You can easily get exhausted, sore, or hurt if you don’t respect the trail. So make sure you plan ahead, bring the right gear, and practice good habits on your next hike.

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