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Photograph of Pete Lake in Washington State with the sun about to go down behind the mountains.


Amputee Outdoors isn't just for amputees, any lover of hiking, backpacking and camping will find value in this site.  But, if you are an amputee, I hope the videos, advice, and gear reviews educate and inspire you to enjoy the beauty of nature.

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Am man breaking into a car.

If you love hiking, you may have returned to the trailhead only to find that someone has broken into your car and stolen your belongings. Or you know someone that has. It’s a terrible way to end a beautiful day, and it can cost a lot of money and hassle to fix the damage and replace your items. This happened to my wife and I late last year at a popular hiking trail. The thief was able to rack up a few hundred dollars in purchases using her credit cards before we discovered the theft.

Unfortunately, car break-ins at trailheads are becoming increasingly common, especially near urban areas where thieves can easily access the parking lots. Most trailheads do not have security cameras or guards, so it’s up to you to take precautions to avoid becoming a victim.

In this post, I will share with you ten tips to prevent car break-ins at a trailhead, based on my experience and research. These tips will help you deter potential thieves and protect your valuables while you enjoy your hike.

Tip #1: Lock your car and don’t leave your key in the gas cap or wheel well

This may seem obvious, but locking your car is the first and most basic step to prevent car break-ins. Some people may argue that leaving your car unlocked will prevent thieves from breaking your window, but this is not a good idea. If you leave your car unlocked, you are inviting anyone to take whatever they want from your car, even if it’s just a headlamp or a water bottle. You also risk someone hotwiring your car and driving away with it.

Another common mistake is leaving your key in the gas cap or wheel well. This is a very risky practice, as thieves know exactly where to look for keys. If they find your key, they can easily unlock your car and take everything inside. They can also drive away with your car or use it as a getaway vehicle.

The best thing to do is to lock your car and take your key with you. If you don’t want to carry your whole keychain with you, just take the individual car key and maybe your house key. You can also get a small pouch or belt clip to store your key securely while you hike.

Tip #2: Keep valuables out of your car or hide them before arriving at the trailhead

One of the main reasons why thieves target cars at trailheads is because they see valuables inside them. Laptops, wallets, purses, phones, cameras, and other expensive items are very tempting for thieves who are looking for a quick score. If they see something valuable in plain sight, they will not hesitate to smash your window or pop the lock and grab it.

The best way to avoid this is to keep valuables out of your car. If possible, leave them at home or in a safe place where you are staying. If you need to bring them with you, hide them in your trunk or out-of-sight before arriving at the trailhead. Don’t wait until you get there to stash them under the seat or in the glove compartment, as thieves may be watching you. Make sure nothing valuable is visible from the outside of your car.

Tip #3: Keep unnecessary gear at home or get window tints or DIY curtains to keep them out of sight

If you are an outdoor enthusiast, you may have a lot of gear in your car that you don’t need for every hike. For example, if you are into climbing, biking, skiing, or fishing, you may have equipment that is bulky or hard to hide in your car. While these items may not be as valuable as electronics or cash, they can still attract thieves who may think they can sell them or use them for themselves.

The best way to avoid this is to keep unnecessary gear at home. Only bring what you need for each hike and leave the rest behind. If you can’t do that, consider getting window tints or DIY curtains to cover your windows and block the view of what’s inside your car. Window tints are relatively cheap and easy to install, and they can also protect your car from sun damage and heat. DIY curtains can be made from any fabric or material that matches your car color and can be attached with velcro or magnets.

Tip #4: Take the least impressive vehicle to the trailhead

Another factor that can influence whether thieves target your car or not is how impressive it looks. Thieves may assume that a newer, fancier, or more expensive car has more valuables inside than an older, simpler, or cheaper one.

If you have more than one vehicle or if you are carpooling with friends, consider taking the least impressive vehicle to the trailhead. This may deter thieves from choosing your car over others that look more appealing. Of course, this does not mean that you should ignore the rest of the tips listed, as any car can be broken into regardless of its appearance.

Tip #5: Situational awareness

Sometimes, thieves may try to trick you by pretending to be friendly hikers who want to chat with you at the trailhead. They may ask you how long you plan to be gone, what trail you are taking, where you are from, or other seemingly harmless questions. While they do this, they may be looking for clues about what’s in your car or where you have hidden your key.

While it’s nice to be polite and friendly with fellow hikers, be careful of any stranger who engages you in conversation at the trailhead. Follow your gut instinct and look for signs that they may have ulterior motives. For example:

  • Do they seem overly interested in your plans or personal details?

  • Do they keep looking at your car or other cars in the parking lot?

  • Do they have any hiking gear with them or look like they are ready for a hike?

  • Do they have any visible tattoos, scars, or marks that could identify them later?

  • Do they have another person waiting nearby or in another vehicle?

If something feels off about the encounter, end the conversation politely and walk away. You can also hang around the trailhead and observe their behavior for a few minutes before starting your hike. Or you can start your hike and then come back shortly after to check on your car.

Tip #6: Choose the most visible parking spaces and park under lights when available

Another way to deter thieves from breaking into your car is to choose parking spaces that are highly visible and well-lit. Thieves prefer dark and secluded spots where they can work without being seen or interrupted by other hikers or passersby. Parking in open and bright areas makes it harder for them to approach and damage your car without being noticed.

When choosing a parking space at the trailhead:

  • Park as close as possible to the entrance or exit of the parking lot.

  • Park near other cars that look occupied or well-maintained.

  • Park under lights if available (especially if hiking at night).

  • Park facing outward so that anyone approaching from behind will be seen by others.

  • Avoid parking near bushes, trees, walls, dumpsters, or other objects that could provide cover for thieves.

Tip #7: Take pictures of anyone or anything that seems out-of-place at the trailhead

If you see someone or something suspicious at the trailhead:

  • Take pictures of them with their license plate if possible.

  • Report them to the police or park rangers if available.

  • Warn other hikers about them if appropriate.

Taking pictures of potential thieves can serve several purposes:

  • It can scare them off by letting them know that you are aware of their presence and have evidence against them.

  • It can help identify them later if they do break into your car or someone else’s.

  • It can provide proof for insurance claims or police reports if needed.

Of course, taking pictures of potential thieves can also be risky, as they may react aggressively or even violently if they notice you. Prioritize your safety and keep a safe distance from them. You should also avoid confronting them directly or accusing them of anything. Instead, call the police or park rangers and let them handle the situation.

Tip #8: Do not approach a car prowler in progress, observe from a safe distance and call the police

If you witness a car prowler in progress, either breaking into your car or someone else’s, do not approach them or try to stop them. This can be very dangerous, as they may be armed or violent. They may also have accomplices nearby who could join the fight or escape with the stolen items.

The best thing to do is to observe the crime from a safe distance and gather as much information as possible. For example:

  • What do they look like (gender, age, height, weight, clothing, tattoos, etc.)?

  • What are they doing (smashing windows, picking locks, grabbing items, etc.)?

  • What kind of vehicle are they using (make, model, color, license plate, etc.)?

  • How many of them are there and where are they located?

Then, call the police or park rangers and report the crime as soon as possible. Provide them with all the details you have observed and follow their instructions. If possible, take pictures or videos of the crime scene and the suspects for evidence.

Tip #9: Report car break-ins to the police whether you plan to make an insurance claim or not

If you discover that your car has been broken into after your hike, you should always report it to the police whether you plan to make an insurance claim or not. Reporting car break-ins can help the police track down thieves and recover your items. It can also help them identify crime patterns and hotspots and increase patrols and security measures at those locations.

To report a car break-in:

  • Call 911 if it is an emergency or if the suspects are still nearby.

  • Call the non-emergency number of the local police department if it is not an emergency or if the suspects are gone.

  • Provide them with your name, location, vehicle information, and a description of what happened and what was stolen.

  • Ask for a case number and a copy of the police report for your records.

  • Contact your insurance company if you have coverage for theft or vandalism and file a claim.

Tip #10: Don't advertise your hike

Avoid leaving signs in your car that indicate your hiking plans or destination. This can alert potential thieves that you won't be back for a while and make your car a more tempting target. For example, if you leave a map, a guidebook, or a note in your car that indicates your hiking plans or destination, thieves can infer how far you are going and how long it will take you to return. This can make your car a more tempting target than others that have less or no signs of hiking plans.


Car break-ins at trailheads are a common and frustrating problem for hikers. By following these tips, we can all reduce the risk of becoming a victim and enjoy our hikes with peace of mind.


  • Lock your car and don’t leave your key in the gas cap or wheel well.

  • Keep valuables out of your car or hide them in your trunk or out-of-sight before arriving at the trailhead.

  • Keep unnecessary gear at home or get window tints or DIY curtains to keep them out of sight.

  • Take the least impressive vehicle to the trailhead if you have the option.

  • Be leery of any stranger who engages you in friendly conversation at the trailhead and observe their behavior.

  • Choose the most visible parking spaces and park under lights when available.

  • Take pictures of anyone or anything that seems out-of-place at the trailhead.

  • Do not approach a car prowler in progress but observe from a safe distance and call the police.

  • Report car break-ins to the police whether you plan to make an insurance claim or not.

  • Don’t advertise where you’re going or how long you’ll be gone.

I hope this blog post has been helpful and informative for you and you never have to deal with a car break-in. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below. See you out there! 😊

Glenn Barfield

May 12th, 2023

Two backpackers leaning on a wooden fence in the woods with very large backpacks.

Backpacking is a great way to explore the outdoors, connect with nature and challenge yourself. However, it can also be a daunting experience for beginners who may not know what to expect or how to prepare. Here are five common mistakes new backpackers make and how to avoid them.

1. Packing Your Fears

One of the most notorious beginner backpacking mistakes of all is bringing too much stuff. Whether it’s too much food, clothing, gear or water, many newbies “pack their fears” in an attempt to control every possible variable. However, this only leads to a heavier backpack that will slow you down, tire you out, and make your trip miserable.

To avoid overpacking, try to evaluate the contents of your pack before setting out for the backcountry. You want to balance carrying enough gear to stay safe and comfortable and not carrying so much that you can hardly move. It helps to build a spreadsheet itemizing all of your gear and the weight of each item. You’ll be stunned by how much the little things add up.

Some tips to reduce your pack weight are:

  1. Choose lightweight and compact gear that is designed for backpacking use, such as tents, sleeping bags, stoves, and cookware.

  2. Pack only the clothing you need for the expected weather and layer up or down as needed. Avoid cotton and opt for synthetic or wool fabrics that dry quickly and wick moisture.

  3. Plan your meals carefully and pack only the food you need for the duration of your trip. Choose high-calorie, nutrient-dense and easy-to-prepare foods that don’t require much water or fuel to cook.

  4. Carry only enough water to get you from one reliable water source to another. Use a map or guidebook to locate water sources along your route and plan accordingly. Carry a water filter or purification tablets to treat water from streams or lakes.

2. Poor Footwear

Another common mistake new backpackers make is wearing inappropriate footwear. Your feet are your most important asset on the trail, so you want to take good care of them. Wearing shoes that are too tight, too loose, too heavy or not broken in can lead to blisters, hot spots, foot fatigue and injuries.

To avoid foot problems, choose footwear that is comfortable, supportive, breathable, and durable. You may prefer hiking boots, hiking shoes, or trail runners depending on your personal preference and the terrain you will encounter. Whatever you choose, make sure they fit well and are broken in before your trip. You may also want to invest in some quality hiking socks that are cushioned, moisture-wicking and seamless.

3. Cutting Calories

One of the most surprising mistakes new backpackers make is not eating enough. Backpacking is a physically demanding activity that burns a lot of calories, so you need to replenish your energy regularly. Not eating enough can lead to fatigue, weakness, headaches, and mood swings.

To avoid under-eating, plan your meals carefully and pack enough food for your trip. Aim for about 3,000 calories per day or more depending on your body size and activity level. Snack frequently on high-energy foods like nuts, dried fruits, granola bars or jerky throughout the day. Eat a hearty breakfast before hitting the trail and a satisfying dinner at camp. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and avoid alcohol which can dehydrate you further.

4. Optimistic Expectations

Another mistake new backpackers make is having unrealistic expectations about their trip. They may overestimate their abilities, underestimate the difficulty of the terrain or ignore the weather conditions. This can lead to frustration, disappointment, or even danger.

To avoid setting yourself up for failure, do some research before your trip and have a realistic plan. Know your physical limits and choose a route that matches your fitness level and experience. Check the weather forecast and prepare for possible changes. Have a backup plan in case something goes wrong or you need to bail out early. Be flexible and adaptable to whatever challenges you may face on the trail.

5. Overanalyzing Gear

The final mistake new backpackers make is obsessing over gear. This is easy to do and I think we've all done it. New hikers may spend hours comparing different brands, models and features of backpacks, tents, sleeping bags and other gear. They may spend a fortune on the latest and greatest equipment or try to save money by buying cheap and low-quality gear. They may get overwhelmed by the number of choices and information available or get influenced by the opinions of others.

To avoid overanalyzing gear, remember that gear is not the most important factor in backpacking. Gear is just a tool to help you enjoy your trip, not the goal of your trip. You don’t need the most expensive or the most advanced gear to have a good time. You just need gear that works for you and your needs. In fact, the most important gear you take with you weighs nothing. We're talking about knowledge. What you know about your gear, the trail, the weather, yourself, etc., will count for more than all the gear you bring.

The best way to find out what gear works for you is to try it out. Borrow or rent gear from friends, family or local outfitters before buying it. Test your gear in your backyard or on short trips before taking it on longer ones. Read reviews and watch videos from reputable sources but don’t rely on them blindly. Trust your own judgment and experience.


Backpacking is a rewarding and fun activity that can enrich your life in many ways. However, it can also be challenging and intimidating for beginners who may make some common mistakes. By avoiding these five mistakes, you can have a more enjoyable and successful backpacking trip.

Do you have any other tips or advice for new backpackers? Share them in the comments below. And if you liked this post, please share it with your friends who may be interested in backpacking. Hope to see you out there!

For some, this is a non-issue. "Who cares so long as you have water?", they ask. For others, this subject prompts derisive looks to outright mockery and destroyed friendships. OK, I exaggerate slightly with that last one, but you get the idea. Before jumping into this controversy, I'll come clean and tell you I'm in the Smart camp. I even have a video comparing Nalgene to Smart Water bottles ( However, I have purchased one of those kits that enables you to use your Smart Bottle like a Water Bladder. So it's not necessarily an either/or situation. (Bonus section below the pros and cons)

It's difficult to say which type of hydration system is the "best" for hiking, as it can vary depending on individual preferences and the hiking conditions or situation. All three options - a Nalgene bottle, a Water Bladder, and a Smart water bottle - have their own pros and cons.

Let's go into those pros and cons, shall we?

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Nalgene Water Bottles Pros

A Nalgene 32 ounce water bottle
  1. Durability: Nalgene water bottles are made of tough, BPA-free plastic that can withstand rugged outdoor conditions, including drops, impacts, and rough handling. They are less likely to crack or break, making them highly durable for outdoor adventures.

  2. Large capacity: Nalgene water bottles typically have a large capacity of up to 32 ounces (or more), allowing you to carry a significant amount of water, reducing the need for frequent refills during hikes or backpacking trips. This can be especially useful in areas with limited water sources.

  3. Wide mouth design: Nalgene bottles usually have a wide mouth design, making them easy to fill, drink from, and clean. This can be beneficial when you need to refill your bottle from a stream or a water source with limited access.

  4. Versatility: Nalgene water bottles are versatile and can be used for more than just water. They can also store other liquids like hot beverages, soups, or cold beverages, making them suitable for various outdoor activities and meal options.

Nalgene Water Bottles Cons

  1. Weight: Nalgene bottles can be relatively heavy compared to other lightweight water bottle options available in the market. When backpacking, every ounce counts, and the weight of multiple Nalgene bottles can add up, potentially increasing the overall pack weight.

  2. Bulky size: Nalgene bottles are relatively bulky due to their large capacity and wide-mouth design, which can take up significant space in your backpack. This can be a concern when you have limited space or need to pack efficiently for a multi-day backpacking trip.

  3. Limited insulation: Nalgene bottles do not provide good insulation for temperature-sensitive liquids. For example, they may not keep hot beverages hot or cold beverages cold for an extended period of time. This can be a drawback when you need to keep your drinks at a specific temperature.

  4. Leakage risk: Nalgene bottles can be prone to leakage if the cap is not tightened properly or if the bottle is not stored upright. This can lead to wet gear or loss of precious water, which can be a significant inconvenience during a hike or backpacking trip.

Water Bladder Pros

A two liter water bladder with drinking hose.
  1. Hydration convenience: Water bladders, also known as hydration reservoirs, typically come with a long drinking tube that allows you to sip water on the go without having to stop and reach for a water bottle. This can help you stay hydrated more easily and efficiently during hikes or backpacking trips.

  2. Hands-free operation: Water bladders can be stored in a backpack or hydration pack and are often designed to be compatible with various backpacks, making them hands-free and convenient to use while on the move. This can be especially beneficial when you need your hands free for other outdoor activities.

  3. Large capacity: Water bladders can hold a significant amount of water, typically ranging from 1 to 3 liters or more, providing ample hydration for extended periods without the need for frequent refills. This can be particularly useful in areas with limited water sources.

  4. Space-saving design: Water bladders are typically flat when empty, taking up minimal space in your backpack compared to bulkier water bottles. This can help you save space in your backpack for other essential gear and supplies.

  5. Insulation options: Some water bladders come with insulation sleeves or are made of insulated materials, which can help keep your water cool or hot for a longer period of time. This can be beneficial when you need to regulate the temperature of your water during outdoor activities.

Water Bladder Cons

  1. Cleaning and maintenance: Water bladders can be more challenging to clean and maintain compared to water bottles. The drinking tube and the reservoir may require special brushes or cleaning tablets to prevent mold, bacteria, or other contaminants from accumulating, which can add extra effort and time to your outdoor gear maintenance routine.

  2. Limited durability: Water bladders are generally made of thin, flexible materials such as plastic or silicone, which may be less durable compared to rigid water bottles. They can puncture or tear easily if not handled carefully, which can be a concern in rugged outdoor environments.

  3. Difficulty in monitoring water intake: Unlike water bottles, it can be challenging to gauge how much water you have consumed from a water bladder, as they don't provide a clear visual indicator of the water level. This can make it harder to monitor your hydration levels and plan accordingly during hikes or backpacking trips.

  4. Risk of leakage: Water bladders can be prone to leakage if the reservoir or the drinking tube is not properly sealed or if the tube gets accidentally disconnected. This can result in wet gear or loss of water, which can be inconvenient or even dangerous, especially in arid or remote environments.

  5. Dependency on backpack compatibility: Water bladders are designed to be used with specific hydration packs or backpacks, and their compatibility may vary. If your backpack is not compatible with a water bladder, you may need to purchase a new backpack or find alternative solutions, which can be an additional cost or inconvenience.

Smart Water Pros

Three Smart brand water bottles, 20 ounce, 700ml and 1 liter.

  1. Lightweight and durable: Smart Water bottles are made of lightweight and durable plastic, making them ideal for hiking and backpacking where weight and durability are important considerations.

  2. Availability and affordability: Smart Water bottles are widely available at most convenience stores, grocery stores, and gas stations, making them easy to find during hikes or backpacking trips. They are also affordable compared to specialized outdoor water bottles, which can save you money on gear costs. They also come pre-loaded with water.

  3. Compatibility with water filtration systems: Smart Water bottles are compatible with many popular water filtration systems, such as Sawyer Squeeze or LifeStraw, which allows you to easily filter and treat water from natural sources like rivers, lakes, or streams. This can be crucial for staying hydrated during outdoor adventures where potable water sources may be limited.

  4. Multiple size options: Smart Water bottles come in different sizes, ranging from 500ml (16 oz) to 1L (32 oz), allowing you to choose the size that fits your hydration needs and pack space requirements. This flexibility allows you to customize your water supply according to the duration and intensity of your hike or backpacking trip.

  5. Recyclable and eco-friendly: Smart Water bottles are typically made of PET plastic, which is recyclable in many recycling programs. This makes them a more environmentally friendly option compared to single-use disposable water bottles, as they can be recycled and reduce plastic waste in the wilderness.

Smart Water Cons

  1. Limited insulation: Smart Water bottles are typically not insulated, which means they may not keep your water cool or hot for an extended period of time. This can be a drawback if you need to regulate the temperature of your water.

  2. Lack of convenient drinking options: Smart Water bottles do not come with built-in drinking straws or caps, which means you need to unscrew the cap or open the bottle to drink water, requiring both hands and potentially slowing down your hydration process compared to bottles with built-in drinking features.

  3. Less convenient for on-the-go drinking: Unlike water bladders with drinking tubes, Smart Water bottles require you to stop and open the bottle to drink water, which can disrupt your pace or rhythm during hikes or backpacking trips, especially if you need to drink frequently.

  4. Potential for leakage: As with the Nalgene bottles, Smart Water bottles can leak if the cap is not properly sealed or tightened. This is especially true of some of the cheaper brands of water bottles.


Water bottle conversion kits are a great way to combine the pros of Nalgene or Smart

A conversion kit including a cap and hose that hikers can use to combine the benefits of a Smart water bottle and a water bladder.

water bottles with the pros of Water Bladders. You get the easy-to-clean ability found with bottles and the convenience of a bladder. Because the conversion kits usually come with attachments for either Nalgene or Smart water bottles, you can switch between the two as the hiking conditions require. They can be a little tricky to set up and I've had a cheaper brand leak so it's worth it to buy a better-quality conversion kit.

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