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Five Common Mistakes New Backpackers Make and How to Avoid Them

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

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!

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