15 Beginner Backpacking Mistakes to Avoid

Get practical tips to avoid common beginner backpacking mistakes so you can hit the trail safely and confidently without costly mishaps.

Girl on a backpacking trip in Kings Canyon National Park in Dusy Basin holding a trail map

Embarking on your first backpacking trip can be an empowering, fun, and adventurous experience, however, the path to becoming a seasoned backpacker is often paved with a few avoidable missteps.

I started backpacking in 2005, andmy first few backpacking trips did not go smoothly. My first time was near Mt. Rainier in Washington, and when we got to the trailhead, I realized I forgot my hiking boots. Not wanting to drive all the way home, I ended up hiking in Chacos the entire time. Needless to say, my feet were a bloody mess by the end of the trip. We also didn’t pack enough food, and I was starving the whole time.

Another time in 2007, my friends I took an early season trip in California’s Emigrant Wilderness. A couple miles in, we found the trail covered in snow, with all of the trail signs being broken in half. Despite not having a map or GPS, we haphazardly decided to carry on. We got completely off track and had no idea where we were. Twenty-four hours later after camping near some unknown lake, we were post-holing our way up a snowy hillside when we randomly stumbled back on the trail.

徒步旅行in Emigrant Wilderness California with a broken trail sign
Smiling after finding our way back to the trail in Emigrant Wilderness in 2007

Despite these initial backpacking trips being full of (sometimes comical) mistakes, I still had a great time and learned a ton of valuable lessons to ensure safer and more enjoyable backpacking trips in the future.

Since that first backpacking trip, I’ve spent many more nights in the backcountry, including22 nights on the John Muir Trail, and have gained a ton of valuable outdoor skills in the process. Below I share the most common beginner backpacking mistakes to empower you to hit the trails with confidence – and ensure you don’t make the same rookie errors as I did!

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1. Overpacking Clothes & Unnecessary Gear

Overpacking is a common beginner backpacking mistake that can – quite literally – weigh you down and diminish the overall enjoyment of your adventure. You’ll likely be carrying 20-30+ pounds on your back, which is tough enough without adding unnecessary gear.

While packing a physical book might be appealing, they add extra weight and bulk, and alternatives like e-readers or a book on your smartphone are more efficient. Leave the speaker at home which not only adds extra weight but distracts from the natural sounds of the outdoors.

Toiletries add up quickly in weight and you really don’t need much aside from biodegradable soap (we likeDr Bronnerssince you can use it for dishes and for yourself),bug spray, andsunscreen.

Tip:When packing for a backpacking trip, lay everything out including all your clothes and gear and see if there’s anything you can leave behind.

Laying out backpacking gear before a trip
Laying out my basic backpacking gear before a trip in Kings Canyon National Park in 2016

When it comes towhat to wear backpacking, it’s easy to fall into the trap of packing too many clothes.I usually pack one outfit to hike in, one outfit to hang out at camp and sleep in, extra socks and underwear, and warm layers.

I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but trust me – it’s all you need. You don’t want to be weighed down by extra clothes. Plus, if the weather’s warm enough and if you bring lightweight, quick dry clothing (which I highly recommend doing), you can rinse your hiking outfit when you change into your camp outfit and it’ll be dry by the time you’re ready to set off in the morning.

A woman smiles on the Trans Catalina Trail in California. She's wearing the REI Sahara Shade Hoodie and Oboz hiking boots
This is my go-backpacking outfit (swap shorts for hiking pants if it’s cold)


  • Avoid cottonwhich traps moisture and doesn’t dry out quickly. Look for synthetic fabrics, which dry quickly, or wool, which is naturally moisture-wicking.
  • Don’t wear tank topsbecause bare shoulders + heavy pack = uncomfortable rubbing & chafing. I like hiking in along sleeve topso my arms are protected from the sun and I don’t have to worry about sunscreen.
  • Pick versatile, quick-drying clothesthat can be worn in various combinations or layered as necessary.
  • 把轻量级、可打包的层取暖like alightweight insulated jacketand alightweight rain jacket.
  • Pack a pair oflightweight sandals.It’s nice to let your feet air out at the end of the day when you’re hanging at camp.
  • Opt for travel-sized versions or multipurpose hygiene productslikeDr. Bronner’swhich can be used as dish soap and body wash to save space and weight. Full-sized toiletries aren’t practical for backpacking and you’ll be surprised by what you can go without on the trail.
Backpacker standing for photo with alpine lake behind her in Sequoia National Park in California
BFT team member Linda on a backpacking trip in Sequoia National Park

2. Packing Heavy Car Camping Gear

While car camping gear can be luxuriously comfortable, it’s not designed for carrying over long distances. I learned this the hard way on a solo backpacking trip in 2016 in New Zealand where I backpacked with my ultra-heavy car camping cookware – since it was all I had with me. The weight and bulk of these items drastically impacted my ability to move quickly and comfortably on the trail.

徒步旅行in New Zealand on the Rees Valley Trail
Carrying a heavy load while solo backpacking in New Zealand. Can’t you see it on my face?

Investing in backpacking-specific gear can greatly reduce your pack weight and increase your enjoyment on the trail.Key gear pieces to focus on are your tent, sleeping bag, backpacking pack, sleeping pad, and cookware which contribute the most to your overall weight.

While these big gear items can be pricey, it’s worth it to invest in quality gear that’s lightweight and durable. High-quality gear will last you for years of adventures (we’ve had some of the same backpacking gear for 10+ years that we still use) and will make your time on the trail and at camp much more pleasant.

If you’re looking to save on some of these big ticket items, keep an eye out on sales at REI andcheck out REI’s Used Gear sitefor big discounts on lightly used gear, some of which is like new. You canlearn more about the REI Used Gear program here.

Budget-Friendly Backpacking Gear for Beginners

REI Co-op Trailmade 2 Tent

  • Easy to set up
  • 2 doors & vestibules great for 2 people
  • Includes a footprint

REI Co-op Trailmade 20 Sleeping Bag

  • Perfect for all but the coldest camping weather
  • Synthetic fill (no animal products)

REI Co-op Trailmade 60 Pack

  • Adjustable torso & extended sizing available
  • Padded shoulder straps and hip belt for comfort
  • Great organization

Therm-a-Rest Trail Lite Sleeping Pad

  • Self inflates
  • 1.5 in. thick

Not ready to invest in backpacking gear?REI offers gear rentalsfor all your backpacking essentials like tents, sleeping bags, pads, bear canisters, and more.

3. Not Testing Your Gear Before Your Trip

Familiarizing yourself with your backpacking gear before you hit the trail allows you to understand how each piece functions, troubleshoot potential issues, and ensure that everything is in working order.

Imagine reaching your first campsite only to realize you’re unsure how to assemble your tent, or worse, discovering a malfunction in your backpacking stove when you’re ready to prepare a much-needed meal.

These situations can be easily avoided by taking the time to set up your tent in your backyard, testing your stove to make sure it works properly, or practicing using your water filter to ensure you know how it works.

By testing your gear ahead of time, you can embark on your backpacking trip with confidence, knowing that you’re well-equipped to handle any surprises that come your way.

A woman using the Platypus gravity works to filter water on a backpacking trip
Test your gear! You don’t want something important (like your water filter system) failing in the backcountry

4. Not Packing Enough Food

在我第一次的背包旅行,我hiking partner was responsible for planning and packing our food and he grossly underestimated our appetites. We shared a small portion of pasta for dinner and went to bed with grumbling tummies.

When backpacking, you’re burning a significant amount of calories each day – much more than during your regular day-to-day activities or even day hiking. It’s important to look up the estimated calorie requirements for backpacking, which can range from2,500 to 4,500 calories per daydepending on factors like your weight, the difficulty of the trail, and the weather conditions.

To meet these high caloric needs without adding unnecessary weight to your pack, you should ensure your food is calorie-dense. Pack a variety of snacks (check out our favorite hiking snacks here!) because trust me – you’ll get tired of eating the same protein bar day after day.

A hiking daypack filled with hiking snacks: Honey Stinger, Justin's nut butter, Go Macro bars, Nuun tablets, and other snacks.
Tip: Pack a variety of snacks so you don’t get bored eating the same bar over & over

作为a beginner backpacker, sticking to pre-made backpacker meals is an easy way to portion out your food– bring one backpacker meal per person per dinner. Don’t be fooled by the “2 person” label found on most backpacker meal packages – I can easily eat a two-person backpacker meal by myself after a long day of hiking.

A woman eats an Outdoor Omnivore backpacking meal in the Minnesota Boundary waters
Pre-made backpacking meals are super convenient, easy to make, and easy to portion

However, it’s equally important not to overpack food, as this adds extra weight to your pack(food is one of the heaviest things you’ll carry!) and can make your journey more strenuous. Before you leave on your trip, lay out your meals and snacks to get an idea of how much food you’re bringing.

A green tarp is laid out on the ground with a BearVault 500 bear canister in the bottom corner. There are Outdoor Herbivore backpacking meals and various snacks organized on the mat.
We recommend laying out your food ahead of time so you don’t over/under pack

5. Not Checking The Weather Forecast

Failing to check the weather can lead to a totally miserable experience at best, or at worst, a potentially dangerous one. Always check the weather forecast before heading out on the trail, or better yet, call the closest ranger station to get the most up-to-date information.

  • If there’s a chance of rain, having alightweight rain jacketandrain pantsis crucial to keep you dry and prevent hypothermia. With weather being unpredictable in the mountains, I’d say packing these items is typically a must.

It’s important to research your destination thoroughly and understand what weather and conditions you may encounter to ensure you pack appropriatelyand are prepared for a safe and enjoyable adventure.

A woman wearing a bug head net while backpacking the Mineral King Loop in Sequoia National Park
I was so happy I had this bug net when backpacking in Sequoia National Park

6. Wearing Improper Footwear

Nothing can cut a trip short faster than painful, blistered feet.Wearing brand-new hiking boots on your trip without breaking them in first can lead to discomfort and blisters, so it’s essential to wear them on some hikes ahead of your trip.

During the break-in period, pay attention to any “hot spots” where your boot may be rubbing as this is where blisters are likely to form. Make sure to wear thick hiking socks (I’m partial toDarn Tough) and bring along some bandaids ormoleskin为了解决这些热点才能成为我ssue.

Wearing hiking boots or shoes that are too small is also a common beginner hiking mistake. Your feet swell when hiking, especially in warm weather, so you’ll want to make sure you have a little bit of extra space in those boots without having so much space that you slide around. I recommend trying on your hiking boots with a pair of thick hiking socks and making sure they don’t feel tight when you walk around.

I have been wearing Oboz hiking boots for years and they have never let me down – my favorite pair for backpacking are theOboz Bridger B Dry Hiking Boots. They’re comfortable, supportive, and waterproof so I feel confident hiking in any terrain.

A woman stands on a summit looking over  a blue lake and lots of alpine trees. She's wearing red Oboz hiking boots
Make sure to break in your hiking boots prior to your trip (wearing theOboz Bridger Mid)

You should also opt forgood quality hiking socks, likeDarn Tough(which have a lifetime guarantee!), instead of cotton ones, as they wick away moisture and help prevent blisters.

After a long day of hiking, you’ll want to give your feet a break by switching to lightweight camp shoeslike theTeva Trail Universal Sandal(which are also great for water crossings!). But avoid heavy sandals or shoes which add unnecessary weight to your pack.

A pair of feet hanging out of a backpacking tent with mountains in the distance,
Your feet are your most valuable asset on a backpacking trip, so ensuring they’re well taken care of is super important!

7. Not Carrying Enough Water

A critical beginner backpacker mistake is not carrying sufficient water. Dehydration can be a serious issue while backpacking, leading to decreased energy, headaches, or in severe cases, heatstroke.

作为一般准则,我建议在勒ast 2 liters of water. If you know you’ll be surrounded by water sources (and don’t mind stopping to fill up often), you can get away with less. If you’re backpacking in hot weather or climates where water isn’t easily accessible, plan to carry 3-4 liters.

I carry 2-3 of theselightweight 1L water bottleswhen backpacking. They’re perfect for carrying extra water for longer, drier stretches of the trail and they’re also great if you want to add electrolytes to your water. When you’re not using these water bottles, they easily roll up and take up almost no room in your pack.

You’ll also need a reliable method of water purification, and when possible, pick campsites that have a water source nearby so you can easily filter water for cooking too.

My favorite water filter is thePlatypus GravityWorks Water Filter Systembecause it’s so easy to use. Rather than pumping water and getting a bicep workout, you can sit back and relax, letting gravity do the work.

8. Not Using Trekking Poles

Trekking poles might seem unnecessary or even nerdy at first glance, but the utility they provide on the trail is substantial.Trekking poles reduce the impact on your knees and help evenly distribute your weight, especially during descents, which can help you reduce the impact on your joints and prevent injuries.

They alsoprovide stability on the trail when crossing uneven terrain or navigating stream crossings, especially since you’re carrying a heavy load on your back that can easily knock you off balance. Once you try backpacking with trekking poles, you’ll never go back.

If you’re looking for a pair, theseBlack Diamond Trail Back trekking polesare a great pick – they’re lightweight, pack down small, and are adjustable so they’ll fit nearly any size, plus they’re budget-friendly to boot.

Woman hiking on trail in high alpine terrain carrying backpacking gear and holding trekking poles
Trekking poles help you stay balanced and prevent injuries while backpacking

9. Not Doing Enough Research & Planning

Thoroughly understanding the trail you are about to tackle is an essential part of safe and successful backpacking – and one that is often overlooked by beginner backpackers.

First, be sure to look up permit requirements and any regulations for the area –many popular backpacking trails require permits that go on sale up to a year in advance. You’d hate to plan your trip and show up at the trailhead only to realize you need a permit!Learn more about how to plan a backpacking trip here.

Next,be sure to read up on current trail conditions and potential obstacles to ensure a safe backpacking trip. For example, there may still be snow on the trail (as I described in my story earlier) or hazards like fallen trees. To do this, look up trail info on the corresponding state or national park website and look for recent reviews on ahiking app. If there’s any uncertainty, call the local ranger station to get the most up-to-date information on trail status and safety concerns.

A woman looks over the bay on the Trans-Catalina Trail in California. She has the Dueter Aircontact Lite backpack on
Research permits ahead of time so you aren’t left scrambling

10. Not Bringing Maps & Preparing to be Without Service

Knowinghow to avoid getting lostis the most important safety tip for any backpacker.You should 1) always download an offline map of the trail usingyour favorite hiking app, 2) carry a paper map as abackup, and 3) consider investing in a navigation/communication device like aGarmin InReach Mini, especially if you’re heading into a remote area without cell service.

I always have my Garmin with me on backpacking trips

11. Not Charging Your Electronics

Imagine setting up camp the first night and realizing you forgot to charge your headlamp or swap out the batteries. Or hitting the trail and realizing you didn’t fully charge your phone or GPS device that you plan on using for navigation.

Make sure you charge all of your electronicsincluding your headlamp, phone, GPS device (like theGarmin Mini inReachwe use), camera, and any other devices you need to bring along.

ThisBioLite headlamplasted us 6 days and 5 nights on abackpacking trip in Sequoia National Parkon one charge.

BioLite 325 headlamp
Biolite 325 Headlamp

If you think you’ll need more power, bring a small portable battery pack like thisBioLite Charge 20 Power Bank.

BioLite Charge Power Bank
BioLite Charge 20 Power Bank

12. Planning an Overambitious Route

Effective trip planning involves being realistic about your hiking abilities. Overestimating how far you can hike each day can lead to exhaustion, injury, or being stranded after dark.

It’s better to plan for a low-mileage, beginner-friendly trail for your first backpacking trip and treat it as a “shakedown” trip to get you prepared for harder and longer-mileage trips.

For your first trip, I suggest an overnight. Opting for a one-night trip is a sensible choice because it allows you to gauge your comfort level and abilities and test your gear without over-committing to a longer stint in the wilderness.

It also provides a manageable introduction to carrying your gear, setting up camp, and cooking outdoors without overwhelming you with too many logistics.

Looking for a beginner-friendly trail? Here are a few of our favorites:

Tip:Nervous about your first backpacking trip?REI offers guided backpacking tripswhich are perfect for getting your feet wet!

13. Not Researching Wildlife Ahead of Time

When it comes to backpacking, one common beginner backpacking mistake isfailing to be properly bear and wildlife aware. Knowing the local wildlife is not only crucial for your own safety but also for the well-being of the animals you may encounter along the way.

In bear country, it’s essential to know the proper techniques for storing food. Most places require you touse a bear canister or bear bags to secure your food.

克丽丝ten sitting on ground next to backpacking stove and bear canister on backpacking trip
In bear country, be sure to cook downwind and store all food & toiletries in a bear canister

Remember, different regions may have specific requirements and guidelines, so it’s essential to do your homework and familiarize yourself with the wildlife regulations before your trip.


  • Keep a clean camp.Don’t leave food, toiletries, or trash out.
  • Thoroughly clean all cooking pots and utensils immediately after use.
  • Don’t bury or burn food waste. Bears will dig it up (plus burying is not Leave No Trace friendly)
  • Do not cook, eat, or store any food in your tent.Ideally, you should cook 100 feet downwind of where you’re sleeping.
  • Treat all toiletries as foodand store them in your bear canister. Anything smelly could attract bears!
  • Pack all of your trash into your bear canister.

However,bears aren’t the only wildlife you should be aware of. Depending on the region you’re backpacking in, you may encounter other animals like rattlesnakes, marmots, or other critters.

It’s crucial to educate yourself about these local inhabitants and learn how to interact with them safely. For example, atHavasu Falls, a bear canister or hanging your food is now required because squirrels and other critters will chew through your tent and backpack to access food. That actually happened to us the first time we went to Havasu Falls. We put our packs down to go for a swim, only to come back to find a rodent had gotten into our lunch.

A woman hangs a bag of food at Havasu Falls to prevent wildlife from getting it
Hanging our food at Havasu Falls

14. Not Following Leave No Trace Principles

It’s important for ALL backpackers (not just beginners!) tobrush up on the 7 Leave No Trace Principlesbefore heading into the backcountry. These principles are a set of guidelines that encourage sustainable and respectful outdoor practices designed to minimize human impact on the natural environment.

They cover everything fromproperly pooping outdoorsand respecting wildlife tohow to choose a campsite. Ignorance or disregard of these principles can lead to littered trails, damaged vegetation, wildlife habituated to human food, and diminished experiences for future backpackers (or can even lead to trails getting shut down).

An orange trowel, toilet paper roll, hand sanitizer, and Ziploc bag laid out on the ground. This is a poop kit for backpackers.
Create a “poop kit” for backpacking with a trowel, TP, hand sanitizer, & Ziploc (for used TP)

Not being aware of or failing to adhere to Leave No Trace can cause significant harm to the beautiful landscapes we all enjoy. Therefore,it is crucial for all backpackers, novice or experienced, to familiarize themselves with and commit to LNT principles before embarking on their adventures, to ensure that our wild places remain pristine for generations to come.

15. Forgetting Emergency Supplies & Safety Plans

In the midst of the excitement of planning your first backpacking trip, don’t overlook an important component of your planning: packing emergency supplies and creating a safety plan.

When it comes to backpacking,carrying essential emergency supplies can be the difference between a temporary setback and a dangerous situation.One such must-have safety item is a lighter orwaterproof matches.

Fire can serve multiple purposes on the trail, from providing warmth and cooking food to being a source of light and a signal for help if the need arises. It’s a small tool that can make a significant difference in challenging circumstances.

Next, let’s talk about navigation tools.Even in the era of GPS and smartphone apps, a traditionalcompassand physical map of your hiking area remain indispensable. They do not rely on battery life or signal strength and could be your lifeline in maintaining direction and reaching safety if you veer off the marked trails. It’s an old-school approach, yes, but one that has saved many seasoned hikers in the most unpredictable situations.

Having a physical map (and knowing how to read it) is essential for backpacking safety

Finally,awell-stocked first aid kitshould have its own special place in your backpack. Bandages, antiseptics, tweezers, and pain relievers are just the beginning. Remember, minor injuries can escalate quickly in the wilderness, and immediate care can prevent a manageable situation from turning into a complicated one.

Another critical step we strongly recommend isleaving your backpacking plans with a trusted friend or family member. Sharing details such as your intended route, potential campsites, and estimated return time can make a significant difference in ensuring your safety. This practice isn’t just for beginners—it applies to all backpackers. By doing so, you establish an additional layer of security and peace of mind, knowing that someone is aware of your whereabouts.

不过,别让这些预防措施威吓你!作为you become more familiar with backpacking, you’ll find that these preparations become second nature. They will serve to enhance your experience, not detract from it.

Remember, the goal is to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of the outdoors, secure in the knowledge that you’re prepared for any eventuality. And trust me, with the right prep, you’re in for an absolutely unforgettable adventure!

初学者徒步旅行你有什么错误stions about? Are there any others you can think of? Leave us a comment below!

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  1. Thanks for the informative, thorough and beautifully illustrated tip list. It was an excellent refresher. I look forward to reading more. Good luck to the entire team.