Biggest Mistakes I’ve Made Hiking, Backpacking, and Camping
We’ve all done something stupid. Chances are, if you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you’ve taken some risks that most people wouldn’t. Everyone makes stupid, embarrassing mistakes and hopes no one was watching. Here are the top eight mistakes I’ve made as an outdoorswoman so you can do yourself a favor and avoid them. Some of these are pretty dumb, and don’t reflect well on me as a hiker or a camper or even just a person. But here they are.
Improper bear ropes
I was backpacking on the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) in Minnesota with a guy friend many years ago around Labor Day. Neither of us were very experienced, but being much younger and dumber than I am now, I assumed he would know what he’s doing because he’s a man. He didn’t know squat. In the evening when we went to tie up the food in the tree, we looked like two idiots hoisting and tying the dry bag in a tree branch. It was only about ten feet off the ground and just a few feet from the trunk, easily accessible to any hungry bear.
No bears took our food that night or the next, but it was very clear to me at that point that I needed to learn how to tie up some real bear ropes to keep any furry midnight snackers away.
Wearing the wrong socks
I had recently bought some new hiking boots, high-tops because I’m paranoid about rattlesnakes. I usually don’t have a problem breaking in a new pair of boots, but went out to Estes Park with my family and forgot to pack high-top socks to go with them.
My dad and I went up Deer Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park, which isn’t very long, just a short morning jaunt. We did the loop instead of the out and back route, which ended up being longer, and a few miles in I could feel my right ankle stinging. It was hurting, but not so much that I needed to stop or slow down. I’m the kind to just tough it out.
We came to a section of beautiful aspen trees near the end where I stopped and checked it out and was surprised to see just how much of my skin had been taken off. It looked worse than it felt, but I still felt like an idiot who could have easily prevented the wound. It took a long time for the skin to grow back, and the scar is still there.
Wearing the wrong shoes
I went backpacking for three days on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), a total of about 24 miles out and back. My old hiking boots shrunk from moisture, and I didn’t have the sense to buy new ones before the trip. So I went in some minimal style running shoes that I’d gone hiking in many times. But now add a heavy pack with gear for overnight, and on the second day I could barely walk on my right foot.
The six miles back to the car on the morning of the last day was one of the longest hikes of my life because of the pain in my extensor tendon on my right foot. Too much weight without enough foot support can damage joints and tendons that aren’t prepared for the extra load. It took about three weeks for my foot to heal, and I still get extensor tendonitis easily, so I have to watch out.
Not telling anyone where I was going
This was a bad habit up until I was around 26 years old. I would go on day hikes without mentioning to anyone where I was going, which is something you should always do even if you’re on a very popular trail. I spent my 25th birthday hiking Grandview Trail in the Grand Canyon in the middle of February. And the only person I told where I was going was a man that I had just met and flirted with on the rim at the trailhead. In winter, it was dangerously icy (thank you, crampons), and I ran into maybe two people in the six hours that I was down on the Horseshoe Mesa.
A year later I was hiking out in Colorado and staying at a friends’ place. I was doing Green Mountain in Boulder one morning, a favorite hike in the area, and while I was at the summit, I crossed paths with a runner who was also an amputee. That evening I mentioned to my friends, “I should probably tell you guys where I’m going so I don’t end up like James Franco in 27 hours, having to cut off my own arm to get out of a bad situation.” Then they told me that the man that movie is based on is a runner up in boulder. I crossed paths with Aaron Ralston. I realized it was him that I saw earlier that day. And from then on I told people where I planned to go and when.
Eating too much gorp
Back to the SHT in Minnesota, I made the mistake of eating too much gorp and energy bars. They gave me horrible stomach cramps that made the end of the trip pretty miserable.
You need to eat a lot of calorie-dense foods while hiking and backpacking, so calorie restriction is not the issue here. But foods that are high in processed chemicals, preservatives, and fats that take a long time to digest can cause a really upset stomach. Eat a lot of food that you know your stomach will be able to handle.
Using rocks to pound in tent stakes
Don’t do this. My stakes looked like little elbows when I was through with them. Depending on the stakes, they’re probably not meant to withstand the force of rocks pounding them into the ground. Use a small rubber mallet. And the best way to get those stakes in the ground is to find the softest dirt you can.
Burning the lid off my dad’s jetboil
My dad still doesn’t know I did this, and I plan to replace it before he finds out. I was camping in New Mexico near Red River with an old boyfriend whose name I don’t speak anymore, and I was up early in the morning before him. I got everything ready to boil some water for coffee, and I put the jetboil on the little canister stove once I had the flame going. But the lid was still placed on the bottom of the jetboil. I didn’t notice until I smelled something burning. And then I saw the black plastic start to melt and drip all over the propane tank. I was able to stop the disaster from getting worse, but I didn’t save the lid and I never got all the melted plastic off the canister stove.