Five Common Backpacking Mistakes: Lessons Learned Summiting Mt. Adams

About ten days ago, I completed my first backpacking trip. My boyfriend and I, with a couple close friends, embarked on a 12-mile, one night, expedition to summit Mt. Adams, a dormant volcano in Washington with an elevation of 12,272 vertical feet.

This was my first overnight backpacking trip, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. So, as soon as I booked my ticket, I started to do my research. Of course, I turned to Pinterest to learn all I needed to know.

As I searched through the countless backpacking pins, I found lots of useful information, like how to make the most efficient use of space in your pack and what the best backpacking foods are. These tips helped me a ton, but as much as I searched, I couldn’t find anything about common mistakes newbie backpackers make.

What’s an overenthusiastic fitness blogger to do? Create my own list of course.

Five Common -Newbie- Backpacking Mistakes (1)

Mistake #1: Assuming backpacking is the same as hiking for long distances

I’m in pretty good shape, lifting three+ days per week and doing high intensity conditioning workouts at least twice a week. As I started thinking about my upcoming backpacking trip, I thought I would be totally fine to break in my boots, do some incline walking, and call it good.

Not the case.

Mt Adams View

Backpacking, especially the mountaineering sort (read: trekking through elevation gains of 5,000+ vertical feet, forging your own trail through snow filled glaciers, and bouldering up rocky mountain faces) requires training and a specific mindset.

It’s so different to exert yourself physically when you know you’ve got a comfy bed, hot meal, and a glass of wine waiting for you at home. Backpacking is as much a mental sport as it is a physical one. I’m the first one to admit I had a hard time recovering from the day’s hike at a campsite. I’m not saying it wasn’t worth it but I am saying it’s something you’ve got to keep in mind.

Re: training. When I prepare for my next mountaineering adventure, I’m taking training approach that includes progressive strength training (lots of weighted step ups and stairmaster interval workouts) and endurance focused cardio workouts. These two components will ensure both my legs and my heart are prepared for the trip.

Mistake #2: Not practicing in full gear

Similar to #1, I thought that working with a weight vest would be sufficient training. I never took to the trail with my full pack, boots, and hiking clothes.

This was a huge mistake.

The worst pain I experienced on the trip was the pinching of my skin between my pants’ waistband and the bottom of my pack. My pants were probably too big and I had no idea until I was three hours into our trek. Had I practiced in all my gear, I would have been aware of the discomfort and could have found ways to ameliorate it before I was away from all cell service and out of options.

Mistake #3: Considering the total weight of your pack instead of the percentage of your bodyweight

As my boyfriend and I strategized about what we would bring and who would carry what, we solely thought about total weight of each pack. We thought we were being responsible, planning for him to carry the heavier items.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough.

Even though my pack was substantially lighter than his, it was still a higher proportion of my bodyweight, making the relative weight even heavier than his pack. Next time, we will balance our loads so that neither of us is carrying more than about 20% of our total bodyweight.Katherine Walking

Mistake #4: Not bringing an extra outfit of warm clothes to wear when you finish hiking for the day

OMG. I wish someone had told me to bring more warm clothes for the night after our long day. This is especially important for hikes that will take place in the snow or require glissading.

In order to keep my pack light, I only brought one fleece for under my windbreaker. That (plus my long sleeve shirt, socks, and pants) got soaked as we glissaded down the mountain, leaving me with nothing but a windbreaker to wear for the night. I was freezing and had to go to bed super early because I couldn’t stop shivering. Not fun.

Always bring an extra jacket for hanging out at the campsite.

Mistake #5: Carrying “just enough” water

We started with five gallons of water for four people, which sounds like a ton. But it definitely was not enough. We did not take into account how much more water you need at elevation or while you are exerting yourself for nine hours in a day.Katherine and Andrew

Always bring more water than you think you need, along with an empty container for water you find/purify on the trail.

I also would suggest some sort of electrolyte drink powder. It will help ensure you are drinking enough fluids AND will mask the taste of semi-purified water. By day 2, I was so sick of drinking plain water and needed the extra sugar. Next time, I will bring BCAAs and Gatorade powder.

I hope this helps! Clearly, I made a bunch of newbie mistakes on my first backpacking trip but I am SO glad I went. It was a fun opportunity to live my fitness and test my physical boundaries.

If you have any questions, definitely shoot me an email or comment below. I would LOVE to chat with you.

What common mistake did I miss? Have you ever gone backpacking?

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