First, let me say that no one person has the “perfect” gear list or is “all knowing”. After 20 years of backpacking, I am still learning. But there are commonalities that new backpackers should learn first. Ariane and I are always testing gear or different ways to enjoy the outdoors while multi-using our gear.
Unfortunately, the growth of Social Media has made it way to easy for people to watch a YouTube video or post a question on Facebook. The issue I have with that, is new backpackers have stopped getting outdoors to test their gear and putting a lot of weight into what works for someone else. I think there is a value in getting advise, but how to you know it’s good advise? I’m not including this in my “top 3”, but realistically, because there are just so many pieces of gear getting to the same result we need to remember that the only piece of gear that works, is the one that YOU LOVE.
Mistake 1: Mis-fitting hiking boots or trail shoes.
If you feet are blistered, you are NOT going anywhere. People forget that your feet are the single most important piece of gear you have. So take care of them. Test, test, test, test and test again, you footwear. Whether it’s hiking boots, or trail runners, make sure they fit, and they can take uphills and downhills.
TIP: Use the “Rule of Thumb” literally. There should be at least one thumb worth of distance between your big toe, and the end of your boot or shoe. Most people get in trouble when going down hills and their big toe smashes against your boot or shoe. Toenails then fall off, and you are miserable. If you are going hiking or backpacking and have bought new footwear, then you had better break those babies in LONG BEFORE you hit the trail on your epic adventure. Start wearing them around your house, work, and go for walks around your neighborhood. Then go for some hikes on the trail. Blisters will make your hike miserable, and get you off the trail quick.
Mistake 2: Buying Gear you don’t need
Often the excitement of going out into the Wilderness to spend a few nights is pretty cool. If you are planning a long distance hike then it’s even more exciting. But too often, people go out and spend a lot of money on gear. This is the time to take a breath. Do you even like backpacking? Do you like being cold, hot, and hearing strange noises at night? Maybe you should rent your gear first, to see if you like it. People often spend way too much money on what (they think) is the best gear. There is no “best” gear. There is good quality gear, but the best gear, is the gear that works best for YOU. So, don’t get caught in the trap.
TIP: Get fitted and measure you Torso length FIRST. Rent a backpack that fits, and then go out and test it. Go for a single overnight and find a good hill to climb. How does it feel? Do you even like backpacking?
Did I get blisters?
Was my backpack to heavy?
What could I have done better while choosing my gear?
It’s important to realize, that new gear, isn’t necessarily the best gear. How often has Sil Nylon changed over the years. Does Cuban Fiber fabric keep you any less dry then nylon? Can you save money on gear by bargain shopping? All important questions that ONLY YOU can answer.
Mistake 3: Not understanding how their gear works
I am sure many of you reading this will say, “What? That sounds silly”. But it’s not. We have been doing Trail Magic on the Appalachian Trail for 8 years. All in the same spot, 13 miles from Springer Mountain (the start of the AT) and you would be shocked at how many hikers had no idea how to use their gear. From cooking stoves, to pitching their tent. They get so excited to hike the AT, they forget to learn how to use their gear. The though process is: I will learn as I go. And although there is some truth to that, the dependence on others will get you off the trail faster than you can say “AT”. This goes back to my original statement.
Test, test, test, test your gear. I think even Yoda would say “become one with your gear Luke”. Your gear should be your best friend on the trail. You know what it can do, and what it can’t. Knowing the limitations of your gear, can help you multi-use other pieces of gear to help you save weight.
YOU are YOUR Adventure. No body else will ever hike in your shoes. No body else will can tell you what to expect. Each and every day is different and it will be your own experience on the trail that will teach you what you need to learn. Much like life.