The best way to learn is from your mistakes – and I’ve made many mistakes when camping and backpacking in the wilderness. Of course, there are some mistakes which should be absolutely avoided. I’m not exactly keen on testing my survival skills while lost outdoors at night, for example! So do your research about camping and be prepared so you avoid mistakes. And, when a mistake happens (as it inevitably will), make the best of it. Here are just some of the bigger camping mistakes I’ve made.
Using an Outdated Map
I like camping at places which are far from civilization and aren’t crowded with other campers. This usually means getting way into backcountry. Which also means that good maps aren’t always available. Once I heading into a canyon and immediately noticed that the map was a bit off. Then I noticed the publishing date on the map was 1981! Oops! Yes, we got semi-lost and ended taking a much longer trail to the campsite. I was able to navigate by following the river, but the journey was about 1 mile longer than I calculated and we got thirsty on the way.
Forgetting a Safety Pin
It is always the one item that you really need that you end up forgetting. On one trip to the mountains, our campsite had a bunch of prickly plants around it. Of course, my 3-year old tripped, fell, and landed right on one of them. She had a zillion little thorns stuck in her hand. It would have been nice to have the safety pin to dig them out. It was the only thing I’d forgotten in my First Aid Kit, and the only item I ended up needing (other than the tweezers for getting those tiny thorns!).
The moral? Check all your gear lists twice! It is often the small, easy-to-overlook things that you end up needing. Here’s a camping first aid kit checklist so you won’t overlook anything.
Waiting Too Long to Set Up Camp
Have you ever tried hanging a bear bag in the dark? I have trouble throwing the rope even in the daytime when I can see where I am aiming to. In the dark, it is nearly impossible.
On one camping trip with friends, we ended up moving a lot slower than we anticipated. We arrived at the campground late, and barely had time to set up our tents before darkness fell. We attempted to hang our food too. The next morning, we saw that it was only 3 feet off the ground. Haha! Luckily, no animals ate all of our food.
Thinking a Blanket Will Work Instead of a Sleeping Bag
On that same camping trip mentioned above, I didn’t have any gear at the time. Instead of asking someone to borrow a sleeping bag, I assumed that I could just curl up in a blanket. No – blankets do not hold in heat the same way that a sleeping bag will! I survived the cold night sleeping, but it wasn’t comfortable.
Not Calculating that Kids Hike Really Slowly
When I’m with adults camping and hiking, I can estimate how long a hike will take and thus how much water we will need. But I have a really hard time calculating how fast my daughter will hike, especially on tough terrain. On one trip up a steep mountainside, it took us 2 ½ hours to go 1 ½ miles! I had only brought 1 ½ liters of water (about 6 cups) because I hadn’t thought it would take us that long. I was really worried that we’d drink all the water before making it to the next water source. Dehydration is dangerous!
Forgetting to Put Gear Inside When Going on Hikes
The weather looks perfect when setting off on your hike, so you think there’s no reason to put it all away. And then the rain comes out of nowhere… This happened to me during one backpacking trip and my cook stove got drenched. It still worked fine, but only after it dried out for an entire day. We had to improvise and cooked over the fire.
Making a Fire Too Close to the Tent
My tent cover now has two really small holes in it because of this camping mistake. Ashes from the fire flew into the air and blew onto the tent cover, where they proceeded to singe holes into it. Campfires should always be at least 10 feet from your tent.
Not Immediately Establishing a Latrine System
When camping in the woods with other people, you better establish some sort of system for going to the bathroom. This mistake hasn’t happened to me (thankfully), but it could have. Imagine you go to dig a poop hole in the woods and end up digging up your friend’s poo! Gross!!! I now use this system when camping with friends: After finishing our business in the woods, we put a small pyramid of rocks over the spot so we know which places are not safe for digging a new poo hole.
*Image credit: Alan English CPA Dead End” trail Sign CC BY NC 2.0, found on Flickr
What camping mistakes have you made?