4 (More) Things NOT to Bring on Backpacking Trips

On the Lost Coast trail before I realized I didn't
bring the right food...oops!
As a Cairn ambassador, I get to contribute to the Cairn blog, and one of the things I'm most excited about sharing are tips based around things I've learned over the course of my own adventures, some of which are a result of mistakes I've made.

In a recent article for the Cairn blog, I shared a list of things you shouldn't bring on a backpacking trip. In my experience, there seem to be way too many checklists of things you should bring, but not nearly enough checklists of things you shouldn't.

(Of course, there are trips it's worth taking the kitchen sink on, like this trip to the Catskills, which I'm preparing to go on again in a few weeks!)

I've made enough mistakes and learned enough things that my list of five things to leave at home quickly expanded the more I thought about it. Here are four more things I recommend not taking with you, and I'd love to hear others you have in the comments!

Foods that won't give you enough bang for your backpacking buck.

On a trip to California's Lost Coast, I was determined not to come home with leftover food. Planning everything out perfectly was my goal. Day one was fine, but by day two, I realized I didn't have enough calories to be comfortable. On the third day, a tripmate graciously offered me a peanut butter Clif Bar when he saw I was getting woozy, for which I'm forever grateful.

In hindsight, I would've substituted higher calorie, higher protein Clif Bars (cool mint chocolate FTW!) or Quest Bars for the Kind bars I brought. Instead of flavored tuna packets, I'd have packed pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, just something more calorie dense. My food allotments were way too low in calories, carbohydrates, and fat to sustain the amount of hiking we were doing. Bring foods that will give you enough energy to keep moving, and unlike me, don't expect to hike 5-10 miles each day on the same caloric intake that sustains you on a normal working weekday at the office. Trust me.

A cheap (quality) sleeping bag.

Guys, my first backpacking sleeping bag was massive. It easily weighed five pounds, took up half of my 60L pack, and was only rated to 40ºF. But it was cheap, and I was in college, and it seemed like the perfect bag for me. After a few trips, it became clear it wasn't, especially if I wanted to have room in my pack to carry pretty much anything else, or hike across three of the four seasons.

At this point, I have a few sleeping bags I choose from depending on when and where I'm planning on heading outdoors. But quality is super, super important no matter the season. (PC: D. Herscovitch.)

Though bargain shopping is awesome with respect to some items, don't sacrifice quality and the features you need in favor of saving a few bucks when it comes to essentials. Just because you can get a sleeping back at Wal-Mart for $25 doesn't mean that's the kind of sleeping bag you should take backpacking. It's absolutely possible to get a sleeping bag that'll meet your backpacking needs without breaking the bank, but make sure you do plenty of research around the kind of bag you'll need to the conditions you backpack in.

A full guidebook.*

On a recent trip to Washington, I grabbed a copy of a book about day hikes in the North Cascades to make sure I was as informed as I could possibly be about the hikes we wanted to do. It gave me a chance to review hikes before we left, and the guidebook gave me important information like the length of the trail, landmarks to look for, and turns to be aware of.

Bringing laminated copies of printed maps that only showed the areas we cared about - best idea ever! 

But when it came time to leave for the hike we chose, I took photos of the guidebook pages with my phone and left the book in our hotel room. I'd planned on carrying my phone anyway, and it didn't make sense to add extra weight to my pack for no reason. Absolutely get a guidebook and a set of maps before you go on a trip, but there's no reason to bring the full guidebook with you. Take photos of the guidebook, or photocopy pages you need to minimize extra weight.

*Initially, I'd included all books in the list, but remembered how I lugged a paper copy of Becoming Odyssa on a backpacking trip to Snowmass Lake and was incredibly glad I did. But if you need to lighten your load, leave all books at home!

Brand new hiking boots or shoes.

On one of my first backpacking trips in the Adirondacks in Upstate New York, I couldn't wait to put a new-ish pair of boots through their paces. I was in college, and dropped a handy $150 on a pair of full leather backpacking kicks from the EMS in my hometown. They were so unbelievably hardcore, in my novice backpacker opinion. I took them out a few times to break them in, but as it turns out, "a few times" wasn't enough, and I ended up with half dollar-sized blisters on both heels.

These boots and I had some great times together...after I broke them in! (PC: D. Herscovitch.)
Before you head out on your trip, make sure you're completely 100% comfortable with your footwear. Boots can take an especially long time to break in, depending on what they're made out of, and being a blistered mess is the easiest way to have a bad time on your trip. I've taken to hiking with trail running shoes when it's appropriate, as they tend to be more comfortable, but even those take time to break in. Leave your new boots at home until you've properly broken them in.

I know there have to be more things we've all brought with us on backpacking trips that we didn't really need! Things like deodorant and cotton swabs used to be nice-to-haves, but now, I take them with me on every trip while others might think twice about bothering to carry them. What about you? What do you recommend leaving at home?

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