What’s Your Biggest Gear Mistake?

Explorer Survivor II "Rambo" Knife

We’re always showing off our latest and greatest gear and discussing the best possible ways to do things – usually based on our experiences gained through trial and error. So that got me wondering, what are some of the biggest mistakes (errors) you’ve made?

Explorer Survivor II "Rambo" Knife

Whether it’s a bad gear purchase that at the time seemed like a really good idea, or something you tried to make that went disastrously wrong, please share it with us via the comments below so that we can all benefit from the lesson(s) that were learned. If you have photos that help illustrate the mistake feel free to include those too.

Above is an example of one of my very first knife purchases. A Rambo-style, 9-inch, saw-backed monster that weighs in at a whopping 21oz. It seemed like a good idea at the time – 23 years ago!

Play nice policy: We’re all friends here and we’re all trying to learn about what works and what doesn’t, so keep it friendly :)

(Visited 966 times, 1 visits today)
Be Sociable, Share!
  • MichaelnStl

    One of my first purchases was a 0 degree sleeping bag – used for 3 season sleeping, and one of them wasn’t winter.  I could hardly sleep at night I was so hot, and lets not even talk about the weight.

    • That sounds like a classic mistake of picking the most “hardcore” product in its class for a task that doesn’t require it. I’ve made that mistake many times myself. It’s a learning curve. I’ve enjoyed making mistakes to.

    • Kaysie

      I did the same thing!

    • Marjolein

      Oh, I made the opposite mistake of going super light weight on my sleeping bag and ending up really regretting it, as I was always cold. I even bought a cotton inner (not the silk one, as it seemed too expensive) to add a few degrees… I should have gone for a thicker one, even thought that would have added a few extra grams… haha

  • Just like you, the biggest mistakes were from back in the day where I wanted to look cool, not be comfortable. A Lowe Alpine Expedition pack that weighed over 7 lbs. Yuck. And an MSR mess kit(19.25 oz) just so my MSR Whisperlite would store inside of it. Good topic. If we don’t look back, we’ll never know how proud we should be of our advances.

  • I bought an Evernew titanium wood stove and alcohol stove combination thinking it was going to be the best of both worlds. Well, it wasn’t. I knew things didn’t look good when I took my pot off of the wood stove and a small gust of wind blew the stove and my pathetic little fire all over the campsite. Good thing it wasn’t really dry out.

    • Damien, I have the exact same stove. I’ve been trying to give it the benefit of the doubt for over a year now, but it’s been a struggle.

  • Jolly Green Giant

    Sheesh, my list is probably endless – from the same kind of knife you have above, to 10 pound mountaineering tents, astronaunt boots, bulletproof backpacks, etc.  But it’s not just these individual pieces of gear, it’s them collectively.  15 years ago I’d bring everything I owned – that was far more of a problem than anything else.

    • That’s very true. It’s not just lighter gear, it’s making do with less gear – or both.

  • Ah, memories!  Yes, I have a Rambo knife too — bought it almost 30 years ago when First Blood came out.  I carried it once and it’s been on the top shelf of the gear closet ever since.  My early years of backpacking were influenced by Colin Fletcher’s The Complete Walker.   I had to buy the largest Gregory “Bloody Great Sack” pack that I could find.  All 7 pounds of it.  And when you have a humongous pack, you *have* to fill it to the top right?  So that’s what I did.  Into the pack went the new three stainless steel copper-bottomed cook pots (I was solo hiking.).  That was another thoughtful purchase. A 55 pound pack for a 5-8 mile hike was about right.  I could barely pick up my feet with the waffle stomper boots.  If you want to be a backpacker you had to look the part. What was I thinking!

    • Kevin, I’m right there with you brother! I love First Blood when it came out and his knife with the compass and survival items in the handle – too cool. Or so it seemed.

      We all have to start somewhere and for a reason. I thought it would be fun to look back on some of the silly mistakes we’ve made and laugh about them now as I’m sure we will all do again another couple of years from now. It’s called progress – I think :-)

  • T3Knical

    Im still new to backpacking and am in the process of making all of those mistakes that most have already gotten through. Luckily I feel I have in fairly quick fashion cut down my 50+lbs overnight pack to around 16lbs.  What I wanted to mention is don’t bash the heavy duty hiking boots like they are useless! Doing 20+ miles a day in the “rock”sylvania portion of the AT I can’t imagine any other footwear.  With my injured ankle I surely would have rolled an ankle.

    • T3Knical, I’m not bashing heavy hiking boots at all, far from it. I just personally no longer the need them for ankle support and don’t have issues with rolling my ankles. But, when it happens you can laugh at me and say I told you so.

      The point of this post is to learn from other people’s honest mistakes. It’s not about right or wrong or even gear bashing. You have to very quickly realize that one size does not fit all in this sport. That’s why there are so many good blogs out their providing unique perspectives on the same gear.

      You have to pick the right gear for your circumstances. I can only tell you what works for me, I have no idea what works for you, but encourage you to share you opinions via the comments on any of my posts. Thanks for leaving your feedback!

  • JJ_Mathes

    I go with my top three…the same Evernew titanium wood stove that  Damien mentioned, Asolo leather hiking boots and a torso length sleeping pad…all good are quality, but they’re not for my hiking style

  • Instead of list something that I bought, I will go with a mistake I made…

    On an overnight trip to Max Patch late last year I decided to cook with my alcohol stove (WBS) inside my tent vestibule (Kelty Grand Mesa 2). The wind was blowing something fierce, so I figured that I could close up the vestibule and take care of most of that wind.

    To begin with, I put a small amount of fuel inside the stove. I wanted to see how it would do inside the vestibule before I decided to fill her up and start cooking. (Good thing I did.)

    I lit the stove, with not hardly a thought of the dried grass that the stove was sitting on. Well, long story short, once the stove bloomed, so did some of the grass inside the windscreen. Let me tell you, lots of things went through my head at that moment…

    To make things worse… In my shock, I managed to knock the stove over (this is where it was a good thing I put just a little fuel inside it). So, I start pounding the ground with a pan of popcorn (you know the ones that you hold over a fire and the foil expands on the top..)

    Next thing I unzip the fly door in a manner that I actually expected the zipper to be ripped off. Then my wife high tails it out. i stay behind and battle the flame with my popcorn pan.

    In the end, I ended up with some singed eye lashes and a hole in the bathtub floor of the tent, about the size of a pencil eraser.

    Let me just say, I learned my lesson that day…

    • t.rex

      Ohmygod I’m dying. That is hilarious. I’m visualizing it in Charlie Chapman-style cinematography.

  • DD Longlegs

    The “mind movie” of whacking out a grass fire with a tinfoil popcorn pan made me burst out laughing but wow! lucky thing. That could have been a serious disaster. Glad it worked!

    I used to hike with about a 40 lb pack. Thank goodness that is behind me. I bought a sleeping bag that was rated to “freezing” but I live in northern Canada. That light a bag nearly froze body bits off me in summer in the mountains. It was heavy too. And it got replaced very quickly. I also used to use a Trangia alcohol stove. I liked how it worked and how well it was made but it was too big, too heavy, and used up fuel too fast so I had to take way more fuel than I wanted to even for a weekend. I still have it and sometimes use it but only when I am car camping. One thing that was a true success was a $15 bright yellow external frame nylon backpack from an army surplus store in Vancouver. I LOVED that thing and used it until the frame got all wobbly and unbalanced. I even managed to replace it with an identical one but then they stopped making them. It was big so I HAD to fill it, right? 15 bucks!! Hard to imagine these days.

  • Jason Klass

    I’ve made tons!

    -a 10 lb. $500 expedition tent
    -huge, white gas fuel bottles for overnight trips
    -bringing an axe
    -5 piece stainless steel cookset
    -7 lb. (empty) Gregory Backpack

    The list goes on…

    I’ve probably wasted hundreds of dollars on things I didn’t need but I thinki you have to kind of just go through the learning curve.

    • Great to hear it’s not just me, but I wonder what we all do with the gear that we no longer use or want. I’ve donated a lot of mine to the local BSA packs, and swapped it for other stuff. What do you all do with yours?

      • JJ_Mathes

        I swap, sell and donate

  • I bought an army surplus machete in college, but it was too big for the cheese in camp and I really didn’t need it for bushwhacking in the wilds of Aestern Pennsylvania.

  • double post oops

  • Thanks to blogs like this and a little book called Lighten Up, I was saved from a lot of the mindset mistakes I would have made, but my biggest mistake that I’m still having to live with was a pair of “real” hiking boots I was convinced I needed.  Now I’m stuck with them because I paid too much to not use them.  I wish I had a good pair of trail runners…

  • Thanks to blogs like this and a little book called Lighten Up, I was
    saved from a lot of the mindset mistakes I would have made, but my biggest mistake that I’m still having to live with was a pair of “real” hiking boots I was convinced I needed.  Now I’m stuck with them because I paid too much to not use them.  I wish I had a good pair of trail runners…

    • Jason

      Oh, where oh where to begin? Well, I had a larger axe, then a smaller axe (the places I hike, it’s worth carrying). Now I’ve just gotten an army-pattern golok – kinda like a heavier machete – and let’s see how that goes. I’m sure it’s a stupid purchase but it wasn’t too expensive and I wanted to know. Like an earlier poster said, you have to live through the learning curve to learn, although of course blogs like this one help. Oh, and buying more ultralightweight gear not so you can carry less, but so you can just carry more of it. Pure class. Ultraheavyweight backpacking ftw.

  • Thanks to blogs like this and a little book called Lighten Up, I was
    saved from a lot of the mindset mistakes I would have made, but my
    biggest mistake that I’m still having to live with was a pair of “real”
    hiking boots I was convinced I needed.  Now I’m stuck with them because I
    paid too much to not use them.  I wish I had a good pair of trail
    runners…

  • Jason

    Oh, where oh where to begin? Well, I had a larger axe, then a smaller axe (the places I hike, it’s worth carrying). Now I’ve just gotten an army-pattern golok – kinda like a heavier machete – and let’s see how that goes. I’m sure it’s a stupid purchase but it wasn’t too expensive and I wanted to know. Like an earlier poster said, you have to live through the learning curve to learn, although of course blogs like this one help. Oh, and buying more ultralightweight gear not so you can carry less, but so you can just carry more of it. Pure class. Ultraheavyweight backpacking ftw.

  • Matthew Pittman

    In my case, the mistakes were sentimentally motivated, like my dad’s old BSA “issue” mess kit and my uncle’s army medium ALICE pack.  Brought along all the whole mess kit on my first few campouts in Scouts, that I didn’t use half of them, and cleaning the sharp corners of the skillet was impossible in the field, I lucked out a few months later when I found a folding handle non-stick skillet and used paper plates for eating off of, and just drank from my canteen.  The ALICE pack was heavy to begin with, and loaded it’s bulky and unbalanced for hiking (too short, with the load being too far back, and the waist belt only keeps it from flopping around, does nothing for transfering the weight to the hips).

  • Matthew Pittman

    In my case, the mistakes were sentimentally motivated, like my dad’s old BSA “issue” mess kit and my uncle’s army medium ALICE pack.  Brought along all the whole mess kit on my first few campouts in Scouts, that I didn’t use half of them, and cleaning the sharp corners of the skillet was impossible in the field, I lucked out a few months later when I found a folding handle non-stick skillet and used paper plates for eating off of, and just drank from my canteen.  The ALICE pack was heavy to begin with, and loaded it’s bulky and unbalanced for hiking (too short, with the load being too far back, and the waist belt only keeps it from flopping around, does nothing for transfering the weight to the hips).

  • Rodney

    in southern california, we do get snow in the mountains, in the worst conditions of January, you’ll need crampons and hiking poles. About 9/10 times I bring the crampons but not use them, because the ice is patchy, so its easier to walk around the ice patch, versus put the crampons on for 2 mins, then take them off again.  My gear mistake is a yuppie poser trendy “it looks cool gotta have it” black diamond ice axe.  about 75% of the hikers in winter are carrying them, the canyon trail is stampede slushy from the 100 people who hiked the night before, but hey, I got me a black diamond ice axe. i look cool. and it weighs less than a pound.

  • Rodney

    in southern california, we do get snow in the mountains, in the worst conditions of January, you’ll need crampons and hiking poles. About 9/10 times I bring the crampons but not use them, because the ice is patchy, so its easier to walk around the ice patch, versus put the crampons on for 2 mins, then take them off again.  My gear mistake is a yuppie poser trendy “it looks cool gotta have it” black diamond ice axe.  about 75% of the hikers in winter are carrying them, the canyon trail is stampede slushy from the 100 people who hiked the night before, but hey, I got me a black diamond ice axe. i look cool. and it weighs less than a pound.

  • I bought the coolest looking sleeping bag in the store without looking at the temp rating (-7C) for camping in the middle of summer.  As well as a huge buck knife (which i am sure everybody has made this mistake).  Once bought a self-inflating pillow and the cheapest backpack in the store, which had failing zippers and stupid shoulder straps.

    • It sounds like we all make similar mistakes, it’s often just a matter of not knowing any better, which is why I thought it would be good to discuss. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, so I write about them so that others can avoid the same mistake or at least have another opinion or review to make a decision with. Thanks for your honesty and for sharing.

  • I bought the coolest looking sleeping bag in the store without looking at the temp rating (-7C) for camping in the middle of summer.  As well as a huge buck knife (which i am sure everybody has made this mistake).  Once bought a self-inflating pillow and the cheapest backpack in the store, which had failing zippers and stupid shoulder straps.

  • It sounds like we all make similar mistakes, it’s often just a matter of not knowing any better, which is why I thought it would be good to discuss. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, so I write about them so that others can avoid the same mistake or at least have another opinion or review to make a decision with. Thanks for your honesty and for sharing.

  • Gustafsonerik

    I’ve noticed alot of people are posting about how bad big knifes are and i was just wondering why they have such a bad rep. I’ve used a large knife as i grew up in northern Ontario sunset country and its come in handy plenty of times. So I was just curious if I was missing something big due to my stubbornness. 

    • There’s nothing wrong with a big knife if you have a need for one. The reason I consider buying several big knives a mistake is because I realized too late that my needs of a knife are less than I thought.

      For most backpacking trips all I need is a small utility blade for simple cutting tasks, especially if I plan ahead. If I’m camping with the scouts or less concerned about hiking and covering distance, then I’ll carry a 3-inch Bushcraft knife.

      It’s all a matter of what you need to use your knife for. A lot us here are very weight conscious and have minimal need for a knife that’s all. What type of knife is it tat you use?

  • Gustafsonerik

    I’ve noticed alot of people are posting about how bad big knifes are and i was just wondering why they have such a bad rep. I’ve used a large knife as i grew up in northern Ontario sunset country and its come in handy plenty of times. So I was just curious if I was missing something big due to my stubbornness. 

  • There’s nothing wrong with a big knife if you have a need for one. The reason I consider buying several big knives a mistake is because I realized too late that my needs of a knife are less than I thought.

    For most backpacking trips all I need is a small utility blade for simple cutting tasks, especially if I plan ahead. If I’m camping with the scouts or less concerned about hiking and covering distance, then I’ll carry a 3-inch Bushcraft knife.

    It’s all a matter of what you need to use your knife for. A lot us here are very weight conscious and have minimal need for a knife that’s all. What type of knife is it tat you use?

  • Ross Gilmore

    My biggest gear mistake was trying to save money on gear. I’ve bought enough soda cans for “low cost” DIY alcohol stoves that I could have bought ten stoves of my choosing.

    Oh, and a MSR stainless steel pot. :)

  • Ross Gilmore

    My biggest gear mistake was trying to save money on gear. I’ve bought enough soda cans for “low cost” DIY alcohol stoves that I could have bought ten stoves of my choosing.

    Oh, and a MSR stainless steel pot. :)

  • My biggest gear mistake is always too much weight.  I usually backpack two to seven miles. (can get too a lot of nice areas in Colorado at that distance), and so I can handle a little extra weight.  When I go further the pack weight tires me out.  It is always a balance between going light and having enough gear to be comfortable.  In the winter my pack is always heavier. (love winter backpacking.   That is when you really get the backcountry to yourself.)

    I have read a lot of the lightweight backpacking primers, and have gotten some good tips from them. It seems though that they usually assume you are backpacking in summer.

    • Cutting gear weight, ultralight backpacking and especially super ultralight (SUL) backpacking can become more addictive than the act of actually getting outside and enjoying your time in the open air.My advice (FWIW) would be to work toward your ideal “comfort weight” – in other words, slowly reduce your gear by process of elimination (what you don’t use) and get the overall weight down to the point where you’re comfortable carrying it on longer trips, but not concerned that you’ve packed so little that you have to live like a monk.So don’t think in terms of exact weights as goals, think in terms of your own level of comfort. For you that may be 25lbs or 30lbs, but it may be different for me. I averaged a 30lb backpack quite happily for many years, now I’ve learned to use detailed gear lists to help me track what I don’t use and start to omit those items – it’s not always a matter of buying the most expensive titanium gear.

      Lightweight = 12-20 pounds, Ultralight = 6-11 pounds, Super Ultra Light = 5 pounds or less.

  • My biggest gear mistake is always too much weight.  I usually backpack two to seven miles. (can get too a lot of nice areas in Colorado at that distance), and so I can handle a little extra weight.  When I go further the pack weight tires me out.  It is always a balance between going light and having enough gear to be comfortable.  In the winter my pack is always heavier. (love winter backpacking.   That is when you really get the backcountry to yourself.

  • Cutting gear weight, ultralight backpacking and especially super ultralight (SUL) backpacking can become more addictive than the act of actually getting outside and enjoying your time in the open air.

    My advice (FWIW) would be to work toward your ideal “comfort weight” – in other words, slowly reduce your gear by process of elimination (what you don’t use) and get the overall weight down to the point where you’re comfortable carrying it on longer trips, but not concerned that you’ve packed so little that you have to live like a monk.

    So don’t think in terms of exact weights as goals, think in terms of your own level of comfort. For you that may be 25lbs or 30lbs, but it may be different for me. I averaged a 30lb backpack quite happily for many years, now I’ve learned to use detailed gear lists to help me track what I don’t use and start to omit those items – it’s not always a matter of buying the most expensive titanium gear.

  • JERMM

    I swap, sell and donate

  • Great to hear it’s not just me, but I wonder what we all do with the gear that we no longer use or want. I’ve donated a lot of mine to the local BSA packs, and swapped it for other stuff. What do you all do with yours?

  • Jason Klass

    I’ve made tons!

    -a 10 lb. $500 expedition tent
    -huge, white gas fuel bottles for overnight trips
    -bringing an axe
    -5 piece stainless steel cookset
    -7 lb. (empty) Gregory Backpack

    The list goes on…

    I’ve probably wasted hundreds of dollars on things I didn’t need but I thinki you have to kind of just go through the learning curve.

  • Instead of list something that I bought, I will go with a mistake I made…

    On an overnight trip to Max Patch late last year I decided to cook with my alcohol stove (WBS) inside my tent vestibule (Kelty Grand Mesa 2). The wind was blowing something fierce, so I figured that I could close up the vestibule and take care of most of that wind.

    To begin with, I put a small amount of fuel inside the stove. I wanted to see how it would do inside the vestibule before I decided to fill her up and start cooking. (Good thing I did.)

    I lit the stove, with not hardly a thought of the dried grass that the stove was sitting on. Well, long story short, once the stove bloomed, so did some of the grass inside the windscreen. Let me tell you, lots of things went through my head at that moment…

    To make things worse… In my shock, I managed to knock the stove over (this is where it was a good thing I put just a little fuel inside it). So, I start pounding the ground with a pan of popcorn (you know the ones that you hold over a fire and the foil expands on the top..)

    Next thing I unzip the fly door in a manner that I actually expected the zipper to be ripped off. Then my wife high tails it out. i stay behind and battle the flame with my popcorn pan.

    In the end, I ended up with some singed eye lashes and a hole in the bathtub floor of the tent, about the size of a pencil eraser.

    Let me just say, I learned my lesson that day…

  • DD Longlegs

    The “mind movie” of whacking out a grass fire with a tinfoil popcorn pan made me burst out laughing but wow! lucky thing. That could have been a serious disaster. Glad it worked!

    I used to hike with about a 40 lb pack. Thank goodness that is behind me. I bought a sleeping bag that was rated to “freezing” but I live in northern Canada. That light a bag nearly froze body bits off me in summer in the mountains. It was heavy too. And it got replaced very quickly. I also used to use a Trangia alcohol stove. I liked how it worked and how well it was made but it was too big, too heavy, and used up fuel too fast so I had to take way more fuel than I wanted to even for a weekend. I still have it and sometimes use it but only when I am car camping. One thing that was a true success was a $15 bright yellow external frame nylon backpack from an army surplus store in Vancouver. I LOVED that thing and used it until the frame got all wobbly and unbalanced. I even managed to replace it with an identical one but then they stopped making them. It was big so I HAD to fill it, right? 15 bucks!! Hard to imagine these days.

  • JERMM

    I go with my top three…the same Evernew titanium wood stove that  Damien mentioned, Asolo leather hiking boots and a torso length sleeping pad…all good are quality, but they’re not for my hiking style

  • T3Knical, I’m not bashing heavy hiking boots at all, far from it. I just personally no longer the need them for ankle support and don’t have issues with rolling my ankles. But, when it happens you can laugh at me and say I told you so.

    The point of this post is to learn from other people’s honest mistakes. It’s not about right or wrong or even gear bashing. You have to very quickly realize that one size does not fit all in this sport. That’s why there are so many good blogs out their providing unique perspectives on the same gear.

    You have to pick the right gear for your circumstances. I can only tell you what works for me, I have no idea what works for you, but encourage you to share you opinions via the comments on any of my posts. Thanks for leaving your feedback!

  • Kevin, I’m right there with you brother! I love First Blood when it came out and his knife with the compass and survival items in the handle – too cool. Or so it seemed.

    We all have to start somewhere and for a reason. I thought it would be fun to look back on some of the silly mistakes we’ve made and laugh about them now as I’m sure we will all do again another couple of years from now. It’s called progress – I think :-)

  • T3Knical

    Im still new to backpacking and am in the process of making all of those mistakes that most have already gotten through. Luckily I feel I have in fairly quick fashion cut down my 50+lbs overnight pack to around 16lbs.  What I wanted to mention is don’t bash the heavy duty hiking boots like they are useless! Doing 20+ miles a day in the “rock”sylvania portion of the AT I can’t imagine any other footwear.  With my injured ankle I surely would have rolled an ankle.

  • Ah, memories!  Yes, I have a Rambo knife too — bought it almost 30 years ago when First Blood came out.  I carried it once and it’s been on the top shelf of the gear closet ever since.  My early years of backpacking were influenced by Colin Fletcher’s The Complete Walker.   I had to buy the largest Gregory “Bloody Great Sack” pack that I could find.  All 7 pounds of it.  And when you have a humongous pack, you *have* to fill it to the top right?  So that’s what I did.  Into the pack went the new three stainless steel copper-bottomed cook pots (I was solo hiking.).  That was another thoughtful purchase. A 55 pound pack for a 5-8 mile hike was about right.  I could barely pick up my feet with the waffle stomper boots.  If you want to be a backpacker you had to look the part. What was I thinking!

  • That’s very true. It’s not just lighter gear, it’s making do with less gear – or both.

  • Jolly Green Giant

    Sheesh, my list is probably endless – from the same kind of knife you have above, to 10 pound mountaineering tents, astronaunt boots, bulletproof backpacks, etc.  But it’s not just these individual pieces of gear, it’s them collectively.  15 years ago I’d bring everything I owned – that was far more of a problem than anything else.

  • Damien, I have the exact same stove. I’ve been trying to give it the benefit of the doubt for over a year now, but it’s been a struggle.

  • I bought an Evernew titanium wood stove and alcohol stove combination thinking it was going to be the best of both worlds. Well, it wasn’t. I knew things didn’t look good when I took my pot off of the wood stove and a small gust of wind blew the stove and my pathetic little fire all over the campsite. Good thing it wasn’t really dry out.

  • Just like you, the biggest mistakes were from back in the day where I wanted to look cool, not be comfortable. A Lowe Alpine Expedition pack that weighed over 7 lbs. Yuck. And an MSR mess kit(19.25 oz) just so my MSR Whisperlite would store inside of it. Good topic. If we don’t look back, we’ll never know how proud we should be of our advances.

  • MichaelnStl

    One of my first purchases was a 0 degree sleeping bag – used for 3 season sleeping, and one of them wasn’t winter.  I could hardly sleep at night I was so hot, and lets not even talk about the weight.

  • Osprey

    I love this thread! This was a joy to read. I went into backpacking doing a lot of research and picking a lot of brains so I thought I was doing well when I set my feet out on the trail for the first time. My pack for my fist outing, fully loaded, was 45#. My individual gear wasn’t too heavy, but I had too many what-ifs and extras (extra clothing, extra food, huge medical kit, etc). So on my second outing I try for ultralight DIY gear (coke can stove, Ray Jardine style quilt, Z-rest pad). My pack was much lighter, but I was cold, horribly uncomfortable, and ate a bunch of half raw noodles because I didn’t know how to properly FBC. Now I have a couple hundred miles under my belt and I’ve got a pack and set that work with me. Still around 30-35# fully loaded, but with some creature comforts so I’m not miserable.

    • Great to hear and not an uncommon experience. Going UL or even lightweight is *not* about being uncomfortable and giving up all the creature comforts. Its about taking what you need and only what you need. I’ve heard the term “comfort weight” being used a lot lately and I like the way that sounds.

      My pack is not always UL, in fact sometimes my pack is not even lightweight. On those occasions I’m usually taking more gear than I need because I am traveling with my kids or doing a demonstration to cub scouts. I still cut back my gear to just what I need plus whatever it is that I need for my kids or a demo.

      It sounds like you have found the idea balance of weight and comfort for your style of backpacking and that’s the goal IMHO. I’m sure you could go lighter, maybe even half the over weight of you gear, but if you’re going to be miserable and cold what’s the point? Just to say your pack was xx lbs. Being outdoors and enjoying a hike is about having fun and a taking time to connect with the outside.

      Thanks for sharing your experience. Happy trails!

  • Great to hear and not an uncommon experience. Going UL or even lightweight is *not* about being uncomfortable and giving up all the creature comforts. Its about taking what you need and only what you need. I’ve heard the term “comfort weight” being used a lot lately and I like the way that sounds.

    My pack is not always UL, in fact sometimes my pack is not even lightweight. On those occasions I’m usually taking more gear than I need because I am traveling with my kids or doing a demonstration to cub scouts. I still cut back my gear to just what I need plus whatever it is that I need for my kids or a demo.

    It sounds like you have found the idea balance of weight and comfort for your style of backpacking and that’s the goal IMHO. I’m sure you could go lighter, maybe even half the over weight of you gear, but if you’re going to be miserable and cold what’s the point? Just to say your pack was xx lbs. Being outdoors and enjoying a hike is about having fun and a taking time to connect with the outside.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Happy trails!

  • That sounds like a classic mistake of picking the most “hardcore” product in its class for a task that doesn’t require it. I’ve made that mistake many times myself. It’s a learning curve. I’ve enjoyed making mistakes to.

  • bmac

    i know this is an old thread, but i just stumbled on to the site and feel the need to share. i’m 40 yrs. old and not in the best shape in my life. we just moved to the western north carolina area and with all of the mountains and national forest available, i had the urge to start really getting the outdoor experience. several months ago, i decided to go on a 4 day hike by myself to get away from the family and have some “me” time. we were having 90 degree days, so no need for heavy sleeping bags. i took the equivalent of a GI pancho liner (small quilted nylon thingy.) i also wanted to try my hand at hammock camping. tents always made me a little claustrophobic. so a $20 hammock, piece of ripstop nylon for a rain fly, and a little quilt of a thing. it got down to about 50 degrees that night and being in a hammock, i had a nice breeze blowing across my back and butt all night with no coverage. the quilt was too small to cover me all the way around. i froze my bullocks off all night.
    did i mention that i’m not in the best shape? my pack had to weigh over 60 pounds. i probably carried enough food and water for 7 or 8 days, not to mention gear that i wouldn’t use if i lived out in the wilderness as a hermit, much less on a 4 day trip. it got to the point where i had to stop every 10 minutes to give my shoulders and back a break.
    despite the rain the day before, i was able to get a fire going. so i was able to eat a hot meal, but i had to constantly tend the fire just to keep it going. i didn’t sleep all night because of the cold and the fear of a bear coming up and eating my face.
    the three things i shouldn’t have taken, but am sooooooo glad i did:
    1. my gun. i knew i had a chance against the monsters and bears that i couldn’t see because it was so dark. it at least gave me a small bit of security.

    2. small coleman battery powered fan. it’s about the size of a screwdriver handle with two blades. i was able to get a fire roaring using it like a bellows.

    3. gel fuel for a chafing dish. the wood was so damp from the rain the day before, i never would have gotten a fire going without it.

    the lesson that i learned was this. i’m not a backpacker. i am a car camper if anything. i want to get my kids into the outdoors but i don’t want them to have the same horrible experience that i did. so when i start them out, we’re gonna do it the lazy way (car camping) and work our way up.

    thanks for your time

    bmac

    p.s. i packed up the next morning and went home, stopping by mcdonalds on the way for breakfast. my 4 day trip lasted 1 night.

  • bmac

    i know this is an old thread, but i just stumbled on to the site and feel the need to share. i’m 40 yrs. old and not in the best shape in my life. we just moved to the western north carolina area and with all of the mountains and national forest available, i had the urge to start really getting the outdoor experience. several months ago, i decided to go on a 4 day hike by myself to get away from the family and have some “me” time. we were having 90 degree days, so no need for heavy sleeping bags. i took the equivalent of a GI pancho liner (small quilted nylon thingy.) i also wanted to try my hand at hammock camping. tents always made me a little claustrophobic. so a $20 hammock, piece of ripstop nylon for a rain fly, and a little quilt of a thing. it got down to about 50 degrees that night and being in a hammock, i had a nice breeze blowing across my back and butt all night with no coverage. the quilt was too small to cover me all the way around. i froze my bullocks off all night.
    did i mention that i’m not in the best shape? my pack had to weigh over 60 pounds. i probably carried enough food and water for 7 or 8 days, not to mention gear that i wouldn’t use if i lived out in the wilderness as a hermit, much less on a 4 day trip. it got to the point where i had to stop every 10 minutes to give my shoulders and back a break.
    despite the rain the day before, i was able to get a fire going. so i was able to eat a hot meal, but i had to constantly tend the fire just to keep it going. i didn’t sleep all night because of the cold and the fear of a bear coming up and eating my face.
    the three things i shouldn’t have taken, but am sooooooo glad i did:
    1. my gun. i knew i had a chance against the monsters and bears that i couldn’t see because it was so dark. it at least gave me a small bit of security.

    2. small coleman battery powered fan. it’s about the size of a screwdriver handle with two blades. i was able to get a fire roaring using it like a bellows.

    3. gel fuel for a chafing dish. the wood was so damp from the rain the day before, i never would have gotten a fire going without it.

    the lesson that i learned was this. i’m not a backpacker. i am a car camper if anything. i want to get my kids into the outdoors but i don’t want them to have the same horrible experience that i did. so when i start them out, we’re gonna do it the lazy way (car camping) and work our way up.

    thanks for your time

    bmac

    p.s. i packed up the next morning and went home, stopping by mcdonalds on the way for breakfast. my 4 day trip lasted 1 night.

  • You’re a hero man. Keep on going! :)

  • Made my biggest gear mistake a few days ago, went hammock and tarp in the currently snowy wicklow mountains without an underblanket. I have had half of my body colder than the other half before but its usually the top or bottom half. Having the back half of your body that cold was not much fun…. On the flip side it got me up earlier than I planned and I saw an astonishingly beautiful sunrise come up through the east valley.

    • I’ve been there myself. I loved using my Hennessey Hammock during the summer – light and fast – but even the slightest drop in temperate can be devastating to your back. I refuse to buy and carry a heavy under blanket or quilt for my hammock.

      I still love hammocks, but *only* in good weather and when I’m in the mood. The tarp camping experience is hard to beat.

      • Dave

        I had the same opinion after a couple of very cold nights in my hamoc but recently tried putting my hammock inside my summer sleeping bag. Worked great, stayed toasty warm despite temps in the mid to high 30’s F. Thinking about converting a winter bag for this.

  • Made my biggest gear mistake a few days ago, went hammock and tarp in the currently snowy wicklow mountains without an underblanket. I have had half of my body colder than the other half before but its usually the top or bottom half. Having the back half of your body that cold was not much fun…. On the flip side it got me up earlier than I planned and I saw an astonishingly beautiful sunrise come up through the east valley.

  • I’ve been there myself. I loved using my Hennessey Hammock during the summer – light and fast – but even the slightest drop in temperate can be devastating to your back. I refuse to buy and carry a heavy under blanket or quilt for my hammock.

    I still love hammocks, but *only* in good weather and when I’m in the mood. The tarp camping experience is hard to beat.

  • Jin

    I’ve made tons of gear mistakes.

    1. TNF Cat’s Meow 20 degree bag…for most of my Spring, Summer, Fall Camping. Although its not bad for Spring and Fall, it was a terrible choice for Summer. I ended up getting a nice 45 degree bag that was less than 2lbs.

    2. REI Mars 85…Why did I need a multi-week pack for weekend trips and overnighters…I don’t know

    3. After selling the REI Mars 85, I went the extreme opposite and got a REI Flash 30…which was a bit too small for my “comfortable” weekend trips. I still have it for my UL future, but I recently got a REI Flash 65, which fits my weekend trips perfectly.

    4. Titanium Cook kit…I didn’t realize these are made for stove cooking. Most of my cooking when backpacking is done over a fire. I should have gotten something Stainless Steel instead.

    5. Black Diamond Icon, this is an awesome light…for caving, but I hated the battery pack on the back of my head. It was also a bit heavy for what I needed a headlamp for.

    I’m sure I could go on and on, but for the most part, what I’ve learned is that acquiring the “right” gear is really a experience that most outdoors people go through. I do admit I am a bit of a gear hoarder, but it works out when I take my friends camping who have no gear at all.

    Great Blog btw, I enjoy reading your stuff.

  • Jin

    I’ve made tons of gear mistakes.

    1. TNF Cat’s Meow 20 degree bag…for most of my Spring, Summer, Fall Camping. Although its not bad for Spring and Fall, it was a terrible choice for Summer. I ended up getting a nice 45 degree bag that was less than 2lbs.

    2. REI Mars 85…Why did I need a multi-week pack for weekend trips and overnighters…I don’t know

    3. After selling the REI Mars 85, I went the extreme opposite and got a REI Flash 30…which was a bit too small for my “comfortable” weekend trips. I still have it for my UL future, but I recently got a REI Flash 65, which fits my weekend trips perfectly.

    4. Titanium Cook kit…I didn’t realize these are made for stove cooking. Most of my cooking when backpacking is done over a fire. I should have gotten something Stainless Steel instead.

    5. Black Diamond Icon, this is an awesome light…for caving, but I hated the battery pack on the back of my head. It was also a bit heavy for what I needed a headlamp for.

    I’m sure I could go on and on, but for the most part, what I’ve learned is that acquiring the “right” gear is really a experience that most outdoors people go through. I do admit I am a bit of a gear hoarder, but it works out when I take my friends camping who have no gear at all.

    Great Blog btw, I enjoy reading your stuff.

  • I know this is an old topic but I see some more current posts and its a good topic. plus I have lots of experience with bad/excessive gear.

    steripen with the charger….I went out and figured it would still be charged from a trip a couple weeks prior…it wasnt. I boiled water the whole weekend and had it charging on the solar thing in great, full sun weather the whole time to no avail. even when it was working I really just wasnt a fan. upgraded to the sawyer inline filter which I put on my camelbak for quick fill and use as a gravity filter at camp.
    REI half dome 2. its a great tent on a budget but I usually solo and it weighs 5 lbs

    and not so much a purchase but a habit, too much food I always seem to bring waaay too much food every trip I bring less but always still find it to be too much

  • I know this is an old topic but I see some more current posts and its a good topic. plus I have lots of experience with bad/excessive gear.

    steripen with the charger….I went out and figured it would still be charged from a trip a couple weeks prior…it wasnt. I boiled water the whole weekend and had it charging on the solar thing in great, full sun weather the whole time to no avail. even when it was working I really just wasnt a fan. upgraded to the sawyer inline filter which I put on my camelbak for quick fill and use as a gravity filter at camp.
    REI half dome 2. its a great tent on a budget but I usually solo and it weighs 5 lbs

    and not so much a purchase but a habit, too much food I always seem to bring waaay too much food every trip I bring less but always still find it to be too much

  • Cristocrat

    I went on my first multi-day hike 3 years ago.  In preperation, I bought the cheapest expedition backpack from E-Bay that I could find.  I don’t even know the name of it because it was festooned with Chinese characters.  I loaded it up with 60 lbs of gear, and wondered why everyone gave me that half-amused, half-pity look as I passed them sounding like something from the Reading Railroad.  Anyhow, that Chinese pack lasted 2 days, and all the straps slowly frayed, then broke and my 2 week hike turned into a 4 day trip into hell. Now, I laugh as I can see myself pulling out one of those giant green camping stoves to make my blueberry pancakes high on Mt. Moriah laying against my Chinese backpack in agony.

    • Oh no that sounds terrible, just the type of thing you DON’T want to find out about your pack on the trail. I tend to always test my gear (especially new gear) on a practice hike so that I know what its capable of and how it functions.

      I hope you ended up getting a better quality backpack and have been on some more successful hikes since then? Thanks for sharing with us. ^BG

  • Cristocrat

    I went on my first multi-day hike 3 years ago.  In preperation, I bought the cheapest expedition backpack from E-Bay that I could find.  I don’t even know the name of it because it was festooned with Chinese characters.  I loaded it up with 60 lbs of gear, and wondered why everyone gave me that half-amused, half-pity look as I passed them sounding like something from the Reading Railroad.  Anyhow, that Chinese pack lasted 2 days, and all the straps slowly frayed, then broke and my 2 week hike turned into a 4 day trip into hell. Now, I laugh as I can see myself pulling out one of those giant green camping stoves to make my blueberry pancakes high on Mt. Moriah laying against my Chinese backpack in agony.

  • Oh no that sounds terrible, just the type of thing you DON’T want to find out about your pack on the trail. I tend to always test my gear (especially new gear) on a practice hike so that I know what its capable of and how it functions.

    I hope you ended up getting a better quality backpack and have been on some more successful hikes since then? Thanks for sharing with us. ^BG

  • Brian B

    I also have made most of the same mistakes that have already been mentioned, my army surplus mummy bag in the summer and a knife that made Rambos seem small. But my biggest mistake was a flashlight. Back in the day (30+ years ago) a flashlight was a flashlight. They were plastic, red, and had 2 C batteries. They were cheap, never lasted the entire hike and sold in every gas station. Then I saw the future, a hand pumped flashlight that didn’t need batteries and lasted a lifetime. Well as long as you repeatedly squeezed the mechanism, you had light. My delight over having light at the end of my hike clouded my thinking. 30 years later my hiking buddies (I clearly need new ones) still laugh and remind me of my attempts to throw my bear bag line while pumping this flashlight or hearing the hummmm of my flashlight while answering natures call or trying to read and pump at the same time. It lasted one hike. 

  • Brian B

    I also have made most of the same mistakes that have already been mentioned, my army surplus mummy bag in the summer and a knife that made Rambos seem small. But my biggest mistake was a flashlight. Back in the day (30+ years ago) a flashlight was a flashlight. They were plastic, red, and had 2 C batteries. They were cheap, never lasted the entire hike and sold in every gas station. Then I saw the future, a hand pumped flashlight that didn’t need batteries and lasted a lifetime. Well as long as you repeatedly squeezed the mechanism, you had light. My delight over having light at the end of my hike clouded my thinking. 30 years later my hiking buddies (I clearly need new ones) still laugh and remind me of my attempts to throw my bear bag line while pumping this flashlight or hearing the hummmm of my flashlight while answering natures call or trying to read and pump at the same time. It lasted one hike. 

  • Timothy Sewall

    Unlike everybody else I started in the 60’s using only what we could scrape up . I’m talking 1,7by9 canvas, matches ,an army wool blanket sewn up ,canned food and a small frying pan, and some rope and a Purex jug for water. No pack. Army surplus was only a dream. We lived on craw dads , snakes, fish, bird eggs , and watercress. So when you come across an older guy on the trail that looks like a walking gear store with a big smile , well that will be me!

  • Timothy Sewall

    Unlike everybody else I started in the 60’s using only what we could scrape up . I’m talking 1,7by9 canvas, matches ,an army wool blanket sewn up ,canned food and a small frying pan, and some rope and a Purex jug for water. No pack. Army surplus was only a dream. We lived on craw dads , snakes, fish, bird eggs , and watercress. So when you come across an older guy on the trail that looks like a walking gear store with a big smile , well that will be me!

  • God, I JUST DID ONE!
    I’ve been hiking, backpacking, mountaineering for – Oh, 30 years? thousands of miles, everything from ultra-lightweight military (All you need for three days is your LBE and cargos! forget the 30 pounds of rifle, grenades and ammo…) to ultra heavy weight winter (80pounds+, but it’s minus 40 out, and you’re staying for a couple weeks, and leading others!) and a couple years ago, I lost almost all my gear in a house fire. Years of carefully selected doodads, gear, kit, all the little wigity bits that have proven themselves over and over again when you needed them most. Your buddies and companions. Gone… :'(

    I took a trip to HI, so I bought a lightweight tent and North face backpack. (Wanting something all season, remembering my heavy winter loads.) Then I ended up flying to a car-camping trip to Yellowstone, and just went nuts in the store near the airport, I ended up with all kinds of crap, and multiple copies of each. (I LOVE the MSR Whisperlite Ultimate I ended up with. It is a fitting successor to the Whisperlight International I used to have.) but – three different sets of cutlery, cook pots for four, etc.

    Well, now, I’m home, reworking my pack load, going back to smaller kit “modules” (a small EDC first aid, day hike, weekend, one day cooking, expedition cooking, etc) so that when I plan a trip, I can just pick the module I want.

    But meanwhile, I have all of theses nifty gadgets that I just plain don’t know, and will only rarely, if ever use.

    Time to take a trip to the local BS…

  • Rob Davis

    My biggest gear mistake is usually packing way more than I am actually going to use… I am making a minimal kit similar to what I used to take with me on a day hike, trying to keep UL. Hiking’s no fun when your pack weighs a ton!

    I bought a Rambo knife back in the 80’s too – luckily I had experience with much higher quality knives, so I never took it on a hike!!!

    • Yup! Pack light, go fast, take only what you need, and improvise for the rest. Have fun > repeat!

      • Rob Davis

        A couple of things I consider necessary that I didn’t used to carry are a good firesteel and some fire straws. It’s great to know how to start a fire using primitive methods and materials, but in cold or wet weather I’d rather make it easy.

  • bcutlerj

    yeah, but that MSR steel pot lasted for 20 years. eventually I only carried the lid and the small pot with the whisprelight field kit I never used or learned to use inside. Oh .. and … the army does studies, they must know … I’ll get an army surplus pack. I was young, but it was NOT fun.

  • Dave

    Maybe not my biggest but certainly one of my most
    frustrating gear mistake I have made (I won’t even mention the time I took my
    wife camping and forgot the tent poles because even years later she will not
    let me live that one down) was a cool/wet weather solo trip where my meals
    mainly consisted of soup for dinners and cream of wheat for breakfasts…and I
    forgot to pack a spoon. I spent a couple of hours carving one out of a branch and
    the rest of the trip refining it…now I carry a spare spoon in my emergency
    pack.