10 Mistakes I Made While Thru-Hiking

I learn something new every time I adventure out into the wild. Here are some of the mistakes I made over the years. Read on to make sure you don’t do what I did!

Related Post: 5 Tips From My John Muir Trail Hike

Mistakes I Made

hand holding sleeping bag

1. Used a Synthetic Sleeping Bag

I carried a 15°F synthetic sleeping bag that weighed over 3 pounds on my first long-distance hike. I selected synthetic fill because I was worried about a down sleeping bag getting wet.

When it looks like it is going to rain pack your down sleeping bag in a trash bag. This will keep it dry. There is no need to carry a synthetic bag on most long-distance hikes.

Man holding large plastic syringe in right hand and Sawyer Squeeze filter in left hand with the syringe attached to the filter.

2. Carried a Sawyer Syringe

It is important to backflush your Sawyer Squeeze water filter on a regular basis. On my second long-distance hike I carried the Sawyer Syringe to backflush the Sawyer Squeeze filter. The volume of water and low pressure is not as effective as carrying the lighter Sawyer coupler or Smartwater 700ml cap. See our Sawyer Syringe review here.

4 different common tent stakes

3. Carried Heavy Tent Stakes

I carried heavy aluminum Y type tent stakes. These are really good overall stakes for weekend type backpacking trips but they aren’t lightweight. If you’re carrying 10 of them it will likely weigh 110 grams or almost 4 ounces. My go-to tent stake is now the titanium Shephard tent stake that weighs about half the weight of an aluminum Y type stake.

Read our post about tent stakes here.

Two large backpacks leaning against a fence

4. Used a Huge Backpack

On my first long-distance hike I carried a huge Gregory pack that had a volume over 70 liters. When I hiked my second and third long-distance hikes I reduced my pack size to 60 liters. On my recent John Muir Trail thru-hike I carried a 50 liter pack which I will likely take on all my future long-distance type hikes.

If you are carrying a large pack you will be tempted to fill it up with stuff. If you have a smaller pack, you have to make the critical choices of what you truly need to take. I recommend leaning toward the smaller pack.

Fuel Canisters

5. Carried Too Much Fuel

I carried way too much fuel on my earlier thru-hikes. I opted to carry extra fuel in case I couldn’t find fuel in town. Today, it’s pretty easy to find fuel canisters in most trail towns. A little trail research before your hike can save a lot of weight in your pack.

On my last John Muir Trail thru-hike, I carried a small 100 gram fuel canister and had plenty of fuel for my entire hike. On my future hikes I will likely just carry a 100 gram fuel canister and refill along the way.

a pair of hiking socks

6. Didn’t Hike With Clean Socks

It’s a good idea to hike in clean socks everyday. Dirty socks can increase friction that can cause blisters on your feet. On my earlier hikes I thought hiking in dirty socks was just what you did. Later on, I learned you should bring two pairs of socks, and wear the clean pair while you wash the other pair, and alternate each day.

You can wash your socks in the morning and then let them dry during the day by attaching them to your pack and letting them air dry. Having clean socks everyday is a great way to hike and prevent blisters.

I would guess that more than half of long distance hikers make this mistake!

A person holds a postcard from the Appalachian Trail.

7. Didn’t Send Enough Postcards

I sent a few postcards, but not nearly as many as I wanted to. Family and friends love to get updates from your trip. Getting postcards from really cool places you’ve been along the trail is a great way to share your experience with loved ones.

8. Failed to Take Pictures of People

On all my hikes I took a lot of pictures of the beautiful landscapes and scenery. But on almost all my hikes, I failed to take pictures of people, which I really regret looking back. I wish I took more pictures of my trail friends and the people that I got to meet and hike with along the way.

Man holding Smartwater bottle (with nozzle flip cap) in right hand against a Sawyer Mini in his left hand. A big mistake is not back flushing enough.

9. Didn’t Maintain water Filter Enough

It’s important to backflush your water filter on a regular basis. The Sawyer water filter flow rate will get slower each day as dirt particles clog the filter. If the water filter is not backflushed, the optimal flow rate will not be realized. On my recent John Muir Trail hike the flow rate decreased about 0.6% each day. I would expect the flow rate to decrease even more when filtering dirty water.

If you regularly backflush your water filter, you will be spending less time filtering. This is a very common mistake.

a man writing in a journal

10. Didn’t Journal Enough

I think it’s important to journal while you’re hiking to document the things that happen during your trip. If you don’t write it down, you will likely forget it. It’s also a lot of fun to go back and read what you wrote to relive your journey! I wish I didn’t make this mistake…