Many people say “you can only learn this from experience,” and that’s true of many of life’s greatest lessons. Well, I’m hoping to help some of you hikers out there by teaching you a few things that you really don’t want to learn from experience. And don’t have to. These are little nuggets of information that you probably won’t find in a “beginners guide to backpacking”, or from boy-scout camp. I’m sure there are many more, so feel free to add your favorites in the comments. If I see a good one, I’ll edit the post 🙂
These are from my personal experience. Feel free to laugh at my misfortunes.
1. If you’ve been in poisonous plants territory, don’t scratch your legs with your hiking poles.
If you’ve been hiking through poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, poodle dog bush, or any of the other malicious plants that grace our planet, don’t casually decide to scratch an itch on your leg with your trekking pole, or you’ll just add a layer of poison-whatever to your leg. I’ll also give you another hint: don’t get into your sleeping bag wearing any clothing that you know could have poison-whatever on it. You’ll get really annoyed trying to figure out why you can’t get rid of your itchy rashes.
2. Don’t ship yourself anything fragrant in the same box as your food unless you want all your food to taste like that.
There is nothing worst than thinking you’re clever by sending yourself bars of soap or laundry detergent only to find that everything else in that box tastes like Irish Spring. Oatmeal packets are bad enough as it is, don’t ruin them even more by making them taste like fresh laundry.
3. Don’t assume that water coming out of the ground is a spring.
Especially in rocky places, like Pennsylvania, water can come up out of the rocks, and then flow under them again, and then pop up again somewhere else where it will convince you that you’re drinking directly from a spring. “I won’t purify this beautiful water!” are words you should never say unless you’re 100% sure it’s clean water and no animals have sneakily curled up and died of giardia 500 ft further up the mountain in your water source. Trust me, it’s heavier to carry a bottle full of stomach turning antibiotics than it is to carry a little dropper bottle full of bleach or aquamira.
4. Sleep with your water and electronics when temperatures dip below freezing.
You really don’t want to wake up in the morning to a non-functioning ipod, cell phone, GPS or camera. Cold weather can not only drain a battery, it can also cause permanent damage to your electronics. Not all electronic devices are the same, but I know some cell phones have frozen to death. It’s not worth the risk, so keep your electronics either in your sleeping bag with you, or under your pad, if you think it will be warm enough there. Same goes for water. You will be upset if you have to carry several pounds of ice with you the next day because you left your bottles or hydration system to freeze.
5. Don’t cut your beautiful long toe nails right before a big hike.
OK, during a long distance hike, you’ll obviously have to cut your toe nails at some point. But let’s say your friends just invited you to hike Half Dome one mid-summer weekend. Don’t decide to cut all your toe nails the night before. The skin under your toenails is new and soft, and after a certain number of miles you’ll find that that skin has suddenly turned bright red and now hurts quite a bit, especially on the down hills. Just leave your un-manicured toe nails to wear holes in your socks. Hey, if you got Darn Tough or KEEN socks, they come with a life-time warranty!
6. Come up with a code name for your snot rag or pee rag.
Many hikers use a rag that they blow their noses into and then wash out from time to time. Women often use a pee rag in a similar way. You may want to have another name for these disgusting bits of cloth because you may, by accident, leave one behind and another hiker may be so kind as to pick it up and hike it up the trail to you. At this point you do not want to exclaim “Oh! You found my snot rag! Thank you so much!” Or they will suddenly behave as though they have just been handling a hand full of rat poison, and you may never see this angelic hiker ever again.