It’s amazing how some backpacking gear myths persist, even when there’s ample evidence to the contrary. Here are my favorites.
1. Two people can fit in a 2 person tent.
Most two person tents are too small to actually fit two people unless they’re 8 years old. If you want *any* extra space in a two person tent, size up to a three person tent and make sure it as two separate doors, so you and your partner can get out at night to pee without falling over each other.
2. You’ll sleep warmer if you sleep naked in a sleeping bag.
No again. If you’re too cold in your sleeping bag, put on some long underwear and a hat or a down jacket. The math is simple: the more you wear, the higher the combined R-value of your night-time sleeping insulation.
3. You need to wear hiking boots to go backpacking.
Wrong. Most long distance hikers don’t wear hiking boots anymore. They wear running shoes which are much cooler to wear in hot weather, dry faster when they get wet, and are much softer than hiking boots so they don’t cause as many blisters.
4. You need a backpack rain cover to hike in the rain.
Backpack rain covers are a hassle: they get ripped, torn off and lost, and they don’t do a very good job at keeping your pack dry in rain anyway. Most experienced backpackers line the inside of their backpack with a trash compactor bag instead which is much more effective and less expensive.
5. You need a tent footprint to protect the floor of your tent.
Footprints are just an easy way for tent companies to milk you for more money. Tent fabrics has come a long way in the past 40 years and almost all tents have bomb-proof waterproof floors that aren’t going to wear out unless you live in them full-time. Still not convinced? Use plastic window wrap as a low cost and ultralight footprint instead.
6. Waterproof breathable rain jackets are breathable.
So-called breathable fabrics, such as Gore-tex and eVent, have been so over-hyped that their breathability claims are not believable anymore. If you want to stay dry in a rain jacket, get one with pit zips so you can vent your sweat the old-fashioned way by cracking a zipper.
7. You need a 4 season tent to camp in winter.
Most three season backpacking tents work as well in winter as during the rest of the year. If you expect heavy snow, a four season tent with steep walls may be in order, but otherwise there’s usually no reason you can’t camp in winter using your existing tent if you have a warm sleeping bag rated for cold temperatures.
8. Biodegradable soap is ok to wash with in streams and ponds.
Nope. A lot of people I meet on backpacking and camping trips think that it’s ok to pour soapy water into streams and rivers if they use biodegradable Campsuds, Sea-to-Summit Wilderness Wash, or Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap to wash their hands, shampoo their hair, or clean their camp cookware. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Getting any soap in a water source is not acceptable. The soap can cause all sorts of issues from increased nitrogen to actually causing significant harm to aquatic inhabitants. Plus, no one wants to drink water that you’ve washed yourself, your clothes or cookware with. Carry all dirty or soapy water away from water sources and bury or disperse it at least 200 feet away.
9. Waterproof hiking boots will keep your feet dry.
No again. Waterproof hiking boots are only as waterproof as the coating applied to their exterior which degrades rapidly with use, or the integrity of the Gore-tex lining which quickly breaks down with wear so they start to leak. Waterproof shoes, even those with so-called breathable liners, trap perspiration from your feet, which makes your socks damp and increases blistering. Except in winter, when waterproof boots can increase insulation by trapping warmth, you’re better off hiking in non-leather boots or shoes that have some mesh so that they drain and dry faster when you get the wet and your feet sweat.
10. You don’t need to carry maps and a compass because you have a GPS.
No. You should always carry a map and compass and learn how to use them. GPS devices (including cell phones) can complement a map and compass, but they don’t replace them. While battery-powered devices are a convenience when hiking, you can’t rely on them 100% in the backcountry. GPS devices and cell phones are power hogs and you don’t want to be stuck in a lurch with dead batteries with no idea where you are or how to get to safety.
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