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The 10 Dumbest Things to Bring on a Backpacking Trip

We’ve all brought dumb things on backpacking trips. Oh yeah. I’ve certainly had my share. But it’s still fun to laugh about them. Here are 10 epic examples that I collected from SectionHiker readers, that I think you’ll find humorous along with some valuable insights for the beginner backpackers in our midst.

Frozen Chicken

1. Frozen Chicken

“On a winter camp out I was dumb enough to bring a whole frozen chicken shrink-wrapped in hopes of it thawing out and being ready to roast over an open fire. Three days in twenty degree weather and it was still has a frozen block of raw chicken. Go figure.”

Canned meals are heavy because they contain a lot of water.

2. Canned Food

“Canned food, lots and lots of canned food. And not much else. But we were young. Over 40 years ago and I still vividly remember humping that big old duffel bag full of cans.”

Most people extinguish a campfire with water or throw dirt on it to smother it.

3. Fire Extinguisher

“The dumbest thing I ever brought backpacking was a small fire extinguisher. Dumb because I forgot to bring anything to start a campfire with. Sigh.”

I imagine a wok would be awkward to carry in a backpack. You certainly have to let it cook off after cooking breakfast with it.

4. Wok

“I have made some bad choices when backpacking but my brother brought a steel wok with him on a trip in the 70’s. He is a good chef and wanted to eat well on the trail!”

Wellington Rubber Boots

5. Rubber Boots

“Rubber boots! Cheap, heavy rubber boots cause I thought I might have to cross some stream on my first real 3 day trip. Needless to say felt pretty stupid lugging those things for the weekend. Funny thing is I stepped in a puddle right at the start and my old hiking boots where wet for the entire day.”
Pocket TV

6. Pocket TV

“I once bought a pocket TV. Of course there were no TV signals where I was.”

Bottled Beer

7. Bottled Beer

“Bottled beer. Packed ’em in full, packed ’em out empty. They seemed to take up just as much room and seemed to weigh the same both ways!”

Nested Pots

8. Nesting Pots

“The dumbest thing I ever brought on a camping trip was a second pot even though we were cooking one pot meals. The pots came as a nesting set so I took the set even though there was no intention of ever using two pots. After the second day it dawned on me that I kept taking this pot out and putting it back ever morning and every night and we never, ever, used it.”


9. Entire Can of Sno-Seal

“When I was 14 my parents sent me on a two month backpacking trip with an Outward Bound knock-off company. It was pretty bad. I had never backpacked, or really even hiked, before. There were three guides but they weren’t really interested in the kids—I was the youngest by a couple of years. Anyway, on our first hike I must have carried 50 pounds, most of which was unnecessary. The stupidest thing was probably the entire can of sno-seal just in case I needed to recoat my boots over the next four days. Looking back, I’m kind of amazed I still like backpacking.”

Dippity Do

10. Hair Balm

“Bringing hair balm on my first hike, you know… just in case.”

Updated 2017.

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  1. In Boy Scouts, hike to the “Pines” out of Broad Creek Scout Camp, in the 60’s as a tender foot, a pair of 4 buckle arctic, rubber boots. They were strapped to the sides in a US Army surplus pack. Young bucks seem to survive in those days.

    • Eleven years old working on camping skill awards on my first campout. As instructed I brought everything on the camping list in the handbook, ice skates and swimming trunks. We got dropped off a mile from where everyone else got dropped off. After struggling the mile I found out everyone was hiking two more miles to the campsite.

    • Broad Creek Scout Camp! The one in Maryland? That brings back some memories. They finally had to build a pool.

  2. Corn on the cobb!

  3. I led a beginner backpacking trip a couple of years ago. One of the participants brought with her not one, not two, but three HARDCOVER guidebooks. She said she wanted to know what the trees and plants were along the trail, but she never once took them out during the trip. Now I do a presentation on backpacking for the AMC Spring Hiking Program and that is number one on my list of things you should not bring on a backpacking trip. There are these wonderful devices called cameras with which you can record what you want to look up and find out when you get home. And if you need to bring a trail description with you on a trip, why carry the entire trail guide when you can just photocopy the few pages you might need?

    I might have to add a few of these to my list for that presentation. Good ones for sure.

    (To be fair, we probably could have used a fire extinguisher on that trip but that’s another story.)

  4. Saw someone pack in a 3 burner Coleman stove, only to find out it didn’t work.

  5. I always carry too much fuel….and too many ways (3) of starting a fire. 2 ways of treating water and other medical stuff..2 ways of navigation (map and compass and gps)…Too many batteries and too many flashlights. …big problem now is figuring how to justify carrying my portable radio…..recently acquired the ham licence… they are an interesting tool because one can stay in contact with park authorities law etc…..currently working on a portable dipole aerial (but that is taking it too far)….OK…I’m over tecked….lol
    Its amazing how much of my stash gets used by others who are under supplied….I’m known as the team mule….I guess I could throw stuff out….but someone might freeze to death in the dark with heel blisters while lost.
    Don’t walk too fast any more so I would give someone else the frozen chicken to be bear bait lol joking
    Have a great season everyone…early season north of 49….ticks are out early too….fools day is my annual equipment sort out and repair day.

    • I don’t think I’d knock the two ways to treat water or navigate. After all, if you’re carrying a filter and say, Aquamira, then you’re got a way to treat your water if one fails or gets lost. Same for navigation. If you’re GPS fails, and you don’t have a different way to navigate, you’re screwed. I ALWAYS have map’n’compass, and a GPS for true backcountry outings. Now if i’m hiking a well used trail such as the AT or PCT or Long Trail, then I’ll stick to map’n’compass. Doubt if I’d even take the GPS on those. Why map’n’compass? It’s easier to use the compass to take a heading back to my campsite when I have to go pee. :-)

  6. This post is hilarious!!!

  7. The dumbest things I’ve seen people take on backpacking trips were:

    1) A full sized axe.
    2) A multi burner Coleman Stove.
    3) Cans of Beef Stew.
    4) A bag of ice.
    5) A huge car camping tent.
    6) Several days’ supply of liquid Gatorade.

    • An axe is the one that always gets me. I really want an excuse to use one, but I’ve yet to actually “need” it at any point. In most cases, a folding saw works better anyway. An axe just has that “woodsman” factor going for it.

      • I often bring my trusty Granfors Bruks small forest axe on backpacking trips, especially in the fall and spring when the cold, wet weather is a real danger. Sure, its extra weight but after a long day of hiking in the rain, having a reliable way to get a fire going and keep it going is much appreciated.

      • Last week I finally got to use my small axe. I’ve started kayaking, and an axe seems good for chopping up stuff I find on the shore.

    • No axe but, due to it’s versatility as a knife, hammer and axe, I DO carry my bowie knife and it’s probably the heaviest item I take backpacking with me. I could see where it could possibly even act as a deterrent when in town but could cause problems with local law enforcement, as well. And even though it’s laughable to think that this fat old man would stand a chance, it gives me some comfort to just have my hand on it, even if it’s sheathed, when bears, mountain lions or other real or perceived threats are nearby.
      Ya, ya. I know, but quit laughing!

  8. A quarter century or more ago, we had a group who hiked to South Rim in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park. My brother in law’s cousin packed a good sized telescope to the top of that mountain. He was too tired to look through it and went straight to bed but the rest of us enjoyed a beautiful night of star gazing on that backpacking trip. We graciously let him pack it back down the mountain the next day.

    About a decade ago, my brother and I hiked 47 miles on the Continental Divide Trail in the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana with insanely heavy 60+ lb. packs. In my pack were 5 large canisters of isobutane fuel, however, we cooked on a campfire the entire trip. We also had an axe and cast iron skillet. We had to wear knee braces because of our heavy packs. On that trip, we met a thru hiker who was going from Canada to Mexico with a 25 lb. pack. We spent several hours grilling him (but not for breakfast) and from then on were able to completely change our backpacking approach. A couple years later, I hiked the Grand Canyon with a 15 lb. pack.

    On that Montana trip, probably the most useless thing carried was the two boxes of ammunition my brother found in his pack after we got back to his house. His pack doubled for hunting and he hadn’t completely unloaded it before we embarked on our hike. He lamented, “Most people carry useless plastic, but I carried LEAD for 47 miles!”

    I haven’t tried the frozen chicken or pocket TV yet. I could imagine a night around a campfire, watching the game on TV while feasting on chicken prepared in the wok, downing canned veggie sides out of nesting pots, chasing it with a few beers, fire extinguisher at hand (just in case), donning my rubber boots while waiting for the Sno Seal to set into the leather ones, and my hair coiffed to perfection… I can see it. I’ll just need my brother in law’s cousin to carry it!

  9. Three of us once packed cans of Spam back in my college days, when we called it “Plague Loaf.” I mention this because a couple of weeks ago, when doing my weekend grocery shopping, I noticed you can now buy Spam in small, foil-wrapped packets.

  10. Thank goodness a 750ml bottle of Woodford Reserve Whiskey wasn’t on the list!

    • I believe the Woodford’s is going to be on the forthcoming “10 Smartest Things” list…

    • I may be wrong, but isn’t that one of the FIVE ESSENTIALS?
      Oh, no, that’s the five essentials of parenthood, not the ten essentials for backpacking…sorry.

  11. Back in the ‘70s my brother came up to VT from NJ to hike up Mount Mansfield on the Long Trail to Taft Lodge. When we got there as he set up our gear in the lodge I went about making dinner which consisted of a large family size can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew. Nothing tastes as good as after you’ve climbed a mountain but, as we were purists back then and usually packed dehydrated food, my brother interrupted chowing down on our wonderful meal to say, “Not for nothin’, I mean this is great! But I can’t believe you humped this all the way up here”. To which I replied, “I didn’t. You did”.

    • Lol….I packed a travelling companions bag…one nite we had chili..bannock and a couple of cans of beer which I chilled in a stream…he said he’d be damned if he would carry beer for 20 miles….oh well…..yes you did….tastes good after a long hot hike and when it’s the only stuff within 80 miles was the reply…I carried out the empties.

    • Well, all those hikers who play jokes by putting rocks in friend’s packs are idiots. They should just load ’em up with Dinty Moore!

      • Dinty Moore is great stuff and it figures prominently in a memory so painful to recall that it still sears my mind over a quarter century later! Back in 1989, I canoed Mariscal Canyon in Big Bend National Park with my brother in law and some friends from the Carolinas. Carol and Mike had the Dinty Moore Beef Stew in their boat and when it came time for lunch, I pulled my canoe alongside theirs and put my hand out, expecting Carol to hand me my can of stew. Carol would never make the spring training roster of any desperate Grapefruit or Cactus League team, however, despite those pitching limitations, she elected to throw the can, rather than simply hand it to me. She missed not only my outstretched palm hovering over her canoe, but my entire boat as well. Hungry and heartbroken, I gazed helplessly as my lunch splashed and quickly sank out of sight in the swirling Rio Grande. I asked Carol for the other can she held and she replied, “No, that’s my can. Yours is in the river!” My brother in law turned to me and clarified the rules with: “Dave… on the river, possession IS the law!”

  12. thanks for such a good list, to now what to bring when backpacking, not bring to much weight. thank you ….

  13. I passed a guy walking up the trail wearing a big ‘ol frame pack and carrying in his hands a full size Coleman gas lantern in the original box. This was about 30 years ago in an area where a lot of hunters went.

  14. I thought I was the only one who got into fowl trouble. On a scout trip I brought a frozen rock (solid) cornish game hen. The result was the same as yours.

    • In 1981 I had just graduated from college and moved to Virginia. My 3 cousins rewarded me by hiking on the Appalachian trail for a weekend. We each packed 2 frozen Cornish game hens ( thawed), a frozen quarter pound stick of butter ( melted ) and 12 cans of beer ( warm) A great night. Let’s just say that the second day of hiking was not as easy as the first.

  15. This past summer in the back country of Glacier National park, saw a guy with an igloo cooler hanging off the back of his pack by a rope and in his hand he was carrying a full sized bottle of dish washing soap (think palmolive).

  16. About 10 years ago as a scout leader I assigned one scout the task of bringing a first aid kit for the patrol to use during a backpacking trip. When we reached camp he produced from his backpack a full tackle box style first aid kit that any paramedic would be proud to own. I obviously hand not done a good job of setting expectations about what was necessary. He took the scout motto of “Be Prepared” seriously. He was a great scout and never once complained about carrying the extra weight.

    • I had an Explorer Post in the early ’80s. On a trip in the Adirondacks, one member had packed canned food, and then burned the cans in the fire. I told him to make sure that they got packed out. He did, in my pack, I found them when I got home.

  17. You are so right on bottle beer, thats why we bring in mini-kegs!

  18. A friend once brought a litre bottle of dish washing liquid on a two day trip, his mother told him he’d need it. He didn’t use it once.

  19. About two years ago on a Philmont training hike with our scouts and two other adults, one of the adults was really struggling on a 10 mile hike. I knew Rod was carrying a fairly heavy two man tent for himself and the other adult but his level of weariness had me concerned. As we were setting up camp at the end of the day, Rod let out a string of words that I won’t repeat as he discovered he was carrying 6 lbs of diving weights in the bottom of his pack. Bye had placed them there for a short training day hike when he didn’t want to load his real backpacking gear and had forgotten to take them out.

  20. I’m wondering if some hair gel might be useful as fuel when starting a fire…

  21. we had a guy who brought Axe Body spray with him on a backpacking trip to the Mahoosuc. We all laughed!

  22. I have been backpacking for years with a friend who always brings along two or three cans of beer for the first night on the trail. We always make fun of him, but at the same time we always jealous as hell. I’ve also seen him carry out every single can, so no harm done.

  23. In the 70’s and 80’s when I would usually pack about 50 lbs. (as if that wasn’t bad enough) I also swore by my Herman Survivor Boots. High ankle, vibram soles, lasted forever. And weighed 10 lbs dry all by themselves. I so wish I still had the energy and strength that I had back then when I could afford to do dumb stuff.

    • I remember those days, that equipment, and that energy. Somewhere around here I have a picture of my sister and I with our backpacks in 1972 for an overnight hike. We had full frame packs and our gear was stacked up about 2 feet over our heads. Now, I couldn’t even lift the packs I toted back then.

  24. a double bitted ax

  25. This is so sad.
    I was the idiot that was always talked into getting the food for trips my buddies and I would take in our teens and early 20s ((“and we’ll just split the bill and the weight”) …thirty-something years ago. They ALWAYS needed to have Dinty Moore on night one and Nalley’s Chili on the last night. Well, of course, come time to leave for the trip and no one has any room in their packs for the food OR THE CAST IRON DUTCH OVEN to cook it in, so guess who gets to pack it.
    It’s no wonder I was replacing backpacks every other year back then.
    I sure learned my lesson… my 4-day pack is now nearly 45pounds lighter than back then, but my belt’s holding back at least 45pounds more than it was back then, too. Argh.

  26. On overnight hikes in the Smokies, my Uncle Bill would always bring a cast iron skill to make greasy, salty and delicious hash browns for breakfast. Can’t say it was stupid because I loved them….and him….so much. Also remember never having near enough water or shelter….but we’re really starting to get into trivialities with those.

  27. When I was at the dentist’s office getting my teeth cleaned a few years ago, the hygienist told me about her recent first overnight backpack trip. She and her boyfriend hauled, in addition to the obligatory 6-pack of beer, a portable shower, complete with metal ring, curtain, and water bag, to hang from a tree. There was still snow on the ground, so after she took her shower, including washing her hair, she said she jumped into her sleeping bag shivering like crazy and took a long time to warm up. When she finally took her fingers out of my mouth, I sputtered, “why on earth did you think you needed to take a shower and wash your hair on an overnighter?” “Hygiene!” she chirped. She then said she was switching over to RV camping.

  28. A pair of rubber flip flops. They broke the first day and I had to carry the useless weight up and down mountains the rest of the week. I’ve seen strangers carry odd things such as a group of five with the old fashioned full size aluminum lawn chairs. They also had 4 stoves- this was 20 hard miles from the nearest road. Another time someone had a big canvas umbrella tent (19 miles from a road). There was a big storm that night and that tent was collapsed in the morning.

    • Rubber flip flops isn’t a bad idea at all. They weigh nothing and give you something to wear while your boots dry. It’s always a good idea to let your feet dry out anyway so they great for wearing while cooking, setting up tents, etc.

  29. On an over nighter my hiking buddy and I always pack a six pack of 16oz beers each so we can sit around the camp fire and tell lies

  30. I do like the idea of bringing good food for the hike, but frozen chicken? :-)

  31. On our first backpacking trip last year, we looked like the Beverley Hillbillies when they moved to town. Crammed full large packs with all manner of stuff hanging off. Full size pot with the lid bungee corded on, three times as much water needed. All carried up the Approach trail. So much stuff we never used. And amazingly, none of the other, obviously experienced hikers laughed at us. I think they were overwhelmed with pity. Lol

    • I think what you mean to say is that “AS FAR AS YOU KNOW none of the other, obviously experienced hikers laughed” at you. You can be sure that they laughed, but it would probably have been the laughter that only those having had the same experience could enjoy.
      You can be sure that nearly everyone commenting here, novice to expert, has started out the same way. I can remember, vividly, the first lightweight backpacker I came across. That tiny pack with nothing tied on the outside just HAD TO be only a day pack and how could he possibly have been carrying enough beer and food in that pack to get through a full day? Since we were at a kinda natural stopping point on the trail and he didn’t mind stopping to talk, he literally completely changed my outlook on backpacking when he went through his pack showing me everything he was carrying in a pack that weighed less than 30 pounds for a week-long backpacking trip. It was 1977 and I was blown away. I’ve been striving to drop my pack weight ever since which has contributed to not only my enjoyment of my trips, but the continued ability to be able to enjoy the wilderness all my life.
      Whatever you do, Chris, don’t be discouraged! Read up on this and other lightweight sites to find out how you can cut some of that weight out and make your next trip and all future trips even more enjoyable than I’m hoping that “Beverly Hillbillies” trip was.

      • Thanks so much for your kind words of encouragement. I did indeed start reading up and researching on lightweight gear, good packs, and how to properly load and adjust them. I’m afraid I’ve gotten a bit obsessive about the whole backpacking thing. Lol But the next time out was much more enjoyable with that new knowledge. The lighter gear I will upgrade to as I’m able. And rest assured that I will have researched each piece to death. I have been bitten by the backpacking bug. And I forsee the symptoms just getting worse over time.
        As for that first trip, I seriously considered giving myself the trail name Granny Clampet. Not anymore though. ?

        • That obsessive thing will come and go over the years. I’m in the middle of one of them right now.
          Glad to hear you’re still at it and hope to see ya on the trails, “GC”. : )
          Lightweight and ultralight backpacking can get expensive if you let it, but if you look around, you can find sites, blogs and plenty of information about how to save money while going lightweight. Making some of your own equipment (not nearly as hard as it sounds in many cases) is a great way to start.
          This is probably geared more toward a different thread, but it’s really easy to get carried away. I spent one whole winter in the shop doing nothing but cutting up cans to try and find the most efficient alcohol stove…the whole winter. Only needed the fire extinguisher twice…maybe three times. Made stoves out of soda cans, aluminum beer “bottles”, Altoids cans, 5oz energy drink cans, paint cans (the small, “sample size” paint cans actually…) and more. Gotta stop, getting the fire bug again.
          Good luck “GC” (Granny Clampett) and keep ’em movin’ forward.

        • Yeah, I’ve looked into some make your own sites. Very intriguing if I could manage it. I’ll just start with a Buff this week. Gotta start small. :) And I hope to heck I end up with a better trail name than Granny C. Lol But given my propensity to get turned around on the trail after breaks and starting out in the mornings , Wrong Way Feldman could happen. (from Gilligan’s Island) ;)

        • “Wrong Way Feldman”! Wow, I’d forgotten that episode. Are you really as old as I am or did you see that in sindication?

        • Aargh!
          Make that “syndication”.

        • Oh no. I saw that one when I was a youngster. I’ll be old enough for free coffee this year. (55) :0

        • FREE COFFEE!?! Is that with or without your AARP card?

        • I just realized that I’ll be eligible for the free coffee this year, as well.
          1961 was obviously a good year.

        • So many intelligent hikers from that year. Lol

  32. *** Your click-bait title worked yet again. ****

    Dumb items I’ve witnessed:

    1. Full nuclear-biological-chemical (NBC) charcoal-impregnated MOPP suit on a pristine, winter camping trip.

    2. Cast iron frying pan (but those brownies were GOOD!)

    3. Large gallon bag of hair scrunchies and full bottle of a shampoo. (Girl snuck ’em back after the pack shakedown inspection.)

    4. Sorel-type boots (because the leader demanded all boys must wear boots for a quite flat, 15-mile trail)

    5. Sleeping bag liner (without the sleeping bag) for a Spring, below-freezing trip because, well, ya know, its Spring.

    6. E-tool (the bomb-proof Army/Marine folding metal shovel in rugged plastic case) to dig catholes. Note: I humped one for many miles myself in Ranger school but used it nightly to dig myself in.

    7. Tupperware for meal leftovers.

  33. Back in high school my buddy and I were planning on hiking during the weekend. In our science class the teacher was distracted so I liberated about a 10 foot section of Magnesium ribbon from the teacher’s desk and we brought it with us. We wrapped it around some model rocket fuse and ignited the fuse. Needless to say the blinding light emanating from the woods attracted the attention of pretty much every single authority in the area. According to one of the responding police officers, they received several hundred calls reporting everything from a downed airliner to UFOs. Needless to say that camping trip didn’t end well for us.

  34. I passed a kid on the trail up to Mt.Carrigain in NH back in 90, 85f in the shade with 2 miles to go humping a blaster and a pile of CD’s in an open top pack. I inquired if he was ok and got an “I’m alright” so I passed him. I got to the summit where there were at least 30 kids his age in various stages of setting up to spend the night and inquired if the music man was with them. The responded in the affirmative and informed me of their group: a summer camp of strictly backpackers(this was their final trip of the season). Much to my chagrin they had the music and were also cooking Maine lobsters as well. Amazed to say the least. The kid made it 2 hours after me….

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