It’s amazing how some backpacking gear myths persist, even when there’s ample evidence to the contrary. Then there are the lies that gear marketers propagate to sell their products to people who don’t know better.
Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Waterproof means waterproof.
Think again. You’d think that waterproof rain jackets, waterproof rain pants, waterproof boots, waterproof stuff sacks, waterproof backpacks, and waterproof tents would be impervious to water. But most of them are only water-resistant and can leak, either through the fabric or through the seams. For more insight into the waterproof con job, see our FAQs: How waterproof is silnylon?
2. Women don’t need anatomically correct backpacks or sleeping bags.
Nope. Women are shaped differently than men, they’re generally smaller and generate less body heat when they sleep. They really do need backpacks that adapt to their curves and female-specific sleeping bags that are better insulated to keep them warmer. Unisex is just another word for “men’s”. See Best Women’s Lightweight Backpacks of 2021 and Best Women’s Sleeping Bags of 2021.
3. Sleeping naked is warmer than sleeping with clothes on.
No again. If you’re too cold in your sleeping bag, put on some dry clothes and a hat or an insulated jacket. The math is simple: the more you wear, the higher the combined R-value of your night-time sleeping insulation. See our FAQ: Is it Warmer to Sleep Naked in a Sleeping Bag?
4. Canister stove boil times are more important than fuel efficiency.
Nope. You can make your stove fuel last 2-3 times longer if you turn the size of the flame down to 1/2 to 1/3 of full power, in addition to using a windscreen. That reduces the amount of fuel you need which also means that you need to resupply less frequently or that you can carry less fuel weight. It might take an extra minute to boil water, but what is the rush when you’re backpacking? Do you need to be somewhere else? See our Flatcat Gear Canister Stove Screen Review.
5. All of your gear should be packed inside your backpack and none of it attached to the outside.
This just isn’t practical if you need to carry things that can’t fit in a backpack or that you’d never want inside a backpack, like bulky foam sleeping pads, satellite messengers, potty trowels, pea rags, wet tents, wet clothes, snowshoes, packrafts, paddles, bear canisters, bear spray, rope, ice axes, skis, axes, climbing or ski helmets. rifles and shotguns, etc. Most backpacks provide multiple ways to attach gear to the outside of a backpack like sleeping pad straps, side compression straps, molle straps, daisy chains, under floating top lids, and by threading cord through webbing loops positioned on the exterior of a pack for that purpose. See our FAQ: What Are The Straps On The Outside of a Backpack For?
6. Waxing the outside of a waterproof/breathable boot preserves the boot’s breathability.
Nope. Waterproofing pastes and liquids that include wax and oil, like Sno-seal, ruin the breathability of waterproof/breathable leather footwear. When wax and oil are applied to a leather boot, the oil draws the wax into the pores of the leather and creates an impermeable shell that prevents water or water vapor from passing through the leather so it’s no longer breathable. If you call Sno-Seal up and ask them about this discrepancy, they’ll tell you that your boots will still be able to “breathe” through the hole you put your foot into, but not through the external leather. However, you can still use a water-based DWR product to restore your waterproof/breathable footwear’s breathability. See our FAQ: Should You Waterproof Gore-Tex Boots?
7. Metal backpack frames attract lightning.
Second Grade Science Class here. The tallest thing in a field is the most likely thing to be struck by lightning. It doesn’t matter if you carry a backpack with a metal or carbon fiber frame; an aluminum or carbon fiber umbrella; a tinfoil hat, or one made from yak wool. Everything is a conductor when 300 million volts of electricity hit it. Don’t be the tallest thing in a field or on top of a mountain during a thunderstorm. See our FAQ: Hiking Lightning Storm Safety
8. You need a special 4 season tent to camp in winter.
Many three-season backpacking tents can be used in winter. If you expect heavy snow which can break flimsy tent poles or high winds, 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 and sleeping pad rated for cold temperatures. See our FAQ Can You Use a Three Season Tent in Winter?
9. Biodegradable soap is safe to use in streams and ponds.
Nope. Soap is not safe to use in streams and ponds, even if it is biodegradable like Campsuds, Sea-to-Summit Wilderness Wash, or Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap for hand washing or cleaning camp cookware. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Getting any soap in a water source is bad. The soap can cause all sorts of issues from increased nitrogen to actually causing significant harm to aquatic inhabitants. Plus, no one downstream wants to drink water that you’ve washed yourself, your clothes, or your dirty dishes with. Please carry all dirty or soapy water away 200 feet and bury or disperse it so it can’t flow back into the stream or pond. See our FAQ on Biodegradeable Soap and The Campsuds Myth.
10. Mountain House Freeze-dried backpacking meals are delicious and satisfying
Mountain House freeze-dried backpacking meals are pretty hit or miss. You usually need to give them a few extra minutes to rehydrate, you need to eat multiple servings to get enough calories, and they’re loaded with enough salt to pickle pig’s feet. If Mountain House meals were really that delicious and satisfying you’re be eating them every night at home. But you don’t.Editor's note: If you’re thinking about buying gear that we’ve reviewed or recommend on SectionHiker, you can help support us in the process. Just click on any of the seller links above, and if you make a purchase, we may (but not always) receive a small percentage of the transaction. The cost of the product is the same to you but this helps us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides. Thanks and we appreciate your support!