7 Moves to Avoid in the Outdoors

Allagash Waterway

Whoever said “don’t sweat the small things” was likely the same person asking to borrow some TP out on the trail because they forgot their roll at home. Details matter. And those small things? Turns out they can be quite big things once you’re miles from home.

Here’s a list of the seven rookie moves that we’ve all made – myself included – and how to avoid them.

1. Oops. I forgot to pack the ______. 

Maybe it’s a spatula. Maybe it’s a spare bandana, a pair of gloves, or your TP.  Work from a master list that can be refined and modified for whatever adventure you’re planning. Don’t have a list? Check out REI’s lists, under the Expert Advice section of their website. Their lists are comprehensive, and my lists are now modified versions of theirs. Bottom line: embrace lists and thank yourself later when you don’t have to grab a wad of beech leaves to wipe your ass.

2. We don’t need no stinkin’ map! I’ve been here hundreds of times!

Bring a map. Study it. Know it. Scout your location. Research and research some more. The internet is full of information on wherever you might want to go. There is virtually no unexplored corner of our planet. Unless you’re charting a new course, in which you should have extensive experience anyway, study up. It’ll make a world of difference once you’re in the backcountry, and alleviate a lot of stress, especially if you find yourself in an unexpected situation.

3. I have a compass, now what?

You know that funny looking round thing in your pack? It’s called a compass. You should probably get familiar with it. I’ll be the first to admit, for years – when I was younger – I carried a compass everywhere (you know, because it’s an “essential”) and I didn’t fully know how to use it, at least no where near to the degree that it could actually save my life. Then I took an orienteering course. Best. Move. Ever. First, it’s not that hard. Second, it’s actually fun, especially when you’re learning to triangulate your position and do other cool stuff. Personally, I could have never learned this skill from a book. I needed a hands-on course. And honestly, that’s the best way. Oh, and it very well could save your life.

4. The Overloaded Hiker/Canoeist

Carry the essentials and little more. Continuously find ways to simplify. We live in a consumption driven society. Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard is quoted as saying “the more you know, the less you need.” That should be the motto of all who head into the outdoors. The beauty of the natural world is that we get to shed away all of our fabricated junk, which we willingly carry every day, and for a few moments connect with a more simple, elegant form of existence. All too often I see backpacks and canoes overloaded with an amazing array of items I can barely begin to describe. Just don’t.

5. A fleece in summer? But it’s 80 degrees! 

Dress appropriately, and be prepared for an array of conditions. This doesn’t mean to overpack. (see #4) What it does mean is to be adequately prepared by knowing the weather as well as weather patterns. In northern Maine, during the summer, it can get into the 40’s at night. In New Hampshire, Mount Washington frequently sees snow in July. Cotton should always be avoided, and packing a fleece and a warm hat is always advisable. Oh, and do I even need to mention breathable rain gear? (I’m starting to see an entirely separate blog post on layering systems and rain gear emerging. Stay tuned.)

6. Overachieving, Over-stretching, Over your Head.

Know your pace, and move accordingly. In yoga there’s a saying “practice on your own mat”, which is to say that you need to pay attention to your own body, and not think that you can churn yourself into a pretzel on your first day. Whether you’re on the river, or on a mountain, know your pace, know your limits, and plan accordingly. It’s not a race, or a competition. I always build an itinerary and allow room for flexibility should things change. In doing this I reduce the surprises the trail will throw at me, which creates a more enjoyable outing.

7. You mean we can’t burn our trash? 

Listen folks, follow Leave No Trace. It’s not a suggestion. It’s not a philosophy. It’s how you’re expected to act at all times in the outdoors. If you can’t, then go back to the city. Clearly, this is the item I’m most passionate about. I still come upon campsites where people have left their garbage and traces of their existence behind. In fact, if there’s not a well-established fire pit I don’t even bother with fire anymore. Your job in the wilderness is to be a ghost. In future I will publish a few articles with techniques to take this beyond thorough clean-up and packing out trash. Bonus food for thought: think about how you can bring Leave No Trace principles back to your daily life.