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5 Things That Can Go Wrong on Your Next Backcountry Trek

Backcountry trekkers

Backcountry trekkers

Travel always has the potential to be messy, and that's certainly true of going on a backcountry trek.

If you're planning any type of hike or trek, here are all the things that could go wrong if you aren’t adequately prepared.

1. Losing the Trail

Getting lost in the backcountry is not the basis for an uproarious story; it is a life-threatening situation that should be avoided at all costs.

Getting lost is the reason behind 68 percent of searches for missing hikers, and you don't want to become one of them.

First, plan your trip, so you know exactly where you'll be at every hour of every day.

You should know where the trailhead starts, the direction the trail follows, and where it ends.

Carry a detailed map, as well as a compass — even if you’re trekking a route you are familiar with.

And finally, you should avoid losing sight of the path for any reason, even to go to the bathroom.

Even with all this preparation to avoid getting lost, you should tell someone where you will be and when.

That way, if they don’t hear from you, they can give detailed instructions to your search team and potentially save your life.

2. Getting Eaten Alive

Too many trekkers dismiss bugs as a minor annoyance, but the truth is that many species of insect can wreck your trip as well as your health for years to come.

Spiders, scorpions, centipedes, and ants can debilitate unassuming hikers, and mosquitoes and ticks carry deadly diseases that could leave you ill for the rest of your life.

The best defense against bugs is knowing what types are common in the area of your trek.

For instance, ticks live almost everywhere, but those who have deadly Lyme disease in the United States only reside in the Northeast and Midwest.

You'll also want to research how to react when you find an insect bite to reduce damage; for example, you should know what happens if a tick bites you and what first aid to have on hand.

Then, protect yourself with plenty of bug spray, ideally with a powerful active ingredient like DEET.

However, be sure to separate your bug spray in your pack and keep it in a sealable bag; that way, if it leaks, you won’t have your water, sleeping bag, and other necessities tainted by poison.

Brown bear

Brown bear

3. Getting Eaten Dead

It’s exceedingly unlikely that you’ll encounter any animals besides bugs, birds, and squirrels on your trek; larger mammals and reptiles tend to know where humans like to hike and steer clear of those regions.

However, on the off-chance you do encounter an animal that could attack and eat you, you should know how to react to stay safe.

Typically, if you see a large mammal, like a bear, mountain lion, elk, or moose, your best chance of survival is to talk calmly, which tells the animal that you are human and not predator or prey.

Back away slowly (and, calmly) and try to find high ground, like a boulder or a tree stump.

Around predators like cougars and bears, you never want to run because the animals can run faster than you.

But, running and finding cover is often a good idea when you encounter moose and elk.

4. Committing Fashion Crimes

No serious hikers wear blue jeans and expect to be comfortable during their treks.

Your attire matters when you backpack; the wrong clothing choice can result in pain and discomfort, if not exposure and death.

Light layers are key: closest to the skin, you’ll want a t-shirt with moisture-wicking fabric, and on the outside, it’s a good idea to have a moisture-resistant shell.

On the bottom, wear pants (to protect your legs from brush and insect bites) of a flexible, comfortable material.

As is true in cities, your shoes are perhaps the most important consideration for your outfit.

You should test your shoes extensively before your trip, wearing them around your home or on smaller hikes to see how they behave.

Hiking boots tend to need wearing-in, which means you might develop hot spots on your skin where the boots need to stretch and bend.

Treat these hot spots immediately with moleskin to prevent blisters.

Also, choose socks that wick moisture away from the foot — synthetic materials and wool are your best bet.

5. Running Out of Water

It’s embarrassing how many hikers set out without even a drop of water in their packs.

Water is essential for human survival, and you cannot trust wild sources of water to be potable.

You should have at least two liters of water per day of your trek — or else a SteriPEN or some other way of ensuring that water you find can be cleaned.

Even if you bring enough water, you need to be careful how you carry it.

Water bladders can burst when they are improperly positioned in your pack, and they can also freeze, become contaminated, and worse.

Research the right way to contain, pack, and use your water, so you don’t suffer the severe effects of dehydration.

Travelers of all types rely heavily on luck to have a good trip. However, the number of factors you can’t control are vastly outweighed by those you can.

Instead of risking life or limb on your next backpacking trip — whether it’s to the city or the backcountry — prepare your pack to help you avoid all the above things that can go very, very wrong.


This story was brought to you in partnership with GoHealth Urgent Care.

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:


Thursday 28th of March 2019

Thanks for tips! I always make sure I have my bug repellent with me (scared of insects)! And I tend to trek with groups, just to be safe :)


Thursday 25th of April 2019

Trekking with at least one other person is a good safety tip. I've rarely hiked alone, especially on overnight trips.

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