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My Backpacking Mantra/Four Rules

Over many years of backpacking with folks of varying experience, I notice I have developed a short set of maxims that I have to keep repeating...over and over and over, to keep things as safe and as comfortable as possible.

1. What goes down, must come up. (a bit frivolous and indulgent but meant to convey 'don't get to cocky or relaxed, the trail is going to eventually go back up')

2. There is no such thing as a small accident in the wilderness.  Even the smallest of accidents or injuries have a compounded and multiplied effect miles or days from civilization.  Don't mess around on the trail, lake, stove, knife, etc.. Be cautious and be mindful of cause and effect.

3. If you get a hot spot FOR THE LOVE OF GOD stop and put a bandaid or tape or treatment BEFORE it turns into a miserable and possibly trip ending BLISTER! (whew! that was intense!)

Lastly and most recently:

4. When you spot a good campsite, before settling in, check on down the trail, another 10-15 min or so, in case that fantastic site awaits.


REI Member Since 1979
8 Replies

addendum:  If I go down the trail, seeking a better campsite, whilst you wait and rest, and I, usually being the oldest (and probably wisest) of the group returns to announce a great spot just ahead, only to find you have already set up your tent, and others have followed your lead, that's most likely the last time your ever going to hike with me. (there, I said it)

REI Member Since 1979




Good maxims and I would like to enlarge on No's 2 and 3.  Take a good First Aide course, preferably wilderness oriented, as you venture into the woods. Not only will the knowledge and skills benefit you and/or your companions away from the road, but they will also be hndy eventually in routine urban life as well .

Also, when practicing wild activities where head protection (helmets) is recommended, follow the recommendation.  I can think of lots of occasions where a protective helmet saved the day (and lives as well).

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

@hikermortruly excellent points!!

REI Member Since 1979

In an earlier life more than forty years ago I was a Nationally Registered EMT. I served as an EMT volunteer as well as worked for pay as an EMT. Skip ahead to a few years ago when I took a Wilderness First Aid Course. Yes, I drew on my EMT experience and knowledge in that course, but I learned that first aid and emergency medicine is a different thing in the wilderness than it is in an urban or suburban environment, or anyplace a rescue squad can easily reach in ten to fifteen minutes to an hour. REI has partnered with the (NOLS) Wilderness Medicine Institute to offer a two-day Wilderness First Aid Course. I highly recommend it for anyone who spends anytime in the back country or wilderness regardless of what you are doing there.

aka "Boonerelli"

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

I love your mantras.

And, yes, I agree, @hikermor , on the first-aid course.  Also, definitely it should be a wilderness first-aid course as most others will talk about calling and waiting for help.  In the backcountry that wait could be too long.


@Philreedshikes - Just watched your video. That campsite you found is indeed amazing! A good reminder to not always stop "too quickly" when tired or done for the day.

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

You got it Phil! 

Mindfulness is my most important backpacking skill I practice.  I'm never going to fast to stop and smell the Fireweed or admire the trees or look around for wildlife.  Smell the air and the earth. Enjoy the sounds.  

Always be alert and know where your feet are.  If you fall in a hole or trip over a stump and break something you may not be in a position to get help for days.

My big rule is also never to leave home without a first aid kit. In a zip lock baggie or a light pouch.  Not just bandaids, but Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Loperamide,Benadryl,(my blood pressure meds)antibiotic ointment, scissors,sports tape, hydrogel dressings or moleskin, lidocaine roll on  (its wonderful and worth 3 ounces!) and I know how to improvise a sling or pressure dressing, splint if need be (everyone should study a wilderness medicine book because you never know when you need first aid). Insect repellant.  When I lived in places with snakes I had a little set up on that. 


My personal 4th is when you're camping in a forest look at the trees for widow-makers. Dead trees can still have some leaves on them. I'm not a gambling man.  Also if you live in areas with lots of dry lightening (Flagstaff, I'm talking to ya) certain times of the year avoid sleeping under tall trees. 


Almost all info about blisters talks about friction as the cause, but remember it can also be pressure.  So you do not want to add pressure by adding another layer.  Use a 'donut' from molefoam or some such thing to relieve the pressure.  The exception to that is something I used  called Spenco Second Skin which was made out of cool jell and is put directly on an open wound=blister.  Can't find that now but something equivalent may work.   Several months before a trip scrub those sensitive areas to toughen up the skin.