We've all been there...

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Outside Guide is almost a month old! Thank you to everyone who has signed up and read along during the past four weeks.

Now might be a good time to introduce the voice behind the guide. My name is Caitlin Moran; I’m a newsletter editor at The Seattle Times on weekdays, and, like many of you, I live for weekends spent in the spectacular alpine areas of the Pacific Northwest. I grew up in Snohomish County with views of mountains all around, but I didn’t really get bitten by the outdoors bug until I hit my early 20s.

That brings me to this week’s topic: The mistakes we all make when we’re just starting out with hiking and backpacking. Here are a few I can own up to:

Not researching current conditions. It was mid-May, school was out, and my partner and I were eager to hit the trails. We settled on an overnight in Oregon’s Waldo Lake Wilderness, which our new guidebook said was “best” from June to October (close enough, right?). The error of our ways became clear when our sedan encountered a three-foot wall of snow several miles from the trailhead. You can avoid similar headaches by looking for recent trip reports on sites like wta.org and nwhikers.net and researching snow levels on the Washington SNOTEL page. A call to the nearest ranger station also never hurts.

Packing too much stuff. Overpacking for a backpacking trip means you’re carrying more weight, traveling more slowly and tiring yourself out more quickly — a situation that can compromise both your enthusiasm and your physical safety. It takes experience to figure out how much food you will eat and how many layers you need to stay warm at night, but an honest conversation with yourself about personal luxury items can make a big difference. (I now admit that a hairbrush, second set of clothing and full-length novel are completely unnecessary for an overnight trip.) Cross reference an ultra-light packing list with a more conventional one to get an idea of what you could leave at home.

Freaking out about wildlife. The nights of my earliest backpacking trips were spent tossing and turning with my ears piqued for the faintest rustle in the bushes. It’s human nature to fear big, fluffy animals, but I now know that the odds of a bear coming out of the woods to snack on my extremities are extremely low. If you’ve kept a clean camp, rest easy and try to ignore the bumps in the night. Ear plugs can help.