Every experienced hiker was a beginner once—and every beginner is bound to make a mistake or two. It’s the only way we learn!
Small mistakes made while hiking are virtually harmless, but others could get you into some serious trouble. Here are a few mistakes to avoid, so you can get started on the right foot.
1. Overestimating Your Abilities
One of the worst mistakes a beginner hiker could make is being overconfident about his or her abilities. According to a Search and Rescue report by the National Park Service in 2014, 42% of all rescues were due to insufficient experience, fatigue, and physical condition.
In 2017, people between the ages of 20-29 accounted for over 19% of all search and rescue efforts.
Hikers overestimating their physical abilities and stamina account for a large portion of rescues.
An example of this is taking a difficult or moderately rated trail as a beginner so you can try to “get in a good workout.”
Hiking is a good workout whether or not you’re taking a moderate or difficult trail!
Choosing a trail that may be beyond your capability is a fast track to trouble. When in doubt, check online for trail reviews from other hikers.
Be honest with yourself when deciding on a trail and remember—overconfidence can be a big mistake.
2. Wearing New or Inappropriate Shoes
Keeping your feet in good condition while hiking is key. Wearing street shoes or flip flops while hiking is a bad idea, and so is wearing brand new hiking boots.
While hiking, your feet will swell—it’s important to wear shoes that are broken in and comfortable as well as supportive for long-distance walking. Avoid blisters by bringing along bandaids and applying them at the first sign of discomfort.
3. Dressing Inappropriately
Many beginner hikers make the mistake of dressing inappropriately, whether unprepared for the elements on the trail or more commonly: wrong material.
Avoid hiking while wearing clothing made from cotton or denim—both of these materials are heavy, even heavier when wet. As cotton or denim soaks up moisture in the air or from rain, they also become very cold.
Instead of cotton or denim, opt for lightweight, breathable, and waterproof clothing made specifically for the outdoors.
If hiking in cooler weather, wear layers and bring along outerwear.
4. Hiking Alone
An inexperienced or beginner hiker should never hike alone. The allure of being alone with nature while out on the trail is a strong one, indeed, but as a beginner you should always bring someone along.
Tag along on hikes with a more experienced hiker or invite your buddies out for the day. There is a lot to be learned from experienced hikers, and you can still have your own hike even with a group of people.
The buddy system comes in really handy when you make a wrong turn, step on slippery moss and fall, or face a wild animal on the trail.
5. Packing Too Heavily or Too Lightly
Your first time out in the wilderness, you may want to pack everything “just so you have it.” However, you likely won’t end up using 4 tubes of chapstick and a blanket, so you’d be better off leaving extras behind.
Packing too heavily will weigh you down, slow you down, and exhaust you early. You can avoid early fatigue and muscle strain by just packing what you need. Think about how long and difficult your hike will be, and try to pack accordingly.
On the other end of things, some beginner hikers set out with nothing at all—a huge mistake! At the very least, a hiker should have water with them.
Don’t make the mistake of not packing something you will end up needing later on.
Along with plenty of water, you will likely want to bring a small first aid kit, flashlight or headlamp, and a knife, among other things.
6. Leaving a Trace
Many beginner hikers are inexperienced and also unfamiliar with outdoor ethics. Not everyone who trashes and tramples around a trail is a beginner, but beginners will be more likely to be unfamiliar with Leave No Trace practices.
There are 7 Leave No Trace principles to remember to protect yourself, wildlife, the environment, and others on the trail.
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impact
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
Don’t wander away from the trail or designated camping areas! It can take up to 500 years to form an inch of topsoil. Bring whatever trash you have back out with you and dispose of it properly, and respect nature.
7. Not Bringing Enough Water
Don’t just bring a 20oz bottle of water from the convenience store on the way to the trailhead—that’s not going to be enough!
Not bringing water with you on a hike is a big mistake, one that could get you into a lot of trouble. Don’t assume you’ll find water on the trail either—you need to come prepared.
You expend much more water through sweat and breath while hiking than you do otherwise, so your required water intake will be higher than it is on a normal day. It’s a good practice to drink about 32 oz of water every hour that you’re hiking.
A hydration pack with a straw is a great way to bring your water along on day hikes.
8. Not Packing Snacks
If your hike is going to be longer than a couple of hours, be sure to bring snacks. A common mistake made by beginners is thinking they won’t get hungry, or only need to bring a small snack for the midpoint.
Hiking causes you to expend much more energy and you will get very hungry. Bring along trail mix, dehydrated fruit, or nuts and jerky to snack on while you’re hiking.
9. Not Checking the Forecast
Forgetting to check the weather is common among newer hikers. This can lead to some soggy, cold hikers—or worse!
Checking the weather is a short task that can help you be better prepared for what lies ahead on your hike. It will help you pack better, dress better and be ready for whatever you face out on the trail.
10. Getting Separated
As a beginner hiker you should always be with other people. Whether you’re with a group of friends or experienced hikers, it’s important to remain with each other.
Becoming impatient with slower hikers and forging ahead can put you in a dangerous situation—for example, falling and slipping down an embankment and becoming injured, but no one knows you’re there!
Take frequent breaks while hiking to ensure each hiker is able to keep up with the group, and re-distribute weight in your packs to make it easier with those who are having a harder time.
11. Not Using Sunscreen
Forgetting sunscreen while doing any outdoor activity can lead to some pretty painful consequences, yet it’s one of the most common mistakes people make.
Even when hiking through forests or on cloudy days, UV protection is essential. UV rays can and will penetrate clouds and give you a sunburn!
12. Not Watching Your Step
Stepping carelessly is a mistake many beginner hikers make simply because they’re not used to looking out for potential dangers. Dangers on a trail can come in the form of snakes hiding on the other side of logs, or other (less menacing) dangers like a root you could trip over.
There may be uneven ground, slippery moss, a hole, rock, or log to trip over and injure yourself. Some trails have steep edges with long drops, and you must always use caution when walking near water. Even if a river looks calm, it could have strong currents lying just beneath the surface!
13. Starting Too Late in the Day
Many new hikers start their hikes later in the day. The afternoon just seems like such a perfect time to set out on that trail you’ve been eyeing up!
Don’t make this same mistake! You don’t always know how long a trail is going to take you to hike, especially as a beginner.
Even if a trail is just a couple miles long, things like weather, terrain, and elevation will all factor in to how long it will take you to hike it.
The last thing you want to do is be caught out on a trail after dark, especially if you weren’t prepared for it. Start your hikes earlier in the day to ensure you have enough daylight.
With a little research and preparation, these beginner hiking mistakes will be easy to avoid. Stay safe out there on the trails, and most importantly, have fun!
“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir