Are you planning to go hiking? Here are the biggest hiking mistakes to avoid as a beginner hiker (even seasoned hikers) to survive in the outdoors.
For most beginners, it’s inevitable to make a couple of hiking mistakes – actually, even seasoned hikers always make a number of them.
I remember making my own share of hiking mistakes when I had just started hiking which I am thankful for now because I learned from them, got better, and now I am passing on the same hiking tips so that you avoid those mistakes.
And no, making mistakes while hiking doesn’t mean that you’re a bad hiker or that you should stop hiking, on the contrary, just continue hiking and with time, you’ll be much better than when you first hiked – of course, if you pay attention to the mistakes I am going to share below.
So if you’re going hiking for the first time or you just want to refresh your memory about what not to do on the trail, here are the most common mistakes to avoid while hiking.
Beginner Hiking mistakes and How to avoid them
1. Leaving a trace behind
As a hiker, it would be very disrespectful to the wild, the environment, and other hikers to keep dumping stuff anyhow while on the trail. It will also be a huge mistake not to familiarize yourself with all the other leave no trace principles.
What should should you do instead?
While on the trail, do not dump stuff anywhere else except the designated trash cans, and do not leave paper behind if you take a bush pee.
Also if for some reason you made a fire, put out all the fire and take away all the ashes. Basically leave no trace – in that if someone else passes the same trail, they will not realize that someone else was there before.
Some of the other leave no trace principles to observe include: leaving behind what you found, respecting the wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors.
Related post: Big mistakes to avoid while backpacking
2. Wearing uncomfortable/Impractical shoes
One of the major hiking mistakes you’ll ever make is to wear uncomfortable shoes. Shoes are a major basis of whether you’ll have blisters after the hike or not.
Also the shoes you take hiking shouldn’t be impractical however comfortable they are in normal day to day life. Flip flops, or pumps are totally a no-no when it comes to hiking.
Opt for comfortable hiking shoes. You can opt for waterproof hiking boots if you plan to hike in rain.
For all my hikes, I always go with my normal running shoes (you can check them out here) and I’ve never had any issues with them.
However, the hiking shoes you take should be lightweight not to add more weight, should not be too tight nor too loose in your feet. I will recommend you the right hiking shoes later in the post.
3. Over estimating your abilities
Ok, I know we all want to be proud of ourselves by tackling something beyond our normal abilities but hiking is different. If you go beyond your abilities, you may get worn out or get health complications at worse.
Remember that you don’t need to prove a point to anyone, being in the outdoors hiking is already something to be proud of.
What should you do then?
Look at the trail, if it’s a long one, determine what you can tackle in one go and take breaks as much as you need.
Hiking is not a race that you should be the first at the end of the line. Take your time, know your abilities and stick to that as hiking is supposed to be fun not torture.
4. Not testing out your gear before you go
One common hiking mistake I see so many beginner hikers make is forgetting to test their gear before they hit the trail. I am not sure if it’s the excitement that overcomes them or what but it’s very risky to go in the outdoors before thoroughly checking your hiking gear.
Imagine reaching the trail and you realize that the water filter you packed doesn’t work well – that would mean getting extremely thirsty when you run out of the clean water you had packed initially.
Test all your gear before the hiking day. If it’s a water filter, check to see that it cleans the water well. Check to see that the hiking poles you bought are firm enough.
Basically check everything you’re taking hiking to make sure that they’re in good condition.
5. Wearing the wrong clothes
If you didn’t know that there are wrong hiking clothes, now you know! Cotton clothes are some of the wrong clothes to wear while hiking.
What should you wear instead?
First of all, pack hiking clothes in layers. As you go hiking, the weather can change drastically and that’s why it’s important to pack layers.
Pack a base layer, an outer layer, and a down jacket but whatever you pack, make sure that they’re all comfortable. To give you an idea of what to pack, below are a few hiking clothes to consider.
- A Sports Bra: Every woman will find this sports bra comfortable even if you’re hiking for the entire day.
- Leggings: Leggings are a girl’s best friend when it comes to any kind of outdoor activity. I like these ones as they are warm, comfortable and high waisted which is a huge plus.
- A down jacket: Make sure that you’re prepared for any kind of weather changes by carrying a waterproof down jacket. I like this down jacket because, on top of being lightweight and durable, it is warm and it packs really well – you just fold it in its own hood hence making carrying it super easy.
- Convertible pants: These are great hiking pants for men and women actually. A big plus about these convertible pants is that you can wear them as just shorts when it’s cold or full-size pants when it gets cold.
- Merino wool T-shirts for men: These merino wool t-shirts will keep you dry even when you sweat which is highly expected as you hike.
- Merino wool socks: Good quality socks like these Merino wool ones will prevent your feet from getting blisters and they will also keep your feet dry and non-smelly even if you spend the whole day in shoes.
Related post: Essential items to pack for Camping
6. Not understanding how to read a map or basic navigation skills
Not understanding how to read a map can make you get lost in the outdoors. This is actually a big mistake that you shouldn’t take lightly.
You don’t want to reach the trail and not know where to go and eventually start moving in circles.
What to do then?
Learn the basic navigation skills and how to properly read a map. If you can’t figure it out on your own, ask someone who knows to teach you.
And this doesn’t just apply to your phone map apps but even the traditional paper map in case your phone runs out of battery.
7. Not researching the weather of your destination
One of the other major hiking mistakes to avoid is not researching about the weather. Researching the weather not only helps you plan your hiking clothes but also avoid walking into weather disasters.
As you plan your hiking trip, make your weather forecast your friend. If the day will be rainy and you don’t want to hike under rain, you can easily reschedule your hike.
Otherwise it would not be the best experience walking into a storm or even a tornado.
8. Forgetting the essential hiking gear
It would be a huge mistake to go hiking without the necessary hiking essentials. Remember that you’ll be in the wild with no access to anything else. So as you go hiking, make sure that you have everything you need.
Which hiking essentials should you take?
- A good quality daypack: Make sure you take a good quality daypack that will accommodate all your other items. I am a huge fan of Osprey daypack and this one is perfect for the trail. You can check it out on the Osprey website or on Amazon to compare prices.
- Water bottle: It important to stay hydrated while hiking and the best way to do that is to carry water in a water bottle. This collapsible travel water bottle is perfect as it doesn’t take up much space when not in use.
- Personal water filter: If you run out of the clean water you packed before, it will be easy to clean any kind of backcountry water you come across if you take this water filter.
- Sunscreen: Regardless of the weather condition, you will need to take sunscreen or you’ll burn. And remember that the sunscreen you take should at least have an SPF of 30+. You can check out the Neutrogena sunscreen if you don’t have one.
- First aid kit: A first aid kit is one of the hiking essentials you shouldn’t leave behind. However, the one you take should have all the major first aid tools but it should be small enough to fit in your hiking day pack. This first aid kit meets all the above requirements and it’s the one I recommend you take in the outdoors.
You can also check out this complete day hiking packing list to make sure that you don’t leave anything behind.
Related post: Essential items to pack for a road trip
9. Packing too much
Ok, I’ve just told you not to leave behind the essential hiking gear but note the I say ESSENTIAL. This means that anything that is not a must-have shouldn’t be taken or else you’ll have to deal with the pain of carrying everything while hiking and trust me, it’s not fun at all.
Pack only what you’ll need not what you might need. I’ve already given you the essentials you’ll need for a day hike in this post and that should be enough.
10. Relying on just your phone for navigation
We all know that the world is now online and it is normal for beginner hikers to think that they will just use apps for navigation which is not totally wrong but very risky and a huge mistake if you ask me.
Imagine if your phone runs out of battery and you can’t access the maps apps on it. It might be hard to find your way if you’re not familiar with the trail.
What should you do instead?
On top of the maps apps like google maps and maps.me which is highly recommended as it works offline, get yourself a traditional paper map of the trail.
Yes, you will walk around will a large paper map which may not be cool but it will save you if your phone runs out of battery.
Also on top of the paper map, you can take a compass if the worse gets to worst.
Related post: Best free travel apps that work offline
11. Taking the wrong backpack
I’m guilty of this! This is one hiking mistake I made as a beginner hiker. Instead of taking a practical hiking backpack, I took a “slaying” backpack, and boy did I learn a lesson? Oh yeah
If you can see the pic below, you can tell that I had the wrong daypack when I was hiking Mt. Elgon in Uganda. It didn’t have a bottle holder which meant taking it off every time I needed water nor was it big enough for everything I needed for my entire hike.
So what should you do instead
Take the right hiking daypack. Yes, there is a right and wrong daypack when it comes to hiking. So you might be wondering, what exactly should the right daypack for hiking be? Here are the must-have features for it to qualify as a good backpack
- It should have a water bottle holder so that you don’t keep taking your daypack off just to get water. It’s such a pain to have to take it off every time you need a sip – I know this first hand.
- A good daypack should have waist straps or hip belts to help you move the weight of the day back to your lower body instead of your back.
- It should be lightweight not to weigh you down
- It should be the right size depending on how long your hike will be
So with those features above, the best backpacks I recommend taking for hiking include;
- Osprey Talon 22 (for men) and Osprey Tempest 20 (for women): These daypacks are perfect if you’re all about comfort while on the trail. They might be a little pricey but they’re worth every penny.
You can compare prices and read reviews for the Osprey Talon 22 (for men) from Amazon or the Osprey website and if you prefer the Osprey Tempest 20 (for women), read reviews on either Amazon or the Osprey website.
- Osprey Stratos 24 (for men) and Osprey Sirrus 24 (for women): These daypacks are not only comfortable but they are compartmented so well to make organizing easier.
You can compare prices and read reviews for the Osprey Stratos 24 (for men) from Amazon or Osprey website and if you prefer the Osprey Sirrus 24 (for women), read reviews on either Amazon or the Osprey website.
12. Leaving the hiking trail
One of the biggest hiking mistakes to avoid is leaving the hiking trail. I know sometimes it can be exciting to take corners to explore what could be on the other route but this is deadly and it could get you lost and start moving in circles.
However tempting it might be, stick to the hiking trail you’re taking. You might run into the unexpected if you choose an alternative route. And also know that there is a reason why the trail was made in that exact place and not somewhere else.
13. Hiking late (Getting caught up in the dark)
No one ever plans to hike in the dark but most hikers who find themselves hiking in the dark are always just caught up due to wrong planning and wrong time estimation.
Some people just calculate a day’s hike based on kilometers/miles without taking into consideration the terrain, their hiking abilities, difficulty level, etc.
So when you estimate the hiking time without those factors, your ending time for the day will also be misleading because you used the wrong parameter to plan your day.
Plan your time well taking into account the factors mentioned above so that you don’t get caught up in the dark. If your trail has say 2 sleepover campsites, time yourself well so that you can reach one before dark.
Related post: Big mistakes to avoid while Camping
14. Not researching your hiking trail
And that leads us to the next hiking mistake which is not researching your hiking trail. Before you go hiking, you need to make a thorough research about the trail.
Making research will help you plan the daily mileage you can take on depending on whether the trail is rocky, mountainous, or a flat landscape.
Also, you’ll get to know if there are wild animals like bears along the trail so that you prepare yourself well on how to deal with such a scenario if it arises.
What should you do then?
The internet is also full of useful information, gather everything you can about the trail to avoid any surprises.
15. Not letting someone know about your hike and when you plan to return
Another hiking mistake you’ll ever make which can even cost you your life is not letting someone know about where you’re going and when you plan to come back.
Imagine if God forbid something were to happen to you and you told no one. That means that no one will be coming to your rescue when you’re in danger.
Let one of your family or friends know about where you’re planning to hike and when you expect to return home. This almost guarantees an emergency rescue plan should you not show up on the day you were supposed to return home and not make any communication.
This is actually one of the best hiking tips you should know that can even save your life.
Related post: Things not to do while traveling
16. Hiking alone
One of the big hiking mistakes to avoid especially if you’re a beginner hiker is hiking alone. Unless if it’s a really short hike and not an overnight one, then you can hike alone otherwise it can be really “scary” to go on a long overnight hike alone – at least it is for me.
The danger in hiking alone is that if something happens to you along the way, you’ll have no one else to look after you or even call for help.
If you dont want to hike alone, you can team up with your family or friends and hit the outdoors but if you have no one in your circle that enjoys hiking or is willing to go with you, then you can opt for popualr hiking trails where you’re guaranteed to find other hikers along the way.
It will seem like you’re hiking solo but in reality, there will be other hikers that you can call for help in case you run into any troubles. You never know, you might even end up making friends on your solo trip.
17. Getting separated from the hiking group
Ok, we just looked at how dangerous hiking alone can be, but going in a group and you get separated from them is equally dangerous.
Don’t be the one guy that everyone will spend hours looking for in the dark because you decided to take a different route instead of what everyone else was taking.
What should you do instead?
However exciting the other trail might be or for whatever reason, you may want to separate from the hiking group, don’t do it. Stay as a team!
Even when you lose your way with your hiking buddy, don’t get separated as a way of easily trying to find the right way by splitting up, you’ll just get lost even more.
So regardless of what happens, stay with the hiking buddy/group while hiking.
18. Wearing the wrong hiking shoes
One of the determinants of whether you’ll have a good hike or sore feet and blisters by the end of your hike is the type of hiking shoes you take.
Hiking shoes that are too loose, too tight or even with a bad grip can cause you to have blisters even before your hike ends.
If you see yourself hiking for a long time not just once, then I’d advise you to invest in good quality hiking shoes. The shoes you choose for hiking should be lightweight not to weigh you down, should have a good grip to keep you firm on the ground even when it’s a bit slippery.
Good hiking shoes should fit you well. Not too loose nor too tight, just the perfect and comfortable size. On top of all that, it should be a good long-lasting brand so that you don’t spend on hiking shoes every year.
So you might be wondering. What kind of shoes should you buy for hiking? Below are a few that I highly recommend.
- Salomon X Ultra 3 Low GTX (men): These are the most comfortable and waterproof hiking shoes that every hiking guy will be mad he didn’t buy before. Check out its price and reviews on either Amazon or REI.
- Altra Lone Peak 4.5 Trail (men): These are perfect hiking shoes if you’re looking for great traction and comfort. You can check out its price and reviews on either Amazon or REI.
- Merrell MQM Flex 2 GORE-TEX (men): If you’re looking for affordable hiking shoes that are still high quality and waterproof, then this is the perfect hiking shoe for any guy. You can check out its price and reviews on either Amazon or REI.
- The North Face Hedgehog Fastpack II WP (women): These hiking shoes are perfect for women who not only want comfort but also want to stay stylish while on the trail- hello Instagrammers. You can read reviews and compare prices on either Amazon or REI
- Merrell MQM Flex 2 GORE-TEX (women): These women’s hiking shoes could be the most budget-friendly shoes but they don’t compromise on comfort. They’re also super lightweight. You can read reviews and compare prices on either Amazon or REI.
- Salomon X Ultra 3 Low GTX (women): These hiking shoes are not only comfortable, provide the best traction while on the trail but are also durable. They’re perfect for any woman who is looking for the above qualities in hiking shoes. You can compare prices and read reviews on both Amazon and REI
There you have it, hikers, those were some of the major hiking mistakes to avoid while enjoying the outdoors. I am sure we’ve all made some sort of hiking mistakes. So if you’ve ever made one that you don’t see on the list, leave it in the comment section below.
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