Hiking is a great way to get out in nature, exercise, and enjoy the scenery. With the right preparation and precautions, hiking can be a fun and rewarding experience. However, not everyone is aware of the common mistakes that can turn a pleasant hike into a dangerous or unpleasant one.
Especially in your early days of backpacking or when attempting your first thru-hike or long trail proper planning is of the essence. If you’re looking to join the rank of thru-hikers by attempting your first thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail you might find this post especially useful. In this blog post, we will discuss the most common hiking mistakes and how you can avoid them.
Mistakes at Home
Many hikers are failing to properly prepare for their hike before they even leave the house. Before heading out, you should make sure you pack all the essentials such as a map, compass, food and water, first aid supplies, and appropriate clothing and footwear.
Not Packing Enough Water on Your Hiking Trip
Dehydration is one of the most common beginner hiking mistakes, and it can ruin a hike. Make sure you pack enough water to keep you hydrated throughout the hike. It’s better to pack more than you think you’ll need, as it’s always better to be over-prepared than underprepared.
Many people underestimate just how much water you might need in some situations, such as hot and dry weather, high humidity or high elevation gain, or difficult terrain. Dehydration is among the most common medical conditions happening to hikers.
It’s recommended to take at least three liters of water to stay hydrated and drink throughout your day even if you don’t feel thirsty. For day hikes a water bottle or water bladder will do, but on longer journeys consider bringing a water filter or filter tablets, so you can refill from water sources along the way.
Not Bringing Enough Food and Snacks
It’s easy to underestimate how much energy you’ll expend on a hike, so it’s important to plan. Be sure to pack plenty of high-energy snacks such as nuts, dried fruits, protein bars, or granola bars, along with some full meals that are easy to prepare. It’s also important to pack food that will not spoil easily in the heat or cold and is lightweight for carrying.
Not Eating the Right Foods
Eating the wrong foods while hiking can lead to fatigue and poor performance. Avoid salty foods as they will make you more thirsty and dehydrated. Likewise, it’s best to avoid sugary snacks, caffeine, or alcohol as these will all sap your energy levels. Stick with whole grains, proteins, and complex carbohydrates to give you the sustained energy you need.
Underestimating the Threat of Blisters
Blisters are a common problem during hikes and can be very painful. They usually occur due to poorly fitting or low-quality shoes, but they can also be caused by too much friction or heat on the feet causing hot spots. It’s important to take precautions before you go hiking to reduce the risk of blisters.
Wear properly fitting shoes or boots and break them in before the hike. Make sure your socks are also made from lightweight and breathable materials, and use preventative measures such as sliding a thin layer of petroleum jelly between your skin and socks to reduce friction.
Covering blisters with moleskin or bandages can also help protect against further damage. Lastly, make sure to check your feet often during the hike to identify and treat any potential blisters. If you do get a blister, it’s important to treat it right away with an antiseptic ointment or other remedies. Underestimating the threat of blisters can be dangerous, as they can lead to further medical problems if left untreated.
Well-designed and fitting hiking socks can help prevent you from getting blisters. Silverlight socks are designed to prevent blisters better than any other socks on the market thanks to features such as light compression which prevents piling up and movement while walking, dual-layers (merino wool and silver yarn on the inside keep your feet bacteria-free and dry), and odor-free comfort with a “hugs your feet” type feeling.
They also come with an anatomical design, a different design adjusted to the anatomy of your left and right foot, and have temperature-regulating properties thanks to the merino wool, so you won’t sweat in hot temperatures while keeping you warm when it starts to get colder at night.
Underestimating the Trail Difficulty
Underestimating the trail difficulty can happen for a variety of reasons, such as lack of experience, not doing enough research about the trial, or being too confident. To avoid this mistake, do your research before you hit the trail. Read trail descriptions, check the elevation gain and distance, and read trip reports from others. You can also consult park rangers or visitor centers for advice on the trail difficulty.
Overestimating Your Ability
Overestimating your ability can be particularly dangerous if you underestimate the difficulty of a trail, as you may find yourself in over your head with no easy way out. It’s important to have realistic expectations of what you can handle and not push yourself too hard on the trail. Before attempting a difficult trail or steep terrain, make sure you have the right experience and knowledge to handle it.
Proper preparation and research can go a long way in helping you stay safe while still pushing your limits on the trail. While hiking, attention to your energy level and condition so that you can adjust or turn back if needed. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so don’t be afraid to turn back and try a different trail.
Not Checking Safety Warnings
Visiting a national park can be a great way to get outdoors and explore nature. However, it’s important to check safety warnings and announcements before you go. National parks typically provide information about any potential hazards in the area such as wildlife encounters, extreme weather conditions, trail closures or closures due to fire risk, or health advisories that could impact your visit.
Keeping an eye on local news and weather forecasts is also important before heading out on any hike or en route to the trailhead, as changes in conditions can cause unexpected closures or hazards. It’s always best to be prepared and know what you should expect when visiting a park or other outdoor area.
A variety of gear mistakes can lead to an unpleasant or even dangerous experience on the trail when choosing the wrong gear for the job. It’s important to be prepared and bring the right gear for the conditions you will encounter during your hike.
From clothing and footwear to backpacks and navigation tools, having the right equipment is essential for a safe and enjoyable hiking experience. Here are some of the most common gear mistakes that hikers make and how to avoid them.
Wearing the Wrong Clothing
Wearing the wrong hiking clothes is not only uncomfortable, but it can also put you at risk for hypothermia and other dangerous conditions. Make sure to wear layers that are appropriate for the weather and terrain, as well as comfortable and breathable fabrics that will keep you warm and dry.
Also, make sure to wear a hat and sunscreen to protect you from the sun’s UV rays. And lastly, wear sturdy footwear that is designed for hiking such as boots or trail shoes with good treads.
Cotton is perhaps one of the worst choices for apparel while hiking as it retains moisture and takes a long time to dry, making it uncomfortable and at risk of chafing or blisters. Opt for lightweight synthetic materials such as polyester or nylon that are breathable, wick away moisture, and dry quickly. If despite this you’re wearing cotton, make sure to layer it with other materials for added protection.
Check out our posts with a day-hiking checklist and backpacking checklist about what to bring on your hike. Make sure to always account for the weather, terrain, and conditions of the hike you’re attempting.
Wearing the Wrong Shoes
Choosing the wrong kind of shoes for a hike can be just as bad as wearing the wrong clothing. Make sure the shoes you’re wearing are designed specifically for hiking and provide enough support, cushioning, and traction to keep your feet comfortable and stable on uneven terrains, such as hiking boots.
Avoid running or tennis shoes, which aren’t built for the terrain and won’t provide enough protection or support. Also be sure to wear hiking socks that are designed to wick away moisture, protect from blisters, and won’t cause discomfort when wearing shoes for long periods of time.
Not Getting the Right Fitting Hiking Shoes or Hiking Boots
Getting the right fitting hiking shoes or boots is essential for a successful and safe hike. Shoes that are too tight can cause blisters and uncomfortable rubbing, while shoes that are too loose can lead to falling and tripping accidents.
It’s important to find a pair of shoes or boots that fit snugly but comfortably, so you can have a safe and enjoyable hiking experience. Make sure to try on several pairs of shoes or hiking boots to find the pair that fits you best. Additionally, break in your boots or shoes before hitting the trail, as this will help prevent blisters and other common hiking problems.
If you’re going for a long hike your feet might swell slightly and become larger. If you’re going down steep declines, too tight-fitting shoes will press against your toes. To be on the safe side it is recommended to have one finger wide space inside your shoe with the type of socks you’re normally wearing.
For example, Silverlight socks are medium-thickness, if you’re normally wearing thin or no socks you should account for that and add half a size when you purchase a new hiking shoe or boots.
Not Bringing Essential Items
Not bringing essential items is a mistake many beginner hikers and backpackers are making, especially on their first backpacking trip.
These are some of the essential items you should always bring:
- Navigation: Map, Compass, GPS device or Phone with power bank and navigation app, such as the Silverlight app
- Light: Flashlight or Headlamp
- Sun Protection: Sunglasses, hat, and sunscreen
- First Aid Kit: including items for blister care, insect repellant and band-aid
- Knife and a Gear Repair Kit e.g. duct tape
- Fire Starter like matches or a lighter
- Shelter, for day hikes a lightweight emergency shelter is sufficient
- Extra Food
- Extra Water
- Extra Clothes for changing or unexpected weather events
It is important to always bring these necessities with you when going out into the wilderness, regardless of how long your hike is. These items can not only help you stay safe even on a day hike but also keep you prepared in case of an emergency. Make sure to check the weather before you go hiking to make sure you’re bringing any necessary supplies for that particular day or season.
Packing Too Heavy for a Backpacking Trip
When packing for a hike, it’s easy to overpack and bring too much gear. Not only is this uncomfortable and inconvenient, but it can also be dangerous. Packing too heavily puts extra strain on your body, making it harder to move quickly or safely over uneven terrain.
Additionally, you might have to leave behind some of the heavier items if you find yourself unable to carry them. To avoid this, make sure to bring only the essentials and leave unnecessary items at home. Pack lightweight, multipurpose gear that can serve multiple purposes, such as a hammock that can be used for both sleeping and shade.
If you can afford it you can save a lot of weight with ultralight backpacking items. A Beginner backpacker should focus on the big four, the heaviest items first, these are your tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, or sleeping mat and backpack. Even experienced hikers often bring too much food, it’s important to find the right balance, as too little can put you at risk, but too much will lead to a heavy backpack.
Using Lightweight boots or changing to trail runners or hiking shoes is also another important consideration when lightweight backpacking.
Not Considering Trekking Poles
Trekking poles are an often overlooked but essential item for any hiker. Not only do they provide extra stability when walking up and down steep terrain, but they can also help to alleviate strain on your hips, knees, and ankles.
Trekking poles can also be used to test the depth of water or snow before stepping in, giving you an extra layer of safety and assurance. Additionally, they help find footing in slippery terrain or to steady yourself when crossing streams or rivers. For longer hikes, trekking poles can help to save energy by providing a more efficient walking motion and lessening the impact on your joints.
There are several types of trekking poles available, ranging from lightweight and collapsible to telescopic. Make sure to select the right type for your needs, but regardless of which one you choose, they’ll be an invaluable addition to any hiking trip.
Buying a Backpack Without Enough Room
Many beginner backpackers are buying a backpack without enough room. Having a backpack that’s too small can not only be uncomfortable but also impractical when trying to fit all your essential items. Too much strain on the bag’s material or straps could cause the bag to rip, leaving you stranded with no way to carry your items.
Many backpacks come with a volume capacity rating, so make sure to check the size and weight of your gear before purchasing one. If you plan on bringing multiple items or long trips, it’s wise to opt for a larger backpack that can accommodate everything comfortably.
Additionally, look for features like adjustable straps, side pockets, and clips that can help make packing easier. Remember to also bring a rain cover for your bag in case of wet weather as this will protect your gear and keep it dry.
Choosing the Wrong Sleeping Bag
Choosing the wrong sleeping bag can be a costly mistake when planning a hike. Sleeping bags come in different shapes, sizes, and materials, so it’s important to select one that is suitable for the climate and environment you plan on visiting. If you plan on camping during colder temperatures, make sure to pick a sleeping bag that’s rated for the temperature you’ll be sleeping in.
Moreover, If you plan on bringing a three-season tent, make sure to select a bag with an appropriate comfort rating. Synthetic bags are also available and can provide additional warmth when wet, so if you’re expecting rain or snow, this might be a better option. No matter which type of bag you choose, make sure to bring an adequate sleeping pad or mat that will provide additional insulation and comfort when lying down.
Not Testing out Gear
Before attempting a long hike or thru-hiking, it is essential to properly test out gear. This means going on short hikes and trips, the so-called “shakedown hikes” with your gear before embarking on the larger journey. Doing so will give you an idea of what works best for you and allow you to make any necessary adjustments or changes. It also helps ensure that all the gears function properly and that you’re comfortable with how everything fits together.
If something doesn’t feel right or is not working as expected, take the time to make adjustments or get a different piece of gear instead of risking discomfort or worse during your hike. Remember, longer hikes require more preparation and testing out of gear to keep you safe and comfortable. So, take the time to test out your gear and make sure you’re adequately prepared for any long hike or thru-hike.
Leaking Water Bladder
Leaking water bladders can be a major problem for hikers. It’s important to inspect your water bladder for any signs of wear or damage and to test it before you head out on the trail. If there is any sign that it may be leaking, replace it or use another. Make sure the bite valve is placed on top, if other gear presses against it, it can easily open and leak out water.
While it is important to have a map (physical or offline map via an app like the Silverlight app) and compass with you, it’s also important to know how to use them correctly. It’s also a good idea to research the area and plan ahead before leaving the house so that you know what terrain or hazards may be present. Always stick to marked trails and make sure someone knows where you plan on going and when they can expect you back.
Not following Trail Markers
Another common mistake beginner hikers make is not following the trail markers. Trail markers are there to help stay on the right path and navigate safely. Ignoring them can lead you to get lost or take a wrong turn and get off-trail, which can be dangerous and unpleasant.
It’s important to always pay attention to trail markers and read them carefully. They will provide information about the hike, such as the difficulty level, estimated time and distance, and any other important info.
It’s good practice to have a hiking app with your planned route and check from time to time whether you’re off-trail.
Not Being Aware of Wildlife
It’s easy to forget that we are sharing the trails with wildlife. It’s important to stay alert for animals on or near the trail and take appropriate precautions like making noise so you don’t surprise them. Respect the wildlife and give them space to move away from you if necessary. Additionally, be aware of any signs of dangerous animals such as bears or mountain lions, and make sure you know what to do in case of an encounter. Read our article about wildlife safety for more info.
Not Letting Anyone Know Your Plan
Informing someone of your hiking plans is an essential safety precaution that should never be overlooked. Let someone know where you’re going, what trail you’ll be hiking, and when you plan to return. If something goes wrong on the trail, someone must know where to look for you and when you’re overdue.
Poor Time Planning
Time management is key to any successful hike. Without proper time planning, you may find yourself rushing to get back before dark or running out of daylight when you still have miles to go. It’s important to plan your trip length realistically by considering factors such as terrain, weather conditions, and elevation gain, especially on long hikes. Give yourself enough time so that you can enjoy the hike and don’t have to rush. Always bring a headlamp, just in case you find yourself hiking in the dark.
When properly planned, night hiking can be an enjoyable new way to enjoy easy hikes that you’re already familiar with. Night hiking also often allows you to encounter wildlife that you wouldn’t be able to see when only day hiking.
Assuming Getting Help or Amenities will be Easy
Many people make the mistake of assuming that getting help or amenities on the trail will be easy. While hiking trails are often well-marked and easy to navigate, it is important to remember that many trails lack amenities such as bathrooms, water sources, food, shelter, and even cell phone reception. It’s important to assess your own needs and plan accordingly.
Make sure you bring enough food, water, and other supplies to last the duration of your hike. Additionally, be aware that help may not be easily accessible should an emergency arise. Knowing basic first aid or bringing a GPS device can help ensure you are prepared for any situation.
Weather can change quickly, and not checking the forecast before you hit the trail is a mistake that can turn a great hike into a miserable one. Check the weather forecast for the area you’ll be hiking in, and dress accordingly. Make sure to prepare properly for any of the following weather conditions if there’s a chance they can occur during your trip:
Very hot weather can be dangerous, as the heat can cause dehydration and exhaustion. It’s especially important to pay attention to the forecast before you hit the trail if there are hot or humid conditions in the forecast. Make sure you bring plenty of water to stay hydrated, wear light clothing and a hat, stay in shady areas when possible, rest frequently in shaded spots, and drink lots of fluids.
Pay attention to your body and look out for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke such as dizziness, nausea, headaches, confusion, and high body heat. If you find yourself in a situation where the weather is too hot, take a break in the shade if available, seek cloud cover, or head back to safety. Read more about hiking in the desert in our dedicated blog post.
Very cold weather can also be dangerous, especially if temperatures drop below freezing. It’s important to dress appropriately and in layers so that you stay warm while hiking in the cold. Wear a waterproof or windproof outer layer like a parka or shell, and make sure all of your clothing is made from materials that will keep you warm and dry. Bring an extra layer in case the weather changes, and wear a hat to help keep your head and ears warm.
Make sure you bring hot liquids like tea or soup with you to help keep your body temperature up. Pay attention to any signs of hypothermia such as shivering, confusion, fatigue, and slurred speech. If you find yourself in a situation where the weather is too cold, take a break to warm up or head back to safety.
Heavy snow can be a challenge as well, as the terrain may become slippery and difficult to navigate. It’s important to wear proper snow gear such as boots with good grip and waterproof pants and jackets. Additionally, make sure you bring layers of clothing in case the weather changes. Bring extra gloves, hats, and socks that are made from materials that will keep you warm and dry. Make sure you wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glare of the sun on the snow, and a helmet is recommended if there’s any chance of an avalanche or falling ice or rocks.
Rain can be especially challenging, as it can quickly slow down progress and make the trail slippery or muddy. Make sure to check the forecast before you go, and bring waterproof clothing such as a raincoat and rain boots or other rain gear. Have a plan in place if it starts raining while you’re on the trail – look for shelter if available or head back to safety.
Bring a tarp or other waterproof material that you can use to cover yourself and your gear if needed. Also, be aware of potential flooding if it’s been raining heavily – stay away from streams, rivers, and other bodies of water in case the water levels rise quickly. Pay attention to any signs of hypothermia such as shivering, confusion, fatigue, and slurred speech.
Lightning is a real threat on any hike and should be taken seriously. When thunderstorms occur, it’s best to find shelter as quickly as possible – look for a low lying area with something solid to hide behind, like a rocky outcropping or a large tree. Avoid standing near tall objects and stay away from bodies of water as lightning can travel through them.
If you’re caught in an open area without shelter, crouch into a ball with your hands covering your ears and wait for the storm to pass. Be aware that lightning can strike several miles away from a storm, so don’t assume you’re safe once the thunder stops. Stay vigilant and wait for at least 30 minutes before continuing your hike.
Mistakes in Camp
Camping mistakes can be the difference between an enjoyable outdoor experience and a miserable one. While camping is an exciting activity, it also requires careful preparation and attention to detail to ensure everyone’s safety and comfort.
From forgetting important items like a flashlight or matches to pitching your tent in the wrong spot, there are many ways to make mistakes while camping. To help make sure your next camping trip is a success, here are some common mistakes you should avoid while camping.
Camping in Unsuitable Locations
When camping during a backpacking trip, it’s important to choose a safe and suitable campsite. Avoid sites close to cliffs or streams that are prone to flash flooding, as well as high ground that can be exposed to strong winds. Take into account the terrain of your campsite; choose flat ground that is free of rocks, roots, and other obstacles as well as the elevation of your campsite to avoid dangerous weather changes such as sudden cold temperatures or high winds, and choose durable surfaces that don’t sink in, such as muddy or wet areas.
Not Setting up Camp Correctly
It’s also important to set up camp correctly to ensure a safe and comfortable stay. Make sure to pitch your tent on flat ground and use guy ropes or tent stakes to secure it in case of high winds. It’s also important to make sure that the tent is not too close to any nearby water sources as this can lead to flooding. Additionally, take time to make sure that your campfire is built safely and away from any flammable materials.
Not Being Aware of Your Surroundings
Finally, always stay aware of your surroundings when camping. Be mindful of any nearby wildlife and take appropriate cautionary measures if needed. Additionally, stay alert and aware of any changes in the environment such as weather patterns or unexpected obstacles. Taking necessary precautions can help ensure a safe and enjoyable camping experience.
When camping in bear territory, it’s important to take all necessary safety precautions. Always store your food, trash, and scented items such as toothpaste and sunscreen in a bear-proof container or bear bag and hang them at least 10 feet off the ground. Additionally, be aware of your surroundings and make noise when hiking to avoid startling any bears that may be nearby while in bear country.
If you do encounter a bear, stay calm and back away slowly. Do not run or make any sudden movements as this can trigger an attack. It’s also important to familiarize yourself with bear behavior and recognize the signs of an aggressive or defensive posture such as snorting, growling, salivating, or swatting at the ground.
Environmental Mistakes & Trail Etiquette
When spending time outdoors, it’s important to practice responsible environmental stewardship and trail etiquette. Respectful use of the trails can help ensure that future generations can enjoy the same natural beauty we have today.
From protecting local wildlife to staying on marked paths and disposing of waste properly, there are many ways to protect the environment while hiking and camping. Here are a few tips on how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly and practice good trail etiquette.
Leaving No Trace
Leave No Trace is a set of outdoor ethics that promote responsible outdoor recreation. Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of or follows these principles, and this can hurt the environment and others. To follow Leave No Trace, pack out all your trash, stay on designated trails, and avoid disturbing wildlife and vegetation.
Not Disposing of Waste Correctly
Being conscious of waste management is important when camping on a backpacking trip. Always dispose of all garbage, food scraps, and other items properly to avoid attracting wildlife to your campsite. Additionally, if you are using a campfire, be sure to fully extinguish it before you leave. Not only will this help to keep the area safe, but it also helps to minimize your impact on the environment.
When camping, it’s important to practice proper toilet paper disposal. Toilet paper can take years to decompose and leave an unsightly mess when left in the environment. For this reason, it is important to always pack out all your used toilet paper, bury it at least 6 inches deep in a cat hole, or use biodegradable toilet paper.
Additionally, be sure to never leave any excess tissue in the woods and always dispose of it properly. Following these simple guidelines can help keep our natural areas beautiful for future generations to enjoy.
Not giving Uphill Hikers the Right of Way
When out on the trail, it’s important to be respectful of other hikers. One way to show respect and consideration is to give uphill hikers the right of way. Uphill hiking can be physically demanding and tiring, so hikers should be allowed to go ahead without having to stop or wait for someone else.
Downhill hikers will be less exhausted and have an easier time getting out of the way. This also helps prevent accidents and helps to keep the trail safe for everyone. Additionally, it’s a good idea to be courteous and greet other hikers with a friendly hello or smile as a way of showing respect for the outdoors and all its visitors.
Hiking is a fun and rewarding activity, but it’s essential to be prepared and aware of common beginner hiking mistakes. By researching the trail, packing enough water and snacks, checking the weather, following Leave No Trace, and informing someone of your plan, you can avoid these common mistakes and have a safe and enjoyable hike.
Remember, preparation is key, and it’s always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. With these tips in mind, get out there and enjoy the trails!