These Top 15 Hiking Mistakes Made By Beginners Will Surprise You

monument valley lightning strike
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Careless hikers are more likely to poke a diamondback rattler, fall off a cliff or get in trouble in another way – in fact, there are plenty of ways a hiker can get into trouble – Family Funtures lists a few to be aware of. And truth be told, the world needs more outdoorsy people and not less. We recently stumbled upon a great adventure site My Sweet Adventures who advocate for living life for the adventure. We couldn’t agree more.

Anyway, back to hiking:​

Hiking is an amazingly fun activity that many folks, including me, love to indulge in. It is an activity that allows one to exercise as well as get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life so that they can bond with friends and family. If you have ever spent time in the woods, chances are you have made some epic blunders, some of which make you laugh. I will admit I have made a few mistakes on occasion and they have only made me a better hiker.

I have learned my lessons and now understand that no matter how bad the slip-ups, the good trail always outweighs the bad. When starting out, it is easy to make mistakes that transform what was supposed to be fun to a painful and frustrating experience. The good news is that careful planning and knowing the common hiking mistakes made by beginners can help prevent some of the blunders.

Cooking in your tent

Cooking may seem like a good idea especially of the weather is cold and wet. There are, however, serious consequences that you need to be aware of before lighting up your stove in an enclosed area.

cooking in a tent is dangerous

For starters, a burning stove produces carbon monoxide fumes, which if inhaled excessively can kill you. Even a seemingly extinguished BBQ will produce lethal fumes. There is also the risk of your tent burning down, which at a minimum would suck. Of course, there are some scenarios, like camping on mountain tops or in winter, where shelter will be needed when cooking.

If you must cook, consider cooking in the vestibule of your tent. Otherwise, cook outside. It would be best if you packed store-bought foods that don’t need cooking of course.

Wearing denim

We all love denim, but if you are hiking, the last wardrobe choice you should choose is denim. Because it’s made of a heavy cotton, it’s a poor choice especially in cold or wet weather.

I wouldn’t recommend cotton for hiking because rather than wicking away moisture like other fabrics (like polyester and wool fabrics), it absorbs water and takes a long time to dry out. If the skin is in contact with wet clothing, the body heat isn’t syphoned away through convection and in no time you’ll find yourself shivering.

This ultimately increases the risk of hypothermia. Denim is the worst kind of cotton because when exposed to temperatures below freezing point, it can ice up. Unless you are hiking in the summer where the risk of getting chilled is zero, jeans are a bad choice.

Choosing a trail that’s above your capability

Many hikers have this inner desire to make their hike a workout, and rightly so. In any case, hiking is all about pushing the body the limit and seeing what you’re made of. It’s, however, important to understand that if you are a beginner, putting your body under too much stress can be dangerous.

This applies in particular if you aren’t physically prepared and you’re out of shape. To make your hike more enjoyable while staying safe, start small with short hikes over easy trails then gradually increase the intensity and difficulty of your hikes.

Many parks and hiking areas often publicize the difficulty ratings of trails and it’s important that you don’t ignore them. With additional exercise and a little bit of experience, you will be able to increase your intensity levels over time.

On the other hand, trying to increase your intensity level too quickly may mean you’re putting yourself in danger on the hills.

Wearing inappropriate footwear

Happy feet is the key to an enjoyable hiking experience. Unfortunately, many beginners forget to invest in boots or shoes that are specifically designed to offer comfort and prevent injury when hiking. Street shoes, flip flops and heels are completely off-limits when it comes to hiking. And did I mention that the shoes have to fit properly?

cowboy boots

When choosing your hiking shoes, keep in mind that your feet will swell throughout the day. If you have new shoes, wear them with the socks you plan to hike in and see how they feel. If hot spots start developing around your feet, remove the socks and wear different ones or apply band-aids.

The goal is to find something that fits comfortably and doesn’t lead to blisters because once one develops; your hike will be ruined.

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Leaving a trail map behind

The last thing you want when hiking is to get lost, and the chances of getting lost without a trail map are significantly increased. A trail map is a fundamental piece of your hiking kit that allows you to know where you are going.

Trail map

This is particularly important if you are a beginner and have never hiked a trail before. It can be a lifesaver, and the best thing about it is that you never have to worry about losing signal or battery when in the wilderness.

A compass is another valuable tool that will prove useful when navigating a hiking trail as it prevents you from going off course. Make sure you know how to use it though!

Hyper detailed topographical maps, otherwise known as quads, are also a great option for backcountry navigation. However, they tend to be overkill for well-marked trails. These maps often include topographical features such as peaks, mountain ridges, rivers, and lakes. They also contain essential information about hiking mileage and trailheads which are instrumental when it comes to navigating hiking trails in the wilderness.

Hiking on our own

One of the biggest thrills of hiking is that anything or nothing can happen. Who am I kidding? The ‘unknown factor’ is part of the reason why I love hiking so much.

And while the same goes for other hiking enthusiasts like me, I would be lying if I said it didn’t pose a danger. This is especially true for new hikers. It is always advisable to bring along a hiking partner for safety reasons. That way, if one of you gets injured or into some other problem, the other can get help.

hiking alone

You can also share the workload of hiking. More experienced hikers can enjoy the thrill of solo hiking because they’ve have hiked several times and know much about the potential dangers as well as how to deal with them. However, consider to not hiking solo and even if you’re one of the most experienced hikers, ensure that someone knows where you will be and when they should expect you to be back.

Ignoring the weather forecast

As mentioned before, you never know what happens when hiking. And regardless of how thrilled you are to go hiking, one of the things you should NEVER FORGET is to check the weather forecast. It is a task that takes only a few minutes, but I’m always amazed how many beginners forget to check.

weather warning

Knowing what the weather is expected to be like affects many things including knowing what dangers to expect, what you should pack as well as what you should wear.

Forgetting to stretch

Hiking is, in more ways than one, an activity that taxes your body, mind and muscles. Without proper preparation before the hike, it’s easy to find yourself with an injury or an easily pulled muscle.

It’s therefore, important that you stretch your calves and legs before you set off for the hike. If possible, stretch the whole body for best results.

Stretching properly not only keeps you safe, but it also reduces the likelihood of soreness, which you’ll be thankful for afterwards. There are many exercises you can do to stretch your muscles. If you work out at least three times a week, hiking will be easy for you as your muscles are used to strenuous activity. Even for experienced hikers, stretching before a hike is highly necessary.

Thinking that lightning can’t strike you

If you think that lightning only strikes metallic objects, I urge you to ruminate on a Chinese proverb that says that the tallest blade of grass is the first to be cut by the scythe.

Substitute the tall grass with the knucklehead hiker and scythe with 1000 volts of electric juice. What you get is an updated version of Professor Hike’s proverb on just how important it is to be as far away from exposed ridgelines and peaks when the first signs of a brewing thunderstorm start to show. Lightning poses a danger to tall, isolated objects.

monument valley lightning strike

This can be anything from tall buildings and a lone tree to a standing hiker. And even when you aren’t touching the exposed tree, the current may strike the ground next to it and surge up you. What many people don’t know is that secondary lightning strikes can be just as dangerous as primary ones. From the centre of the storm, anything within a 10-mile radius is vulnerable to lightning strikes.

And if you’re still in doubt, I have a few hair-raising tales to prove it. If a storm is coming, consider getting into the forest, a gully, ravine, or a low point of rolling hills.

Forgetting the first aid kit or packing an entire pharmacy

Gauze bandages? Check. Morphine? Check. Rifle? Aaah…What? Many novice hikers make two big mistakes when it comes to safety and security – they either pack too many medical supplies or forget the first aid kit altogether. Neither is the right approach.

What you pack in your first aid kit should be determined by several factors including the length of your trip, your medical knowledge as well as the size of your group. The most important thing you should have in mind when putting together a first aid kit is that you shouldn’t pack something if you don’t know how to use it. After all, it doesn’t make sense to pack something you will probably never use instead of packing additional painkillers and bandages.

The essentials for a first aid kit that you must have when hiking include alcohol wipes, antibiotic ointment, Benadryl, ibuprofen, sterile gauze, moleskin, medical or duct tape, as well as adhesive bandages in various sizes.

Going ultra-light without ultra-experience

Going ultra-light when it comes to hiking is more or less like transforming to a vegan lifestyle. It takes a while to dial down to a new system safely. The definition of ultra-light when it comes to hiking varies, with the most general and common one being having a gear pack that weighs between 10 and 12 pounds.

That weight doesn’t include food and water. While the overall weight of your load reduces, the safety net also reduces considerably. There is fewer provision backup i.e. warm clothes, fuel, and food. Going ultra-light without experience on how to handle bad situations in the woods can be potentially dangerous. The more experience you have, the better equipped with skills to handle mishaps and improvise. With more experience, you can consider going ultra-light.

Even the most experienced hikers pay the ultimate price because they choose to go ultra-light thinking that their skills are enough. You should go light gradually. The amount of gear carried on a typical hike day depends a lot on the circumstances. If you are hiking a familiar, 10-mile trail, a compass and map, snacks, water, headlamps and rain gear may be enough. On the other hand, additional equipment like extra food and water, tent, warm clothing as well as an extra first aid kit may be necessary if you are hiking in a remote, unfamiliar territory.

Starting too late in the day

Showing up at 8.00 pm for a 7.00 pm dinner reservation shows a lack of courtesy. However, starting a hike at 1.00 pm when you were supposed to set off at 9.00 am is just bad news.

If you plan on hiking, it’s best that you start early, preferably in the morning when the sun’s heat is minimal. How fast you hike also plays an important role as well. The average adult hiker moves at a speed of three miles per hour. That speed, however, reduces considerably due to bad terrain, rest breaks, and inclement weather.

Elevation changes also affect the hiking rate. Compared to individuals, those hiking in groups are slower. If you are, for any reason, late to start your hike, check your map for alternative shorter routes. Avoid the lure of cross-country shortcuts if you find yourself falling behind and instead keep moving, put on your headlamp and watch the time.

Night sky

Wearing new boots on your first hike

You ever wore a new pair of pair boots? If yes, then you probably know that they feel sore. New unbroken in boots often feel tight, they rub against your skin and lead to blistering and scarring. As such, it is important that you break in your hiking boots before you set off for your hike.

Wear them indoors for at least two weeks before the hiking date to ensure that they are the right option for you. Wear them to work, the park, when walking your dog or when going to the supermarket down the street to ensure that they fit you properly since feet swell when you walk for hours. The last thing you want is your feet feeling sore while hiking.

Purchasing your hiking kit from a supermarket instead an outdoor specialist

It is often tempting to go for the cheapest hiking kit when you’re starting out. I understand that being your first hike, you don’t want to spend a lot of money on your equipment. But let’s be honest. Your local supermarket specializes in fruits and vegetables – not outdoor and hiking equipment.

There are companies that specialize in designing and manufacturing affordable and reliable outdoor gear. They are experts in their fields, and their only goal is to make gear that works for various outdoor situations. You don’t want to buy a backpack that will end up tearing and spilling the contents as you go. Whether it’s a pair of hiking jacket or boots, it’s important that you buy your gear from an outdoor specialist that provides the best.

Giving animals easy meals

Feeding animals in the wilderness changes their foraging habits. In the worse case scenario, they learn to associate people with food which makes them aggressive around humans. That leads to the animals sometimes getting killed, relocated or trapped. Don’t be that hiker who stores their food poorly because it’s the equivalent of feeding them.

There are many things you can use to store food while hiking including hung bear bags, sacks, and bear canisters.

brown bear

Regardless of how hard you try, there is a good chance that you will make several mistakes over the coming years. The best you can do is take measures to avoid them and when they do happen, make proper adjustments. And in any case, the fun experiences you will have on the trail will outdo the bad ones.

So as a beginner there are many things to consider, and a few gotchas to be had along the way, but I’d encourage you to just get out and explore the trails. Start slowly and work your way up. You’ll be glad you did.

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