Our goal is to empower you to get outside and live more adventurously, and if you are new to the outdoors, beginner hiking is a great place to start your journey. All hiking requires is a desire to explore, a few pieces of gear, and a basic skill set to keep you safe and happy on the trail.
As a beginner hiker — and let’s be honest, even for experienced hikers — there’s always something you’ll forget, mess up, or just get flat out wrong. For example, on my first ever backpacking trip, I didn’t realize I forgot my hiking boots until I was at the trailhead, three hours from my house. I ended up hiking in Chacos and got about a zillion blisters. This obviously wasn’t the positive experience I was looking for on my first big hiking trip.
The point is we all make mistakes, and you shouldn’t let that discourage you. To help you avoid some rookie mistakes that beginner hikers make, we put together this list of some of the most common mistakes we’ve seen (or been guilty of ourselves) on the trail.
Ready to up your confidence on the trail? Here are the most common beginner hiking mistakes and how to avoid them.
Hiking Mistake #1: Not wearing the right clothing
Solution: Wear layers and be prepared for changes in weather
Experiencing a wardrobe malfunction isn’t the sort of problem you want to deal with as a beginner hiker. Going outside means you’re in the elements, so it’s always important to wear layers (or store them in your pack) that you can peel off when you get warm and pile on when you get cold, including rain gear and a hat. Plus the weather can be dramatically different at the top of a ridgeline than the warm, sunny weather at the trailhead.
Don’t wear cotton clothing or other materials that will absorb moisture and sweat, like jeans and a sweatshirt — same goes for socks. Hiking clothing is made to wick away moisture from the body to help regulate your body temp, which is important in all kinds of weather. I also prefer to hike in a short-sleeve shirt as opposed to a tank top, since it provides more sun protection and prevents rubbing from my pack’s shoulder straps.
Hiking Mistake #2: Getting caught in the dark
Solution: Get an idea of how long the hike will take
Before I set out, I like to read some reviews on AllTrails to see how long other people say the hike takes. This helps me know what time I need to start hiking in order to avoid getting caught in the dark. Once you’re out on the trail, make sure you have a map – either a paper map or on your phone – so you can keep track of your progress. If you’re doing an out and back hike, determine what a good turnaround time is and stick with it. If you’re doing a loop trail, know the mileage, vertical gain and how long it will take you and plan your breaks accordingly. Even if you’re certain you’ll be done before dark, it’s always a good idea to pack a headlamp, just in case.
Hiking Mistake #3: Leaving behind essential items
Solution: Prepare and pack your backpack ahead of time
A well-packed backpack might seem elusive to a beginner hiker, or like a skill you gain only after logging hundreds of hours out on the trail. However, having everything you need in your pack comes down to creating a good habit and frame of mind before you go outside. Plus, remember to bring a fully-charged phone, map, or other navigational tool, and plenty of food and water to replenish your electrolytes and keep your energy up.
Hiking Mistake #4: Getting lost
Solution: Bring a map and know how to read it
Whether you’re a beginner hiker or not, there are a few good rules to always follow so you can avoid getting lost. One, always bring a map – either a paper copy, GPS, or on your phone (make sure it can be used offline) – and know how to read it. Two, stick to the established trail. Don’t cut through a switchback or bushwhack your way through an unmarked section of a trail. This goes against leave no trace principles and is an easy way to get yourself turned around. If at any point, you think you might be lost, stop, think, make a mental note of your surroundings, and start retracing your steps.
Hiking Mistake #5: Trying to do too much
Solution: Set realistic goals and research the trail ahead of time
It’s important to have realistic goals in mind and to know your abilities. When choosing a trail, the two big factors you’ll want to pay attention to are the total distance and the total elevation gain. Have an idea in mind of how far you can comfortably hike in a day and how much elevation gain is too much. For your first hikes, we suggest picking hikes that have only moderate elevation gain, are well-traveled and easy to follow when you are getting started with hiking. While it’s good to challenge yourself, it isn’t a great idea to get in over your head. Plus, the whole idea is to have fun. If you realize the trail is more than you can chew off, don’t try to power through; be safe and turn back. Knowing when to say no and use your better judgement is an important skill that you’ll need as you advance to more challenging terrain.
Hiking Mistake #6: Not following Leave No Trace
Solution: Learn how to Leave No Trace
To be a good steward of the outdoors means being responsible and mindful of your impact. In short, this means plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, pack out your trash, respect nature and wildlife, and be considerate of other visitors. Everyone makes mistakes, especially when you’re just starting out, so take some time to educate yourself, try your best to tread lightly and educate others as you learn, too! Together, we can leave the outdoor places we love better than we found them.