Beginner hikers make all kinds of mistakes and we don’t aim to address all of them. We just want to outline some common mistakes they do so that you avoid them in your hiking trips.
Beginner hikers and their most common mistakes
Overestimating their abilities
The worst thing you can ever do is think that you know enough. And it happens often, especially to novice hikers who do not have enough experience on the trail. Nothing can be compared to knowledge. Before starting a hike, it would be best to know everything you can. You should never take hiking lightly because there would be serious repercussions if you do so.
- Physical skills and abilitiesReading and references are important, but the one thing they cannot show you is how your own body and mind respond to the challenges. It’s true that only experience in a real situation will show you how your body responds to challenges. And without being in a challenging situation, you can only guess what your reactions will be.
- Mental skills and abilitiesMost people think they are tough. Moreover, they are certain that their plans are flawless and nothing can break their spirit. Well, more than 20 years ago, Mike Tyson said something about that: “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.” Expectations often do not meet reality and, unfortunately, inexperienced hikers are rarely aware of that.
- Trail conditionsExperience is the best teacher. This is true with everything, but it is very true with hiking. Some people despite all the hiking wisdom they have been given, never truly learn from it until they experience it the hard way. That’s what awaits you if you underestimate trail terrain and conditions.
- Weather conditionsBeginner hikers often skip or neglect the weather forecast and this is a recipe for disaster. So, always before a hiking trip, check the weather forecast and plan accordingly. Another common mistake is that they underestimate the importance of using sunscreen and thus risk sunburn.
Not having the proper gear
Your choices of hiking shoes and backpack are hugely important – these two are maybe the most important part of your hiking stuff. Don’t underestimate their importance and always pick up the best footwear for your feet and a pack you can carry comfortably and has the features designed to keep you hiking smartly.
- Footwear problems – beginner backpackers often rely on hiking shoes and boots that are too tight. However, hiking boots should fit well and offer enough room to wiggle your toes. Try them on at the end of the day and with the socks, you plan to wear. Hiking shoes should fit a little loose so that your feet have room to swell. It’s because the more you walk, the more your feet swell, in general. This means that you need to choose shoes a half or full size bigger than what you normally wear. When choosing a hiking shoe look for one that is lightweight, breathable, flexible, and most importantly – fits your foot. For hiking in warm weather, pick up light shoes with breathable mesh panels, a rigid exoskeleton, and a reinforced toe cap. Trail-running shoes and lightweight boots are a perfect choice for lightweight backpacking. Last but not least: never hit the trail with boots that aren’t broken in before your hiking trip. It’s another common mistake.
- Clothes problems – wearing cotton instead of high-tech fabrics, not having a rain jacket in rainy weather, not having enough insulation in a place where it becomes cold at night and/or early in the morning – novice backpackers do some or all of these.
Underpacking or overpacking
Usually bringing too much, although the opposite can be observed too. No matter if it’s too much food, hiking clothes, or gear, try to evaluate the contents of your pack before setting out for the backcountry. This will lighten your load and will make packing easier. Start with preparing a checklist for evaluating every single item you want to carry. Remember you only have one pack to carry all of your essentials and that pack will be on your back the entire trip. So be reasonable and don’t overpack.
- Not knowing your hiking backpackKnowing your trekking bag and all its features and peculiarities in detail will make you more efficient in packing up and hiking. Know how your pack should adjust to your body with any weight in it. A good pack must be fitted, and it is important that this is done properly. A poorly fitted backpack will prove unstable, uncomfortable, and so painful and inefficient that you may never want to go backpacking again.
- Not eating and drinking enoughYou can defend yourself against illness and exhaustion by eating regularly throughout your hike. Eating after a long day of hiking is also important as well as snacks throughout the day. Always monitor food and water intake. The following two mistakes are very common: 1) Carrying not enough water in warmer climates. For some areas, you need to carry not 2-3 liters of water but up to 10 liters. If you carry more than you need, you can always dump out extra. 2) Bringing unappetizing food. You need some source of energy and the best one is food rich in carbs, fats, and sugar. In a highly active lifestyle, such kind of a diet provides much-needed energy that few other foods can match. However, many novice hikers try to maintain a health-food diet on the trail but usually fail because they can’t get enough calories to keep pace with the massive energy needs of a long hike. Additionally, as time goes by, eating the same food becomes so monotonous and bland that it kills their morale and the will to continue.
Inaccurate walking pace
You should maintain a pace where you’re taking a full break every 45 minutes or so. For easy hikes and those with a high level of fitness, breaks might be after 1-2 hours of walking. Keep in mind that hiking speeds vary a lot not only from person to person but also depending on the terrain, physical condition, fatigue, mood, etc. You need not know exactly how far you’ll walk each day, or precisely where you’ll camp each night (though such detailed planning is useful for beginners), but you should know your capabilities and desires well enough to tailor your trip to them. So, test yourself, test your abilities in different situations, experiment, learn, and adapt. Never stop learning. Ever.
Packing on the morning of the hike. Do it the day before when you’re not in a rush. Figure out your clothes for a hike then too. While rushing you may forget something important like toilet paper, flashlight, fire starter, raincoat, etc. Thus, always check to see if you have your necessities in your hiking backpack before you go for your hike.
Prone to logical fallacies
Hiking is about problem-solving, and problem-solving requires sound logic. Some of the most serious mistakes on the trail stem from improper use of logic.
- The sunk cost fallacy – you irrationally cling to things that have already cost you something. What’s the explanation? When you’ve invested your time, money, or emotion into something, it hurts you to let it go. This aversion to pain can distort your better judgment and cause you to make unwise investments. A sunk cost means that you can’t recover it, so it’s rational to disregard the cost when evaluating. A lot of beginner hikers don’t want to let it go because 1) But, we’ve come so far 2) But, we drove all this way… How to overcome the sunk cost fallacies? To regain objectivity, ask yourself: had I not already invested something, would I still do so now?
- Clutching at first solutions – under pressure, you act impulsively especially when you don’t have enough experience. Often, you cling to your first solutions believing that they are correct even though there are enough facts to disprove your initial solution/decision.
- The Dunning-Kruger effect – the more you know, the less confident you’re likely to be. Experts tend to underestimate their abilities because they know just how much they don’t know, but it’s easy to be over-confident when you have only a simple idea of how things are. That’s why lay-people with only superficial knowledge often appear confident and behave accordingly.
Beginner hikers make various mistakes, though some are more common than others. Picking up trekking shoes that are too tight or choosing a pack that’s not well fitted are among the most common mistakes related to hiking gear together with overpacking and underpacking. Other widespread mistakes concern overestimating their abilities, underestimating nature, late packing, and improper use of logic.
To sum up, beginner hikers are urged to start out slowly and build their way up. They need first to learn and follow some essentials related to hiking. Mistakes can happen when building experience. Don’t rush things, keep your head when facing challenges on the trail and work through the problem until finding a solution that works.