Every year, first-time hikers set off along the trail unfit, ill-equipped, and with unrealistic expectations. However, you needn’t be a beginner hiker to make silly mistakes on the trail.
What features are typical of good hikers?
A good hiker knows that being in good physical condition is of prime importance when he hits the trail. The best training for hiking is hiking regularly, i.e. the best way to train for carrying heavy loads over rough terrain is to carry heavy loads over rough terrain. Although this isn’t always practical, you’d be surprised what you can do if you really want to, even if you live and work in a city. If you want to be in a good physical shape for trekking, you need to go for day hikes regularly. Try to hike even when the weather is inclement. You can gain a double benefit from training in such conditions – it helps you to get used to all sorts of weather on the one side and it makes you tougher on the other side. Additionally, this way you learn more about yourself, your reactions, and your body’s behavior. You don’t need any special equipment for short hikes of 2-4 hours so not having the latest lightweight hiking shoes, hi-tech jacket or pack is no justification for staying home and not hitting the trail. With time, you’ll get more experience and will learn that training on difficult terrain in adverse weather conditions will be very beneficial, especially when you are on a long trail experiencing bad weather and/or having to tackle rough terrain. At the very least, spend a few weekends getting used to walking with a load before setting off on a longer trip. You need aerobic, or cardiovascular, fitness to walk and climb all day without having your heart pound and your lungs gasp for air. Without muscular fitness, particularly of the legs, you’ll be stiff and aching all over on the second day out. Also, if you set out unfit, you’re much more susceptible to strains and muscle tears. Getting fit takes time and good hikers know it. Keep in mind that resting after training is important and the chances that you get an injury are lower if you manage to recover well before your next training.
Applied knowledge and desire to learn
There is one common feature of most successful people in almost any field and it is the desire to learn and become better at what they do. Hiking is no different. Learning is a simple process that takes time and patience. A self-directed learning process can be a powerful model for facilitating and inspiring individual learning and development. For example, according to professionals from Princeton, the learning process is based on three major principles. They define the first one the following way:
“Identification of gaps between one’s IDEAL self and REAL self. These gaps represent a primary motivator to learn and improve.”
So knowing your weaknesses will help you create a realistic action plan for development. Read books and articles on hiking, ask more experienced hikers than you, learn and test what works for you and what doesn’t. It’s true that experience is the best teacher; however, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t prepare yourself (at least theoretically) for the challenges of the wilderness.
You may call it human spirit, willpower, resilience or another way. So many things can get wrong, especially when you’re on a long trail. Most good hikers know it and they’re mentally prepared to cope with the psychological burden of a long trail, including being hungry, thirsty, cold/hot, wet, etc. In the wilderness, mental toughness can be the difference between life and death. In a long trail, even the best hikers have moments when they feel like quitting. However, a good hiker always continues because he knows that the moment would pass.
Learn from mistakes
A good hiker is able to learn from his own mistakes. When he was still a neophyte hiker, he’s probably overpacked. It happens to so many beginner hikers to get two or three pairs of shoes (waterproof boots, standard hiking shoes, and trail sandals, for example), more clothes or gear than necessary. It’s crucial for a good hiker to have the ability to learn from mistakes – not only from his own mistakes but also from the mistakes of others.
Resourcefulness, good decision-making, logical thinking
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. Good hikers think logically and it allows them to make better decisions. Resourcefulness helps them find ways of dealing with practical problems on the trail. A general recommendation: Don’t put limitations on yourself. Don’t bet against yourself. And take a risk. Taking a well-calculated risk is justified in most situations not only in hiking but also in life.
Respect nature; weather
A good hiker respects nature, the land he is moving through, and is not fooled by a sense of superiority. He respects natural powers and knows that he can’t control them. He doesn’t underestimate trail terrain and weather conditions because he knows what can be the consequences of doing that. Especially if hiking solo, a moment of distraction and a slip can lead to a life-threatening situation when there’s no one to go for help. A good walker must weigh every action carefully and assess every risk.
If someone asks us what’s the single most important thing for being successful at what you do, we’d probably pick motivation. Yes, it’s important to be in good physical shape, develop a positive mental attitude, be resourceful and think logically, learn from your own mistakes and from others’ mistakes, stay humble and respect natural powers. Each and every one of these is a very important feature of any good hiker and there is no doubt about that. However, motivation is a crucial element in setting and attaining goals. It’s a mere fact that most successful people in life are not the toughest, smartest, strongest or the most physically fit ones but those who are determined, motivated, hard-working, and consistent. Motivation is so powerful, it’s like an engine that gives you energy and strength to keep going, to push harder. It compels you to take action.
Long-run motivation is usually more important than short-run motivation because “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. For consistent results, you need to find a way to stay motivated; you need to maintain your motivation for a long time.
It’s very surprising that motivation often comes after starting a new behavior, not before. Motivation is often the result of an action, not the cause of it. Once you start a certain behavior, you don’t need much motivation because after you start, progress occurs more naturally. You’ve probably noticed that it is often easier to finish a task than it was to start it in the first place. Thus, one of the keys to getting motivated is to make it easy to start. For more information on how to get and stay motivated, read this article.
Your gear is an important factor in a long hiking trip. The accurate selection, quantity, and knowledge of how to correctly use your equipment are essential for your comfort on the trail. All the elements of your hiking gear should be tested prior to a multi-day hiking trip. You need to adjust clothing so don’t hesitate to experiment and try various combinations to find out what works best for you. While on the trail, you’ll have to deal with various problems so try to eliminate in advance any doubts you may have about your hiking shoes, pack, and clothing. Remember that if your skill level is low, your comfort and safety will depend on the gear you carry on your back, not on the weightless knowledge between your ears. However, if you add some (why not all) of the features we’ve outlined above, your hiking experience will be much safer, more enjoyable, and worth remembering.