We've all gotta start somewhere, right? That is a rhetorical question, of course. Best practices are great to remember as a hiking beginner.
There are even more things to remember not to do as a beginning hiker. Luckily, I made tons of mistakes as a new hiker so you don't have to. Let my early failures be your future success.
Taking a day to go for a hike is a great way to improve your health and de-clutter all the noise from your head that everyday life brings. It puts you in touch with nature, and yourself.
The activity seems simple enough: foot to the ground, move forward. Sure, the physical act isn't rocket science, but your hiking skills will dramatically improve when you avoid making these mistakes.
Not Wearing Sunglasses
Nobody ever talks about bringing sunglasses on hikes. Protecting your eyes from the sunlight is an obvious reason to bring sunglasses for a hike, but have you ever considered reflections? Do not overlook this hiking beginner mistake I made.
Let's say you're out for a hike on a warm day and the soil is dry and light-colored. Even though the surface isn't a reflective material, the bright color of the land is intensified and can wreak havoc on your eyes.
There's nothing fun about having strained eyes on a hike, especially when you consider the often unsteady foundation of certain trails.
Always be sure to pack your best sunglasses, preferably a pair that has polarized lenses.
Not Wearing a Hat
Don't be fooled—hats aren't just great for protecting your beautiful locks of flowing waves, or for keeping your melon from baking in the sun.
Wearing a hat on a hike is also great for keeping cool and getting the sunlight off your face. Pair a hat with some nice sunglasses and you've got a cool head on your shoulders.
When I was a new hiker, I thought nothing of the clothes I wore. At the time, I believe my logic was "outdoor, physical activity = sweats. Just like the gym!". Oh, young me, what a terrible idea.
The fact of the matter is, fabrics like cotton are terrible for taking a hike. Cotton isn't ideal for general exercise, either. You see, young hiker, cotton absorbs a lot of moisture.
Why is this a problem, you may ask? Well, if you're sweating a lot, your cotton shirt or sweatpants are going to get soaked. Even worse, cotton takes a long time to dry. It's extremely uncomfortable being drenched with hot sweat and navigating through rugged terrain.
Rather than going old-school and slapping on your gym clothes, consider a moisture-wicking material or clothes that are actually designed for hikers. Some may get a bit pricey, but they pay for themselves ten-fold when it comes to improving your hikes.
Cotton is also poor at regulating temperature when compared to other fabrics. Pair that with its ability to absorb too much moisture and you've got a recipe for marinating in some hot or cold clothes, depending on the weather.
On hot days, this will increase your body temperature and require more water consumption, which can lead to a problem if you didn't bring enough water. Speaking of which ...
Not Drinking Enough Water
I remember it—and still feel the anxiety I had, too—like it was yesterday: I was trekking up a hill in 90-degree heat, slipped my hand into my bag, and pulled out a nearly empty water bottle. By the way, I was only halfway through my planned hike.
At that time, the younger me thought nothing of it and kept going on ... that was a terrible choice. My head throbbed, my mouth was as dry as a desert, and I was starting to see stars.
Please, do not do this.
Drinking water during a hike seems obvious enough. However, this hiking beginner mistake wasn't so much about drinking water as it was about drinking the right amounts and when to drink it.
There are some basic calculations you can do to determine how much water to bring hiking, but one overlooked part of hydration is making sure you're hydrated before you hit the trail.
Staying properly hydrated during your adventure is an absolute must if you plan on enjoying your hike while also staying in good health.
Another important note: always make sure your water is stored in the proper containers. Plastic water bottles get very hot, even when they're under the shade of your backpack. Although drinking hot and warm water does have some health benefits, it's not ideal if you're looking to cool down on a hot or humid day.
I'd recommend bringing an insulated thermos, pre-filled with cold water (and ice, if possible).
Hydration packs are also a good choice, as they're easily stored and don't weigh much until they're filled with water.
Whatever vessel you choose, be sure that you're bringing the right amount of water. If you start running low on H2O early on and don't foresee the hike ending anytime soon, call it a day and head out.
Related: Hiking When It's Hot
Not Eating Properly
If you're a beginner hiker, always make sure you have some fuel in the tank before and during your hike. But don't fill up on just any food, make sure it's the right food you need for physical exertion.
Scarfing down a bag of potato chips isn't ideal if you need a long-lasting fuel source, and it does very little for your body other than bloat you up.
Make sure you're not neglecting your proper macronutrients.
When I was a newbie hiker, I thought a couple of protein shakes would do just fine for a 2-hour hike. However, these shakes were very low-carb and had zero fat. That's a recipe for severe fatigue. Instead, load up on foods that are balanced in carbs, fat, and protein.
This will keep you going longer and help you avoid early fatigue.
Remember to never drink your calories. Protein shakes are great for supplementing nutrition, but shouldn't be utilized as an independent food source.
I'm going to come clean, here: These days, I do take short hikes fasted. However, I still bring the right food and snacks if I plan on making it a longer hike (more than 3 hours). This is a personal choice due to my eating schedule, and it took me a long time to get right. Always make sure you're packing the appropriate foods, even if you plan on fasting.
Wearing The Wrong Shoes
Hiking requires a lot of footwork. The obvious choice is to throw on some athletic shoes and hit the trail. Wait! Your hiking experience may be greatly compromised if you opt for the wrong footwear.
You see when I first started, I threw on my favorite cross-trainers (ugh, I'm having phantom foot pain just from typing that) and hit the terrain.
Unfortunately, a lot of cross-training shoes have flat soles. This is terrible when you're navigating an uneven surface that is oftentimes filled with rocks and pebbles.
Even worse, the soles of these shoes aren't usually designed with grip in mind, which makes going over a creek or down a steep hill extremely dangerous.
Always be sure you're using a hiking shoe or boot that has the ideal grip and ankle support. They can be a bit heavier than most athletic shoes, but they're designed that way for a reason. Your feet, hip muscles, and knees will thank you.
Tying Shoes Wrong
This is another beginner-hiker mistake that is never discussed. Improperly tying your shoes can lead to serious problems. It reminds me of the time I laced up my shoes too loose and did 20,000 steps on the pavement. Not to ruin the suspense, but I needed a wheelchair by the end of the day. This is because my feet were sliding around way too much. Now imagine doing that on the varying altitudes of a hike.
Likewise, tying your shoes too tight can also bring some consequences. Shoes or boots that are laced too tight can reduce circulation, restrict articulation, and put you in a world of pain. Always remember to keep your hiking footwear just snug enough to prevent your feet from sliding, but loose enough to bend your ankles without a lot of pressure.
Packing Too Much
If you're just starting as a hiker you always want to be prepared. But this sometimes leads to being over-prepared. Unlike a vacation from home, however, packing too much for a hike can be a real pain, literally.
Stuffing your backpack with more items than you'll need is going to drastically increase the weight you're lugging around. Extra weight means you'll be using more energy. Do you see what I'm getting at, here? This is all going to lead to you being more tired, thirsty, and hungry than you need to be.
If you're a hiking beginner, make sure to pack the essentials, like food, water, and some extra clothes, but don't pack like you're going to be camping out for a week if you're only taking on trails for a few hours.
04. Packing Too Light
On the flip side, packing too little can cause problems, too. Depending on your trail, you may be exposed to more sun or near a creek with flowing water. If you're hiking in the rain, you may get wet and need a change of clothes or extra socks.
Always be sure to pack your must-haves, but don't underdo it either for the sake of traveling lean. Bring what you need and might need. Don't skimp on supplies just because it's a short trip. You might end up making detours at some point and might need a little extra water during a rest.
Not Checking The Weather
Years ago I took a peek through my bedroom window. The skies were as blue as the sea and not a cloud in sight. Cool air graced my face through the screen and the scent of crisp air tickled my nostrils. It gave me the itch.
What a perfect day for a hike. Unfortunately, my inner meteorologist failed me, and halfway through my hike clouds started to roll in. Needless to say, by the time I got back to my car I was drenched, all while committing several of the aforementioned mistakes—wearing cotton and not packing a jacket, glasses, or a hat.
It's important to be aware of any incoming storms or drastic spikes of heat before you go out for your journey. Just because the weather looks nice doesn't mean mother nature cares about your plans. The weather can change in an instant during a hike and your pleasant outing can turn awful just as fast.
Pacing Too Fast
Some of us love the physical challenge of our hikes. Well, I loved it a little too much.
When I first started hiking, I was looking to get into shape. This desire was also fueled by a mentality of perceived "toughness". It was an admirable effort, but I paced way too fast up an extremely steep hillside, and only 1/4 of the way in, I was gassed out.
Taking on challenges with a fostered mentality of toughness is great, but don't get too ahead of yourself. You don't want to feel like you're going to have to crawl to the exit point. Always be sure to keep a steady pace depending on the length and intensity of your trail. Rest often during the hike, too. I don't want you reading through the pages of this site in a hospital bed with IVs hooked up to you.
Probably one of the biggest problems for a hiking beginner is not knowing how to properly carry yourself.
If you're new to hiking and going uphill, you may be inclined (heh) to lean forward more.
When you're going down a steep hill, you might also feel like you should lean back with your toes pointing forward. These are all bad form. You run the risk of falling and injuring yourself (or, worse, lifelong embarrassment).
For steep uphill travel, keep your spine neutral and posture straight. You want to feel the work in your legs and not your lower back. This is a great way to build your core strength from hiking. It also helps prevent injury.
If you're traveling down a steep hill, don't point your toes forward and lean back. Though we instinctually do this for balance, it's not a great idea for hiking. Instead, angle your feet slightly to the side and keep your quads engaged.
You're still going to use your arms to balance, but don't lean back too much. You want to be angled just enough to plant yourself down if you lose balance and erect enough to not involuntarily fall on your rear end.
Best Advice For a Hiking Beginner
If there is a single piece of advice I can offer to a hiking beginner to improve future hikes: practice. Plain and simple.
Knowing what to avoid doing early on is a great start for any new hiker. You're going to feel clumsy at times. You will make mistakes. Just make sure you're not making the ones I did, especially after reading this entire post ;)