13 Mistakes Of Beginning Hikers – And How To Avoid Them

As simple as hiking may sound, there are plenty of things you can get wrong. Some of them (like forgetting your lip balm) can be minor issues that can be quickly remedied (just borrow some from your friends!). Other mistakes, however, can cause serious problems that put your well-being at risk.

In order to help you avoid some of the mistakes that some beginners hikers make, we’ve put together a list of 13 common mistakes, and how you can avoid them.

  1. Failing To File A Trip Report With Loved Ones
  2. Failing To Properly Research Your Trail
  3. Wearing The Wrong Clothing
  4. Getting Lost On The Trail
  5. Not Paying Attention To Your Body
  6. Not Protecting Your Food
  7. Bringing The Wrong Gear
  8. Failing to Pack The Essentials
  9. Not Making Water A Top Priority
  10. Neglecting The Weather
  11. Leaving Your Camp Too Late In The Day
  12. Pushing Yourself Too Far
  13. Failing To Practice Leave No Trace

Even the most experienced hikers make mistakes, so don’t be too tough on yourself if you do. But if you can understand how to avoid them, or make sure you learn from your mistakes, you’ll be able to enjoy your hiking trips even more.

Failing To File A Trip Report With Loved Ones

The Mistake

Whether you are hiking with others, or by yourself, or whether you are going on a multi-day hike or a simple day-hike, you should never go without notifying someone back home about your hike and itinerary.

Making this mistake could have serious consequences. If you are lost, or get seriously injured on the trail, you will want people looking for you. A faster response from search and rescue could be the difference between life and death.

The Solution

Let some loved ones know where you will be hiking, where you will be camping each night, and when you plan to finish your hike. And plan on contacting them the moment you are able. Making these plans will not only give you peace of mind, but also give your loved ones some comfort knowing your plans.

Failing to Properly Research Your Trail

The Mistake

Each hiking trail you travel on is different, and even a specific trail can change depending on what time of year it is. Learning about a hiking trail isn’t as simple as knowing its location, length, and how much elevation gain you may encounter.

You will want to know if there are certain points along the trail that demand your attention. For example, several years ago I embarked on a solo hike in June. I had done some research about the trail, and found out that there was a river crossing at one point that did not have a bridge.

I didn’t do any more research about the river crossing, but figured I could handle it without any problem. Once I hit the trail and got to the river, I realized I had made a big mistake. The river was raging and there was no way I could cross it alone. I had to turn around and head back home.

The Solution

Read all you can about your trail before you get going. I recommend finding your trail on AllTrails.com. Your fellow hikers often leave detailed reports about their trips on the trail you want to hike. You can also check the Forest Service website, or other outdoors websites for your trail to find extra details.

Before you leave on your hike, you should do the very best you can to know significant point on the trail, including how the weather and time of year might effect things. While you can’t anticipate everything that happens on the trail, know the most you can about it will keep you safer.

Wearing the Wrong Clothing

The Mistake

The biggest mistake a hiker makes with regard to his clothing is wearing cotton. COTTON IS ROTTEN. Cotton will not dry quickly after getting wet, and it also gets heavy when wet.

Regardless of whether it gets wet from sweat, rain, or moisture from the trail, wearing wet cotton will be an unpleasant experience at its best. At its worst, being caught in cold weather with wet clothing could put your well-being at risk.

Wearing the right clothing also requires you dress appropriately for weather and climate conditions. Getting caught on the trail without warm clothing, or waterproof clothing, can be a major mistake for hikes.

The Solution

Invest in non-cotton clothing. There are plenty of of synthetic fabrics available to hikers that will wick away moisture, dry more quickly, and keep you warmer than cotton. From your socks to your hat, you should gear up with synthetic materials.

You should also make sure you do your homework about upcoming weather and temperatures for your hike. While you might be able to get away with lighter clothing during the summer, you will need to be very aware of potential rain, snow, or extreme temperatures and bring appropriate clothing.

Getting Lost On The Trail

The Mistake

Getting lost on the trail is one of the biggest dangers for hikers, with potentially dangerous consequences. Beginning hikers often underestimate how easy it can be to lose the trail. Even going off trail for 10 or 15 minutes can be disastrous.

The Solution

There are two main things you should do as a beginning hiker to ensure you don’t get lost on the trail.

The first is to obtain a map of your trail, study it, and keep it with you throughout your hiking trip. You should have an understanding of how to navigate using your map and a compass, and even use a GPS device if possible to track your position throughout the hike.

The second step is to hike with someone else. This is especially the case for beginning, inexperienced hikers. Going out with someone else will give you someone else to depend on and help figure out navigation. And if you do get lost with a companion, you can work together to get back on the trail.

Not Paying Attention To Your Body

The Mistake

You might sometimes feel pain or discomfort on the trail as you hike. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed that you will hurt during a hiking trip. Much of that pain is normal, and just goes hand in hand with carrying a load up and down mountains and over rough terrain. However, there are other times when pain and soreness could be a sign of something that needs your attention.

Perhaps the most common example of this is coming down with blisters. You can usually feel a blister coming on – taking quick action to prevent it from getting worse is worth your time. A muscle strain or pain in your knees can also be a sign that your body needs attention. Fail to address these issues, and you could find yourself really suffering during your hike.

The Solution

You can get to know your body and how it reacts to strenuous activity by actually engaging in some strenuous activity. Put some weight on your back and go on a day-hike. If you have a new pair of shoes or boots, break them in to see if they cause blisters on your feet. This way, you’ll be more aware of problems you might have on the trail.

When those pains do arise on the trail – take a second to assess. If you need to use leukotape or moleskin to address a forming blister – do it. If you need to stretch out a tight hamstring muscle, do it.

The key is to know your body. Last year I started having trouble with my right knee, particularly during descents. Since then, I’m trying to use trekking poles more and change my gait going downhill. I’m also trying to carry as little weight as possible when I hike. I can do without some comforts if it means keeping my knees healthy.

Not Protecting Your Food

The Mistake

Beginning hikers often do not think of protecting their food, either from little critters who get into gear during the middle of the night, or big animals such as bears.

Whether you sleep in a tent, a shelter, or a hammock, there often isn’t a convenient, safe place to put your pack, which contains your food. Lots of hikers will just keep their pack next to them on the ground, or put it under their hammock. This invites animals, big or small, to inspect your food and take what they want.

Nobody wants a bear rummaging around for food in the middle of the night, but you also don’t want a family of mice to eat through your bag and contaminate your food.

The Solution

If you are hiking on public lands, many forest services mandate that you carry a bear canister. You can either purchase one online or borrow one from a nearby ranger station. These do well to protect your food from all animals.

Regardless of whether bear canisters are mandatory, you should always keep your food at least 100 feet away from your campsite. You should also consider hanging your food in a tree away from where you sleep. You can buy bear bags that are easy to string up in trees. Doing so will keep you and your food safe.

Bringing The Wrong Gear

The Mistake

No two hikes are the same – and so the gear you take should change with the hike. If you are going on a short, two-day hike, for example, you probably don’t want to take a big, bulky pack that carries more than you will need. Likewise, you may not need your warmest sleeping bag if you are going on a summer hiking trip.

This all comes down to comfort for the hiker. You should weigh the benefits of extra gear with the cost of taking it – usually this associated with more and unnecessary weight.

The Solution

This is really a question of preference. You should decide what you truly need for a hike, rather than what you want, and make a balanced decision.

If you are missing some gear that is right for a certain hike, there’s nothing wrong with borrowing from someone else. The hiking community is a pretty friendly one – hopefully you have someone you know who has the gear you need for a particular hike.

Failing To Pack The Essentials

The Mistake

As a reminder, the 10 essentials for hiking are: Shelter, Food, Water, Clothing, Fire, First Aid, Knife, Sun Protection, Navigation, and a Headlamp. Some of these items have already been discussed above.

These are called the Essentials for a reason. Each item is a necessary piece of gear regardless of the type of hike to keep you healthy and safe. And while shelter, food, water, and proper clothing especially seem like obvious items for a hike, beginning hikers can overlook them or other essentials.

For example skimping on first aid could have a very serious effect on you and your hiking trip. A serious cut that is not treated could become infected and put you in real danger.

The Solution

You will likely always have shelther, clothing, food, and water on your list of items when you plan a hike. In order to make sure you have all the Essentials available, prepare a ditty bag with a firestarter, first aid kit, knife, sunblock, lip balm, a compass or GPS device, and headlamp. This ditty bag should be a part of your hiking gear every time you hit the trail.

Not Making Water A Top Priority

The Mistake

Every hiker, even a beginner, understands the necessity of water for a hiking trip. Where mistakes are made, however, is planning where to get water, and how important a good filter is.

You should do as much research into previous trip reports and trail maps to identify streams and springs where you can fill up with water. If water sources are scarce, you will need to take extra water storage to get as much as possible when you stop to refill.

Further, a water filter should be a non-negotiable piece of gear. Don’t even bother going on a hiking trip if you don’t have a way of filtering water. You should never drink water you come across, no matter how clean it looks or whether it is part of a fast-running stream.

The Solution

Planning is the key to always having a good source of water during your hiking trip. You should know exactly where to get water all along your trail

When you do come across water, I recommend using the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter. You can screw it onto a 1L water bottle, such as the Smart Water brand and filter water relatively quickly. I would recommend bringing at least three water bottles to store dirty water and clean water.

Neglecting The Weather

The Mistake

Don’t ever expect the weather to be perfect. It may well be perfect, and most weather reports are quite accurate, but that doesn’t mean they are foolproof. In the summertime, you could get hit by a major rainstorm and become wet and cold. In the winter, the consequences of unpredictable weather are even worse.

The Solution

Take into account the season that you are hiking and prepare for a worst-case scenario. In the summer, that might mean packing a warm layer for extra cold nights and rain protection. In the winter, you’ll need to prepare for bitter temperatures and snow.

This might mean extra gear that you were not expecting to bring, but you should consider the consequences of not being prepared for bad weather on your hiking trip.

Leaving Camp Too Late In The Day

The Mistake

Sleeping in on the trail might not be an issue if you are only planning for a lighter, shorter day. However, if you are hoping to put in 15 to 20 miles for the day, or you are hiking in the winter, when the day is shorter, you shouldn’t start your day too late.

If you start too late in the day, you create several problems. First, you increase the chance that you will hiking in the dark, which is a good way of getting lost or getting injured. Second, you leave yourself less time to overcome mistakes or injuries that could put your behind.

The Solution

It is always better to start early in the day rather than later. I always try to hit the trail by 7am at the very latest during the summer season. This allows time for me to hike as many as 20 miles will still giving me time for a good lunch and several breaks during the hike.

Set your alarm for 6am, or see if you can wake up with the rising sun. Then you will be giving yourself for any fun or not-so-fun delay in your hike.

Pushing Yourself Too Far

The Mistake

Beginning hikers often underestimate how difficult hiking can be – and then try to push themselves a little too hard once they realize they have done so. When hiking with more experienced, or more more fit, hikers, a beginner might feel the need to push herself farther than she is able.

Hiking past one’s capacity is a dangerous proposition – it increases the likelihood of injury and can cause a hiker to become fatigued and make poor decisions.

The Solution

Know your body, your general fitness, and be honest with yourself and with your hiking companions. If you can’t hike any further, or need an extra 20 minutes of rest, do it.

Also, make sure you are choosing trails that you know you can finish or that will not take too much out of your body. The less strenuous the hike is, the less likely you will have to hike past your limit.

Failing To Practice Leave No Trace

The Mistake

The seven Leave No Trace Principles are:

  • Plan ahead and prepare.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  • Dispose of waste properly.
  • Leave what you find.
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

The Solution

  • Plan ahead and prepare – Plan your itinerary, meals, clothing, and for the weather
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces – Hike and camp on durable surfaces, such as established trails, gravel, rock, and sand
  • Dispose of waste properly – Bury your own fecal matter away from trails and campsites, pack out toilet paper; Pack in and pack out all trash
  • Leave what you find – Leave all sites and trails as you find them; Do not disturb cultural and natural objects
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire) – Practice good fire safety; Only burn when abundant fuel is available: Use existing fire rings when possible
  • Respect wildlife – Do not disturb animals or plants to get a better look; Do not attempt to scare or surprise wildlife
  • Be considerate of other visitors – Don’t listen to loud music; Give way to hikers coming uphill; Keep pets under control at all time


These are the most common mistakes that a beginning hiker can make. Don’t get too discouraged if you do make mistakes – we are all human. The key is to learn from them and be all the better hiker the next time.

Happy Trails!

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