Seven Mistakes New Hikers Make (And Ways You Can Avoid Them!)

Backpacking / Gear / Ideas & Advice

Layer up before you get up here!

 

1. Failure to Prepare

Working out in a gym, running, biking, and many other forms of exercise is definitely beneficial to your well being, but it won’t get you in “hiking shape”. The “incline” feature on a treadmill doesn’t come close to simulating the experience of hiking in New England’s rocky terrain for six or more hours. The only way to really get in shape for hiking is to hike. Start out small and work your way up to your goal.

 

2. Improper Clothing and Supplies

Most people know the basics about what to wear and carry while hiking. At times I see people hiking with sneakers or (seriously) flip flops on a 4000-footer peak, but most of the time people are wearing boots, dressed in layers, wearing sunscreen, and have plenty of water.

Unfortunately, many take it too far. Terrified of leaving something behind, some carry a day pack stuffed with so much extra clothing and food to last a week and carry every gimmicky hiking gadget out there.

When you prepare for a hike, take reasonable precautions. For day hikes, dress in light layers and carry the water and food you need. Do carry some extra. With experience you will figure out how much you will need. Minimize what else you carry to the necessities. If you recently purchased or plan to purchase a pack, wear it on a few short trails to familiarize yourself with how it feels to hike with it.

 

3. Poor Choice of Trail

It almost goes without saying that hikers should consider the length, time, and difficulty level of a trail in deciding whether to try it. Hiking a trail that is too long or strenuous for you will sap you of your energy, frustrate you and your hiking companions, and leave you with very sore muscles the next day. Don’t get too caught up in hiking the highest peaks or doing the “must hike mountains” because of the view.

You can avoid this by (once again) starting small and working your way up. Cut your teeth on short, easy trails, then gradually increase the length and difficulty level of your hikes. Before long, you’ll be able to enjoy full day hikes or overnight trips. In the meantime, those longer and more strenuous trails aren’t going anywhere.

 

4. Not Taking Time to Adjust

You’re almost to the summit, only a couple steep sections to go and you’ll be there. You start to sweat more, but decide to continue on as you’re so close. Big mistake. When you begin to overheat, especially on a winter hike, it is crucial to delayer. All the sweat you’re trapping in will freeze once you are exposed to wind and could cause hypothermia. Don’t forget to take time to add layers a little before you’ll really need them. An exposed summit in 50 mph winds is not the place to try to put a jacket on.

 

5. Not Checking Trail Conditions

New England weather is highly unpredictable, especially in the Mountains. You may run into some unexpected snow and ice in October or impassable stream crossings in the Spring. Always check trail conditions online several times before any hike. Be aware of the worst case weather scenario and pack the gear to deal with it. Trails NH is a great resource to look up the trail conditions for any peak as it compiles trip reports from every major blog and forum. The Mount Washington Observatory is another great resource.

 

6. Setting the Wrong Pace

Be cautious of how you start a hike. It is very easy to try to speed through a moderate section at the beginning of a hike to improve your overall hiking time. Setting a really fast pace at the beginning will tire you out by the time you hit your first set of switchbacks. When you arrive at a difficult climb, you’ll need to rest every couple of feet.

When you begin your hike, pace yourself; you’re not running a race. Remember, once you reach the summit, you still have to return to the trailhead. Save your energy, or you risk exhausting yourself on your hike and become too tired to enjoy it. The lower section of a hike can be as beautiful as the summit. Take some time to notice small details like interesting mushrooms or rock formations.

 

7. Refusing to Turn Back

When faced with a choice between continuing up a trail not suitable for you and turning back, don’t get “summit fever”. Hiking is not always about making it to the top. You should hike because you find it rewarding, not because you want to check a trail off your list. I find this difficult as I do hike lists, but I know I can always return and there is no shame in turning back if you find yourself on a hike that is too long or too tiring. Ultimately, you want to look back fondly on your hike, not cringe at the memory of how miserable you were or how much pain you were in the next day.

Have you ever found yourself on a trail you weren’t prepared for? Tell us about it in the comments.

Allison Nadler


Allison is a passionate (or mildly obsessive) hiker who enjoys spending her free time in the White Mountains. In 2012 she hiked New Hampshire's 48 4000-foot peaks and isn't stopping there. Allison's biggest accomplishment so far has been a one day solo presidential traverse. You can see all her adventures at 4000-footers.blogspot.com.

5 Comments

  1. March 17, 2013, 8:18 am

    Excellent points Allison! I especially agree with #1. So many folks are under the impression that a hike with substantial elevation gain is a walk in the park and working up to it isn’t necessary. I know firsthand hiking with someone who had hiked 10 miles at a time but it was only on flat terrain. When we hiked together to 3000 feet, the elevation gain was hurting him! :(

  2. March 8, 2013, 6:19 am

    Justin, I totally agree. That’s why before my hikes I always look at blogs, forums, trip reports, etc. to learn from those who’ve done it and might have some insight I don’t. It was interesting for me to be a newbie when I began hiking in winter as it is so different.

    Kimball- fixed the link. I’m happy to share it with folks as it’s my go to resource before a hike!

  3. March 6, 2013, 10:33 am

    Another great post Allison, and thanks for suggesting TrailsNH.com. I built TrailsNH to make it easy to find the most recent trail info. TrailsNH checks every website, so you don’t have to.

    The link seems to be broken, just need to change “TrailsNH.com” to “http://TrailsNH.com”

    Turning Back: It is also important to turn back if you are not prepared for the condition you find, also if you are running out of daylight and not prepared for night fall.

    @Justin: Honoring my status as a beginner was a tough one for me in the very beginning. But then I realized the people I hiked with were an awesome resource, completely willing to share. Then I started picking their brains about everything from gear and trail preferences, to places to camp. “Honor where you are at.”

    Thanks for the great post.
    -Kimball

  4. March 5, 2013, 11:12 am

    Great Article. If you are just getting into hiking, this is a must read. I love point # 2, esp the part about people trying to carry everything under the sun. You don’t need to carry the same amount of “Stuff” for a day hike as the guy who is through hiking the AT. Be smart about what you carry and what you carry it in.

  5. March 3, 2013, 3:34 pm

    Great list, Allison. Well done.

    Personally, I would also suggest that new hikers remain honest to themselves and others about their newness to the sport. I find people are a little intimated to enter the hiking “culture” as newbies. It’s very honorable to tell people you’re new to all this and to ask for help, advice and guidance.

    Most everyone I meet on the trails are welcoming and happy to help out.

    Plus, it’s also crucial to remain honest when working with a sales associate at an outfitter. They can better help people who speak up and say, “Hey, I’m new to this. What should I do?”

    I’ve been hiking and climbing all my life, but I occasionally defer to people who have experienced more than me.

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