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5 Common Mistakes Beginner Hikers Make

Gabriel Patterson, Toronto Fitness Trainer and Experienced Outdoorsman, Discusses
Five Common Mistakes Beginner Hikers Make and Shares Tips for Success

Hiking is a great pastime that can be taken up at any age. Though hiking seems like a simple recreational activity, beginner hikers must be adequately prepared to stay safe and get the most enjoyment. Here, Gabriel Patterson, Toronto fitness trainer and nutrition expert, details common mistakes made by beginner hikers and how to avoid them.

1. Not Drinking Enough Water

Beginner hikers often fail to drink enough water. As a general rule, it's recommended to bring 1 liter of water for every 2 hours of hiking. The goal should be to drink 6 to 12 ounces of water every 15 minutes. You can follow signs of thirst as an indicator of when to drink or use a timer or app to remind you. Be aware that individual water needs vary and can depend on body weight, weather conditions, and trail difficulty. If it's hot or you're at increased elevation, plan on drinking more water.

Water is heavy--over 2 pounds per liter--so what's the best way to carry enough? A CamelBak-type bladder holds 2 to 4 liters and has a convenient drinking tube that encourages the hiker to drink often.

Alternatively, Nalgene bottles can be packed on the side of most backpacks in easily accessible bottle holders. For longer hikes, you can also carry a water filter or drops to refill your water container from a fresh water source safely. Be sure to follow the instructions and research potential water sources ahead of time.

Get prepared for your hike by drinking 18 to 24 ounces of water an hour before you hit the trail. Know signs of dehydration (and overhydration) so you can stay safe, keep your energy levels up, and enjoy your hike.

2. Going Too Difficult or Long Too Soon

It may be tempting to jump right in and pick the most scenic trail. Instead, look at the guides and pick a path for beginners. Pick a distance that's shorter than what you could usually walk comfortably and then work up slowly from there. You know your fitness level best, so be honest with yourself when choosing a trail. In particular, be mindful of hills and climbs in elevation, which can be quite draining, and plan accordingly.

If you go too hard too soon, you won't enjoy yourself as much, or worse, you could risk getting injured. There will be plenty of days ahead to take on more challenging trails and distances after you've got more experience and stamina.

3. Not Dressing Appropriately

While beginner hiking generally doesn't require much special equipment, please don't be caught on the trail in jeans and a cotton t-shirt, which will chafe and trap moisture. Wear thin layers of moisture-wicking clothes meant for exercise. Dressing in compact layers will help you avoid being under or overdressed because you can shed or add layers as needed. Pack an extra layer of insulation in case the temperatures should drop or you get delayed past nightfall.

The feet are arguably the most essential consideration for beginner hikers. Ditch your everyday cotton socks and invest in some high-quality hiking socks. Some lightweight trail runners or sneakers can work on a beginner hiking trail without many obstacles. Otherwise, it can be useful to invest in a well-fitting pair of hiking boots. Whatever you do, never hit the trail with a pair of new shoes. Make sure any shoes are well broken in by wearing them at home, out shopping, or on walks around the neighborhood.

Don't forget to pack a rain jacket in case of an unexpected shower and consider sun protection, including a hat or bandana and sunglasses.

4. Forgetting to Plan for Emergencies

Even if you plan ahead, there is always a chance that something may not go as planned, even on day trips. Packing emergency supplies should be on any beginner hiker's checklist. Well-prepared hikers will have the following in their pack:
  • First aid kit
  • Headlamp
  • Trail map, compass, and GPS device
  • Knife
  • Gear repair kit
  • Firestarter
  • Emergency shelter
  • Sunscreen and insect repellent
Always bring a little more water and food than you expect you'll need in case you get delayed or stranded. Dense "superfoods" such as trail bars found at outdoor stores are great to have on hand should you need extra calories.

Be sure to tell someone not in your hiking group about your hiking plans, including your route, when you're leaving, and when you plan to return. You can also leave a note in your car with this information; be sure the details aren't in full view of potential burglars. Consider bringing an emergency locator beacon as you may not get cell service the entire length of your route.

5. Going Hiking Alone

The best way to gain more experience hiking is to join some more experienced hikers. Buddying up or joining a group can not only be more enjoyable, but it is also much safer. If anything happens, there will be others there to assist you or go for help. If you don't have any friends who hike, outdoor enthusiast Gabriel Patterson recommends checking online for a hiking group near you.

Enjoy Your Hike

Hiking can be an incredibly rewarding and enjoyable outdoor activity. Beginner hikers should not be intimidated by this list but instead feel more secure in being knowledgeable and prepared for their hikes. As you gain more experience, getting prepared will become like second nature.

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