Avoid these hiking mistakes

Hiking Mistakes To Avoid

It’s the season for hiking. I live in a mountain region loaded with hiking trails. People flock up here during the summer to get away from the blistering summer heat. Among the appeal to visit the region, many choose to hike up in the mountains. Many or most are experienced. However there’s always the beginner too. Many inexperienced people take to the trails during vacations, holidays, or summertime pleasure. I will present a number of hiking mistakes to avoid…

Thinking about hitting the trail? It certainly can be an enjoyable experience. However, don’t let any of these 5 hiking mistakes ruin your outing… (additional mistakes listed below)

5 Hiking Mistakes

This is simply my opinion, and in no particular order.

Don’t Get Lost

It’s among the top priorities of hiking. You might say it’s one of the number one rules of hiking. Don’t get lost!

This sure sounds simple. But people do sometimes get lost. The result can be deadly too.

It may sound ridiculously obvious. But, have a trail map. A topo map. Compass. And, please at least have some idea how to use a compass and map at least in a most basic way. Your phone’s GPS and map app is great. But do not depend your life on it without knowing some old-fashioned navigation.

Going off trail to go potty? This is one way that people get lost. It’s easy to get disoriented. You’re hiking with a partner right? One staying on trail while the other heads off to take care of business – using voice if need be… Got a whistle with you? Did you identify landmarks while heading off trail? Did you turn around and look at what those look like from the other direction (for heading back)? Common sense stuff, but important.

Study the trail map and topo terrain ahead of time. Understand where the difficulty may be. Occasionally follow along on the map as you hike.

Don’t get lost. Don’t depend on your cell phone to get you out of a jam.

Plan For Weather

A big hiking mistake. Not planning for changing weather.

You can almost count on the fact that the weather will be very different up at elevation, compared with where you began your hike. Sometimes it’s not so bad. Just a bit cooler. Likely windier. While other times, extreme.

Weather can change very quickly, particularly in the mountains. The higher you go, the colder, windier and possibly wetter the weather is likely to be. Late spring storms can mean snow on mountain tops, and summer storms can be nearly as cold.

Use a NOAA weather radio to tune-in the latest forecast at elevation. They always have separate forecasts here in the mountains for higher eleveations. You may have to listen through several other forecasts before it loops around to it, but you really should!

Take appropriate gear (layers) for cool / cold, for wet / rain, and for wind (windbreaker layer). They make some really nice light weight gear nowadays… I bough a really nice raincoat several years ago that’s amazingly light weight and very effective. Remeber those old raincoats that wouldn’t ‘breathe’ and you’d get all hot and sweaty? Not anymore!

Remember, hypothermia is very real, even during the summer.

Turn back when weather conditions go beyond your preparations.

Heavy Backpack

Too much weight. Too much gear. You may want to take lots of stuff, for just in case. However it’s easy to overestimate and over pack. Another potential hiking mistake.

Put on your backpack after you’ve packed it. It’s important to remember the following… Just because you feel the pack weight is okay, doesn’t mean that you will feel the same way after hiking for a long time! And once you start on the trail, it’s too late to lighten the load. You’ll have to deal with it, so to speak.

Again, there’s lots of gear that’s designed for light weight backpacking. Unfortunately you will typically pay more for it, but it sure makes a difference.

Double check everything in your backpack. Do you need this or that? Evaluate the importance of every item as it pertains to your specific hike. Decide on absolute essentials first. Then, add other gear and supplies as it matters next.

Listen, don’t underpack either!! That would be a mistake too. Just be prepared.

Important Hiking Gear

There’s lots to consider. There are plenty of lists out there, including on this site. A few categorical ideas include the following.

  • Hydration
  • Nutrition
  • Navigation
  • Emergency shelter
  • Clothing layers
  • Firestarter
  • First-Aid Kit
  • Other Kit Items… headlamp, paracord, etc..

Going Too Far or Too Fast

Here’s another mistake. A hiker learns his or her limits as they become increasingly proficient. A newbie doesn’t know.

Hiking on flat terrain is VERY DIFFERENT from hiking a mountain trail, or even simply up a hill. It takes unique strength and stamina the farther you go. But here’s the caution… For most typical hikes, remember, you’ve got to go back to where you started!

It can be easy to hike too far. You really want to make the summit, or wherever it is that you’ve got in mind. Well, you’ve got to reserve enough energy to make it back, right?

Similarly, going too fast. It will drain you quicker than you may realize. Take it easy. Take breaks. Again, common sense. But… it happens.

Set a reasonable turn-around time, and stick to it. You don’t want to get caught in the dark returning to the trail-head. Do you know how easy it is to turn an ankle on the trail in dim lighting, when you’re tired?

Hiking with a group? Pace the hike. Perhaps with the slowest member of the group. It may be a good idea to stay together. Starting as a group, hiking as a group, ending as a group.

A sub-heading to this is a follows…

Underestimating The Trail

Many trails are rated in one way or another. Pay attention! It may be way beyond your level of fitness and abilities. Again, the topographic map provides the clues you need. All those terrain lines bunched together? Well, that’s pretty steep climbing!

It’s real easy to get exhausted climbing steep terrain. Be real with yourself.


Your hiking boots. They’re critical to having happy feet.

Did you just get shiny new hiking boots? Well, you better break them in before you go on that long hike.

I know that there are all sorts of hiking boots. I also know that some are more readily broken in than others. I’ve bought enough various boots over the years to know that some have been much better than others.

Before you hike, wear them. A few weeks. Maybe while mowing the lawn. Doing some work outside. Going out to the store. Etc..

Pay attention if you’re getting “hot spots” anywhere, which may result in blisters if you keep going. I read this statement, which is so true… “It really doesn’t matter where you wear them, but the idea is to get the material adjusted to your feet so that you don’t experience a Stage-Five meltdown while in the backcountry.”

More Hiking Mistakes To Avoid

There are plenty of tips for hiking. I hesitate to rank any of them, because many are equally important. Including those listed above. Here’s a short list of more hiking mistakes to avoid…

  • Not drinking enough fluids, not bringing enough
  • The wrong foods, or not enough for energy needs
  • Wearing cotton. Do not wear cotton! It clogs with moisture.
  • Forgetting bug spray
  • Not using sunscreen, getting sunburned
  • Nightfall creeping up on you – bad planning for time
  • Getting a late start
  • Going fast downhill (easy, but dangerous)
  • Hiking alone (more important for beginners)
  • Not telling anyone where you’re going
  • Assuming getting help will be easy if you need it
  • Not considering to use a walking stick

Feel free to add more to the list in the comments below…

Oh, one more thing… I always carry a sidearm on the trail. If you live in grizzly country (I don’t), this is even more important. It adds weight to the trip. But I feel better with the protection. Know the laws where you’re hiking.

[ Read: Loud Whistle For Your Survival Kit ]

[ Read: Headlamp or Flashlight? ]


  1. Having a form of self defence, while hiking recently a pack of stray dogs, Pitt bulls and German Shepherds attacked a friend of mine and his dog, luckily he had a pistol and fired a warning shot into the ground in front of them. Who would have thought of such a possibility? Not me, I hike there all the time!

  2. When I was a trail worker on the AT and BMT we saw it all. I never ceased to be amazed at the stupidity and lack of common sense on full display especially during thru-hike season at Springer Mountain (Southern Terminus). From 110lbs women trying to carry a 70lbs pack, a very overweight women in her 60’s with a Yorkie and a Poodle, to hearing clanging in the distance that got louder and a guy lugging a huge pack with, get this, a full size Coleman stove strapped to the back of his pack and the clanging was the cast iron frying pan he had hanging on the bottom of his pack all headed to Maine. When I hiked the AT from Harpers Ferry, WV to Bennington, VT my pack was never over 30lbs including 6-8 days of food and 2-3 liters of water depending on the area I was going through.

  3. I find hiking poles can be a real aid in certain terrain, crossing water or slippery sections. The spikes on the end and extended reach can also act as defensive deterrent to dogs in areas where firearms aren’t permitted. Also useful if you have a tarp or poncho with no trees around. I’m not getting any younger and the equivalent of a third very mobile leg is very handy lol!

  4. I never hit the trail without my trekking poles. My knees are pretty banged up they help especially with the up and down hills as well as keeping balance on rugged terrain.

  5. I hadn’t been hiking for a number of years. I decided to go on a 5 mile hike on a fairly steep trail. I took my hiking boots out of the closet and checked them out. They looked good but looks can be deceiving. About half way through the hike my boots de-laminated. Fortunately I had Gorilla tape in my pack and was able to get back to the car. I bought new boots after that.

    1. Gorilla tape / Duct Tape (a great all-around repair ‘tool’ to have in one’s kit)!

  6. I remember commenting on this some time ago.
    Backpacker magazine took a survey of the most important gear to have when hiking any considerable distance.
    The winner : Raingear.

    1. I live in the mountains. I remember one memorial day when it was sunny in the flat lands raining in the mountains and 3 ft of snow over the summit

  7. i have been lost or turned around several times in my life. survived being snowed in, in the mountains of Utah camping one year, Pine Lake, 8000 ft.
    the Sierra’s and anything west of Denver are all very unforgiving. it’s a loooong way to anywhere.
    it’s a bad feeling but i’m still here. you just have to keep a cool head and don’t panic. stop!– stop and think. go downhill or follow rivers if you cant get in touch with someone. if you do get in touch with someone DON’T move.
    there were some people in California several years ago that became trapped in a canyon and they set the brush on fire. when the fire crews came over in the helicopters to check out the fire , they were able to locate and rescue them. i thought that was smart.

    1. My mom always told me if I got lost find a fence and follow it downhill.

  8. I buy my boots a half size larger to take into account my feet swelling both at the end of the day as well as carrying a heavy pack. I was skinny when I was young and my hips got chaffed up badly by using and external frame backpack. When I became a ranger, I invested in an internal frame backpack made by Lowe Alpine Systems and wrote off the cost on my taxes. Best money I ever spent from my measly GS-5 wages. As a ranger/firefighter, I was literally living out of my backpack for most of the season which could run from May through October/November. I spent top dollar to get good comfortable boots and backpack. Contents of the pack varied on the trip I was going on. and, yes, I did carry a handgun at the very least when in the backcountry. I would recommend others do so as well because there can be bad people and rogue animals more than a mile away from your automobile. (I arrested a good number of the bad people in my day on the trails)
    If you go fishing, get a license and carry it with you. I have cited fishermen more than 10 miles from the nearest road.

  9. – I have mentioned this before, but this strikes me as a good place to repeat this particular hint. The best Topo maps for trail use are the 1:620000 (or 1:50000 if you are in a metric country) for trail/trip planning, also known as 15-minute maps. The name refers to how much of a degree is represented, but as it happens, fifteen minutes of travel over open, unobstructed ground is represented by the width of your thumb on the map.

    This estimate can be made more accurate by adding 5 minutes for every contour line (within reason) your path crosses. It really doesn’t matter if you are going up or down, just add the additional time. Also, be aware that this only applies to travel time. Allow for at least 5-10 minutes for breaks every hour, or you will not appreciate yourself when you actually start traveling.

    I have taught this to many beginners, and know of at least one trip that was reconsidered and additional time (and food/water supplies) allowed for, due to terrain for a trip planned in New Mexico.

    – Papa S.

    1. PapaS
      What if you have really fat thumbs and really short legs!


    2. Papa Smurf,
      That’s a good “rule of thumb” I did not know.(or if I did, I had forgotten). Thanks!

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