Hiking and backpacking are great ways to get some exercise and reconnect with a more natural lifestyle, but there are some pitfalls that can cause beginners to stumble and eventually give up on hiking. Watch out for…
Buying a bunch of stuff that you don’t need
Hiking is probably the most accessible physical activity there is. All you really need to start are some shoes or boots, and a water bottle. Later on, as you progress to longer hikes, you’ll probably want a daypack – but watch out! This is the point where beginners go nuts. You have a nice new backpack and you want a bunch of cool gear to put in it so you go to Walmart and buy a bunch of compasses and backpacking stoves and GPS…
Not getting good boots and not breaking them in
Good boots are probably the exception to the “Don’t buy a bunch of stuff,” rule. Boots can make a huge, make-or-break difference in your enjoyment of hiking. Some people like hiking shoes or trail runners (or even hiking sandals) but I do not. I totally recommend you get some good, over-the-ankle hiking boots.
Try to find a store that carries several brands and that seems to have knowledgeable, experienced staff. Try on both boots and walk around the store in them. Really good stores will have a ramp that you can walk up and down to see if the boot slips or bangs your toes.
Socks also make a huge difference. Splurge on the thick, wool or synthetic socks made for hiking.
Packing everything (and the kitchen sink)
Because the “list of 10 essentials” says they have to. Once you’ve bought a bunch of stuff, you feel like you have to tote it all with you so that you are prepared for any eventuality – but here’s the rub. You can’t be prepared for everything, and if you try to pack for everything, you’ll end up schlepping a giant pack around and you’ll make yourself miserable (or worse, you’ll injure yourself.)
Becoming too ambitious too soon
Once you have bought everything in the Walmart camping section and stuffed it into your giant backpack and strapped on your sandals, the next step for a short-but-miserable hiking career is to immediately set out on a long trek – something really impressive like a 50-miler!
When we are introducing new Scouts to hiking and backpacking, the BSA recommends a progression – something like…
- one or two 2-mile hikes
- followed by one or two 3-mile hikes
- followed by one or two 5-mile hikes
- most hikes after that around 10-miles
- most backpacking trips after that in the 2-3-day 15-mile range
- maybe one or two 20-25 mile treks just to test your time management skills and fitness.
- some especially ambitious hikers will do a 5-day, 50-miler every couple of years
Not being ambitious enough early enough
We don’t adhere to that hike progression religiously but we do try to do a 1-mile run and a 3-4 mile walk each month. After that, most of our treks fall into the 8-15 mile range with only a very occasional long hike. This seems to be easier to keep track of and keeps our new Scouts from getting bored with the never-ending 2-milers.
The point is, it’s easy to get in over your head, so you should set up a progression that will let you get accustomed to being on the trail without being so slow that it makes you hate hiking.
So, five really common mistakes that can spoil a beginner’s enjoyment of hiking are –
- Buying a bunch of stuff that you don’t really need
- Skimping on good boots and socks
- Packing a much-too-heavy pack
- Jumping in over your head with a long hike
- Boring yourself to death trying to avoid the long hikes
Which of these do you think is probably the worst mistake for beginners? Is there another beginner mistake that you’ve seen that should be on the list?