Here’s Why You Suck at Hiking: The 30 Most Common Mistakes by Newbie Hikers
So, you’ve finally tried this “hiking” thing, haven’t you? Perhaps once or twice? And learned you were awful at it.
You’re probably right.
But don’t worry! We’ve all been there. In fact, some of us learned the hard way. Ehem…
NOTE: These are based on my personal experience, knowledge, and observations. Despite the fact that I’ve already been through major climbs and have a medical background (Registered Nurse here) if you feel the information is insufficient or incorrect, I recommend you see a qualified health care provider who can assess your condition.
Avoid doing these 30 things and one day you might just become a hiking pro!
All The Stupid Things You Do Before The Hike
You fail to make a plan.
If you don’t plan, you’re planning to fail. I get that being spontaneous is exciting, but we’re talking about going to unknown places here, and you don’t want to be caught off guard in the wilderness. By planning a trip, you will learn about the trail’s technical difficulty, the estimated time it will take to finish the trek, the predicted weather conditions, and an overview of the location where the hike will take place. This information will assist you in picking the right equipment (whether for a day trek or camping), setting a turnaround time, and avoiding navigational issues afterwards.
Many parks and hiking areas often publicize the difficulty ratings of trails and it’s important that you don’t ignore them. There are websites such as All Trails, Hiking Project, Traillink, and Pinoy Mountaineer that provide this information, and if you want to go in-depth, try to visit their websites or search their official page on Facebook.
You choose a trail, that’s above your capability.
If you tackle Mt. Guiting-Guiting (difficulty 9/9, trail class 5) as your first climb, you will almost certainly have a miserable experience. It is suggested that first-time hikers choose a trail suitable for beginners, often known as a “Minor Climb.” Choose a trail that will not kill you after the first hour. You don’t want to exhaust yourself or end up feeling disheartened or disappointed. There is also the possibility of injury. Start small, and I’m sure you’ll be pleased you waited (and prepared) before attempting higher peaks.
Things to consider:
- This is not always about the distance. A short hike with a significant elevation ascent might be more difficult than a lengthy, level trip.
- Gaining elevation can cause altitude sickness, which can be a terrible nuisance or, in the worst-case scenario, fatal if fluid accumulates in the lungs/brain. Altitude sickness may affect even the most physically fit people. If you’re used to huffing and puffing on regular hikes, it’ll be even worse at high altitudes.
Also, while choosing a mountain, research dangerous sections and situations, as well as prior incidents at your destination, and make a decision based on your party members’ skills.
You don’t prepare for the battle.
If you believe you can just get off the couch after a lengthy period of inactivity, put on your shoes, and hit the trail… Think again. The majority of trails are uneven and have significant elevation gain, thus even the shortest hikes, such as Mt. Bikay in Laguna (difficulty 2/9), require balance and strength to avoid injury. You must prepare both physically and mentally. Starting with cardio – swimming, cycling, brisk walking, or running – these are all great ways to get in shape for an adventure. If you don’t have time to do them all, there are a variety of other aerobic exercises you can do at home that don’t require any special equipment or skill, such as jumping jacks, half-jacks, squats, leg lifts, hops, and even plank-jacks.
If you have any pre-existing medical conditions or are overweight, you should get medical advice from a qualified physician first.
You forgot to pack your first aid kit or packed the entire pharmacy
Blisters, muscular cramps, and scrapes & abrasions are the most common hiking injuries, so be prepared.
I’ve gone on hikes with novices, but many of them didn’t have first aid kits, and some didn’t even have rubbing alcohol. When it comes to packing, your first priority should be first aid, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. As long as you have the essentials, you can handle any medical issue.
Please bring your medicines if you have an underlying medical condition. There was an instance in which one of the hikers began to hyperventilate; luckily, I had a paper bag with me (I purchased some items prior to the hike, and me being lazy decided to just shove it inside my backpack – including the paper bag).
It’s also a good idea to be familiar with first aid and CPR.
You don’t to test your gear before you hit the trail.
The last thing you want to do is bring equipment that you don’t know how to use or that doesn’t work and adds weight to your bag. Before you hit the trail, thoroughly test your gear and aim to complete a trial run, even if it’s just in your own backyard.
For example, if you don’t have a bag for hiking, you “improvised” by using whatever you had on hand. Check that the zippers and straps are in good working order. Pack ahead of time to see if you can bear the weight of your bag or if your backpack has enough room for everything you need.
For “technical” equipment such as tents, stoves, and the like, simply understanding how to operate them may be enough. Nothing is more frustrating than arriving at your camp site exhausted, bringing out your tent for the first time, reading the manual, and discovering that the pegs aren’t suitable for the type of ground you’re on.
You don’t review your gears and supplies carefully.
In connection to the previous, perform a packing check in which you fit all of your things into your bag a few days before packing all of your belongings for the journey. If you find that you have too many things to fit into your bag, you still have time to consider what is not urgently necessary or save to leave at home. Check to ensure that your first-aid kit is well-stocked and in good condition.
AFTER THE HIKE: Inspect your equipment for damage, and if it’s wet, wash it first and hang it to dry so it’s ready for your next hike.
You fail to check the weather forecast.
A little rain never hurts anyone, as long as you’re properly prepared with rain gear. Another story involves being trapped in a heavy thunderstorm. Sadly, common sense is not so common, as some inexperienced hikers disregard this and continue even if the weather is far from ideal.
Check the local weather forecast the morning of your hike (and even before you leave) to determine whether thunderstorms are expected. This will provide you with useful information on how to dress and what to bring. If the weather is predicted to be awful, you will have the opportunity to adjust your plans rather than being caught off guard on the trail.
Some awesome weather websites:
- Windy (this one fascinates me) – mobile apps are available on Android and Apple.
- Mountain Forecast
- Accuweather – mobile apps are available on Android and Apple.
Alternatively, you might look to see whether the park/mountain has an official Facebook page or website. They frequently publish weather updates or temporary closure/rehabilitation information.
You don’t eat breakfast.
The most important meal of the day is breakfast. Starting the day with a good meal will contribute to better performance than hitting the trail starving. The meal should be heavy in carbs, low in fat and fiber, and contain some protein. The idea is to eat enough to offer fuel while also leaving time for digestion before trekking. Avoiding sugary/sweet meals that cause an energy crash during an activity, as well as those that you know affect your bowels (if you have lactose intolerance, avoid dairy products).
I recommend eating oatmeal, eggs, fruits, vegetables (such as carrots, dark leafy greens, and beets), nut butters, and lean meats (like poultry or fish, it provide a protein punch without excess fat). And if you’re planning a long day hike, pasta is a great source of energy (this is what I eat before I do marathons or trail runs). Try not to consume too many carbs since they may wind up weighing you down.
You don’t let others know of your plans.
This is most likely the easiest yet most overlooked task. At the absolute least, notify someone (who isn’t hiking with you) where you’ll be going and when you’ll be there. You don’t have to bombard them with text messages, but at the very least send a message with the hike webpage and let them know when you’ll be returning. If something happens, they’ll know when to alert the authorities, greatly increasing your chances of being discovered.
Is it okay if I leave a note in my car? It depends. However, placing a message on a windshield invites a break-in.
MORE STUPID THINGS YOU DO ON THE TRAIL
You started too late in the day.
Set off early in the morning so that you have more daylight hours to hike and are not under pressure to go quickly. You also don’t want to go hiking in the middle of the day, especially in the summer, because the heat is unbearable. If you’re going to camp, you don’t want to arrive late and put up your tent while it’s already dark.
You don’t stretch before and after the hike.
The value of stretching is a less-discussed issue. Perform some warm-up exercises before to the hike. The goal is to “wake up” the muscles by engaging them in a range of motion that does not go beyond a person’s stretching ability. This helps your body to gradually adjust to being active.
“Ugh! Why do I need to stretch? I’ll only be walking for the most part.”
Gym rats do cardio before lifting, runners do warm-ups before a marathon, and boxers and MMA fighters do drills (and even circuit training) before they fight.
Lactic acid is a substance found in our bodies that build in our muscles when we engage in rigorous activities such as hiking. Lactic acid buildup causes muscular soreness, cramping, and overall bodily discomfort.
Stretching before any physical activity not only warms up and loosens the muscles, but it also increases circulation (bringing more oxygen into your bloodstream), heart rate, flexibility, and overall performance.
Allow your body to cool down after the climb; this helps supply more oxygen to your muscles, which can lessen lactic acid production.
“Whatever, Polly. It’s a waste of time. Walking is already an exercise.”
You might not notice it while hiking, but you’ll be sore all over and exhausted the next day that you won’t be able to function (or even get out of bed).
You over pack or under pack.
Overpacking will weigh you down, slow you down, and fatigue you prematurely. By only bringing what you need, you may minimize early fatigue and muscular strain. Consider how long and challenging your hike will be, and prepare accordingly.
On the other hand, some inexperienced hikers start off with nothing at all, which is a tremendous error. A hiker should, at the absolute least, bring water with them.
Try not to be tempted when packing; some people try to stuff unnecessary items into their backpacks “just in case.” This is why, once again, you need a plan.
You went solo.
Hiking in a group or being outside with people is much safer than hiking alone. Imagine yourself in the wilderness, miles from civilization, and twisting your ankle or hurting yourself in another way. That would turn a fun and recreational experience into a life-threatening one. If you’re hiking in a group, someone can always go get help, or at the very least help carry your bag so you can get back to civilization and get help or treatment.
You wear new footwear on your hike.
“What a stupid idea. Who the hell does that?” you ask.
*Slowly raises hand*
In my defense, I had another trip just four days after my old hiking shoes were destroyed, so I had no choice but to use the new ones and didn’t have enough time to break them in. 😛
You’ve finally got a new pair of hiking shoes, but before you go, make sure you’re acquainted with them. You tried them on at the store, walked a few meters/minutes, and didn’t feel any discomfort.
Try using them around the house for an hour or two after purchasing them, climbing up and down the stairs, or standing on them for a while. Use the same socks that you will be wearing on your hike. This allows you to easily recognize sources of pressure, uncomfortable friction, or pain (if any). Keep the receipt in case you need to return it later.
Is there no friction or pain? That’s great! Now, take them for a brief walk around your neighborhood to see if there are any issues. It will also soften and stretch the shoe’s materials, allowing them to adjust to the contour of your foot and walking style.
Trust me when I say that a six-hour hike in brand-new shoes will be an experience you’ll never forget – and not in a good way.
***TIP: Bring a pair of socks you’ll be wearing on your trek, preferably made of wool or synthetic fibers, since they drain moisture away from your feet and so help avoid blisters.
You wear inappropriate footwear.
Blisters, blackened/lost toenails, sprained arches, bone spurs, and plantar fasciitis are all entirely avoidable, even if you plan to trek a long distance.
The key to an enjoyable hiking experience is comfort, yet many beginner hikers do not invest in shoes or boots that are specifically designed to provide comfort, avoid injury, and last. Your shoes should be snug everywhere, tight nowhere, and have enough room for your toes to wiggle. If your foot moves around too much, either front to back or side to side, there will be friction, which will lead to blisters. Your toes will be curled and perhaps smashed if your boots are too tight, especially on downward sections of the trail.
Aside from comfort, you may want a pair that is also long-lasting. Hiking boots and shoes are made of different materials than typical street/rubber shoes.
I recommend going to outdoor stores like Merrell, Salomon, The North Face, or R.O.X if you’re in the Philippines. Department stores may have a variety, but the clerk selling it may not have enough experience or knowledge. And, to be honest, their primary goal is to sell you shoes.
***TIP: Cut your toenails (too long can rub against your shoes which can cause serious discomfort, too short do not provide enough support for the ends of your toes).
You wear inappropriate outfit.
The goal here is to be comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. This is why, once again, you need a plan. When hiking in hot weather, you should wear clothes that are breathable, moisture-wicking, and quick-drying, such as drifit. Avoid cotton if possible; any cotton clothes that come into contact with your skin will absorb your sweat like a sponge and will not dry quickly. The same is true for wearing denim; when it becomes wet, it does not dry quickly. Furthermore, it isn’t “stretchy” enough.
If you’re hiking on a rainy day, be sure to bring extra clothes as “layers,” Hypothermia is your enemy here.
You went off trail – for whatever reasons.
Curiosity? Need to shortcut? For bragging rights and ego boost after the hike?
Stay on the route for your own safety, the environment, your fellow hikers, and any potential search parties, especially if you are inexperienced. The goal of establishing a trail system is to allow people to enjoy nature while minimizing the effects of human-caused environmental harm.
Wandering out to unfamiliar territory, especially in the wilderness, is dangerous and requires proper planning – I’m talking about solid navigation and survival skills. You may get lost and not find your way back before it gets dark, you could come across wildlife and be attacked, or you could end up straying off to some switchbacks and narrow trails. I’d be lying if I said we never went off-trail, but trust me when I say there are pathways and trails out there that even the fittest person isn’t ready for.
How much harm can it cause if it’s just me and my hiking buddies? It’s true that there’s just a minor impact, but keep in mind that there are individuals who prefer to go off the main route. Trampling and scuffing can cause large-scale erosion, plant damage, wildlife disruption, and increased muddiness of trails.
Even if you’ve hiked this trail a gazillion times, it is still best to take the road more traveled. Most experienced mountaineers acknowledge the added dangers that come with it.
Or you enter closed off trails.
These trails are closed to the public for a reason, and it is better not to go on them. You may be trespassing if you hike on a closed part of the trail without permission. Second, it could be unsafe. Be a nice “guest” and put things into practice:
- Stay on the trail.
- Leave all gates open or closed the way you found them.
- Hike quietly; respect landowner privacy.
- Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times.
- Remove any litter you find.
- If you bump onto the landowner or family members, greet them and thank them for hosting the trail.
You step carelessly.
Be careful and watch where you step, especially in slippery areas or near cliffs. Stick to solid rock areas with adequate footing and dry walkways. If you wish to take photos, stick to paths with flat terrain.
There was an incident in Mt. Batulao when a newbie hiker slipped to her death on one of the cliffs.
Avoid fast-moving water and slippery slopes. Crossing streams should be avoided when there is flooding, moving or white water, or when the water depth is unknown. If you intend to cross a river, plan ahead of time and prepare to do it safely.
6 students died while crossing Pangasaan Creek in San Jose, Bulacan while 9 hikers were injured with cuts and bruises.
Watch your step, especially if you are stepping over logs and around rocks where snakes may be hidden. If you do come upon a snake, keep your distance and go around it. Don’t attempt to kill it or move it from the trail.
You don’t drinking enough water or eat enough food.
Before you get thirsty, drink something. It may seem counterintuitive, but thirst suggests that you are already behind in the hydration game. Bring enough water to last you the entire hike.
Eat before you get hungry. This doesn’t mean that you have to stop and cook on the spot. TRAIL FOOD guys, TRAIL FOOD! Bring something that is easy to unpack and can help sustain energy There are many different types of trail food to pick from, including mixed nuts and seeds, chocolates, dried fruits, and granola bars. I love trail mix and jelly beans!
How much food and water should I pack? Ideally, you should have at least 2 liters of water with you.
What about our meals? This is your choice, but I’d recommend bringing something easy to prepare and clean up. It should also be enjoyable!
On one of my trips, we held a low-key party up in the base camp – we had Spanish-style spaghetti, burgers, doughnuts, pizza, booze, and one of my guys brought a whole roasted chicken, which I’m still not sure how he did. #mindblown
You ignore storm signs.
Even during the dry season in the Philippines, weather can be unpredictable, so it’s best to keep an eye on the forecast. Early morning starts are preferable. Most thunderstorms tend to happen in the heat of the afternoon. Hiking should be avoided in inclement weather. If possible, turn back as soon as you can. The mountains aren’t going anywhere; you may explore them when the weather gets better.
If you become stuck in severe rain, get off the watercourse as soon as humanly possible. If it begins to thunder and lighting, avoid standing on hilltops or near highly conductive objects. Keep a safe distance from trees and masts that might be hit by lightning. Seek shelter right away. Also, do not lie down, especially if the ground is wet. Instead, crouch to reduce the amount of contact between you and the ground. Do not come into contact with water or wet objects.
You continued up when you’re lost.
If you become lost and can’t find your way back to the trail or camp, remember the acronym: STOP.
- STOP – Stop, stay put and stay calm. Don’t go anywhere chances are you might be heading off to the wrong direction. Sit down and attempt to breathe from your belly – this switches off the hyperactive sympathetic nervous system (also known as the “fight or flight reaction”), allowing you to relax and think clearly.
- THINK – Retrace your steps in your head. Look around if you see any notable landmarks or trails that look familiar.
- OBSERVE – Take out your compass or GPS. Figure out which direction you need to go.
- PLAN – Based on the three points above, you’ll be able to make a plan. Again, don’t wander aimlessly if you aren’t sure.
This is one of the reasons why, particularly if you’re new to hiking, you shouldn’t wander off-trail. To make it out safely, you must have solid navigational and survival skills.
You don’t stay together.
Letting the Mamaws (fast walkers/hikers) speed ahead while letting the slower ones fall behind is a recipe for disaster. You could get separated and communications while visiting remote areas can be a struggle.
- Encourage the speed freaks to slow down, or assign a leader in front who sets a moderate pace.
- Designate an experienced hiker as a “sweeper” to keep any slower hikers from following too far behind the rest of the group.
- Stop and wait for the entire group to catch up at all trail junctions, turns, or confusing sections.
You don’t set a turnaround time.
How much time will it take us to complete the hike? That depends on a number of factors, including your fitness level, the weight of your pack, the pace of your walk or hike, the experience you want, and how much time you have left. Regardless, you should stick to your predetermined time to ensure you finish hiking before the sun goes down hence it’s important to start early.
You have so many things dangling off your body or backpack.
Gear or accessories that do not fit within the backpack can be fastened to the exterior with carabiners, but try to avoid doing so as much as possible. Hiking poles, reusable water bottles, or other items dangling from or swinging back and forth on your pack might throw you off balance, get stuck on branches along the route, collide with other objects or people, and be generally inconvenient. Remember that the more “compact” you make your pack, the more comfortable it will be to carry.
You don’t hike at your own pace.
There’s no need to rush because this is a hike, not a race. Slow and steady hikers often collect more miles during the day than those who sprint down the route. If you wish to pick up the pace, focus on hiking quickly on flat and uphill sections of the mountain. Take your time and don’t strain yourself when walking downhill. Instead, take modest steps and avoid running down the slope. Downhill speed puts a great deal of stress on your knees. Been there, done that. Regretted it.
Besides, the main purpose of any hike is to appreciate the beautiful scenery, stroll in a serene setting, and, of course, the company of other fellow hikers.
Some people miss the whole point of the adventure by focusing just on the destination. There’s no need to rush if the weather is right and you begin early; this isn’t a race, so relax and enjoy the journey.
You don’t listen to your body.
As a rule of thumb, you should always be able to carry on a conversation while hiking. If you’re tired, “take five” (take a five-minute break from whatever you’re doing) to restore your body’s energy reserves and relax your muscles. Take this opportunity to eat a snack and remove your backpack to allow your back to relax. Don’t push yourself too hard, especially if you’re just starting out. If anything hurts, make use of your breaks to figure out what’s causing it.
You neglect your feet.
Developing blisters is such a bummer! It is not only painful, but it can also prevent you from continuing your adventure. Some novice hikers are embarrassed to remove their shoes in public during breaks, even if they have been hurting for some time. It’s all right, believe me. We don’t mind at all. You can ignore the pain for a while, but if you don’t prevent it, you’ll be miserable the entire hike.
When hiking, your foot might move a lot, especially if you’re wearing the wrong shoes. Walking generates friction, which eventually causes your skin to break and blister.
Sweaty feet can increase your chances of getting blisters, or even worse, an infection. Make sure you take time to periodically let your feet air out in the open air, and make sure you carry an extra pair of socks to swap out those nasty sweaty ones. Slap an adhesive bandage (or some duct tape) on the hotspot. When it’s sunny, hang the used socks behind your backpack and they will dry, assuming it’s sunny. Really, it’s okay.
You eat wild plants and drink untreated water.
Try not to eat anything that appears edible until you can positively identify it. Not all plants are edible, and some edible and toxic species resemble one other. Never drink untreated water. Unfortunately, most natural water sources, no matter how clean and clear they look, are not necessarily safe to drink without treatment. Water sources in the outdoors are often contaminated with harmful microbes such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites.
Waterborne disease symptoms often appear 12 to 48 hours after exposure and cease within 1 to 3 days in individuals with a strong immune system.
If you need to refill your bottles, you can “treat” the water by:
- Boiling (though no amount of boiling will remove chemical contaminants like pesticides or chemical spills)
- Iodine treatment – Liquid 2% Tincture of Iodine (add 5 drops per quart when the water is clear. Add 10 drops per quart when the water is cloudy). Some people are allergic to iodine and cannot use it as a form of water treatment.
- Portable water filters like Katadyn or Lifestaraw
Too much hassle, just bring your own darn water.
You do not follow LNT principle.
Whatever you bring with you to a location, make sure to take it all with you when you leave. No garbage, including wet wipes, leftover food, tin cans, plastic containers, and so on, should be left outdoors. Leave just what you find, which means no picking flowers or collecting rocks. Please refrain from vandalizing the rocks or writing on the trees.
Keep your distance from animals and never approach it. The danger of that close-up shot is not worth it.
ALSO READ: Leave No Trace
You don’t reward yourself.
Conquering a mountain is no joke, and I consider it an accomplishment. Filipinos enjoy eating. I’m not sure. I suppose it’s just a part of our culture. We celebrate each hike by stopping at a neighboring restaurant to eat, rest, and mingle before returning home.
OTHER HEALTH CONCERNS
I’m a smoker but I want to try hiking, when can I start?
You may begin whenever you want, no one is stopping you, but it will be challenging, especially if your fitness level is relatively low. Most of the mountains in the Philippines are not for the faint of heart; they need strength and endurance. In order to build endurance, you must first learn how to breathe more efficiently. But, to answer your question, I used to smoke cigarettes and survived the ordeal – only because I’m active (and at that time, I was in the process of kicking the habit). In comparison to when I was a smoker and after I quit, I wish I had quit sooner. 🙂
I’m drunk, can I still climb tomorrow?
If you find it difficult to find balance – don’t. Geez! Stay at home and get some rest. When I initially started climbing Mt. Gulugod-Baboy, I was a little tipsy. We also took a few photos at the campsite the night before we ascended Mt. Batulao’s summits. It was a battle, to say the least. Alcohol has an impact on mental function and cognition. Drinking before a climb is risky and dangerous since it impairs focus, judgment, and behavior. During the hike, you must be aware and alert to your surroundings. Avoid consuming alcohol before the climb, or restrict your consumption if you can’t avoid it.
Hiking is already dangerous, but that shouldn’t stop you from seeing amazing scenery! After climbing and running on 15 mountains in the Philippines – some twice and three times – I discovered that most hiking-related accidents are caused by hikers’ lack of knowledge, poor decision-making, overconfidence, or negligence, but this can be avoided by arming yourself with basic hiking skills and knowledge, the right attitude, and… Use your common sense.
How did you find your first hiking experience? Did you come across any of these? Is there anything I’ve forgotten? Do you have any more suggestions? Please let me know by writing a comment below!