We all start somewhere. We all begin as a beginner, a novice. New gear also demands we catch up. An experienced backpacker in the early ‘90s might not know all the tricks of the trade in this new decade. I like to think I worked out my beginner kinks during my thru-hike but I am still learning new hiking hacks. Whenever I hike now, I notice many people committing the same beginner mistakes I did and as many others tend to do.
If you choose to do the things below with knowledge that there is an easier way, then I applaud you for hiking your own hike. If you do these actions out of lack of knowledge, then this is here to help. Not all beginners make these mistakes. These seem the most common and the most easily fixable.
1. Not Eating & Drinking Enough
You know the type. The hiker rolls into the shelter near dusk, exhausted. Too tired to cook or even retrieve water for the night, he or she erects their tent and go to bed. Eating after a long day of hiking is important as well as snacking throughout the day. Monitor food and water intake always. Without proper nutrients, your amazing camping trip will simply be an exhausting endeavor.
2. Bringing Too Much
This is the most notorious mistake of a beginner backpacker. No matter if it’s too much food, clothes, or gear, try to evaluate the contents of your pack before setting out for the backcountry. On my recent thru-hike of the GR 20, I noticed multiple hikers carrying two pairs of shoes to hike in, a minimalist shoe and a boot.
Consider one shoe suitable for all terrains. Evaluating your gear beforehand will lighten your load and make packing easier. Start with handling every single item you want to carry and acknowledge the weight. Give yourself a shakedown.
3. Not Considering the Weather
This is me before Mt. Madison in the Whites in New Hampshire. Don’t let this be you. You don’t want this to be you, I promise.
While thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, I witnessed a couple on a day hike soaking up the persistent downpour of rain. If you plan to do a smaller hiker (not a thru-hike), then plan around the weather. Always check the forecast. Some mountains may require early morning summits for notorious rains in the afternoon. Having a rough time hiking in the rain or lightening can be avoided with just a bit of research ahead of time.
4. Bringing Cans of Food
My first camping trip was in Big Bend National Park in Texas. I carried cans of food I had sitting in my pantry. Being a broke college student, I didn’t see a problem with it. Now being an experienced backpacker, I hate to admit that I did that. Cans of food are heavy.
Compare a can of food with a packet of ramen. I think I rest my case. If you happen to be on a trail in which provides not much selection in a resupply but cans, I recommend transferring the contents of the cans into plastic bags (double bag) and pack them in a safe place.
5. Not Properly Using Trekking Poles
When I finally learned to use my trekking poles properly, I experienced an increase in speed and efficiency. USE THE STRAPS. While hiking in France, I noticed a woman ascending a steep and snowy mountain by just holding her poles below the hand grips. I was nervous for her. By using the straps, you have more stability. There are different ways to use your poles depending on the hike (downhill, ascent, flat). Check out this resource to understanding your poles and how to use them.
6. Wearing Cotton
Wearing cotton is perfectly fine if you plan to do a day hike. However, for a multiday trek or long distance hike, cotton is not the best choice. The fabric tends to absorb odors (I know, I know we will all stink at some point) and retain moisture. Polyester dries faster, which comes in handy during a cold downpour. Wool socks versus cotton socks is highly recommended. Leave the blue jeans at home.
7. Forgetting Something Important
After my first resupply on my AT thru-hike out of Hiawassee, Georgia, I realized I forgot something important. I forgot toilet paper for the week. Sure, I remembered two boxes of snack cakes but not toilet paper. Now, I know some people hike without toilet paper and go for the leaf approach. But, I’m not that hiker. Always check to see if you have your necessities. You best believe I will never EVER forget toilet paper ever again.
8. Not Knowing Your Pack
My first pack was from REI. The pack hurt me, literally. I would come out of a three day camping trip with huge bruises on my hips. I didn’t know the pack was not my size. For my thru-hike, I purchased a smaller sized pack (which size had to be ordered online instead of purchased in a store) and haven’t looked back.
Knowing your pack inside and out will make you more efficient in packing up and hiking. Know how your pack should adjust to your body with any weight in it. Know how to pack your pack for short and long distances. Your pack is an extension of your body; know it well and your body will be happy.
9. Not Following Leave No Trace
We have all seen trashed campsites or even human waste littering the trail. I know not all those who litter the trail are beginners but ‘leave no trace’ is a big rule for camping that must be implanted in the beginner before the first step. Always bring something to throw away your trash in such as a plastic bag. Always bury your human waste AWAY from the trail and campsites.
10. Not Considering Time and Pace
As a beginner, your pace might not be the quickest. Therefore, you must evaluate an attainable time table of when you will reach your destination. Evaluate your day’s hike by difficulty and weather. Then, approximate how many hours this will take.
If you are unsure of how many miles per hour you can do, just evaluate for one mile per hour at first. You do not want to summit a mountain late in the day to find that your slower pace leaves you still miles away from your desired campsite when the sunsets.