9 Things Beginner Hikers Should Never Do

One of my favourite books contains the quote, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” Of course, this passage was also made famous by Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” film series but the point I believe author JRR Tolkien was trying to make is that there are adventures to be had anywhere, just as long as we get off our butts and walk out the door. That said, it can be a daunting thing when you’re not used to walking. In this day and age most of us Westerners spend time sitting at a desk and our muscles aren’t used to travelling the mileage our ancestors did on their own two feet.

The good news is that human beings have been walking upright for so long that there’s enough muscle memory in your cells to carry you through any mellow hiking adventure. All you have to do is put on foot in front of the other – that and follow the nine points laid out below.

For this piece GuideAdvisor contacted two dozen hiking guides around the world to ask them their opinion about the mistakes they see beginner hikers make over and over. Our panel of 24 experts included guides in ItalyCanadaUSANepalSloveniaPeruFrance and New Zealand, and the number one mistake we derived from the conversations was this: the biggest error people make about hiking is thinking they can’t go hiking. Everyone can hike! If you can walk to the corner store or up and down the stairs in your house, then you can trek in any of the world’s most wondrous regions. So read on and learn the 9 things every beginner hiker should avoid according to hiking guides around the globe. (And after you’ve finished this article and are stoked to go hiking around the world, be sure to read our other article about what not to pack when you go!)

1. Cross the Andes on Your 1st Hike

A lot of people think hiking involves an extended excursion in some remote area of the world. The fact is most hikes are mellow and you can even hike around your city if you want. (For example, Alexandra Kenin offers urban hikes around San Francisco.) The best bet when you first start is pick a short hike on relatively flat terrain and get a feel for what it’s like to put one foot in front of the other.

2. Buy a Big Pair of Clunky Hiking Boots

Unless you’re planning on crossing the Alps or are going on a two-week excursion (which, as a beginner, you shouldn’t do – see above) you don’t need to buy a big pair of hiking boots. The key is you want to keep your footwear as light as possible in the beginning when you’re on mellower terrain and that way you won’t tire out as quickly. That said, it’s still important to break in your shoes a bit by walking around the block a few times before setting out on a longer hike.

3. Buy a Ton of Other Hiking Gear

Hiking isn’t about the gear – it’s about getting outside and going for a walk. Whether you’re in Hawaii, Costa Rica, MexicoCalifornia or New Zealand, all you really need for your first few easy hiking excursions is decent footwear (such as a mid-hiker that’s light but has decent support and tread), a small backpack with a water bottle, hat, first aid kit, some snacks and a windproof/waterproof shell. You can buy the campfire espresso maker and water purification pump when you’re hooked on hiking and want to go further distances.

4. Forget To Tell Someone Where You’re Going

Hiking guides around the world were quick to tell us that one of the most important things a person needs to do before going on a hike is to tell another person where they’re going. After all, no one wants to end up like Aaron Ralston, the subject of the movie “127 Hours.” In fact, most every guide we interviewed for this story said if more beginner (and experienced) hikers did this there would be a lot less need for search and rescue efforts in the backcountry.

5. Ignore Hotspots on Your Feet

“If you’re feeling a warm spot on a specific area on your foot it’s important you immediately stop and take care of it,” says British Columbia hiking guide Krista Van Ee. That warmth you’re feeling is most likely the beginning of a blister and the sooner you notice it the better your feet will feel. The best cure is to put a piece of Moleskin or duct tape on the affected area. You do have some of that in your first aid kit right? (See below.)

6. Forget a First Aid Kit

It doesn’t matter if you’re hiking in PeruAlaska or in your own city, it’s important to take along a first aid kit. But don’t worry about buying a commercial model or packing a massive kit around because all you need for your first short forays are the following:

  • Some duct tape for random repairs or blisters (see above). You don’t need a lot of it – a 4-foot piece rolled up is fine.
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Benadryl and Ibuprofen
  • Some butterfly band-aids and bigger sterile gauze pads
  • Safety pins

7. Ignore the Weather Forecast

Gary Scott, a guide who leads treks in Croatia, Italy and Slovenia, says one of the main reasons inexperienced hikers should hire guides no matter what type of journey they’re going on is because guides know how to read the terrain and the weather. However, if you don’t hire a guide, make sure you’re familiar with the local weather patterns, check the forecast before you go, and watch the sky for dark clouds.

8. Trust Your Smart Phone

A few hiking guides we contacted described scenarios where beginner hikers just walked off into the woods expecting their smart phone apps to lead them to their destination. While there are some good hiking apps out there, this strategy doesn’t take into consideration dead batteries, a ruined phone from getting crushed underfoot or dropped into a puddle or lack of satellite signal. Phones are good to bring just in case but a better idea is to be familiar with the area you’re about to go hiking in, bring a topo map if you’re about to go into the backcountry (and know how to read it) and, again, tell someone where you’re going.

9. Ignore Your Surroundings

“A lot times beginner hikers will forget to pause and look around them because they’re so intent on getting from point A to point B,” says Al MacDonald who guides hikes in Costa Rica and Australia. “Part of a guide’s job is to ensure people stop to enjoy their surroundings, learn about them and enjoying the overall experience of being outdoors.”

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