Beginner Hiking Tips | 14 Mistakes to Avoid as a New Hiker
If you’re a newbie looking for beginner hiking tips, you’re in the right place! It can be overwhelming at first — which shoes to get? What gear do you REALLY need? What trail should you hit first? Keep reading for common rookie mistakes and beginner hiking tips to avoid them!
Embarking on a hiking trail for the very first time is like opening a door to a world of adventure, nature, and self-discovery.
As a seasoned hiker who’s tackled trails short and (way too) long, piece-of-cake easy and whose-idea-was-this difficult, I understand both the allure and the potential pitfalls of this exhilarating activity. And trust me, when you first start out, there are several missteps…
That’s exactly why I wrote this article — to serve as your proverbial compass, guiding you away from common mistakes new hikers often make.
By sharing my own experiences and insights, as well as general beginner hiking tips, I aim to help you start a journey on the trail that’s not only exciting, but also safe and enjoyable. Let’s get into it, shall we?
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Jump ahead to:
- Beginner Hiking Tips
- Underestimating the Trail
- Ignoring Weather Conditions
- Neglecting to Wear Proper Footwear
- Not Packing Essential Gear
- Packing List for New Hikers
- Lacking Navigation Skill
- Not Using AllTrails
- Overlooking Hydration and Nutrition
- Disregarding Leave No Trace Principles
- Not Informing Anyone About Your Plans
- Underestimating Physical Preparedness
- Overpacking and Carrying Excess Weight
- Skipping Sun Protection
- Not Checking Trail Regulations
- Failing to Plan for Emergencies
- Not Being Mindful of Ecological Sensitivity
- Final Thoughts on Beginner Hiking Tips
- FAQs for New Hikers
Beginner Hiking Tips
One of the best things about hiking is that you don’t need crazy specialized gear or skills to enjoy it. Still, there are some beginner hiking tips to keep in mind when you’re just starting out.
Underestimating the Trail
The allure of untouched wilderness and breathtaking views is tempting, leading many new hikers to choose trails that (far) exceed their skill levels.
While enthusiasm is awesome, it’s absolutely essential to be honest with yourself about your capabilities and opt for trails that match your experience. This is truly one of the beginner hiking tips I wish I knew early on! I’ve been both lost and injured as a direct result of cockiness.
Over-ambitious trails can (and often do) quickly turn promising adventures into exhausting or even downright dangerous ordeals. Thankfully, though, with research and self-awareness, you can select appropriate trails that challenge you without compromising your safety.
AllTrails is an excellent place to start researching trails. Reddit and local hiking groups on social media are also great, especially for getting more specific, in-depth info.
Ignoring Weather Conditions
Nature is known for its unpredictability, and weather conditions often shift unexpectedly — especially in the mountains or backcountry. Accounting for these potential weather changes is one of the most important beginner hiking tips, helping you avoid discomfort or even danger.
Picture yourself un-prepared for a sudden rainstorm or massive temperature drop. It isn’t pretty. By researching the weather forecast ahead of time and packing a variety of clothing layers, you’ll be prepared to face whatever Mother Nature throws your way.
Neglecting to Wear Proper Footwear
Imagine setting out on a hike with sneakers that offer little more than fashion appeal. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it — this happens on trails daily! Discomfort and potential foot pain quickly overshadow even the most stunning trail.
That’s exactly why one of our top beginner hiking tips is emphasizing that proper hiking insoles and boots are a fundamental investment for any hiker, providing ankle support, cushioning, and reliable traction on various terrain.
Before embarking on your hiking journey, take time to select hiking boots with good ankle support that fit well and offer the necessary protection. And don’t forget to break them in to ensure maximum comfort on the trail!
Not Packing Essential Gear
The exhilaration of hiking can sometimes drive us to hit the trail with just a water bottle and an adventurous spirit.
However, underestimating the importance of packing essential gear can quickly turn a thrilling hike into a daunting challenge. Items like a first-aid kit, map, water, snacks, a headlamp, and even the right hiking leggings can make a world of difference in unexpected situations or emergencies.
Simply bringing these essentials along is one of the best beginner hiking tips, as it ensures you’re well-equipped for a safe, successful hike.
Packing List for New Hikers
- A quality hydration pack you’ll be comfortable wearing for several hours
- Sturdy hiking shoes, whether you prefer a boot or lower-profile shoe. My favorites are the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor boots (Backcountry also often has select sizes and colors on sale!) and adidas Terrex Swift R3 Gore-Tex shoes.
- Light layers, including a lightweight long-sleeved shirt with built-in UPF like the Patagonia Tropic Comfort Natural Sun UPF Hoody or Mountain Hardwear Crater Lake Long Sleeve Hoody, and a packable rain jacket
- Plenty of snacks and extra water
- Sun protection, such as reef-safe sunscreen (it’s better for the environment all around) and a wide-brimmed hat
- Headlamp and extra batteries – we LOVE both the BioLite HeadLamp 325 and Petzl Tactikka
- Navigation – as we said earlier, we HIGHLY recommend AllTrails+…especially for new hikers!
- Even if you’re not sure the premium subscription is for you just yet, sign up for the free version at the very least. Use our link to TRY a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+!
- Garmin InReach Mini – satellite communicator for when you truly have no service. If you’re serious about getting into hiking, it’s well worth the cost. Also a great gift for outdoorsy folks!
- Waterproof cover for your hiking pack
- Extra pair of (wool) socks
- Cell-phone compatible tripod with remote
- Bathroom kit – TP, ‘Deuce of Spades trowel, Ziplocks for packing out TP, and hand sanitizer
- Extra plastic bag for packing out trash (always Leave No Trace!)
Even on well-marked trails, the ability to navigate using a paper map, compass, or GPS device is a valuable skill…and unfortunately, a dying one.
Navigation skills provide an extra layer of safety and self-reliance, enhancing your overall experience in any outdoor situation. Learning basic navigation techniques empowers you to confidently find your way, even in unfamiliar territory.
Although it may sound silly, we encourage you to practice before hitting the trail. Start by challenging yourself to find a new restaurant in your city without relying on your phone.
Not Using AllTrails
One of my top beginner hiking tips is always to download AllTrails, stat.
It’s one of the leading outdoor apps, and for good reason. Even the free version is jam-packed with practical features for researching and planning hikes.
The paid subscription, AllTrails+, comes with even more must-have features for new hikers: downloadable offline maps, turn-by-turn navigation, wrong turn alerts, and LifeLine, the ability to share your route with someone at home.
That last one is actually another of our beginner hiking tips, which we’ll dive into a little further down. The LifeLine feature makes it easy!
Even if you don’t want to commit to signing up for AllTrails+ right now, you do NEED the free version of AllTrails as a beginner hiker. Download it HERE and get a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+, too!
Overlooking Hydration and Nutrition
Hiking is physically demanding, requiring proper hydration and nutrition. Neglecting either of these can (and does!) lead to fatigue, muscle cramps, and decreased performance.
One of our top beginner hiking tips is to carry an adequate amount of both water and nutritious snacks. A VERY general rule of thumb is to bring one liter of water for every two hours of hiking.
When it comes to hiking snacks, stick with high-protein foods with fat and carbs, and avoid refined sugar. This combination is essential for maintaining energy levels throughout your hike and avoiding spikes.
Disregarding Leave No Trace Principles
The Great Outdoors is not only your playground, but also a delicate ecosystem deserving of the utmost respect and preservation.
Ignoring Leave No Trace principles—guidelines designed to minimize your impact on the environment—harms these ecosystems and detracts from the beauty of natural areas.
By doing things as simple as picking up after yourself and staying on designated trails, you contribute to the long-term health of these landscapes.
Not Informing Anyone About Your Plans
The sense of freedom that hiking offers is unlike anything else, and admittedly, it can sometimes overshadow the importance of safety precautions.
Another of the simplest, yet super important, beginner hiking tips is to always tell a friend or family member about your hiking plans. Include the trail you’ll be on, your start time, expected return, and if possible, where you parked your vehicle.
In case of an emergency, having someone who’s aware of your whereabouts can very literally be the difference between life and death.
Underestimating Physical Preparedness
We already know that hiking challenges your physical endurance, especially on longer or steeper trails. Underestimating your fitness level and attempting overly ambitious hikes can lead to exhaustion, injury, or even medical complications.
It’s crucial to be honest with yourself about your physical abilities and gradually build up your hiking stamina over time. This way, you can actually enjoy the journey without overexerting yourself.
Overpacking and Carrying Excess Weight
Of all the beginner hiking tips out there, this one might be the one almost everyone is guilty of at some point.
The excitement of setting off on a hike can sometimes lead to overpacking, resulting in an unnecessarily heavy backpack. Carrying excess weight not only slows you down, but also strains your muscles and joints.
To strike the right balance, pack strategically by focusing on essentials and leaving behind non-essential items. You NEED water and food, but you don’t need a cute picnic blanket and extra lens attachments for your camera. Your back and shoulders will appreciate the lighter load.
Skipping Sun Protection
Hiking exposes you to the sun’s powerful, harmful rays, which can lead to painful sunburns and even heat-related illnesses. Prioritizing sun protection is essential for your overall well-being, and is one of the most important beginner hiking tips.
Sunscreen with a high SPF, a wide-brimmed hat, and UV-blocking sunglasses provide a literal layer of defense against sunburn and long-term skin damage. We also recommend getting at least one clothing item with built-in UPF, like a lightweight long-sleeve shirt or hiking pants.
Not Checking Trail Regulations
Every trail has its own set of rules and regulations designed to ensure the safety of hikers and preservation of the environment. Ignoring these guidelines not only leads to potential fines, but also has ecological consequences.
Always take the time to research and adhere to the rules of the trail you’re hiking. We know it’s not the most exciting of beginner hiking tips, but by doing so, you contribute to the conservation of these natural wonders for future generations.
Failing to Plan for Emergencies
While optimism is valuable and has a place, it’s equally important to be prepared for unexpected challenges. Accidents, injuries, and other unforeseen situations can happen even on the most well-beaten trails, and to veteran hikers.
Carrying a well-stocked first aid kit and equipping yourself with basic knowledge (that means learning how to use the items in your kit!) can make a huge difference in handling emergencies effectively. From a safety standpoint, this is by far one of the most crucial beginner hiking tips.
Not Being Mindful of Ecological Sensitivity
Hiking is a wonderful opportunity to connect with Mother Nature, but it’s essential to be mindful of the impact you leave behind.
Avoid trampling vegetation, disturbing wildlife, or leaving ANY trash behind (yes, even—and especially—human waste). Staying on designated paths and adhering to Leave No Trace principles ensures the trail remains healthy and the ecosystems thrive for years to come.
Final Thoughts on Beginner Hiking Tips
Starting your hiking journey armed with these beginner hiking tips gives you knowledge and awareness, setting the stage for an experience that’s not only exhilarating, but safe and rewarding.
As you step onto the trail, remember every step forward is an opportunity to learn, grow, and become a more knowledgeable hiker. By avoiding these common hiking mistakes, you’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of successful and joyful hiking adventures. Happy trails!
FAQs for New Hikers
- Should I prioritize hiking boots over regular sneakers for my hike? Absolutely. Hiking boots offer essential ankle support and traction, ensuring a comfortable, safe experience on the trail.
- Can I go hiking alone if I’m a beginner? While it’s best to start with a hiking buddy, if you choose to go solo, inform someone about your plans and stick to well-marked trails.
- How does sunscreen contribute to hiking safety? Sunscreen protects skin from harmful UV rays, preventing sunburn and overheating, plus minimizing the risk of long-term skin damage.
- How do I gauge if a trail is suitable for my fitness level? Research its difficulty, length, and elevation gain on AllTrails or something similar. Choose trails that align with your current fitness level and gradually work your way up to more challenging hikes.
- What’s one of the most important beginner hiking tips? Be well-prepared. Plan ahead, pack essentials, prioritize safety, and always respect both the trail and the environment. This mindful approach guarantees a memorable and responsible hiking experience.