7 of the Biggest Mistakes New Hikers Make

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Hiking is an easy activity to pick up: Just lace up your shoes and find a trail. For beginners, there really isn't any essential gear that you don't already have, no special skills to pick up, and no complex rulebook to read. All that is what makes it so great: Everyone can join in! But while there may not be any specific regulations, there are a handful of best practices that are important for new hikers to know, both for their own safety and to simply be courteous. Here are some of the biggest mistakes new hikers make.

Related Video: Tips for Hiking with Your Dog

1. Not stepping aside for the uphill hiker.

On a lot of trails — especially those climbing in the mountains — there might only be enough room for one person to pass through a section at a time. Between rocks and trees, the paths can be pretty narrow. When you see another hiker coming your way on a section of trail that is too narrow for both of you to pass each other, a general rule of thumb is that the hiker heading uphill has the right of way and the hiker descending steps aside to let them pass. The hiker going up is dealing with a lot more exertion, so it might be easier for the person going downhill to step out of their way. There are always exceptions to this "rule," but having an unspoken code in place helps avoid any breathless awkwardness.

2. Not letting faster hikers pass.

Similarly, if a hiker is coming up behind you at a faster pace, it's your job to step aside and let them through. They shouldn't have to slow down because you're taking up the entire trail. They might be harder to notice, so listen for an "On your right!" This means they're coming up on your right-hand side and you should step to your left (or vice versa).

3. Wearing too much cotton.

The old-timers would tell you cotton kills. While that might be a dramatization most of the time, cotton can still be an inefficient — and yes, in rare cases, deadly — material to wear for a day of hiking. Compared to polyester or other synthetic fabrics, it doesn't dry as quickly and stays cold while it dries. On a hot day, that might be OK, but if there's any risk of it cooling down (think about the off-chance that you end up stranded somewhere overnight, even if your hike during the day was hot and sunny), it can sap valuable body heat and send you into hypothermia quickly. Stick to athletic, quick-drying fabrics.

4. Not bringing enough water.

Faucets are probably in short supply during your mountain hike, but it's still common to see new hikers carrying far less water than they should. The result? You'll end up thirsty, uncomfortable, and dehydrated. A good rule of thumb is to drink roughly one liter of water for every two hours of hiking. Keep in mind, however, that could be more or less based on your personal needs, the humidity or heat of the day, what you're eating, and other variables. The more you hike, the more you'll learn what your body needs.

5. Building unnecessary cairns.

These little rock piles might be pretty in pictures, but building them unnecessarily is a big problem on popular hikes. For starters, they go against the best practices of Leave No Trace, which advocates for minimizing human impact and leaving the natural world as you found it, including leaving rocks, plants, and other natural objects untouched. Traditionally, cairns are a necessary part of navigation, especially above the treeline where the weather can deteriorate rapidly, and trail markers might not be possible — they might be a hiker's only way to find the trail back down. That means that beyond the fact that they disrupt the natural environment, cairns that don't serve a navigational purpose are also a safety hazard.

6. Postholing in the winter.

Winter can be one of the best times to hike, with iced-up trees, cool temperatures, and a trail smoothed out by snow. It's tempting for new hikers to just head out into the snow and start hiking. But if there's deep snow, it's important to wear some type of flotation, like snowshoes. Without them, not only will you sink deep into the snow, get your pants wet, and quickly exhaust yourself, you'll also create what are known as "postholes." When you plunge foot-sized holes into the snow, you're damaging what should be a flat, packed-down trail for everyone else. As the snow freezes and hardens, the holes become a nuisance for hikers and a danger for skiers — catching the tip of a ski in one at full speed can cause some serious damage.

7. Playing music aloud on the trail.

You might like hiking to music (and there's nothing wrong with that!), but not everyone else is into your tunes, or into tunes at all. Many prefer to just listen to the mountains around them. Avoid blasting your music for everyone to hear and stick to headphones as much as possible. Graduated to camping? Some music is OK in camp, but make sure it's quiet enough no one else can hear it outside of your immediate area. For that, try this Sabrent Bluetooth speaker. Its rugged handle and waterproof construction make it perfect for the outdoors, and it can be powered by either its rechargeable internal battery or a handful of AAs, meaning when you're not near an outlet, you can pack it with some fresh Duracell batteries to keep the music pumping (quietly, please).

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For more tips, check out "The Great Outdoors: A User's Guide: Everything You Need to Know Before Heading into the Wild (and How to Get Back in One Piece)" by Brendan Leonard. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ryan Wichelns September 21, 2018
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