So you tried this hiking thing once or twice and you reached the conclusion that you suck at it. And you are probably right. But don’t worry – there is a cure!
Stop doing those 35 things and you might just become the Hiking Ninja!
Stop doing those stupid mistakes before you even leave the house:
- You don’t plan. Yeah, it might seem like a great idea to be all spontaneous… but believe me – it’s worth doing your homework. Read guides, reviews and trail reports. It’s a good idea to buy a guide book for your trail if one exists. Books can be heavy – but taking a Kindle (US) with you is a seriously good idea. You can pack it with books, pdf with trail description, insurance documents, scans of your passport, etc. Research local weather, permits (for national parks and such) or limits on trail access. There might be a hunting season, special race or closure for tree felling.
- You don’t prepare well for international travel. Check your bank policies and international withdrawal fees and charges. Have both cash and credit/atm cards with you and know how much it will cost you using them. Check what phone plan is available to avoid high bills after you come back. Switching to airplane mode and only using wifi when available might be a real financial disaster saving move.
- You don’t buy an insurance. We all hope nothing bad happens… but should prepare for the bad anyway. Get an insurance that covers your kind of activity with mountain rescue in the package. Make sure you have the insurance documents with you – for example on your kindle and your policy number with your documents to be easily found by rescue workers.
- You don’t budget properly. Make sure you take everything into consideration – including visits to pubs and cafés, campsites, local buses, and souvenirs. Secure an emergency budget and “just in case” cash – because you definitely will underestimate your needs. You might need to buy a piece of gear to replace a broken one, food might be more expensive than you thought, or you might need to grab a taxi on a very difficult day. I had to replace my Bridgedale Coolmax Liner Socks (US) after Compeed plasters leaked some disgusting goo all over them, basically gluing them together. An extra piece of advice: don’t use Compeed when planning on stepping and sweating on them for many hours!
- You don’t prepare for a flight. Backpacks are not made to be just thrown into a luggage compartment. Buy a special bag or cover for your backpack, as the loose belts and straps can easily get caught and damaged. Also, it is quite typical for the bags to wait outside in pouring rain before being packed. Protect your gear!
- You don’t take any kind of small bag/backpack for flight or short visits to a town. Sometimes it’s great to leave the big backpack at a campsite and just take a small packable one (this one is even waterproof and can double as a dry bag: Sea to Summit Waterproof Day Pack [US]) with us for a day hike or to do shopping. Obviously, proper day-packs are big, but there is a number of small ones that easily fold into their own pockets. I got one (TNF Pachacho Backpack [US]) like that and I am really glad I did. I had it on my flight, long bus trip, day hikes and visits to a local pub when camping.
- You don’t take a proper care of your gear after your last hike. There is nothing beautiful in pitching your tent on the first night just to discover it’s all moldy and smells of old socks. Clean and check all your gear before you put it away. Make sure your sleeping mat and sleeping bag rest well in bigger bags or even hanging somewhere. Don’t store them compressed! Remember to replace any broken or missing pieces of gear.
- You take completely new, untested gear for your hike. Make sure your backpack is the right kind and that you know how to adjust it properly. In a good store, you should get proper advice on adjusting it. Break in your boots (my Salomon Quest 4D boots [US] were good out of the box, but not everyone is as lucky!) and walk in them while carrying heavy pack – they will behave differently! Check you know how to use your new cooking set or headlamp. And make sure you take the correct fuel for your stove!
- You don’t test-pitch your new tent at least once before you hit the trail. Learn how it works and what the easiest way to erect it is. Check if it has all the needed elements and accessories. It might be worth replacing flimsy spikes with better ones. I was advised to pitch my tent inner first – but when I clipped it to the flysheet right away I was ready to pitch it also in a rain.
- You over-pack or under-pack. It is hard to go ultra-light and it is not for everyone. Be sensible, think everything through. You don’t need multiple long-sleeve shirts or “just in case” sweater. Pick fabrics that stay fresh longer (like merino wool) and accept that it’s OK to smell a bit on the trail 😉 It’s liberating. Forgetting some necessities can be really annoying. Have a carefully written checklist to ensure you have all you need. You may want to use the pack list I created for myself.
Stop doing those idiotic things when hiking:
- You don’t put YOU in the center. It is all about you – your abilities, your health, your experience. You might have a unique medical condition or past injuries. Hike in your own tempo and do as much as you can – not as someone else can. Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s OK to walk slower and do a trail in ten days instead of seven as was described in a book. Take as much rest during a hike as you need or even a rest day if that’s what your body needs. Adjust expectation to new conditions: heavier pack, higher elevation, bad weather or recent illnesses. Be prepared to change your plans, finish earlier or cut short with no feeling of guilt. And ladies – remember that hiking can cause your body to go off a bit – your period may appear faster or last longer. Plan accordingly and always be prepared. If you don’t use a menstrual cup (US) yet – it is worth checking them out.
- You don’t stay on trail – for whatever reason. Pay attention to markings and have your map with you. Don’t take shortcuts and when lost – try to get back to the last place you were on the trail instead of just trudging on in hope of finding the right path. It is easy to zone out when we hike – deep in our thoughts or focusing on the beautiful nature and views. If that happens – find out right away if you are still on the right path.
- You walk off the trail and cause erosion. Sometimes the path might be narrow or difficult. But stepping outside of it causes erosion and damages the environment, especially on very popular trails.
- You don’t use trekking poles or use them wrongly. Don’t think that without them you look more hardcore and pro. Poles are wonderful for balance, saving your knees, checking how deep pools are or having additional support while crossing streams. Make sure they are of appropriate height – your elbow should bend in 90°. And OMG the guns I have after trekking for a couple weeks! Those triceps work hard! 😉
- You don’t take proper care of your feet. Breaking in boots is one thing, but feet deserve our constant attention. Wear double socks and react right away when you begin feeling hot spots. Carry moleskin or correct bandages. Prevention is best – if you know the spots you are likely to get blisters – cover them right away with sports tape (the kind boxers use). During longer breaks air the boots and feet a bit.
- You don’t protect yourself from sun and insects. Carry sun-blocker and some kind of insect protection. Remember, that DEET can damage fabrics – I advise using roll-on products and not sprays, which can easily spill damaging your backpack or clothes. Long sleeves and pants help protect from ticks. In some areas (research!) you might need a head net or other special protection from venomous insects or arachnids. It is wise to have a special tool to take ticks safely away, as it’s too easy to do it wrong.
- You don’t learn at least basics in map reading and navigation. Check the map to control your position even when everything is correct – it can save you when something goes wrong. GPS alone is not enough! Have an appropriate map with you.
- You take photos all wrong. Don’t take only landscape photos or you will miss the memories later on. Photograph also the daily struggles of hiking and camping. Put yourself in the photos as well. Invest in a light tripod to make taking selfies easier. I started taking selfies (or ask others to take photos of me) when my Mom complained that I only had “postcards” and no photos with me. Also, pay attention when taking photos. Stop, look around and stand in safe position. Don’t endanger yourself to take a photo – it is not worth it! Think also about size and weight. Using your own phone camera might be a good idea or getting a high-quality compact camera. I am using Sony DSCRX100M3 (US) and highly recommend it. Most of the photos on my blog were taken with it. DSLR cameras provide possibly better photos, but their weight and size are just not for solo hiking.
- You don’t keep the “leave no trace” rule. Pick up your garbage and learn how to poop in the wild.
- You wear wrong clothes. Taking cotton and jeans with you or starting up with too many layers. You will sweat while hiking so begin a bit chilly. Were high-quality base layer (I highly recommend merino wool for hiking) that wicks away all moisture. Have easily available warmer layer to put on when resting. Always have rain jacket somewhere close, too. Don’t forget to take a hat (or a merino wool BUFF [US]), gloves and a buff – even in summer! It can get really cold on the top of a mountain or in the evening. Check what I’m wearing here.
- You don’t prepare for rain. And I am not talking only about a rain jacket! Make sure your clothes and sleeping bag stay dry. Most backpacks have a rain cover but this is not enough. Get a few dry bags to make sure you have dry clothes to change into after a long, rainy hike. Special care needs to be taken about down products. And if you get wet – don’t dry your boots by a fire as you will damage them. Air-dry your wet clothes and boots, as well as the sleeping bag.
- You don’t pack a first aid kit. You don’t need to take a huge one – but make sure you have one with basic things for the most common injuries. If you need special medicine – pack it!
- You don’t take (and drink) enough water with you and/or do not have any kind of water filtering system. Research the trail ahead of time and check what its water situation is. Are there a lot of streams on the way? If that’s the case you can get away with taking less water and refueling on the way – if you take a water filter. Even in the mountains where you think the water is crystal clear – filter it. You never know if there is no dead animal up the stream. I got the tiny Mini Sawyer Water Filtration System (US)and I can highly recommend it! Remember also to drink when it is cold or rainy – we might not feel the need as much as when it is hot.
- You do not eat enough. Hiking is a very strenuous activity and your body needs fuel. You must have a good breakfast before heading out and snack on the way. Make sure you have salty snacks with you to replenish lost electrolytes. When we sweat we lose salt which can even cause sometimes fatal hyponatremia. Choose snacks you like that are calorie-dense and provide not only fast energy (sugars) but steady and long supply (fats and proteins). Nuts, cheeses, jerky, chocolate, biscuits, dried fruits… a lot of options to choose from. Don’t forget to have something you really like in there – reward yourself after a difficult hike!
- You eat only dry and cold foods. Trying to cut on weight by not bringing stove and gas canister? A bad idea. Hot drink and food is an absolute must if hiking more than a day. And believe me, nothing tastes as good as a fresh coffee in the morning and warm dinner after a hike.
Stop with that camping idiocy:
- You pitch the tent in a wrong spot. Look around and imagine various conditions. What if it rains during the night? Will I wake up in a pool of water? Are there any branches that can break in a heavier wind? Are there any holes or hanging cliffs close by that could prove dangerous during a night walk to the loo?
- You don’t play well with the wind. Don’t pitch your tent in a completely covered place if there are mosquitoes or midges around. And make sure there is no standing water nearby. A light breeze can scare the insects away.
- You don’t check the wind direction and make your tent into a sail or a balloon.
- You bring the wrong sleeping bag. Always take a sleeping bag for colder than expected conditions. When we are tired or hungry we don’t warm up as well as when rested. Women are generally colder and always have to take warmer sleeping bags. Down bags are lighter and warmer, but pretty useless when wet. Synthetics are heavier but better in wet conditions.
- You forget to take a fire starter or take only one. Have two bics or box of waterproof matches as a backup.
- You don’t take a headlamp and/or extra batteries. Even when you plan to camp earlier in the day and plan on going to sleep earlier – pack a headlamp.
- You do stupid things, like cook inside the tent. In addition to the danger of fire, there is also the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Always make sure there is proper ventilation!
- You start an open fire where it’s not allowed or not needed. Take care of the “leave no trace” rule – make fires only in designated areas.
- You do not think about others. Be considerate! If wild camping you should pick a place that is removed from the trail. Don’t pitch your tent close by another wild camper if there are a lot of other nice places to choose – there is a reason why people go wild camping. If camping on a campsite respect people’s privacy and need to rest. Many hikers go to sleep early and voice goes far in the evening. Remember that tent is not a house, the walls are pretty thin. People can hear everything! If making new friends – try to be sensitive. Not everyone wants to make friends. Some love being left alone and don’t feel like spending hours discussing life issues with total strangers. And if you are a smoker – go way far from anyone else and check the wind. Smoke carries and is really annoying, especially in the big outdoors. People come here to breathe in fresh air, not your smoke.
- You forget to take notes on the hikes. Memory is not a perfect thing. Help it! Take notes for yourself, your blog or your friends. Write down what was easy and what not. What you liked best or maybe good tips for future hikers. Describe some good thoughts or plans. I cherish my hiking notes, I smile whenever I look into them and thinking often “oh, I remember that moment!”.
And a bonus one:
You don’t go hiking at all because you are
too worried you make a mistake!
What stupid things would you add to the list? What did you stop doing to decrapify your hiking skills?
Want to get even better at it all? Check out this resource page with awesome tips and advice for all you hiking ladies (and gents if I get any around here).
You might also be interested in this handy resource page with my recommendations on best hiking & camping clothing and gear.
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