The 10 Worst Hiking Mistakes

Daily Health Solutions, Featured Article, Fitness, Healthy Travel
on April 18, 2011
iStock Photo

Hiking is an amazing way to stay fit and have fun, but a successful trip requires planning and smarts. Read on for our 10 trail don’ts.

  1. Being physically unprepared. “Hiking can be exhausting, especially for a beginner,” says personal trainer and dietitian Jim White. To prepare, get regular cardio exercise and choose trails that match your fitness level.
  2. Sporting the wrong footwear. “You don’t need mountaineering boots for a walk in the park, but tennis shoes on the Appalachian Trail won’t be sufficient either,” says Andy Bassett, an instructor at the National Outdoor Leadership School. Pick well-fitting shoes that are appropriate for the terrain, distance and weather. To determine proper boot fit, try the three-kick test, Bassett says. With boots on, kick a post or solid wall (like one made of brick), three times. Your toes should touch the front of the boot on kick three. Any earlier, and they’re too small. If they never hit, they’re too big. Poor fit can cause blisters and wreck your hike.
  3. Hitting the trail without telling someone. Let a family member or friend know where you’ll be hiking and when you plan to return so they can alert help if needed, Bassett says.
  4. Leaving without essentials. Even if your weatherman promises blue skies and you plan to be home before dark, bring a daypack stocked with a rain jacket, trail map, basic first aid kit, and a flashlight with working batteries, Bassett says.
  5. Going out without loosening up. “Stretching is vital,” Basset says. “I like to start my mornings with a few sun salutations to warm up and stretch from head to toe.” A few stretches after your hike will also reduce the chances of day-after soreness.
  6. Underestimating hiking time. A mile in the woods can take almost twice as long as a mile around your neighborhood. Allow 30 minutes per mile, Bassett says, to account for terrain, weather, and carrying a backpack.
  7. Putting off hydration. “Many hikers wait until they’re thirsty to drink,” White says. “At this point, the body is already dehydrated.” Carry a water bottle or backpack hydration system, and take a swig every half hour.
  8. Skipping snack time. “You can easily burn 2,000 calories a day on the trail,” Bassett says. Snack on complex carbohydrates and protein, like dried fruits and nuts.
  9. Moving too fast. Taking off at warp speed can leave you worn out with miles between you and the parking lot. Find a pace you can maintain, and take five- to 10-minute breaks every hour to snack, hydrate and keep your legs fresh.
  10. Missing the forest for the trees. Remember that you’re there to enjoy and experience a wild place, not to be the first hiker back to the car.