What Not to Do As a Beginner Hiker

Everyone has to start somewhere, this old saying also includes hikers. We learn as we go and the longer you keep hiking as a hobby, the more knowledge you gain.  As a beginner, there are a few things you should make sure you don’t do when it comes time to hit the hiking trails. 

Prepared hiker with pack on mountain


Go big, because you may have to go home

When choosing your hiking trail, don’t pick one that’s above your abilities. Think about your fitness level, your orienteering skills, and your stamina before deciding. Ask yourself

How much elevation gain does this trail have? Have I ever done a trail that strenuous before? 

Where is the trail located? Is it in a popular, well traveled area such a nature center? If not, are your map and compass skills up to par? 

What obstacles will I face on this trail? Heights? Boulder scrambles? Water crossings? Are my fitness and mental abilities capable of handling these safely? 

Know your limits and stick to them. Most importantly, know when to turn back on the trail.  It doesn’t mean you failed, and it happens to even the most seasoned hikers. 

Think you can outwit Mother Nature, she doesn’t always play nice

Storm clouds and rain over lake in woods

Flash floods, white out conditions, lightning storms. Many acts of nature can threaten to derail your hiking adventures. It’s best to heed weather warnings as conditions can change quickly. 

Use common sense and pay attention to weather warning updates. Stay clear of canyons if there’s a flood risk.The water can rise rapidly.  If there’s a storm moving in, be prepared to take shelter or move to safety in case it quickly turns electrical.  

Read more about lightning safety here

Wear whatever clothes you find on your bedroom floor

Cotton isn’t the best  material to wear on a hike. While many people do wear it, there are better, and more comfortable options. 

Cotton holds moisture against your skin which pulls away your body heat. In the event of an emergency, this can lead to hypothermia. A better option is clothing made from synthetic materials, such as nylon or polyester. Merino wool is also a great option for hiking. These materials wick moisture away from your skin, leaving you drier and more comfortable. 

Get caught naked and afraid

Wandering into the wild underprepared is not a good way to start any adventure. A common beginner mistake is not carry preparedness items with the thought that “The trail is short/easy/close to home, I’ll be fine!”. Always make sure you carry the 10 essentials no matter where you’re going. They can save your life in an emergency. 

Be prepared for the apocalypse

Overpacked bags, many of them

Yes, being prepared is a great thing. But carrying 3 knives, a week’s worth of extra food, 3 sets of extra clothes, and a mini fridge is just overkill. As a beginner, I was usually way overprepared and can attest to the fact that the extra weight can cause back pain and make your hike that much more unpleasant. Make sure you have the 10 essentials and maybe a few “comfort” items, and you’ll be set. 

Go shoe shopping right before you leave

Hiking in new boots will put you on the fast track to sore and blistered feet. Break in your new boots before hitting the trails. How do you break them in quickly? 

Try these tips

  • Wear them around the house
  • Wear them while you work in the yard
  • Wear them while you grocery shop
  • Go on shorter walks while wearing them.

Wearing your new boots for short but active periods of time will help prevent blisters as you break them in. 

Be the rotten egg. Get an early start

Starting your hike early can help you avoid getting caught in afternoon thunderstorms or trying to find your way back in the dark. Trails are also generally less crowded the earlier it is. 


Your goal may be to escape for a little while, but you shouldn’t head out without letting someone know where you’re going. Leaving behind a hiking itinerary is not only peace of mind for your loved ones at home, but some added insurance for yourself. In the event of an emergency it can aid search and rescue in finding you quickly.

I have a free hiking itinerary you can access here.. 


I’ve been both over and under prepared as a hiker. While over prepared is definitely the better of the two, it’s often unnecessary.  Packing the essentials and making sure the trail you wish to hike are within your abilities go a long way in ensuring you’ll have a great time.