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How to Avoid Some of the Worst Hiking Mistakes You Can Make

Updated: Feb 26, 2022

Hannah Unbound hiking in the mountains of Colorado

For the most part, hiking is a very simple process, you find a trail, grab your water and hiking shoes and you're out the door. But somehow I have managed to royally mess up many parts of this process along the way. From not enough water to even bringing the wrong shoes with me! Usually, these mistakes happen on longer treks but after years of hiking experience, I am bound to make even the simplest mistakes from time to time.

Here I want to show you all of the things I've done wrong as a hiker and what I do now to prevent them from happening again. So if you're looking to learn what Not to do while hiking, or simply want to laugh at my failures as an outdoorsman then let's get into this.


Table of Contents


Not Bringing Enough Water

A hiking water bottle filled with water

I put this one first because it's one of the most important mistakes not to make! While normally 2.5 liters is enough water for me on 5-8 mile hikes, there were 2 times when it just wasn't quite enough, and I finished the trail without water and didn't have any for the ride home.

To combat this issue there are two possible solutions. 1. Bring extra water to leave in your car, that way you'll at least have more water once you get back to the trailhead. 2. Bring a small water filter to fill up while on the trail. That is if you're lucky enough to be hiking along with a water source.



Not Downloading the Trail Map Before Leaving Home

The download trail map screen from all trails

If you have hiked for any length of time then you know that most hikes do not have any cell signal at them. While this probably won't be an issue for many more years, right now it can be seriously frustrating for the simple fact that I like maps! I like having the map for each hike I do download on my phone so I can feel as if I know where I'm going outdoors.

The problem is I constantly forget to download the map until I'm actually at the trailhead, and by then it is too late since I'm out of cell range. So just make sure if you're using a trail app like All Trails or Gaia GPS to download your maps before you even leave the house!


Bringing the Wrong Clothes

Hannah Unbound wearing three different hiking outfits

You know when you stick your head outside and think it's going to be so nice out, until a few hours later when the clouds roll in and you're shivering your ass off in the middle of the trail? Or it starts drizzling on you, or it was cold and now it's 85 degrees and you're so sweaty you can't even see? All of these scenarios have happened to me. and can happen to you if you're not prepared.

First off, it is best to look up the weather right before leaving your home and make sure to look at the weather for the exact location you are headed to, not where you are now. Next, I like to no matter what, keep a very thin pair of gloves, a neck gaiter, and a jacket that is water and windproof in my hiking bag at all times. These items are very lightweight, so even if I don't use them, they don't add to my pack, but can be a real lifesaver if it even gets a little cold out on the trail.

Some ways to keep cool are either layered pants or zip-off pants. I have a pair of leggings that can only be worn when it's super cool out, and I have made the mistake too many times of wearing these pants on mild days and wanting to rip these pants off by the end of the trail. Now I always wear a small pair of spandex shorts under my hiking leggings so I never have to worry about overheating again. Also, a small cooling towel can do wonders on a warm day.



Wearing the Wrong Hiking Shoes

I have made this fatal mistake twice in my hiking career now. I feel like this only happens when you start to have way too many shoes to choose from for hiking, I mean, I own boots, trail runners, and "adventure sandals".

One time, hiking through a more desert-like situation I decided to take my boots because I originally thought the trail would be rocky, but it was just sandy and very sweaty, I really wished I had worn my trail runners with ankle gaiters to keep the sand out of my shoes. I had to air out my feet twice they were that gross.

I had another situation at Yellowstone National Park where I was originally going on a short quick walk over to an overlook, so I grabbed my camera, a little bit of water, and my strap-on sandals for the quick stop. Turns out there was a waterfall trail just a little further down the way and I was not going to miss a chance to see a waterfall, so I started walking only to find out this waterfall was actually a 5-mile hike that I was well underprepared for. After that trek, my feet were in such extreme pain for the rest of my Yellowstone trip that I could barely stand on them! Lesson learned.

Make sure to research the terrain and wear the proper footwear for each trail. For the basic hiking shoe just make sure it has arch support and traction, everything else is really your choice.



Pushing Myself Too Hard

Hannah Unbound sitting at the top of a summit from a long hike

I personally prefer to hike alone since I can go at my own pace and take my time or push myself whenever I want to, but sometimes it's to my detriment. I have gone up so many hills thinking just a little further, just over this ledge only to get to the top and collapse from exhaustion. There is no need for me to push it all the way up the hill, I could just chill out and take my time, but I'm stubborn and challenge-driven so it can be difficult.

One way to keep yourself from going too hard is to have an activity that makes you stop on the trail. Something like bird watching, native plant ID or photography are all ways I force myself to stop and enjoy my natural surroundings instead of just charging through to the next summit.



Forgetting Extra Sunscreen

I think you can see where this is going, I put on sunscreen in the car and then forgot to take it with me, leaving me in a burning hell of a sunburn. It's so easy to damage your skin when you spend so much time outdoors as we do, but it's also just as easy to keep yourself protected.

Remember to keep extra sunscreen with your hiking bag, especially for your face and shoulders, and try to bring hats and sunglasses to protect yourself in other ways because a bad sunburn can seriously ruin a good hike.



Not Using Microspikes

I told myself for so long that I didn't need microspikes, that I never go hiking in the winter and I can manage with just trekking poles if it gets slippery. Wrong! Even in the spring, there can be trails covered in snow or ice that are almost impossible to cross without spikes on your feet. When I tried to hike Rocky Mountain National Park in April with just hiking poles I was holding on for dear life! Even in the mountains of Southern California, we had an ice situation that almost sent me down the side of the mountain.

Luckily now I have spikes and I carry them any time I know I'm going into elevation between the months of November and April! While products like Microspikes can be expensive ( and I highly suggest getting the actual brand, not the knock-offs that will break in a hike or two) they are worth the price for creating a more enjoyable and possible hiking experience.


Hannah Unbound gathering water for a hike in a stream

While I'm probably forgetting a few other mistakes I've made in my hiking career, these are some of the bigger and easily avoidable mistakes that I don't want you to make. Simply think before leaving your house, do I have my water, proper shoes, the weather looked up, trail downloaded? A quick and easy check will get you on the right path to having a fantastic time outdoors.