Top Ten Hiking Mistakes

It’s fall in Kentucky and the scenery is a breath-taking burst of color! This time of year, hiking is one of our most popular Appalachian area tourist attractions. However, it can also be a tourist hazard, especially when you make one of the most common hiking mistakes.

This leisurely activities can cause more pain than joy for the novice hiker. Whether you’re embarking on your first hike through the national forests or just your local park, it pays to be prepared. Hiking in unfamiliar terrain is quite challenging. There may be several blind spots you don’t anticipate. Here are ten common hiking mistakes that most hikers overlook. Learn from each one to fully prepare before you go on your next trek!

Poor Planning

Planning for a hiking trip is not exactly like planning for a vacation. Not knowing where the trail ends or underestimating the distance eventually causes a strain on resources.

One of the biggest mistakes most hikers make is to start their journey too late into the day. This is likely to result in losing out on precious daylight for the hike. When the trail goes dark, it’s a lot more difficult to navigate. You may get lost or injured more easily.

Do plan to begin your hike early in the day, especially if you are hiking more than one mile. Watch for signs posted near trails. Many have time suggestions or limits. For example, some of the longer, more difficult trails at Bernheim Forest restrict access to hikers after 2 p.m.

Inadequate Gear

Being outfitted in the right gear is as important as knowing the route. Most novice hikers tend to either buy the wrong gear from the budget store (as opposed to the more expensive outdoor gear shop). They also tend to wear inappropriate clothing like jeans, or flannel shirts which trap heat. These materials can cause skin abrasions, and are unlikely to dry quickly enough during wet weather.

A comfortable hike is a good one. Sweating or freezing is not optimal. It’s best to layer clothing in cooler weather so that you can take off items as needed to not overheat. In warm weather, tuck a light jacket into your pack in case the temperatures drop along the trail.

Novice hikers also tend to buy all their gear that is needed for the hike the day before. Items like hiking boots tend to be hard on the feet. Having new boots generally ensures blisters for the first hike. With new boots, you’ll likely be sore within an hour. Aching feet make for a miserable hike.

Lack of First Aid

First aid knowledge is important. Knowing how to use a band aid does not constitute to proper knowledge in standard first aid procedures. Not knowing what to pack for the first aid kit can also result in the inability to treat for cuts. In the event more serious injuries occur, it’s important to have some basic knowledge of how to treat them.

When you are in the middle of the woods in the Appalachian range, help is not exactly around the corner. Cell phone service may not be available. It’s up to you to handle the situation the best you can until you find additional support.

If you plan to go on long hikes in remote areas, invest in taking a first aid class first. Many communities have free courses available through community education centers. Online courses are also available via The Red Cross.

Insufficient Information

Most hikers fail to check with the local rangers as to weather conditions, or timeliness of forest conditions for hiking or camping. There could be wild animals during certain months where they come out of hibernation and could pose as a potential danger for hikers. You may not be equipped with the necessary information on handling these animals.

Also, most hikers hike with a generic map that does not show terrain information. They may also lack knowledge on how to read a proper hiking route map. Visit the ranger station prior to embarking on your hike if you are unfamiliar with the area or map reading. They can help you out ahead of your trip and make valuable recommendations. It’s also a safety point. When the rangers know you are hiking a particular route, they may be more prone to be able to help quickly (by pinpointing your location) should something go wrong on your journey.

Top Ten Hiking Mistakes

Insufficient Food or Water

Food and hydration is very important especially when hiking in less arid areas or in the deserts. This is where water sources are most scarce and there is also likely to be very little vegetation. Even in high vegetation areas, if there haven’t been recent rainfalls, creeks may be dried up. It’s very important to bring enough water to stay hydrated during your hike.

Even if you are only taking a mile long hike, if the temperature is high, you can dehydrate quickly. This can lead to dizziness or generally feeling unwell. Neither of which are ideal and will ruin your hiking experience.

A lack of sufficient food packed for a longer trek may result in hunger especially when contingencies happen. Again, even if you are taking a short hike, bring along some trail mix or high protein snacks. If you injur yourself or get lost on the trail, it could be awhile before you have access to food.

Plus, hiking can take a lot of energy from your body, draining your resources. You may find you are super hungry and in need of a snack sooner than you think!

Inadequate Training

While hiking can be seen as a leisurely activity, inadequate training can often result in injuries. Some hiking trips may involve ascending high mountainous ranges. Without adequate training, you may find yourself out of breath easily or having respiratory problems as the air thins when ascending to higher altitudes.

Natural Bridge has some pretty steep trails to climb. On a warm day, you can easily get winded. Even on a cold day if you are not used to climbing! If you are not accustomed to climbing, be sure to take plenty of breaks and don’t push yourself too hard. It may take you longer to get to the top, but you’ll arrive without strain or injury.

Communication Device

Cell phone range on most hiking trails is limited. Even on short treks like a mile long hike, you may not be able to get service. Make sure someone knows you are out hiking, even on the short trails. Better yet, set a reasonalbe time after your hike to check in with them. This way, if something happens and they don’t hear from you, they can help check in on you, which could make a huge difference if you are seriously injured.

Most hikers should be equipped with a communication device. Either a long range walkie-talkie or at least a satellite mobile phone, is desirable if you are hiking long distances. However, do note communications in the wilderness are likely to be limited. Lack of a power point for charging communication devices may also pose a problem. It’s wise to take a back-up charger.

Solar powered chargers are great for hiking, but it’s best to have a duo unit. (One that runs off solar and hand-cranking or solar and batteries). Why? When it’s raining, dark out, or your in a dense forest area, solar power isn’t an option.

Directional Compass or GPS

The lack of a directional compass to navigate through thick vegetation can result in delays. Novice hikers are likely to wander in the wrong direction due to a lack of experience.

There are not many directional signs in the middle of the forest to guide you. Having a compass or GPS will help you figure out where you are and what direction to go.

No one knows the plan

Most hikers make the mistake of not informing others of their route or where they are actually going for the hike. Or even if they did, they may change their plans midway. That crucial change in plans is subsequently not communicated.

This error in judment makes search and rescue more difficult. Rescuers will not know where to begin if you do not have a plan for your route.

Hiking alone

The last and most important mistake that most hikers novice or experienced alike tend to make is that of hiking alone. While it is great to have some peace of mind and quiet, the fact is mishaps can happen. For example, if you pass out from heat exhaustion, there will be no one around to help revive you or to go for help.

If you plan to hike alone, it’s best to choose short trails that have a lot of traffic. Yes, this means you will see other hikers along your way. But, one of these other hikers may just help save your life, if needed.

Tags: Kentucky, travel tips
Barb Webb. Founder and Editor of Rural Mom, is an the author of "Getting Laid" and "Getting Baked". A sustainable living expert nesting in Appalachian Kentucky, when she’s not chasing chickens around the farm or engaging in mock Jedi battles, she’s making tea and writing about country living and artisan culture.
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