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5 Ways to Not Be a Newbie on the Trail

Updated: Mar 2

Enjoying nature requires that you include two crucial things, knowledge and tools. This is true if you’re an experienced backpacker or a newbie.  Today, we’re going to discuss the five ways newbie hikers can skip past the newbie stage and go right to the “has a pretty good idea they know what they’re doing” stage.

  1. Preparation: Just tossing a sandwich, some sunblock, and a bottle of water into your backpack and then hitting the trail will increase the chances of becoming a news story. Every year there are cases of folks that have to be rescued when things go wrong on their journey into the wild. Dig into those cases and you’ll find that, had they done some research into the weather, trail conditions, trail reports, etc., they would have had the knowledge needed to properly equip themselves and be able to make wise decisions on the trail.  Remember, we’re not the dominant species on this planet because of our claws, wings, camouflage, teeth, etc.  It’s our knowledge and tool use that got us here.

  2. Over-packing or Under-packing:  A pack overloaded with luxuries, “you never know” items, and “just in case” stuff, can slow you down, tire you out, and increase your risk of injury. Start with the Ten Essentials and only add items that you really need. You can use a scale to weigh your pack and aim for no more than 10% of your body weight for day hikes, and 30%-35% for multi-day backpacking adventures. There was a recent news story about a woman lost in Maui for 17 days.  She wandered off the trail and had no water, food, or cell phone. This is an extreme case, but you get the idea.  Bring the Ten Essentials.  Bring clothes that will allow you to adapt to anticipated changes in the weather.

  3. Bad Feet Decisions: Your feet are going to be dealing with inclines, declines, rocky terrain, slippery mud, ambushing roots, etc.   Add to that you will be carrying a backpack that will be adding 10% to 35% of your body weight to every step. Jogging shoes and cotton athletic socks are not recommended. The shoes won’t have the traction, protection, and support you’ll need and the socks will hold the sweat, increase the chances of blistering, and tend to bunch up in the boots. Set your feet up for success. Let’s start with socks. Thin over skin, thick over thin.  I learned this in boot camp to reduce blisters.  First put on a thin, moisture-wicking sock, then a merino wool sock.  As your feet move inside your boot, the majority of the rubbing will be between the wool sock and the moisture-wicking sock.  This isn’t a 100% blister preventative, but will reduce the chance of blistering by 95% in my experience. Boots, I strongly recommend high ankle boots, (trail runners are ok if your pack is less than 10% of your body weight and you’re young and foolish). High-ankle boots will reduce the chance of sprained ankles, reduce the amount of mud, dirt, and dust getting into your boots, and keep your feet drier when crossing streams. Boots that have a “hiking boot” style are not hiking boots. Buy real hiking boots.

  4. Sharing Your Music: Nothing screams “NEWBIE!!”, like the hiker with a Bluetooth speaker strapped to their backpack blasting out their tunes. Doesn’t matter if it’s a soothing Celtic ballad or the latest folk metal from Korpiklaani, don’t do that. User earbuds.  And honestly, I recommend you don’t even do that.  To help your mind reset, allow the subtle sounds of the forest, wind, streams, and birds to play through your mind.  It’s also advisable that if someone is shouting “Bear!”, you can hear them.

  5. Makeup, Perfume, and Cologne: OK, maybe you’re on a hiking date and want to look and smell your best.  But honestly, if you’ve been asked on a hiking date, they want to know what you’re like without all that and want you to know what they are like without all that.  Also, and this can be a major problem on the trail, perfumes, scented conditioners, and shampoos, colognes, all smell really interesting to wasps, bears, coyotes, etc.  You can avoid their attention by not using colognes and perfumes and using unscented shampoos and soaps.  And if you are wearing makeup, and it’s a hot day and you’re sweating, well, sweaty makeup doesn’t look good. It’s also good to be courteous to other hikers.  They are there to experience the sights, sounds and yes, smells of nature.  Don’t be the hiker other hikers talk about when they get home.

I hope these tips help you enjoy your time on the trail and keep you from being labeled as a newbie. See you out there!

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