My first long hike was the West Highland Way in Scotland. There is no doubt that this particular first hike built me up spiritually, and brought back home some extraordinary nature and wilderness memories. The views were outstanding, and the unique adventure itself cannot be described respectfully with words.
That trip did have its obstacles. I have learned how to manage a long hiking adventure through the mistakes I’ve made. To make sure that you avoid such a wrong decision, I have decided to write down this article, describing most of them deeply.
1. Chosen My First Hike Backpack Poorly
The Backpack I took on my first hike was terrible. It was made by an Israeli company and featured some lousy quality. The pack was divided into three compartments, turning each one too small for my gear.
Since I bought most of the stuff abroad (before starting the hike), I didn’t know it wouldn’t fit until it was too late. Also, that pack wasn’t waterproof. For that reason, each time it started to rain I had to put it down on the wet ground to dig out its rain cover.
The reason I bought that backpack was that I wanted to keep things cheap. That is a terrible mistake since your pack would be one of the most used equipment you would take with you.
2. Didn’t Bring a Compass
On the second day of hiking, the trail I was walking split to two. I saw a sign which pointed to the ‘West Highland Way,’ so I only chose that trail. Nevertheless, what I didn’t see was the same sign behind it leading to the opposite direction.
Both trails were part of the hiking trail; however one was heading north while the other was heading south. Without knowing, I was going south, to the same direction I came from.
After two miles walk, I came across a hiker I met the other day, who I knew was behind me the whole time. That is when I realized I had made a terrible mistake. Well, 2 miles may not sound that much, although on a total 96 miles walk, it surely counts. That means you have to catch up on the following days, which are going to be harder anyway.
All of this could have been avoided with a compass because I knew I had to go north. If you don’t like using one, you may download a compass App on your phone which would serve the same purpose.
3. Haven’t Practiced On Tent Building Upfront
The first night I had to camp was the first time I built up my tent. It was the first time I EVER built one. I had no idea what to do, and my surroundings kept getting darker and darker on sunset.
I had to set up my tent with a hand flashlight I was holding with my mouth, so I was barely able to read the instructions. The reason I haven’t practice on setting it up before was my eagerness to start going.
I was thinking to myself: “Oh well, how hard can it possibly be?….”
After a long struggle, I have managed to set it up and jump right in since I was freezing. Unfortunately, my tent was still fragile that it kept swinging by the wind
In addition to that, I forgot to put its rain cover on. I was so lucky it didn’t rain that night. Make sure you practice on setting up your tent upfront, it may save you a lot of time and frustration on desperate times.
4. Bad Preparation For Darkness
Long hikes may end after sunset. In the beginning, I would walk 8 hours a day, so if I start on sunrise, it should be just fine.
Nevertheless, I didn’t take into account eating and resting breaks. I remember that night I was hiking in a forest, not seeing anything but the trail itself. I had a hand flashlight, and that was it.
That was so irresponsible; I could easily stumble on a rock or trees roots moreover, as I mentioned before, during some nights I had to set up my tent with no daylight.
For those of you that are currently making a shopping list, I highly recommend you add a headlamp to it. That useful product would project much more light, turning your hiking experience after sunset way more comfortable and safer.
5. Haven’t Rested Enough
I remember that logical thought that kept crossing my mind: “You have to keep up, there is a lot ahead on that day section.” That thought kept me stressed, and made me uncomfortable to make long resting breaks.
Sitting down in front of my computer, bringing back memories – I remember that time I did took a long break.
It was next to Loch Lomond lake, with some great coffee and music. I merely stopped to admire the views and regain my strengths.
The fact that I remember that pause, in particular, is a proof that I should have made more of these. Keep in mind that hiking is a spiritual experience, not physical.
With a different approach, you may turn your hike way more pleasant and enjoyable.
6. Brought Low Hiking Boots
Weather preparation is important regarding waterproof hiking boots. While we usually focus on water resistance, rubber sole, and traction, we sometimes forget to consider the height of the boot.
When I was hiking the West Highland Way in October, mud and paddles were an integral part. Well, water hasn’t got in through the leather itself, although my socks kept getting soaked up with water since water got in from above.
When I was packing, I didn’t think the boots tongue matter that much, but honestly it does. As the days past on, I got used to the wet feeling, although some of my blisters didn’t.
At some point, I could barely walk, since I was in too much pain. Make sure you bring lightweight hiking boots with a high tongue, especially if you are hiking on rainy weather.
7. Packed Too Many Clothes
Back home, while I was packing, I started to think what I should wear. I remember saying to myself: “Long hike means sweat, and sweat means stinky clothes, I should pack extra just in case.”
The mistake I made was mixing nature approach with urban city thoughts. When you hike, you are going to stink and get messy, no matter what – it is merely a part of it.
For that reason, my backpack was unreasonably burdensome, and I barely had extra room for food supply I bought along the way.
At some point during the hike, I understood my mistake, since my shirt started smelling on the first day after a couple of hours walk. There was absolutely no point in bringing extra clean clothes; they got dirty in a second anyway.
8. Left No Room In My Backpack
As a consequence of lousy backpack choosing and bringing extra clothing, I have left no room in my pack for the critical stuff.
I had no idea how to carry the camping pad nor the tent itself since my backpack had no proper straps for an outside carry.
When I bought food supplies, at some point, I had to carry it with a plastic bag. I felt so stupid at that point, not to mention my burning biceps along the way.
When you pack your backpack upfront, please make sure you leave extra room. You should fill your backpack to approximately 70 percent capacity, no more than that.
9. Haven’t Eaten High-Calorie Foods
Each hiking day I made was about 8 hours long, with a 28 lbs backpack weight. With the assistance of some calories burned calculators, I figured out that I have consumed approximately 3200 calories a day!
That number is insane, not to mention my calories intake wasn’t even close to that. In retrospect view, I now realize why I got so burned out at the day of each day, and why it was so difficult for me to start hiking after I woke up.
You HAVE to eat and make sure your intake has some high-caloric value to it. That would be wise to pack some nuts, dried fruits, chocolate, and cereal bars. For those among you who are afraid of gaining weight – remove that thought while planning a hike, you are just not going to.
10. Brought a Low-Quality Sleeping Bag
Remember when I said I was trying to keep things cheap? Well, that accounts for my sleeping bag as well.
I didn’t take Scotland weather too seriously, and that was a huge mistake. During the camping nights, I was freezing.
It doesn’t matter how well you are dressed, nor how weather resistant your tent is. If your sleeping bag is in low quality, it is going to get cold. Unfortunately, I realized that when it was too late, and there was no way I could get a new sleeping bag on the road.
Moreover, its zipper got stuck on the 3rd day of camping. Each night I was struggling with closing it without any success. Don’t compromise on your sleeping bag quality, getting cold during your trip would ruin it entirely.
11. Poor Hotel Preparation
I wasn’t camping every night. It was my first long hiking trip, and I had to get some comfort once in a while. Back home I was planning approximately where to sleep, by reviewing my alternatives quickly.
A particular town I was crossing and planning to sleep in had only one hotel. With a storm approaching, I was looking at it from uphill – thank god I have finally got there.
Nevertheless, when I approach, I saw to my amazement a sign which said this hotel was closed until further notice. That hit me like a train and got me extremely frustrated.
When I think about it now, it could just easily be on the full capacity we no rooms left. The message I would like you to take from it is planning deeply upfront.
Don’t be afraid to book a room, even if you are not sure on the exact day of arrival. Most hotels offer a free cancelation agreement with the possibility of date changing.
12. Bought Too Much Food
At the hiking trail entrance, on day 1, I was planning on buying food supply. Nevertheless, I didn’t know what or how much to buy.
I entered the groceries store and started picking everything that seemed essential. I ended up with way too much supply, without enough room in my backpack to store it all.
Embarrassed and frustrated, I pushed some of it down my pants pockets and started walking. I had no choice but to throw some of the supply to trash cans along the road.
The lesson was learned in the following days. I planned carefully what and how much I am going to eat that day, and where and when I would buy more. I highly suggest you do the same from the beginning, to save time, money and unnecessary stress.
13. Didn’t Take Into Account Bad Reception
We all know those worrying parents that want to hear from you every single day at the same hour. Well, I did buy a local SIM for international calls. However, I forgot to consider the reception.
Long part of my hiking trail had no antennas so that I couldn’t reach my folks at home. There is a solution for such scenarios, and it is a satellite communicator.
I have never used one before. However, reviews across the internet highly recommend getting one. No doubt that it would be one of the considerations on my next trip, and I hope that it would also be yours.
14. Took Too Many Books
Books are great, especially when you are on solo hiking. We all have that vision of getting in a tent after a long hike, reading our favorite book under the flashlight.
I did so, yet, I was too exhausted to read more than ten pages a day. I could easily manage with one book, but I have brought THREE.
That was a terrible mistake my back had to pay the price for. I remember watching some inspiring trekking movies before I started my own, in which the traveler burned down the paged that were read for weight saving.
That wouldn’t be necessary if you don’t push yourself too much into a crazy long trail that would last months. However, one book for an approximately 7 days hike would be most certainly enough.
15. Haven’t Packed a Hydration System
Personally, that mistake wouldn’t happen again. It is impossible to count the times I had to take down my backpack, dig out my bottle and drink.
It was nice to take drinking breaks, but not that many. When you hike long distances, you are going to be thirsty – and very often.
The easiest way of dealing it is with a hydration system. Most hiking backpacks feature a sleeve for the drinking bladder, so you can easily drink while walking. Consider buying that, it is not expensive and highly worth it.
There is no doubt your first hiking experience is going to be unforgettable. Whether or not you will make bad decisions, you are going to have a wonderful time.
Reading that article wouldn’t prevent mistakes from happening, but it may significantly reduce them. They are an integral part of traveling, but they sure do make us smarter. I hope that reading had been helpful, make sure to leave comments below!