7 Mistakes First Time Trekkers Make

I‘m about to share an embarrassing picture with you. A part of me is kicking myself for giving you an open license to make fun of me. But I’m only writing this so that all of us can learn from our mistakes.

So here it is. A picture of me from my first ever Himalayan trek to Chandrashila. I’ve marked out few of my obvious mistakes here.

trekking mistakes-indiahikes-swathi

I can point out so many more mistakes if I dig out that album. But I’ll spare myself the embarrassment.  

So today I’m talking about mistakes first time trekkers make. These are mistakes we have all made, things we look back on and laugh at. They are also mistakes we won’t repeat again. I’m hoping those who haven’t yet started trekking will learn from these.

Let’s dive right into it.

1. Carrying too many clothes

Extra t-shirts, pants, warm layers, towels, socks, undergarments… Sounds familiar? Most first timers start their Himalayan journey by packing for What If situations.

They think,
“What if it rains and my clothes get wet? I’ll need a change of clothes.”
“What if these pants get dirty? Let me carry a backup.”
“What if I need a set of clothes when I get down to the cities.”

Slowly but surely, their half-empty backpacks begin to bulk up and overflow with unwanted clothes. And they needlessly lug these sacks throughout the trek. Or worse, they offload them.

What to do instead:

Carry fewer clothes than you need. You’ll be surprised at how less you can make do with.

Carry just one or two t-shirts apart from the one you’re wearing. For your lowers, carry just one other. Although, you really can manage with just one pair.

From my experience, once you have warmed the clothes you’re wearing, you don’t feel like getting into cold clothes. Spare yourself that torture. Just maintain personal hygiene and you can make do with just one extra pair of clothes.

2. Taking inappropriate wear

I’ve seen people trekking in jeans. Because it is thick, they think it is warm. They can’t be more wrong. Jeans are perhaps the most uncomfortable clothes on a trek. They are tight, heavy and terribly difficult to get in and out of. And if they get wet, they will never dry on the trek. They are a big no-no!

I’ve also seen trekkers carry one really thick leathery jacket. They think this one heavy-as-lead jacket will keep them warm.

The same goes for down jackets. They think these feathery jackets, which probably have “Suitable for -10 degrees” written on their labels, are so good that one of them is enough to manage negative temperatures. I am a little annoyed at how stores over oversell these jackets too.  

And trekkers discover only too late that they were wrong.

What to do instead:

Carry layers. Always. No matter what anyone else tells you. Carry 3 or 5 layers depending on the month you’re trekking in. Keep every layer light.

It’s your own body warmth that keeps you warm when you wear layers. They trap your body heat and don’t let it escape.

Sleeping bags work similarly. Even if they say that they can withstand -10 degrees, you cannot sleep in a t-shirt. You’ll still need a couple of layers to trap your body heat. So don’t go by the numbers, go by what makes logical sense.

This video will help you with the warm layers you need on a trek.

3. Not using a trekking pole

Most trekkers skip using a trekking pole. I don’t know if it is an ego issue, or whether they think it’s for oldies, but that train of thought itself is ridiculous.

Either that or they use it wrongly, not understanding its mechanism or its use. So they really don’t get the best out of their poles and end up thinking of them as useless.

What to do instead:

Well, use a trekking pole. And use it correctly. It maintains your stability and balance. I cannot recollect how many times I’ve broken a fall with a trekking pole.

And while descending, a trekking pole is really a magic wand. It keeps your balance (which is especially crucial during a descent), but it also saves your knees and toes from getting that excruciating “climbing down pain.”

In addition, it saves you a lot of energy by acting as your third leg. On a Himalayan trek, if I can save 5% of my energy, I would thank my stars. A trekking pole can save you almost 40% energy. That’s the difference between a trek that you love and a trek you hate.

Leave the ego aside. Take a trekking pole.

This video will show you how to use a trekking pole correctly.

4. Packing enough toiletries for a 6 month holiday

I’ve seen trekkers carry shampoo, conditioner, face wash, sunscreen, moisturiser, face cream, deodorant, perfume, toothbrush, toothpaste and I’m always chortling, because I’ve been there, made the same mistakes. That’s so much wasted space and wasted weight in a backpack!

What to do instead:

Get the tiniest medicine bottle. Squeeze some liquid soap in it from home. This is enough soap to last you the entire trek. Next, get a toothbrush. Don’t buy toothpaste. There are enough trekkers who’ll have toothpaste. Ask them to squeeze a bit for you. If you feel uneasy, then grab one of those tiny toothpaste tubes.

Next, get a small tube of sunscreen. This is your moisturiser, face cream, lip balm, everything.   

If you want to smell nice, a tiny roll-on deodorant.

For medicines, don’t get strips of 10 of anything. 4 tablets are what you require (except Diamox). Your emergency medicines must fit in a matchbox. Think like that.

5. Buying the wrong backpack

When first time trekkers buy backpacks, they go too much by what the sales guy tells them. They don’t do enough research themselves before heading over to the store. So as expected, they are the perfect scapegoats.

So they end up carrying backpacks that are perhaps the latest model, but really not so great for trekking. A lot of these backpacks are pretty much potato sacks. They’re a nightmare on high altitude treks.

What to do instead:

Learn about what goes into a good backpack. It should have an internal frame, it should be compact and shouldn’t lose its shape when you stuff it with your gear. It should have all the required straps.

This article about all the parts of a good backpack (there are 18 in this article!) will help you. Share it with anyone who is about to buy a backpack.

Understand These 18 Parts Of A Backpack Before Buying One

6. Not pacing themselves right

I’ve seen this happen all too often. On the first day of the trek, it is a sly ego game. Trekkers want to be seen as fit and strong. They start walking much faster than they should. Their energy slowly fizzes out, and once they’re tired, they don’t enjoy the trail any more.

Even when I trekked last month, I saw this with my trek mate. He was just trekking too fast. And his energy did fizzle out by the third day of the trek.

What to do instead:

Start slow. I mean really really slow. Take micro steps while climbing up. Do not let your breath rise even slightly above normal. This way, you’ll rest less and trek more. Maintain this pace till the last day of the trek and that’s when you’ll really experience the trail.

It is the old hare and tortoise story. Always be the tortoise.

7. Underestimating their trek

This one takes the cake. If I could have a penny for every time I have warned a trekker that they must not underestimate their trek, then I’d be on Forbes’ Billionaire List. 

The problem is that since they are first timers, they choose easy-moderate Himalayan treks, and they are fooled by the “easy” tag associated with the name.

I would know, because I made the same mistake and I’m not proud of it. I wrote about my regrets on the trek.

Why I regret my trek to Kedarkantha after completing Rupin Pass

What to do instead:

Expect your Himalayan trek to be difficult. And put in the effort it would take to do a difficult trek. Even the easiest of Himalayan treks is difficult! It’s just that they are “easy” in comparison to the expedition level treks.

So if anyone thinks that an easy-moderate trek like Dayara Bugyal is actually a walk in the park, then shake them and drive sense into them. It’s the Himalayas we’re talking about. It’s high altitude. It’s big mountains. It’s unpredictable weather. And it is also many kilometres of unforgiving, uphill climbing!

Your next step – Drop in a comment with a mistake you’ve learnt from

So those are mistakes I’ve made and observed others make. I can think of a lot more — not breaking into new shoes, packing so badly that they have to tear their entire backpack apart to find a sock, carrying way too much trail food, etc.

We would love to hear about what mistakes you learnt from and what you have seen others do. Just drop in a comment below. That way we’ll all learn what not to do on our treks. 

 


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Swathi Chatrapathy

Swathi Chatrapathy

Swathi Chatrapathy is the Chief Editor at Indiahikes. She heads the content team and runs a video series called Trek With Swathi. Before joining Indiahikes, she worked as a reporter and sub-editor at Deccan Chronicle. She holds a Masters in Digital Journalism and continues to contribute to publications such as Deccan Herald. Trekking, to her, is a sport that liberates that mind like nothing else can. Through her work at Indiahikes, she hopes to let more people experience this sense of liberation, by spreading information about trekking and by instilling the right spirit of trekking in them.Read Swathi's other articles. Watch Swathi's video series here.

31 thoughts on “7 Mistakes First Time Trekkers Make

  1. Ok so i’m not sure if anyone does this but me but i’ve done it a few times and paid the price! Not using sunscreen even though i have it in my bag. It was because i felt lazy or because the hike was only a few kilometers and i thought i could take it. I have been wrong everytime!! Always gotten sun burnt everytime i missed sun screen (and it was right there in my bag). I still have dry skin peeling off me as i write this! So DON’T BE LAZY! Apply that sun screen! And have fun 🙂

  2. While camping when you have to do your dishes, I felt people who got stainless steel boxes found the work effortless. All the oil fats from the food tends to stick to plastic-wares. and it also took more water to get rid of soap. Similarly, carrying stainless steel or even ceramic mugs (would be heavier than steel) will be cleaner alternatives to plastic ones.

  3. 1. Never eat local dhaba food. You can take tea from them. It can cause stomach upset which can spoil the trek.
    2. Use lot of sun lotion to save the skin.

  4. Do not over estimate self , never under estimate Himalayas. Do not go with high or your own expectations. Learn quickly and comply AND you have NO competition with any one-Nature the least. Happy real trekking.

  5. Kedarkantha was my first serious trek experience last year , and amazing experience too. Have no regrets , except that if that could have been more professionally organized by the respective tour operators i chose then. In general i did prepare sufficiently and that really came handy; however insufficent physical training prior to trek made me realize , how unfit i was and at times made the trek tough for me. Appreciate the good work that you are doing Swati, like your mails and valuable information that they carry. keep it up.

  6. Get a bit of practice/exercise before any trek. I have seen people who are too lazy to walk even a mile in city and just to maintain their social networking status or to appear COOL they do trekking. Request to all people out there, before deciding to do any trek, do some Research and what will be the conditions out there. Don’t be a spoil spot for whole group. Be responsible.

  7. kedarkantha was my first trek and i had an amazing time , but the mistake i did was ,i didn’t carry a good backpack, i borrowed it from my uncle and it was not at all sturdy,it would collapse if kept on the ground, and that affected me a little bit during the trek . and another mistake was tht i took plastic tiffin box with me and cleaning it was a hassle

  8. My first Himalayan trek was roopkund..
    Though I had worked for 4 months prior to the trek, it was demanding.. Slow and steady is the mantra I stick by.
    I did all the mistakes mentioned above regarding too many clothes, toiletries.. packed food. I completely agree that Keeping ourselves light always helps..

  9. 1. A 20L backpack is very handy. NEVER underestimate the importance of a foldable daypack.
    2. For any high altitude trek, ALWAYS carry a balaclava or a neck warmer.

  10. Last year (March2017) I did Bhramatal trek, it was a complete snow trek. The biggest mistake I made was inspite of the trek leader telling me to wear my Polaroid glasses, I did not wear them (because the vision was not clear after wearing them). The consequence of this mistake was red watery painful eyes and I could not sleep for 3 nights. However my eyes turned to normal on reaching the base camp as I put eye drops continuously given by the trek leader.

  11. Hi Swathi
    i have been hiking for about 55 years,in my youger days i did not have trekking pole, but last 20 years i have it with me,as you know it very helpful both going up or down the mountain.

  12. One more issue, Swathi, I always face the lack of time before departure and I pack my stuff in a rush and under stress. So, mates, devote enough time to consider gear to pack in. Avoid taking unnecessary things and forgetting those important when are about to go… 😉

  13. Hello Swathi. I am glad you covered good key points.one you miss big time.no ego issues I hope.since you asked I think you would appreciate the honing of the skills you mentioned above and thier implementation ,if i were to discribe them to you.. if you send me your prefered email address or an email address i would consider you are interested in hearing what I might have to say express or share regarding the post above of yours. wishing you happy blogging.

  14. Yes I did the same mistakes during my Sandakphu trek.
    Carrying too many clothes
    Taking inappropriate wear
    Not using a trekking pole
    I am going for my next trek to Valley of Flowers in August. This mail will definitely help me to pack my bag.
    My father always says “Less Luggage Journey Comfortable”

  15. I think you pretty much covered most of the common items. I would add another one more of a mindset item – i.e. I see a lot of newbie trekkers very focused on getting to the final destination/highest point and becoming worked up and nervous as to whether they can get there. As a result of this they don’t enjoy the actual journey because they are too tense about having a ‘successful’ trek. Don’t get me wrong everyone has the ‘can I make it’ thought at the back of their mind – especially for tougher higher altitude ones. But the whole point in going for a trek is to get away from our generally mundane daily life and experience nature in all its beauty and grandeur. So enjoying the journey every day is more important than reaching the destination – that way almost all treks will turn out to be ‘successful’ ones.

  16. So true all the mistakes are valid and somewhere or the other i had done them :P. I will add something more to the misery. going with new shoes without proper nail clipped. it will become a nightmare when you trek downhill. Don’t ever do that. as it may become unbearable to the feet and turn into blisters

  17. Hi, thank you for highlighting majority of the points…I made one mistake which I’ll always remember and keep in mind whenever I go for trek…being a memory keeper I take lotsa photos whenever I go for trek and I was carrying my camera bag as well which was big enough…it was lil difficult carrying backpack and camera together…so most of the time I was holding my camera bag which puts more starin on shoulder…I realised this on day 2..and now I always carry small camera bag which can easily fit in my backpack…so instead of carrying two bags..now I have just one with all required accessories.

  18. Climbing fitness is different from running fitness. I can easily run 15km but still found Gaumukh trek very strenous. Can’t emphasize enough importance of stair climbing and squats to straighten gluts, quads and knees. I have found 15-20 mins of Cool down stretches at the end of each trekking day as well as warmp-ups in the morning are very helpful.

  19. I also suggest Indiahike warns members who don’t appear to be even minimum acceptable fitness before starting trek. It may help to do some basic fitness checking exercises for 30 mins at the base camp after day briefing so that members will understand their readiness and at least put in extra effort to avoid painful experience in second half of the trek.

  20. hi you have covered almost all points and i did few of them in my first trek. I have done a mistake of not to carry rain cover for my rucksack considering its water proof tag but during rains my bag got totally wet but fortunately all my clothes were saved as kept them in plastic bag. I love reading all your emails/posts.

  21. I read your mail carefully. Although I am an experienced Trecker, but I found your mail very informative, not only for beginners. I did also mistakes, such as always carry too much clothes, never use Trek-pole. It is not because of ego, actually I don’t want to be dependent on pole and I think I may loose my balance.

  22. Don’t believe the manufacturer who says that the backpack or daypack is waterproof. Even if the fabric is waterproof, water from rain or snow or run-off or even dropping or falling in the river or creek (I did this once) can seep, drip and sneak into your pack and get your things wet. (It doesn’t take much moisture to to make things damp and spoil the trek!) So use a large garbage bag as a pack liner and put smaller things in separate dry bags. All those bags are a hassle BUT not suffer with wet clothing and wet equipment is truly worth it! An outside pack cover is nice, but not enough if the trek gets rain or snow.

  23. There is lip balm for tropical and other lip balm for artic. Lips will crack and bleed if not cared for. Never lick your lips! Wipe your mouth on you sleeve if you must. Don’t lick! Pack you lip balm with your sun screen.

  24. There is a good reason that Indian Jones wears a full brim hat! It protects the ears without making you def and the back of your neck as well as your face in the rain. Baseball hats are cool for the hood. Full brimmed hats are better for treks.

  25. Inadequate Acclimatization:
    I am a doctor by profession. we have been taught in detail about acclimatization and acute mountain sickness during MBBS. but “Men will be Men”. we underestimated it. It was a trek to Bhrigu lake in Manali. me and my friend (he a doctor too) took a bus from Delhi in the evening, reached manali next day at around 11.30 am, then had a huge meal of dal chawal and immediately started the trek at around 1 pm. we reached the camping grounds at around 5.30pm, completely exhausted with shortness of breath. in the evening both of us had breath shortness, my friend had some bouts of vomiting too. i was fearing that i might develop pulmonary edema, as i was having chest congestion. The next day we were supposed to trek further to Bhrigu lake, but due to our condition we cancelled it and stayed back at the camping grounds. the next day we descended back to Manali. so our trek could not be completed because of the Acute mountain sickness due to inadequate acclimatization. Our guide had warned us a week before the trek when we had discussed the plan with him, but we ignored him. we were so careless that we did not even carry Acetazolamide (diamox) tablets with us.
    Lesson we learned: No matter who you are or what you do, NEVER EVER underestimate NATURE and the MIGHTY MOUNTAINS… acclimatization and acute mountain sickness are real.. do take care and plan your treks carefully.
    Wish you all Happy and Safe trekking…

  26. Hi Swathi,
    Enjoyed reading your post. As always, it is very helpful. And thanks to all other fellow trekkers as well for their valuable input.
    One of the mistake I have made (and for many years) was choosing a wrong trekking organization. Till I found India Hikes. After my first trek with India Hikes, I realized the difference between doing treks with an organization that loves trekking and has a knack for organizing safe, well planned, well taken care of treks and the other organizations which treat it as a business but lack the passion for trekking or lack the organizational skills. I still do some southern treks with other organizations (because India Hikes does not organize treks in the south 🙁 🙁 ), but on those treks, I miss India Hikes every step of the way, figuratively and literally :-). As someone rightly said – India Hikes is not a company, it is a community. And we love it. Keep up the good work. Happy trekking…..

    1. Hi Akash, it’s best if you dig cat holes and cover it up with mud. Use toilet rolls to clean up (and not wet wipes). If you will be able to procure some sawdust locally, take that along and sprinkle it along with mud. It helps speed up the decomposition process. But you will be a small shovel or stone to dig a small cat hole and you’ll have to cover it up well.

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