How to Become a Better Hiker

4:22 p.m. on September 7, 2012 (EDT)
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Might take a bit of time to do all these things if you're just starting out, but there are some good ideas.

7:15 p.m. on September 13, 2012 (EDT)
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A lot of these suggestions are great.  I am of the mind that you need not have all these skills in order to get out there (by which I mean at least an overnighter).  Map and compass skills, understanding layering and having the appropriate clothing for the conditions, staying in touch with your limits, and ensuring you have the appropriate gear for the journey is enough to start.  

My first solo experience was a success in part due to the trip I chose to do.  It was a 20-mile loop along a well-blazed trail running along the Manistee River.  Get lost?  Follow the river back to your car!  I learned more during that 1 overnighter experience than I did in many dozens of miles of prior day hiking.  Once you have a few of those experiences under your belt, it becomes a lot like any other sport - you get better by doing it more and paying attention to those who have it mastered (thanks trailspace!).

9:08 p.m. on September 13, 2012 (EDT)
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With the exception of learning how to use map and compass I think that nearly all necessary skills will be learned if one takes daytrips in the terrain and increase the duration gradually. The layering principle will be clear in learnig by doing.

As to number 12: Learn to snowshoe! I have never learned that so I'm probably not a very experienced hiker. OTOH I ski a lot, about 500 km every year. Maybe this could substitute the snowshoeing.  ;)

8:59 a.m. on September 14, 2012 (EDT)
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What exactly is a "better hiker"?

When I was younger going further and faster was all the rage.  I'm now at a point where the quality of the experience in the woods is more important than how fast or far I go, or how many peaks I cross off a list.  

I think a "better hiker" is one who maximizes his or her enjoyment.  If that means compiling a list of peaks then so be it.  But that need not be a component.   It's a very individual matter that can change a lot over the course of a lifetime of hiking.

10:54 a.m. on September 14, 2012 (EDT)
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All good points. Map and compass can be learned on dayhikes. As for snowshoeing vs. skiing, the nice thing about it is that anybody can do it immediately, without experience or any particular skill. I just see it as a continuation of hiking, just a bit slower and a bit colder. My groups segue into it smoothly without a lot of fuss.

Nogods has it right. The goals of every hiker change over the years, and no one can say what those goals ought to be.

1:45 p.m. on September 14, 2012 (EDT)
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I don't think peak bagging necessarily makes you a better hiker. that's just something some people like to do. I am not a peak bagger, does that mean I'm a crappy hiker? map and compass I agree with, although I must say without my GPS I'd be lost. all in all good suggestions for the beginner. 

2:17 p.m. on September 14, 2012 (EDT)
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Great perspective.  You show a lot of self-awareness.  My pet peeve with this forum is all the people that need approval for their choices.

7:32 a.m. on November 13, 2012 (EST)
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The skills can take a long time to acquire, but isn't that in the same spirit as hiking itself? The point is to get out and learn on the job, or at least apply the skills you learn in classes. Frequently. And they are just suggestions. Compile your own list. There can be great pleasure in the acquisition of new skills and where it can take you. 

9:27 a.m. on November 13, 2012 (EST)
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Compass skills? good thing there's GPS tech. That is the one thing I hated while in the military was land navigation. When the civilian populous was restricted on the GPS accuracy due to encryption codes I was using the military GPS and the codes enabled the user to get accurate results. We still had to use the map and compass and the GPS was secondary. I may carry a map for reference now but I primarily use a GPS for navigating in unfamiliar terrain.

12:06 p.m. on November 13, 2012 (EST)
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Start with stepping outside and closing the door behind you

12:56 p.m. on November 14, 2012 (EST)
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Callahan is right.

10:26 a.m. on November 15, 2012 (EST)
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My way to become a better hiker is just to hike. Yea I read a lot about hiking or about fear for hiking, but getting out in the woods is the best instructor. If you dont know where you are stay on the trails, you dont have to bushwhack the highest peak around to hike. Practice,practice,practice thats the best way to get better at anything.

1:02 p.m. on November 17, 2012 (EST)
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Most everyone on this forum are very good at backpacking and hiking.  I have been hiking for 3 years seriously, and I feel that for beginners the information is good, but my problem and most beginners was what is the best....for hiking boots, backpack..ect.  At the beginning I just went out and start walking and learning, then just wanted the best because I seen someone with that gear or something on TV that saved that hikers life, like the multi-tool on 128 hour movie were he cuts part of arm off.  This is out of my system now, but I still have problems with knifes, but I'm with Callahan+2 just get out and have fun, and also with hotdogman practice outside and on the trail.  I use trailspace to learn from the experts and one day maybe be able to help someone not make the same mistakes that I did at the beginning.

11:07 p.m. on December 7, 2012 (EST)
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Well, I know it's been a long time since s.o. posted on this thread, but the title got me interested. I think the article was very good, with excellent tips.

For those of you above who felt judged if you didn't snowshoe, or as the jester said, " I am not a peak bagger, does that mean I'm a crappy hiker?" I don't think the author or article had any judgement like that. It's how to become a better hiker, not how to become a good hiker. And better, like Nogods says, is defined individually. For me, better is always a good thing. I love getting better. At anything at all. By my own priorities. I didn't feel criticized while reading the article at all.

Getting down to brass tacks, though. It is prudent to always have map & compass skills at least adequate, and stay on the terrain you feel confident navigating. The rule I use is, use the GPS assuming it may die at any time, so always know where you are on the map, and always carry and know how to use a compass, as a back-up. Also having an altimeter is better, but I still have not taken the financial plunge to get one, and so far I have done without (even without a GPS). I love using my GPS, it's so fast and easy. I love searching out old trails that are only on old maps, even if I have to bushwack my way through. But I always remind myself (cause I get lazy) to keep oriented on the map, and know my bearing (at least roughly) especially off-trail. And in forests, and white-outs, it's imperative.

I feel strongly that knowing map and compass skills is not a getting better issue, it's a being safe issue. And for me, it's one more glorious aspect of feeling free and mobile, while being in the wild. Also, being a member of Search and Rescue, I hear lots of stories, that all underscore the above.

I hope someone actually reads this.. and Happy Holidays.

2:46 a.m. on December 8, 2012 (EST)
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I purposely avoided this thread because of the possiblity it lives up to the pretentious airs one may imply from the title.  I mean define “better” hiker, what is that about!  Fortunately it was a quick read, and not pretentious at all.  I don’t think the article was aimed at those with some experience; most of the advice was hiking 101 in nature, intended to inspire the virgin newbie to prudently chase his ambitions.  Most everyone who has chimed in thus far can be considered well past the greenhorn/newbie stage of this article's target readership.  And as far as being informative, the presentation covered really basic advice.  Some of it was more along the lines of how to become a minimally competent hiker, rather than better hiker.  And some of the more advanced hiker stuff was more intended to inspire the curious to expand their horizons, and suggest a means to go about it, rather than state such skills are requisite to being better at anything other than what the skill referenced makes possible.  For example map and compass skills, and coping with rain are not mandatory skills but lacking competence in these areas definitely limits the options of the wise (or jeopardizes the wellbeing of the imprudent).  Snowshoeing, on the other hand is an optional skill; its an ice cube’s chance in Death Valley in July you’ll ever need this skill if you only camp in the low desert or stay below timberline and camp only in the summer.  And as others point out: skis are a perfectly viable alternative to snow shoes, only a gear chauvinist would argue otherwise.  And advice such as peak bagging was not intended to imply performing this activity makes you defacto a better hiker, rather peak bagging serves as a carrot to motivate one to spend more time out there, and thus become more expert by doing.  Personally  I think backcountry cooking skills are a major component of making the backcountry more enjoyable, but this observation does more to illuminate the different priorities between those like me, and those more like the author.  

While most of the requisite “better hiker” skills can be self taught, and expedited by following others example, at some point one may reach a stage in skills development that formalized instruction is more appropriate, such as learning glacier travel skills.  (Yes, glaciers travel - very slowly. Ok so that was more corny than funny...)  Few would suggest ice skills can be self taught.  But most of us will know when we reach such milestones, if they are the areas we seek to improve upon.  Many, however, will find total bliss limiting our forays to bluebird days, dozing lakeside in the shade, in July.  Wake me when dinner is ready.


9:37 a.m. on December 27, 2012 (EST)
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whomeworry said:

 I don’t think the article was aimed at those with some experience; most of the advice was hiking 101 in nature, intended to inspire the virgin newbie to prudently chase his ambitions.  

 My thoughts exactly. 

11:55 a.m. on December 27, 2012 (EST)
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Maybe we become better hikers when there is more at stake, and it takes some skill to be safe.  Times like going over a steep pass still in snow and you need to be able to self-arrest, hiking in the desert where there are no trails and one must follow the 7.5 minute map to find the next waterhole, or really remote country with bad weather like Alaska.

12:57 p.m. on December 27, 2012 (EST)
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To me backpacking is a necessary spin-off of the desire to sleep outside.  To me it would be, "Do You Want to Sleep Outdoors?"  If yes, then the hiking and backpacking will follow.  If not, well, suckle the indoor thermostat and stay put.

There's a switch that goes off inside a human's brain requiring them to spend the remaining years of their lives sleeping outside.  We either do it on backpacking trips or at home in the back yard or on a deck or porch.  Can you teach people to crave their bag nights?  I don't know.

4:09 p.m. on December 28, 2012 (EST)
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I have been plagued by the same desire my whole life.  Recently my Mom talked about "all of those nights in the backyard by a fire when you were in high school."  It is something about the fresh air and oxygen, sounds of birds and insects, and being able to see the surroundings at night.  There is always the possibility of a visit by a mammal.

4:48 p.m. on December 28, 2012 (EST)
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It could be the fresh air or the sense of freedom or it could be more metaphysical---the antenna of our heads with an unobstructed view to the Universe.  Or it could be we're just all hobos on a park bench but we've traded in the bench for a wilderness and newspaper blankets for Western Mountaineering Pumas and instead of carrying all our crap in a paper bag or a shopping cart we haul it around in a fancy pack.  And dumped the booze bottle for the heady rush of suckling off Miss Nature's breast.

11:42 a.m. on December 29, 2012 (EST)
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Inspired words spoken by a person that sounds like he benefited from all of that time in a tipi.

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