10 Hiking Myths And Why You Shouldn’t Believe Them
When it comes to hiking and backpacking, it can be very intimidating to start. Not only are there a million and one different things to figure out, but how do you find the confidence to go for it? How do you know which gear checklist to follow?
Plus you’re hearing different things about so many topics.
Throw that in with your own fears, insecurities, what your family and friends say, and the opinions of others…
What does that make? A whole lot of myths that are doing nothing but keeping you stuck.
This is why in this blog, I’m going to break down 15 different myths that I’ve heard people say, including what long time hikers are doing wrong, and what you should be doing instead.
Myth #1: You train for hiking by walking and hiking
This myth is one I constantly hear from long time hikers or honestly, just from people who hate to work out. You might be thinking, well if long time hikers know that you train for hiking by walking or hiking, then it must be true… but I learned the hard way that when you only do those two things, it leads to an injury.
Because your body is not correctly trained and it leaves areas weak, which with time and overuse, leads to an injury.
I injured my knee exactly by doing this. And it was after not being able to hike for a year, expensive ER bills, and months of physical therapy, that I finally learned that you should not do this.
Yes, hiking is an important part of training for harder trails. If you’re planning to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, you don’t want the first time you set foot on the trail to be on the actual PCT. You might not be able to do a several thousand-mile hike leading up to the PCT, but you should be doing trails that are equally as challenging or harder than what you expect to do per day leading up to the hike. With a pack that’s heavier. So training by hiking is important.
So what should you be doing in addition to hiking?
Strength training! And not just those machines at the gym. Specific exercises that strengthen your legs, calves, ankles, and glutes. Bodyweight is a great place to start and then as you build on it, adding in resistance bands and weights so you keep progressively getting stronger.
Strength training is going to make the biggest impact when it comes to injury prevention.
Myth #2: Waterproof boots will keep your feet dry
This is another one I hear from long-time hikers and it’s false.
If you’re hiking when it’s pouring outside or in the middle of winter, then absolutely wear waterproof boots. This is not the place for your Nike gym shoes (which is another mistake I’ve seen when it comes to snow).
Otherwise, in the middle of summer, you should not be wearing waterproof boots or shoes.
There is some merit to this, in general, you want to do everything that you can to keep your feet dry. The reasoning also makes sense, you go through a water crossing, and your feet stay dry. It rains, your feet stay dry.
But just like they keep moisture out, they also keep it in.
If you go through that water crossing and water does get inside your shoe, it’s going to stay wet for a very long time. Which makes your feet more prone to blisters and even fungus infections. Vs non-waterproof boots, they’re going to dry out quickly.
Also because they keep moisture in, as your feet spend all day sweating, they won’t properly air out. Least nowhere near as well as they would with non-waterproof boots. Which also makes them more prone to blisters.
Myth #3: Comfort is the only thing that’s important with a sleeping pad
This is a mistake I see more so with newbie backpackers and campers. They find a cheap inflatable sleeping pad on Amazon, take it backpacking, and spend all night being cold… even with a 15-degree sleeping bag.
Yes, they’re comfortable and cheap. And I know that backpacking gear is expensive. It’s pricey because of the technology that goes into making it so effective in the backcountry while being lightweight. That’s not to say you can’t find the gear that’s quality and affordable, you just need to know what to look for to make educated purchasing decisions.
That being said, your sleeping pads job is not just to make sleeping more comfortable, the way your mattress at home is designed. Your sleeping pads job is also to insulate you from the ground, while your bag insulates you from the air.
So if you have that cheap Amazon pad that might be comfortable and only cost you $20, but if you don’t know what to look for, you wouldn’t have known to think about looking for one that effectively insulates you from the ground temperatures.
Because your 10 degree sleeping bag is useless if your pad is not insulated. Because your insulation at the bottom doesn’t do much for you. You need the pad also.
Myth #4: You need to be thin to hike
Hands up if you’ve ever said any of the following…
“I need to get healthier or in better shape before I can go hiking.”
“I will get started as soon as I lose 15 pounds.”
Don’t lie here. You can maybe get away with lying to me, especially since I’m not there with you looking you in the eyes to be able to tell, but if you lie to yourself, you’re not doing yourself any favors.
The good thing is, you’re not alone in thinking this. I cannot tell you how frequently I hear this.
It’s understandable that you feel that way. Not only can hiking be physically demanding, but all of the media that depicts hikers, mountaineers, climbers, etc… they’re all in amazing shape, for the most part on the skinner side, and very fit.
But isn’t that the case with everything?
Most of us have spent our entire lives being told by media outlets that we’re not skinny enough, dressed well enough, our hair is not long enough or volumized enough, our nails aren’t long enough, or our eye lashes… and the list goes on and on.
In college, I did a research project on the effects of how body images are reflected in the media and on eating disorders in girls. Without going into huge details, there was definitely a correlation between them. And in all honesty, that’s part of why I had my eating disorder in my teens and early adulthood.
But does this mean it’s true?
Or is it something that we’ve been told to believe?
Yes, fitness is important when it comes to doing more challenging hikes. I’m 100% a firm believer in exercise and training correctly because you’re going to have a much easier time hiking, it’s going to do wonders to prevent injuries, and you’re going to feel so much better once you’re out there.
But what does training correctly and getting strong for hiking have to do with body composition, weight, your size, or any of those factors?
Does the number on the scale or your pant size have anything to do with your ability to hike and go backpacking?
Or is that something you’ve been told to believe?
And something you keep telling yourself to hold yourself back… because under all of that, you’re scared.
If you’re like others who I have coached, you might be worried that you’ll be judged if something happens and you’ve “overweight.”
Or you might be worried about starting to hike at all and it’s just easier to tell yourself that you’ll wait until the day when you’re “fit enough.”
But how are those fears and beliefs helping you get started with hiking? How are they helping you get “fit enough?” Or are they just keeping you safe and afraid?
Only you can answer that.
But I’m going to leave you with a couple more thoughts…
Is there anyone out there who is hiking the trails you want to be doing and is your size?
If so, shouldn’t that just be more proof that you can do it too?
Myth #5: All you need for navigation is just the map on your phone
I mean, we’ve all been there and done it. There’s no shame in it. But now you know that you should not only rely on an app on your phone for navigation. Especially not one like AllTrails.
What happens if you lose your phone? Or it dies? Or the screen shatters in a million pieces and you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere with no way to get home…
I just played out your worst fear, didn’t I?
This is why you never rely only on technology to get you back safely. Sure it’s helpful with the RIGHT app. But you also need to have a map and compass on you, know how to use both, and know what to do in different safety situations.
Otherwise, your worst fears become reality.
And you know how I mentioned AllTrails earlier? Yeah… that’s not an app you want to rely on for navigation. It’s based on user data. Great for researching trails (I use it for that too), but if you’re relying on it for navigation, it’s inaccurate because of that.
Myth #6: Carrying a first aid kit makes you safe
As long as we have a first aid kit in our packs, we’re set if something happens. Right?! I mean it’s all there and some of the kits even have instructions!
If you’re like most hikers, you’ve probably thought this too. And that’s ok, we’ve all been there on our backpacking journey.
Those instructions are helpful, and you absolutely should not go hiking or backpacking without a first aid kit, but do you know the purpose of most of the things in your kit? How to use it? What about making sure you actually have everything that you need in the kit?
What about what to do in a wilderness first aid emergency? What to check for first that could help save someone’s life? How to actually use what’s in that kit to save someone’s life in the backcountry?
This is what a Nervous Hiker does. They’re unprepared, they’re not quite sure what they’re getting into, just trying to piece together the information they find online from random resources, they’re kinda nervous about getting out there, and definitely lack confidence. Crossing their fingers and hoping for the best.
While a Limitless Hiker is prepared and confident. They know exactly what to do in any situation, and especially when it comes to safety.
Myth #7: You need the latest gear to start backpacking
Yes, quality gear makes a huge difference. Not only is it lighter, but it’s warmer and more durable. Granted that quality gear doesn’t need to cost you an arm and a leg.
And that’s because it’s about learning how to make educated purchasing decisions. If you walk into an REI and say that you’re going backpacking, and expect the sales person to just hand you everything you need… well there are several flaws with that plan…
First, how do you even know that they know what they’re talking about?
When I first started taking hiking seriously and backpacking, I did exactly that. I walked into REI, told them I’m hiking Mt.Whitney (which is in California and a very popular trail and I was shopping in California), and they looked at me like I was crazy. Not because it’s a crazy mountain but because they had no idea what I was talking about. And this was not my first nor last experience like this.
As you already know, you shouldn’t wear waterproof boots in the middle of summer. Well, they tried to sell me not just waterproof boots, but very heavy ones too which makes hiking even more challenging because it’s like adding ankle weights.
Aside from not necessarily knowing the type of hiking and the level, there’s also the issue of if you don’t know what gear you need, what to look for specifically in each piece, and understand what you’re being sold on, then of course you’re going to overspend! Just to end up with the wrong thing anyways.
So first, it’s important to understand what you actually need to make educated purchasing decisions. And next, it’s alright not to have the latest and greatest gear!
Because when you understand gear, what you need, and why, then you can not only look for things that are on sale, used gear, or find great deals, but then you can decide what you can use that you have and where you do need to invest in right now.
But waiting until you have all new gear will keep you stuck. Again, that’s the fear talking. The fear that is saying you’re not ready or good enough to go hiking and backpacking until this external thing (aka having all of the right gear) validates your ability to go.
Myth #8: It’s ok to use biodegradable soap in creeks
Absolutely under no circumstances use soap in creeks, lakes, streams, rivers, or any other water source. Even if the packaging says biodegradable.
Biodegradable just means there are less chemicals in the product so that the soil can break it down. But using it in waterways just pollutes the entire ecosystem that feeds off that water chain.
So what do you do instead?
You can still wash up, you just need to do it 200 feet from the water source. So carry some water away from the stream, and take your shower there. The ground will filter the soap so it doesn’t pollute the water.
Myth #9: You’ll get eaten by a bear or a mountain lion
This one is a common one that I hear.
This fear is more than understandable. Bears and mountain lions are scary. And there is a chance you will encounter one when you’re hiking. BUT…
Let’s think about something…
How many people actually head into the wilderness everyday and never get eaten by a wild animal. Heck how many people encounter a bear every time they go out.
I’ve seen bears multiple times (solo and with others), and in comparison to how many times I go hiking, I’ve only seen them a handful of times. And a mountain lion never.
The key here is to know what to do in an encounter and what to do in an attack so that you do come home alive.
We’re all taught to be afraid. We see the videos all over the media and Instagram. But think about this… even the people who took those videos are clearly alive to tell the story.
So why would you be any different? Why are you going to be the one person who is attacked and killed by a bear or mountain lion?
According to the National Park Service, the odds of being attacked by a bear are 1 in 2.1 million. This means that it’s more likely to be killed by a bee than a bear.
As for mountain lions, there have only been 126 attacks, 27 which are fatal in North America in the past 100 years. You are also 150 times more likely to be killed by hitting a deer with your car or 500 times more likely to drown in your own bathtub than you are to get killed by a mountain lion.
Myth #10: You can’t hike on your period
Our last (but not final myth) directly links back to the bear fear. There is an old wives tale that says if you’re menstruating/ on your period/ aunt flow is in town… whatever you want to call it… then you will attract female bears, they will be threatened by you, and will kill you.
I just want to say… this is nonsense.
Female bears don’t care that you’re on your period. I’ve hiked in bear country many times on mine. I know loads of women who have also. We’ve never had a bear encounter because it’s that time of the month.
This was created to keep women at home! To keep women from getting out and hiking and doing the things that light them up. Instead to keep them from voting, keep them from working, and keep them in the kitchen doing nothing but caring for kids.
There are a ton of old wives tales like this all designed with one purpose… to keep women “in their place.”
So you have a choice here, decide to be “kept in your place” and not hike because of an old wives tale, or go live your life regardless of what nonsense women are told.
If you don’t want to hike on your period because your cramps make you miserable and you just feel crappy all around. That’s a different story. But if you’ve been told not to hike because a bear will kill you, then please take a moment and step back and think logically about this.
Why would a female bear be threatened by your time of the month? How do the two relate in the slightest?
As for them smelling blood… they’re not sharks. They won’t come and snatch off your leg because they sense some blood in the water. I’m no expert on sharks, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work that way with sharks either. Someone needs to toss a bloody dead fish into the water for that to happen, not a little period blood.
Excellent common sense tips!