Biggest Hiking Challenges: A Guide to Overcoming Common Hiking Problems

What are the biggest hiking challenges that you run into?

Chances are, you’ve had some challenges with hiking. I know I have and still do, and I’ve hiked multiple days a week, every week, for the past six years. But hiking is in nature, and we can’t predict what nature gives to us.

So, the best way to learn how to deal with the challenges of hiking without them reducing our interest in hiking is to help each other out with how we face our own biggest hiking challenges.

That’s what this article is all about.

Biggest Hiking Challenges on the Trail

Getting lost while hiking is going to be one of the biggest hiking challenges you’re potentially experiencing. I’ve got lost multiple times. I still get lost from time to time, but only now do I know how to get unlost. The best way to overcome this challenge is to learn how to use navigational tools. There are many of these tools to choose from, but it’s best to have a few on you as a failsafe for one that might not work. I suggest a map and compass, a GPS device, or an app for navigation.

Weather is a challenge that hikers are often faced with. This is because many areas have weather that changes fast. Here in southern Illinois, the nicest spring day can often turn into a strong thunderstorm day. The best way to prepare for weather conditions is to properly pack for them. Have an extra layer for colder months and a rain suit for potentially wet conditions. And have a plan for what to do in case you get strong wind or heavy downpours or something like that.

Bugs can be a problem for hikers. I’ve been in swarms of mosquitoes, messes of seed ticks, and got bit by gnats that left golf ball-sized bumps on me. The forest is thick with spiders in the warm months. Swamps are the buggiest of all the hiking areas. Sometimes, overcoming bugs is just understanding that they’re there and you either deal with them or only hike in the winter. But there are plenty of ways to help cope with biting bugs, such as permethrin on your clothing and gear and DEET on your skin.

Cold-weather hiking is some of the best hiking. You can see everything. The bugs and snakes are sleeping. The popular areas are not as popular. But with all that comes the elephant in the room – cold temperatures. Cold weather can be difficult to hike in. The best way to overcome hiking in the cold is to properly layer up. Layering is best because you can shed layers (or add them) as needed to balance your core temperature out.

Emergencies on the trail will be some of your biggest hiking challenges if you have to encounter them. The best way to overcome emergencies is to plan your hike and avoid doing things that could create an emergency, like getting close to the edge of a cliff or getting in deep water. But you’ll fail at managing an emergency if you don’t have an emergency management plan in place.

The forest is full of hazards, and this is the case almost everywhere you go. Make sure that research what hazards are in the area you’re hiking at. Knowing the hazards is the best way to overcome them. One thing I like to do is ask what others who have hiked the area think about the overall safety of the area. Consider all hazards, including natural hazards like dangerous cliffs and creek crossings, wildlife hazards like snakes and bears, and man-made hazards like questionable people and partiers.

One of the biggest hiking challenges that most people don’t realize until it’s too late is difficult trails. It’s important to research your hiking trail before you go. Try to understand the length of the trail and whether it’s a loop or not. Find out the elevation and how rugged it will be. Will there be rock scrambling? Will there be creek crossings? Consider the trail surface based on its use and the recent weather. Dirt trails could be muddy after heavy rain.

Wildlife is always a challenge worth considering. Different areas have different wildlife. My area has bobcats, coyotes, and deer. We also have venomous snakes. The state next door has black bears and the occasional mountain lion. Some areas have large brown bears and plenty of mountain lions. Consider all wildlife types and how that can impact your hike. You might need to bring wildlife protection like bear spray and even pack food and snacks in a bear box/barrel.

Loneliness can be a challenge when hiking. I started out hiking alone and was pretty lonely most of the time. After I met my girlfriend, Michelle, we hiked together all the time. Maybe you need to meet a special someone to hike with. Or maybe you can find a hiking buddy or group. In the end, it’s safer to hike with at least one other person just in case something happens, and one of you can’t respond or call for help.

Biggest Hiking Challenges

Biggest Hiking Challenges for Your Health

Improper nutrition is among the biggest hiking challenges list. Many hikers, including myself on multiple hikes, have made this mistake. It’s easy to pick up some fast food before or after a hike. It’s easy to eat some snack on the trail that isn’t that good for you. But to overcome this challenge, it’s even easier for us to work on developing a habit of eating better.

Dehydration is something I’ve had to learn the hard way. I once dehydrated on a hike and almost couldn’t make it back on my own. Nowadays, I make it a point to take two big swigs of my water every half hour. In the summer or warmer months, I’ll add electrolyte powder to my water, too. Once you start to get dehydrated, hiking after that will be more of a dreadful chore than fun. You have to stay hydrated, especially when it’s cold out, and you don’t get thirsty as much.

Pain is a big challenge in hiking. But most of the time, pain that starts on the trail means that we need to adjust something. If you go on a long hike in brand-new boots, you’re likely going to be in pain since the boots are not broken in. If your back, shoulders, neck, and arms hurt – maybe you should stop and readjust all the straps on your backpack. Maybe you’re carrying too much weight.  Maybe you’re not walking as carefully as you need to be, and you keep rolling your ankle. Most of these can be fixed right away, but if the pain continues even after the hike, you need to seek professional medical help.

Altitude sickness occurs when you go to higher altitudes that you’re not used to. People get it when climbing and hiking up mountains. Some people get it when flying in airplanes. Most of the time, it will take medication to fix. A lot of that medication will cause you to be drowsy, too. It’s best to gradually hike higher altitudes so that you and your body can get used to the changes.

Fatigue happens to most of us when we’re hiking. But most of the time, it’s because of an error we have made. If you hike when you’re tired or haven’t had much sleep, the very physical act of hiking will make you tired. If you dehydrate, fatigue will definitely occur. If you hike too fast or too long and you’re not used to it, you’re going to get tired quicker. We need to hydrate, take it slow, and don’t hike more than what our body will allow.

Blisters are among the number one spot of the biggest hiking challenges. Most of the time, they are caused by hiking in new footwear that isn’t broken in or footwear that isn’t the correct size. Blisters are going to happen, and when they do, they can really hinder your hiking trip. To overcome the challenge of hiking with a blister, simply cover it up with padding. Typically, some moleskin or even a simple band-aid is enough to make a painful blister quit hurting.

How can you get a sunburn when you’re hiking in the woods, right? Well, you can still get one. It especially happens in areas that aren’t covered up as much, like your face and arms. The sun can get through some of those leaves, and while it doesn’t feel that warm, the next day will definitely remind you. Wear sunblock lotion – it’s as simple as that. And reapply because you’ll likely sweat the first application of it off your skin.

Recovery is often a challenge post-hike. I used to hike all weekend and then bike all week. I started noticing myself getting fatigued and losing my energy. It’s because I had no recovery. I kept going and going without resting. Nowadays, I try to rest on Mondays, not doing much in terms of hiking and biking. I have to give my body a break once in a while.

The weight of your gear can present a challenge. If you overpack or buy the heaviest options, you’ll likely be faced with the challenge of pain and fatigue at some point during your hiking career. Don’t pack more than your backpack can handle. Make sure you use a hiking-specific backpack. If you can get lighter-weight gear, try to get it. Sometimes, it costs a little bit more, but it is very worth it in the end. Any time you can cut weight (safely, that is) is a good thing for you.


Biggest Hiking Challenges for Your Equipment

Tears and holes in your gear might be the biggest hiking challenges as far as your gear goes. That can definitely present a problem if you’re already deep in the forest. But you bring simple repair tools with you, like a sewing kit and duct tape. These easy-to-carry tools will likely hold your gear over until you’re finished with your hike.

If your backpack’s shoulder strap rips, it can turn into a nightmare lugging it around. A sewing kit may be helpful for this challenge. However, larger bobby pins would also be a quick fix for this issue. These are the kind of pins that would be used to hold a cloth diaper together. You can usually find them in the baby section of retail stores.

If you’re hiking and your seat splits open on your hiking pants or shorts, that might be a problem. This will especially be the case if you lack underwear or wear underwear that would be too revealing. Remedy this by carrying a pair of lightweight leggings or spandex shorts in your pack (male and female). Put them on, and don’t worry about it like you would if you had nothing. The leggings or shorts can also act as extra layers if it gets colder.

Don’t let your batteries run down in your flashlight. If the flashlight turns on by accident and you don’t know it, you might be in the dark when you need your light the most. Instead, take preventative measures before your hike. Turn your batteries the wrong way in the flashlight. This will prevent it from being accidentally turned on. When you need your light, simply put it in the right way, and you’ll be good. Be sure to take a spare set of batteries just in case you need them.


Final Thoughts on Overcoming Hiking Challenges

When it comes to the biggest hiking challenges, it’s important to note that most of the challenges can be fully prevented by researching and acknowledging them before your hike. It’s better to be prepared before you go for a hike.

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Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

Shawn Gossman

Shawn Gossman

Founder, Hiking with Shawn

Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman

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