Have you ever wanted to hike but don’t know where to start? Ever wanted to see a pretty view that required a small hike, but was nervous about the hiking part? Have you wanted to pick up a hobby that is (mostly) free, relaxing, and super healthy? Well this guide is for you!
I grew up being in the outdoors a lot, but when I started actually hiking, I felt so intimidated by it all! The people on the trail around me seemed to know what they were doing, and I felt so nervous. However, I now realize that I had no reason to feel this way. Here are the things that I wish I had known when starting hiking. These are things that anyone can implement to have fun and stay safe when hiking!
1. Start where you are!
“Start where you are” is the number one thing I wish someone would have told me when we started hiking. I felt like I needed to go buy the latest gear and fanciest backpacks to be able to hike, when in reality you really only need what you probably already have. All of the hiking tips I always looked for was trying to get me to buy their newest hiking boots or fancy water bottles, but I eventually realized I needed none of these things. When I stopped letting what I thought I needed to properly hike from holding me back, I was able to begin hiking and find what truly works for me.
There are some tips when choosing what to wear, but again most of these things aren’t necessarily needed, but more what to try to choose if you have the option. Opt for synthetic or wool clothing over cotton clothing. This includes shirts, socks, or pants. Cotton clothing stays wet longer. Whether you get wet from rain or from sweat, cotton clothing can make you feel uncomfortable and can be dangerous if hiking in extreme weather. Also, opt for stretchy or flexible pants over jeans or something stiff. Examples of this are shorts, leggings, or loose pants. Try to avoid jeans or even sweatpants since these tend to restrict movement and hold in unnecessary moisture.
2. Start small
If you’re just starting hiking, begin with short distances. Once you get mildly comfortable with shorter distances, branch on out to longer distances. It’s great to push yourself, but when starting it’s good to get accustomed to it all before trying to do longer distances. You can determine what a “short” distance means for you, but I would typically 2-3 miles or less would be a short hike. Slowly increase distance until you find a distance that is comfortable to you.
It’s important to note that elevation change is also essential to consider. Trails that are relatively flat are going to be MUCH easier than a trail with a lot of elevation gain. Elevation gain essentially is how steep or uphill the trail is. When starting out, try to pick trails that don’t have extreme amount of elevation gain or at least be prepared for the amount of elevation gain you may cover on the trail.
3. Find trails with good reward for effort
There are some trails you may hike 10 miles for no view and a trickle of a waterfall, while other trails you could hike 0.5 miles to the most beautiful views you’ve ever seen. When just starting, look for trails that have more reward for your hike, whatever that reward may be to you! Are you looking for good views, waterfalls, lakes, or solitude? Pick a trail that has something that excites you and is a shorter distance. Trails without a “good reward” for your effort are also good, but may be better to save for when you’re less looking for something pretty and maybe looking more for a challenge or solitude. All trails are good, but sometimes some seem more “worth it” than others.
4. Take it slow
Hike as slow as you need to hike. Don’t be intimidated by people flying past you making it look effortless. It happens, and if you keep hiking, probably you’ll be one of those people one day. Enjoy your hike and the nature around you. Take as many breaks as you need for water, rest, or snacks. Everyone has a different pace and enjoys nature in different ways.
5. Pack snacks
Depending on how long your hike is, having snacks with you can be a really nice treat! Bring a snack that isn’t too complicated or messy, and of course something that you love. We like to bring granola bars, trail mix, pretzels, tuna, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. One of my favorite treats we bring on some cold winter hikes is a thermos of hot chocolate. It feels so good to warm up with a cup of hot chocolate while admiring the view at the top of your hike. Whatever you bring, make sure it’s a food that will make you happy.
6. Bring more water than you think you’ll need
Nothing is worse than hiking on a hot summer day and being out of water. It can make an easy, simple hike seem hard and miserable. Experts recommend bringing around 0.5 liters of water per 1 hour of hiking. Usually we bring around 5-6 liters for 2 people on a 10 mile hike. Usually we don’t drink all of this and have some leftover, but we have learned what has worked for us. It is important to know what works for you and how much you expect to drink, and then plan accordingly. Essentially, it doesn’t hurt to bring extra, especially as you’re getting used to hiking and how your body reacts.
Some people have hydration packs (little backpacks with pouch and straw for your water so that you can drink while hiking without stopping), but if you don’t have one of these you can bring normal bottles of water. We actually prefer bottled water than the hydration packs anyways. Nalgene hard plastic bottles are good and lightweight if you are purchasing a bottle. If grabbing water from a gas station or grocery store on the way, we love using the 1 liter SmartWater bottles because they hold a lot of water without taking up too much room and are practically weightless when empty. The SmartWater bottles are also pretty sturdy and can be reused for a while. However you bring it, just make sure you have enough water for you and anyone you’re responsible for (kids, dogs, etc).
7. Protect your feet
What should you wear on your feet when hiking? Anything that protects your feet really! If the trail is gentle and flat, sporty sandals can be okay, but usually for most trails closed toe shoes are the best. If you have hiking boots that fit well and are comfortable, then great! But if you don’t have hiking boots than that’s totally fine too. Sneakers or tennis shoes make great beginner hiking shoes! Actually many experienced hikers prefer sneakers or trail runners to hike in because they’re lighter and more comfortable. Also try to wear synthetic or wool socks instead of cotton socks. Cotton socks are more likely to keep your feet sweaty and cause blisters. Synthetic socks are pretty cheap and can be purchased from most places. We like the AND1 Walmart brand of socks which is around $5 for 12 socks. Just make sure you are taking care of your feet, preventing injury or blisters, because they’re what is carrying you on the trail. So wear what you have, and take care of those feet!
8. Lather up with sunscreen
Believe it not, sunscreen is super important. Of course on sunny days, you will have a high likelihood of getting burnt. However, even on cloudy and rainy days you can get a sunburn! You may not realize it until you get home after your hike, but cloudy days are some of the worst for getting a sunburn. Also, snowy weather is bad for getting sunburned since the sun can reflect off the white snow and burn you at unpredictable angles. Make sure to use high SPF sunscreen that is water resistant so that you do not lose the sunscreen as you sweat.
9. Go with a friend
Hiking alone can be fun, but may also seem scary at first. Bringing a friend can make the experience more fun and enjoyable for you! Having someone on the trail with you allows you to have conversation and enjoy the experience together. Also, if one of you are to get hurt or sick on the trail, you can help each other. If you do go alone, make sure you tell someone where and when you are going so that if you get lost they can come find you.
10. Use the AllTrails App for your phone
AllTrails is a life-saver! We use this app on every single hike we do. It is app you can download on your phone or use on your internet browser. It has trails all over the country and world listed with the option to view on a map. It gives details on how long or difficult the hike is, as well as pictures and reviews from other people that have hiked the trail. This is super helpful in telling you if it is a trail that you’d be willing to hike. Some trails seem great on paper, but when you see reviews and pictures, it may closed or too snowy to hike at the moment. It can also show the latest updates of the trail such as possible closings, wildlife sightings, or dangers on the trail. If you download the trail beforehand (available if you have the Pro version, which is a small monthly cost of $2.50 per month), you can use your GPS signal from your phone to track where you are on the trail, how far you’ve gone, and if you’ve left the trail without even having phone service. This is very helpful in areas where there may be multiple trails crossing at certain points. However, please not that AllTrails does NOT substitute for hard copy of maps and knowing the trail!
Overall, these are the 10 tips I would like to give to any beginner hiker. I love hiking and it has brought so many positive experiences in my life. Every time I hit the trail, I learn something new about myself and about the world. The challenges of hiking have helped me to grow as a person and learn important life lessons. I hope that you can find some joy in hiking and are able to use these tips to begin your hiking journey.
Do you have any other questions about hiking? Please let me know down below in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
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