Preparing to set off for your first long hike is exciting. Whether you are about to embark on a multi-day trek or just a short day hike, there is a lot to consider before you set off. When looking for beginners advice on hiking, you may feel overwhelmed by all the information available on the web. To help out first-time hikers we’ve compiled a list of hiking tips for beginners inspired from questions asked by our readers, advice given to us by other hikers, and our own experience.
Some tips might seem like common sense but it’s easier to see that from the comfort of your home. These are just some ideas to get you thinking about how to prepare for your hiking adventure.
Like with anything you set out to do, you learn best by trial and error. However some pointers along the way can help you make the most out of your experience outdoors.
Hiking is an excellent low-impact workout. Studies show it offers multiple physical and mental benefits. From reducing anxiety to preventing osteoporosis, hiking is an outdoor activity delivering benefits beyond scenic and fun.
Unlike walking on a treadmill or paved path, hiking involves more, sometimes unpredictable, variables. Of course, these variables are part of what makes it so enjoyable!
Most of us need to exercise more, but we balk at the idea of paying for a gym membership, or get bored when stuck on a treadmill. If you are that kind of person, you may think that hiking is a better idea. Hiking lets you get some fresh air and explore the beauties of nature; you can go on all sorts of varied routes instead of the same exercises day after day, and it is fantastic exercise.
There are a lot of things to consider before going hiking. When you are a beginner and looking for advice you feel overwhelmed by all the information available on internet. To help you out we’ve compiled a list of essential hiking tips for beginners. This “Hiking Essentials for Beginners” guide will walk you through the basic steps that every beginner should be aware of.
Take note of these hiking tips if you’ve never hiked before. Hiking is a great hobby and it doesn’t take much to go out and get started. However, there are a few things you should know if you plan on doing some longer term treks. From the weather and your clothing to first aid and food, these are 14 essential hiking tips every beginner should know.
1. Know Your Limits
The very first time I went hiking, I chose to follow along with my sister, who had been hiking in the mountains for years. While it was a great experience and the mountains were beautiful, I was completely unprepared for the challenge, and ran out of breath and energy way before she did.
Hiking can be harder than it looks, and time spent in the gym or jogging on a paved sidewalk will not make you accustomed to walking up a steep dirt path, or navigating through branches. If you are a beginning hiker, look for beginner’s trails regardless of your physical condition and then work your way up. It is better to start with something too easy than push too hard and risk either injury ,or turning yourself off to hiking.
2. Solo or Group Hiking?
Decide whether you’re going to hike alone or in a group, in fact if you’re a beginner then we don’t recommend you to hike alone. Problems could arise when you venture alone into terrain and conditions for which you’re not prepared.
If you’ve decided to go alone then there are some advantages for being alone such as freedom to choose the pace at which you walk, where you camp, what you eat and when you take a break. On the other hand there are several disadvantages associated for solo hiking such as your pack may be heavier as sharing equipment is not an option, if you’re not accustomed to be alone then you’ll start feeling lonely out in wild pretty soon and you’re on your own if any injury or illness occurs.
There would be a lot of opportunities for you to learn especially if you’re hiking with experienced hikers. You may share certain gear, such as shelter and stove, thus decreasing pack weight etc. If any injury or illness occurs, then it can be comforting to know that assistance is close at hand. Hiking with friends is always fun and motivating but more people more noise so there is a less chance of spotting the wildlife and this is one of the drawbacks if hiking in groups.
My first experience with hiking alongside my sister was a tough one, and I very well may have stopped early had I been by myself. But I kept up at it because I did not want to disappoint her.
Hiking alongside a companion like I did is crucial for a variety of reasons. There is the motivation factor, as noted above, and hiking alongside someone more experienced can teach you a lot. But the most important reason is safety. Traveling in a group will help deter wild animals and ensure that one of you can get help or perform first aid if the other gets injured. This is one of the key hiking safety tips all beginners should pay heed to.
If you are having trouble finding someone to hike with, do not hesitate to ask on Facebook, or check out regional outdoors groups. The Outbound Collective has a good list of places where you can look to find a hiking partner.
3. Know the Ten Essential Supplies, But Don’t Overpack
Any hiking guide will talk about the Ten Essentials that you have to bring when going hiking. It does not matter whether you are simply taking a short two to three-hour hike, or are going to camp out overnight. You need food and water, a map and compass to help navigate the area, an emergency shelter, and a fire starter in case you have to stay out overnight, and so on.
But there are also things that you do not need to bring when going on a hike. While some first aid is essential, you do not need some massive pack containing medicines and splints, or a billion things that you don’t really know how to use anyway. Outside of the Ten Essentials, ask yourself if you are really going to need something on your hike, and don’t bring it if the answer is “maybe.”
4. Check the Forecast
Bad weather can be an inconvenience at best and dangerous at worst. Rain and snow makes trails more slippery and streams harder to cross, lightning can be dangerous if you are stuck in a high place, and heat and cold have a way of sneaking up on you.
Always check the forecast at a website like NOAA.gov the night before you are planning a hike, as well as right before you leave, and learn to check the skies for things like approaching storm clouds. You do not have to necessarily turn back if there is just a light shower, or even a storm, but always prepare in advance.
5. Tell Someone Before You Leave
No matter how much you prepare before a hike, things can go wrong. There are plenty of stories out there about experienced hikers who make a few wrong decisions and find themselves lost or in deep trouble. Satellites and cell phones can sometimes help you get in touch with rescuers, but the most reliable method is to let a friend know in advance that you are hiking, and tell them to call the authorities if you are not back by a certain time.
Do give some leeway. If you think you will be hiking for three hours, then tell your friend to call if you are not back in six hours. This will give you a cushion if things go a little wrong or if you just want to stop and enjoy the scenery for a while.
6. Start small and choose the right trail for your fitness level.
Select a hike a little shorter than the distance you can normally walk on a level or paved surface. To estimate the time required to hike the trail, figure a pace of roughly 2-miles per hour. Next, review the elevation changes and add an hour to your estimated hiking time for every 1000 feet of gain. After you’ve been out once or twice, you’ll have a sense for what distance and elevation changes work well for you.
7. Check the weather.
Leading up to your hike, and again a few hours before, check the weather. This will give you valuable information on how to dress and what to pack. If the weather is forecast to be awful, it will give you the chance to change plans instead of getting surprised on the trail.
8. Pack the 10 essentials.
The 10 essentials have gradually shifted from a list of items to a list of systems. These are the systems you should pack to stay safe in the outdoors, including facing a potential overnight. Depending on the length and remoteness of your hike, expand or minimize each system. For example, on a short summer hike near services, a compact emergency blanket should be fine. However, a remote winter hike would require something more extensive. Here are the 10 essential systems:
Ten Essential Systems
- Navigation (map & compass)
- Sun protection (sunglasses & sunscreen)
- Insulation (extra clothing)
- Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
- First-aid supplies
- Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candle)
- Repair kit and tools
- Nutrition (extra food)
- Hydration (extra water)
- Emergency shelter (tent/plastic tube tent/garbage bag)
This list may look daunting, but once you tailor it to your hike, it won’t be so bad. Many of these things are what you’d pack for a picnic.
9. Wear the right shoes and socks.
Painful feet can ruin a hike. Invest in quality hiking shoes and socks. This doesn’t mean heavy leather boots, there are a lot of “light hikers” available that require little break-in compared to the old hiking boots I started with. Also, don’t skimp on socks and for goodness sake….no cotton! Wool or synthetic socks are the way to go. Also pack blister dressings just in case.
10. Keep it light You HIKING Gears.
Okay, now that I’ve told you to pack all of this stuff, I’m going to tell you to keep your pack light. This means opting for the lightest of each item. For example, a travel size tube of sunscreen instead of the NoAd 16-ounce tube you found on sale.
Prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause several problems such as sunburn, snow blindness, chapped lips, wrinkly leathery skin and even skin cancer. So protection from sunlight during hiking is very important. There are many ways to protect your body from the sunlight and prevent discomfort.
Wear appropriate clothes:
- You should wear light-colored, light weight and long sleeve shirts – protects shoulders, arms and back
- Wear hat or hat with neck – protects your face
- Wear nylon pants – protects legs
Umbrella: Protect upper part of your body by shading to reduce sun damage and heat
Sunglasses: Wear sunglasses to avoid UV-radiations
Sunscreen: Use sunblock lotions to protect your hands and face from harmful rays
Hiking for beginners becomes little challenging especially when you’ve to pack food for long time. Because your water and food needs are higher during hiking than usual on activity-based excursions. In order to have a successful and enjoyable adventure, you also need to ensure that your body is optimally fueled and hydrated.
To figure out what food is good to bring on hiking trip, calculate each food’s caloric density, or its calorie-to-ounce ratios, here are some suggestions. Carbohydrates (also called sugars) and proteins provide 4 calories per gram. Fats provide 9 calories per gram, which means that fats are much more energy-rich or energy-dense, than carbohydrates or proteins. If you pack 1 pound of carbohydrates or proteins, then this will give you about 1800 calories. If you pack 1 pound of fat then this will give you about 4050 calories. This means if you pack more fat then it will reduce your weight and get the same calories. Amazing, but true!
A first-aid kit is one of the most essential things you should always take on a hike especially if you’re going on long trips. Some of the stuff inside the kit may be bandages and aspirin etc, may be used frequently, while others like epinephrine shots are rarely used but are critical in emergency.
You can purchase prepackaged kits but unlike other blog posts suggests these products for beginner hikers online, we won’t recommend you buying expensive kits. Your kit must include basic stuff like bandages, a small roll of medical tape, gauze roll, multi-use tool or knife, forceps or tweezers, scissors, thermometer, safety pins etc. and it must be waterproof.
Choose your Hiking Gear
We’ve already discussed about some gear like; compasses, GPS devices and maps etc. In this section we’ll focus mainly on clothing and boots.
Choosing the right clothes for hiking is very important; but if you don’t, your trip will quickly become an uncomfortable experience. Choose clothes that are made up of synthetic material because they are best. Synthetic material keeps you dry as you start to work harder and sweat more. Avoid using soft cotton tee because it will trap sweat and moisture, staying wet and cooling you down. If you’re heading up a mountain at low temperature, you will quickly get chilled.
Choosing the right footwear for preparing the hiking trip, will be one of the most important gear decisions you’ll make. Blisters, strained muscles, and scrunched toes can quickly ruin any hiking trip. Choose your footwear that is comfortable, lightweight, durable, breathable, water resistant, and should have ankle support.
11. Pace yourself.
When you first get on the trail, you may feel like powering forward like a hero. However, you’ll be a zero by the end of the day if you don’t pace yourself. Instead, pick a pace you can maintain all day. It might feel a little awkward at first, but after a few miles, especially uphill, you’ll be glad you saved your energy.
12. Learn how to read Topographic Map and Compass
Before starting any adventure make sure you master these two things such as reading topographic map and compass. These are the things that will work in any condition.
A topographic map is a two-dimensional representation of natural and human-made features on the Earth’s surface. In topographic map the three-dimensional shape of the Earth’s surface is modeled by the use of contour lines. These are imaginary lines that connect locations of similar elevation. For example you can find out the height in the mountain, depth of the ocean bottom, and steep-ness of slopes with the help of contour lines. Topographic maps utilize symbols to describe both natural and human made features such as highways, bridges, tunnels, landmark lines etc.
In addition to a good topographic map, a compass is another essential tool for in wilderness survival. Knowing how to correctly read a compass ensures that you’re never lost. There are some advantages of using compass over electronic devices because they’re lighter and does not depend upon batteries.
13. Learn How to use GPS Devices
There is couple of choices available for using GPS devices; you can either use your smartphone (iPhone or Android) and a dedicated GPS unit which is sometimes called handheld GPS device. Now you might be wondering why do I have to buy a dedicated GPS device if I l already got a smartphone? The answer to this question can vary. Your smartphone can take the role of a dedicated GPS but there are some limitations of using smartphones for navigation purposes. Below is a brief comparison between using smartphones and dedicated GPS units.
Nowadays every modern smartphone has a built-in GPS and map to provide directions from point A to point B. There are also reliable and free apps available especially designed to smartphone GPS tracking. Choosing a smartphone as your primary navigation can be good choice but there are some drawbacks associated with it such as:
- Smartphones have a very disappointing battery life
- Smartphones do not have a rugged design that can survive a knock or two
- Your smartphones may not be waterproof
- In case of any damage to the phone, you may lose your only navigation system easily
Using Dedicated GPS Unit
Most beginner hikers think that why do they need a dedicated GPS unit when their smartphone can give them right directions? For following few and important reasons a dedicated GPS device can make finding your way less stressful than by using your smartphone:
- Most dedicated GPS units are more rugged, have a good battery life and the do not require cellular connection
- Dedicated GPS devices get their directions through connections with satellites orbiting around the earth, so the chances of losing a connection (unless you’re in a tunnel) are pretty slim, no matter where you are
- Dedicated GPS devices do not consume data plans
- Usually dedicated GPS devices are more accurate than smartphones
14. Learn to Hydrate Properly
Not drinking enough water is one of the most common mistakes every beginner hiker and backpacker make. Before beginning, you must learn some basic techniques to hydrate your body in order to work properly. The best way to keep your body hydrated is to consciously drink water slowly over several hours before going out. During hiking, you should drink about one quart per hour. Clear urine gives you an indication that you are well-hydrated.
When weather is hot drinking water by itself is not enough. In this situation, your body sweats profusely and sweating out electrolytes reduce your body’s ability to regulate liquids. A salty snack or an electrolyte supplement drink can overcome this situation. Good sources of electrolyte rich foods include citrus fruits and vegetables, milk, wheat flour, rice bread etc.