Hiking is one of the best ways to experience all that the outdoors offers. It allows you to put some space between yourself and the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Maybe you’re interested in upgrading your scenic neighborhood stroll to a longer trek in the great outdoors. Great! So when does a walk become a hike? And how do you make the transition without getting overwhelmed? This hiking guide will give you the information and tools that you need to take on any trail with confidence!
Table of Contents
- 1 What is Hiking?
- 2 Types of Hiking
- 3 How to Start Your First Hike
- 4 Hiking for Beginners: How To Choose Your Routes
- 5 Here are some questions to consider when looking for beginner hiking trails:
- 6 Where to Find Beginner Hiking Trails
- 7 Tips for Training for Your First Hike
- 8 The Ten Essentials of Hiking Gear
- 9 What to Wear While Hiking
- 10 Other Essential Hiking Gear
- 11 Where to Buy Your Hiking Gear Essentials
- 12 Hydration and Nutrition While Hiking
- 13 Take These 4 Hiking Tips with You Out on the Trail
- 14 10 Frequently Asked Questions by Beginner Hikers
- 14.1 1. How do you start hiking alone?
- 14.2 2. How do you meet others that are interested in hiking?
- 14.3 3. How do you avoid potentially dangerous situations while hiking?
- 14.4 4. How many miles should a beginner hike?
- 14.5 5. How fast does the average person hike?
- 14.6 6. How should you breathe when hiking?
- 14.7 7. What should you eat while hiking?
- 14.8 8. How often should you take breaks while hiking?
- 14.9 9. How can you improve your hiking?
- 14.10 10. What are some common mistakes in hiking?
What is Hiking?
Before we dive into the intricacies of hiking, let’s define what exactly we are talking about. A hike is considered a long walk in the country or the woods. In general, a walk is done on specific tracks on relatively smooth surfaces, such as roads and sidewalks. On the other hand, a hike is usually longer and more strenuous, and it usually takes place on trails through mountains, forests, or countryside terrain.
Types of Hiking
Day hiking is how most beginners start hiking. It may be obvious, but a day hike is simply a completed hike in one, single day. A day hike could range from a simple 30-minute hike to a strenuous 12-hour day of hiking.
Multi-day Hiking or Backpacking
As the title states, these hikes are longer treks that take multiple days to complete. On a backpacking trip, you spend numerous nights sleeping out in nature. These multi-day hikes can take just a night or two, but they can also be for months at a time!
Thru-hiking is one version of backpacking. These hikes often take many months to complete, and they start and finish at different locations. Examples of thru-hikes include the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail.
In general, this guide will focus primarily on day hiking. Now that we’ve detailed all of the different types of hiking let’s go through the steps of getting you out on your first hike!
How to Start Your First Hike
So now you’re probably excited and ready to set out on your first hike. Since it will be your first time out on the trail, it’s essential to do your research ahead of time. There are a lot of elements to consider, including finding an appropriate path, hiking shoes, and other hiking gear.
Hiking for Beginners: How To Choose Your Routes
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As a new hiker, it’s essential to find trails suitable for your experience level. It’s a good idea to start hiking on a trail rated as an easy hike. But keep in mind, the hike difficulty is more than just the distance alone. It also factors in elevation gain and the weather.
Knowing the trail’s elevation profile is precious information in considering the difficulty and time you have available to hike. But elevation gain is not as simple as the difference between the highest and lowest points on any given trail.
For example, one trail might start at 2,000 feet and end at the same elevation. But that doesn’t consider any of the mountains or hills in between those two points.
But understanding elevation gain doesn’t have to be complicated. To get a good idea of a trail’s elevation profile, add up all of the uphill elevation gains of the trail. To make it even easier, many national and state park trail maps, as well as AllTrails, will already have figured out for you!
So, what type of elevation gain should you be looking for as a newbie to hiking? To keep it a relatively easy experience, you should aim for a hike that totals less than 250 feet of elevation gain per mile. If you’re a runner or just used to hillier terrain, you may want to start with something a bit more challenging than this.
Check the Weather and Consider the Time of Year
It’s imperative to check the weather and trail conditions before you venture out on your first hike! An easy trail in the warm summer months can become nearly impassable in winter weather conditions.
If you get to the trailhead and the weather forecast calls for heavy rain, wind, or snow, you may want to reconsider your hike.
Also, think about the time of year you’re setting out on your hiking trip. During the winter months, will there be snow on the ground? Should you be concerned about icy conditions?
Here are some questions to consider when looking for beginner hiking trails:
- How much time do you have to hike?
- What is your fitness level?
- What distance do you want to cover?
- What are the weather conditions?
- Are there any logistical problems that you might face?
Where to Find Beginner Hiking Trails
Luckily, there are plenty of resources out there to help you make your hiking debut. If you prefer to look at paper maps, many guidebooks are an excellent resource for finding hiking trails.
If you’d prefer to search online, you can find many information and stories of personal experiences on travel or hiking blogs. You can also explore state and national park websites as a resource to find hiking trails.
AllTrails is another helpful website and app. It’s trendy and well-liked, with a collection of over 100,000 trails worldwide. You can search based on your location to find the hikes closest to you. You can also look for hikes based on the difficulty, length, and type of hike.
Finally, word of mouth is always a great resource. If you have friends or family that enjoy hiking, reach out and ask them about it! They can give you hiking tips trail recommendations, or even join you out on the trail!
Tips for Training for Your First Hike
While getting out on the trail is the best way to increase your fitness level, there are plenty of ways to get yourself in shape both at home and at the gym.
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Doing regular cardio workouts is a great way to improve your stamina and endurance for hiking. You can work on your cardio by either walking or running while gradually increasing your distance over time. Even better, find a hilly route around your neighborhood! Or if you’re walking on a treadmill at the gym, start increasing the grade in increments.
Keep in mind that walking, or even running, on a flat surface like a sidewalk will be much easier than a hike with hills or mountains. To increase your endurance even further, you could add a hiking backpack on your walks and runs to get your body used to carry the extra weight.
While cardio training is an essential part of training for a hike, you don’t want to forget about strength training! Your legs and core need to be pretty strong to help you climb up hills and carry a backpack.
If you have a gym membership, that’s an excellent opportunity to use the equipment for strength training workouts. But you don’t necessarily need a gym to train for a hike! There are plenty of free activities online that work your core, legs, and entire body at home without using any equipment.
Stretching and Yoga
Many people overlook the importance of flexibility when it comes to hiking. Not only does it prevent injury, but it’s also an essential aspect of muscle recovery. Regular stretching before and after workouts is a great way to keep yourself flexible. Adding yoga routines a few times a week is also a great addition! You can try joining a yoga class if you’d like professional instruction. But there are also plenty of free instructional yoga videos online that you can do from the comfort of your home.
The Ten Essentials of Hiking Gear
To have a great first hiking experience, you need to have the right hiking gear. Deciding what equipment to buy can be overwhelming when you first get into hiking. But it doesn’t have to be! You just need to focus on getting these ten essentials to get started. These items are the very basics of what you should carry while hiking to keep you safe and in case of an emergency. And while it’s great to invest in this gear for yourself, you can always borrow from friends and family until you get your own.
Knowing the route that you’re hiking is very important. And it becomes even more essential if you happen to get lost or off the trail for any reason. Your navigation system doesn’t have to be an expensive device, but you do need to have resources in place to help you out if you get in a pinch.
As a beginner hiker, it’s a good idea to download offline maps via Google Maps (it’s free!) or any other navigation app. You should also take a photo of the trail map on your phone and print a paper copy to carry with you as multiple forms of backup. And if you know how to use a compass, bring that along too!
You never know what a trial might bring. Even if you don’t plan to, you might find yourself hiking after the sunsets. When this happens, you must have a headlamp with you to hike safely in the dark. Remember to put fresh batteries in it before you head out, or carry a second set with you!
3. Sun Protection
There are multiple ways that you can protect yourself from the sun. It’s a good idea to wear long sleeves and pants when possible as a form of sun protection. Bring along a sun hat and some sunglasses to keep the sun off of your head and face. And it’s always a good habit to pack some sunscreen whenever you set out on a hike.
4. First Aid
If you’re hitting the trail for a day hike by yourself or with just a couple of other people, a small first aid kit that you can purchase at an outdoor retailer is a great option. Or if you can put together your custom first aid kit with a bit of research and purchase of supplies. Just make sure that you check what you have in your kit each time before setting out and restock it as needed.
A small pocket knife is a handy valuable tool for many things. For example, you never know when you might need to cut a rope or open up a tricky hiking snack! It’s also great to have in case of an emergency.
There’s always a chance that something could happen, and you may need to spend a night out on the trail. If this comes up, fire-starting equipment is a great tool to have in your pack! Whether it’s a fire-starting material or windproof matches, these items are lightweight, easily packable, and super helpful in case of an emergency.
If you’re going on a multi-day hike, you’ll already have some form of shelter with you. But even on a day hike, it’s a bright idea to bring a cover with you in the unlikely event that you get stuck out on a trail overnight. To be prepared to sleep outside, something like a lightweight emergency bivvy is a great option.
8. Extra Food
You should carry more food than you plan to eat while you’re out hiking. You’ll want enough food to keep you full and also some extra in case you get stuck out on the trail overnight. A great option would be to pack 3-4 emergency granola bars.
9. Extra Water
You never want to go on a hike without enough water to get you through. So bring along more water than you think you’ll need! As a general rule, you should pack out at least ½ liter for every hour of hiking. But also consider the difficulty of the trail and the weather conditions. For example, on a strenuous trail or a scorching day, it’s a good idea to bring one liter for every hour of hiking.
10. Extra Clothes
Even if you check the weather forecast right before your hike, the weather can often be unpredictable. You never know when a storm might blow in or if the temperature may drop! Therefore, you should keep a rain jacket or poncho with you as a layer or two for warmth as needed.
What to Wear While Hiking
To be comfortable on the trail in any weather condition, some fundamental guidelines are to follow. First, you should choose clothing made of moisture-wicking and quick-drying fabrics. Merino wool or polyester are remarkable materials with these qualities. You’ll want a next-to-skin base layer, both top, and bottoms. Finally, the weight will depend on what temperatures you’re hiking in.
In general, pants [see hiking pants for men] are better for hiking than shorts. But in the warm summer months, you may opt for comfortable running shorts that allow for movement and keep you cool. Stay from jeans or any other heavy materials while hiking.
In cooler temperatures, you’ll want to wear hiking layers made of lightweight fleece, nylon, or polyester. In the colder weather, you’ll also want to have options for insulation, like a puffy vest or jacket along with a warm hat and gloves.
Wearing appropriate footwear is an integral part of hiking. Your hiking shoes don’t have to be anything fancy, but they should fit comfortably and provide you with traction. Some people prefer hiking boots, while others wear trail runners or hiking sandals (see hiking sandals for men) while hiking.
Choosing the right hiking socks should be another consideration before your first hike. After all, the wrong combination of hiking shoes and socks could end up giving you blisters! Socks made of merino wool are a great choice because they are comfortable and breathable.
Other Essential Hiking Gear
Now that we’ve covered what to wear and all of the essentials to bring with you on your first hike, there are a few more pieces of gear that you should consider.
- Water bottle(s). Think about how many hours you plan to be on your hike. You should plan to have enough water to drink about ½ liter for every hour of hiking. The necessary amount of water could increase in hot weather or strenuous conditions. Make sure that you have enough water bottles to carry what you need!
- Trekking poles. Some people love them, and some people don’t. They are a great way to take some weight off of your joints, and they come in handy in particularly strenuous hikes. It’s ultimately up to you to decide if they’re necessary for you.
- Daypack/hiking backpack. You need a place to carry all of your essential gear! A comfortable pack is necessary for a pleasant first hike. The Talon 22 Is an example of an overall great daypack.
Where to Buy Your Hiking Gear Essentials
As a beginner hiker, you may choose to borrow gear rather than buy your own for your first trek. But when you decide that you want to buy your own, it’s essential to know the best places to find it.
Shopping online is an easy way to find everything you need. You can find many essential gear items on Amazon and have them shipped to you quickly. REI is a great outdoor retailer with just about anything you need to recreate in the outdoors, and you can shop online or in stores.
And whenever possible, it’s always a great idea to shop for your hiking gear at a local outdoor outfitter.
Hydration and Nutrition While Hiking
When it comes to hiking, hydration is crucial! Not drinking enough water can slow you down and put you at risk for serious health concerns. So remember, you should pack enough water to drink at least ½ liter for every hour of hiking. And make sure that you’re drinking it!
Frequently eating small snacks is the best way to eat while hiking, as this will help keep your energy levels up and fuel your body for the trek. In addition, you should try to eat a combination of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. As a general rule, you should shoot for about 50% of your hiking diet to be carbohydrates, about 35% fat, and 15% protein.
Take These 4 Hiking Tips with You Out on the Trail
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1. Learn Hiking Etiquette
It’s essential to be aware of and respect your fellow hikers. For example, don’t play music while on the trail. Instead, put in your headphones and jam out. Along the same line, don’t scream or shout unless you signal an emergency. Many people hike in nature to escape the loud nature of everyday life- it’s important to acknowledge and respect that!
2. Practice Leave No Trace Principles
Leave No Trace is a set of principles that anyone who wants to recreate outdoors should follow. Leave No Trace intends to reduce the overall human impact on the outdoors. Following these principles will allow public lands to stay pristine and open for exploring for generations to come. The basics of Leave No Trace are:
- Plan and prepare. Know the area and any rules and regulations before setting out on your hike.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces. Always stay on the established trail. If you are camping overnight, find an area that has already been camped on.
- Properly dispose of your waste by following the “Pack In Pack Out” guidelines. You must take out any trash with you. And when the bathroom calls, you need to bury all poop in a hole 6-8 inches deep. But keep in mind that you must pack out all toilet paper and feminine hygiene products, too!
- Leave what you find. Let nature be, and don’t take anything home with you.
- Reduce the impact of campfires. Wildfires have become a massive problem in many parts of the country. Don’t start fires in a dry climate. When you do so, make sure to keep t in an established fire pit.
- Respect wildlife. Stay away from wild animals while hiking. Keep your food stored properly. If you’re with a dog, keep them under control and leashed at all times.
- Be considerate of others. Follow the established trail etiquette and be kind to your fellow hikers!
Like on the road, hiking trails have the right of way guidelines. In general, hikers going uphill will have the right of way. Likewise, when encountering bikers, all hikers have the right of way. But when it comes to horses, it’s expected that hikers step off the trail to let them pass.
4. Leave a Trip Plan with a Friend or Family Member
Leave a detailed plan of your trip with a trusted friend or family member. Include your emergency contacts, as well as the dates and times that you’re expected to be gone. Going a step further, you can leave a similar note inside your car in case of an emergency. This could help a park ranger or search-and-rescue find you more quickly.
10 Frequently Asked Questions by Beginner Hikers
1. How do you start hiking alone?
There are some important things to consider if you plan to hike alone:
- Hike on a popular trail
- Choose an area that you know well
- Check the weather before you go
- Always carry a map with you
- Let someone know your hiking plans
2. How do you meet others that are interested in hiking?
Meetup is a great place to find other people who enjoy your same hobbies! You can join the community to participate in hiking conversations or find your net hiking partner!
There are also tons of hiking groups on social media platforms that can connect to other hikers in your area.
3. How do you avoid potentially dangerous situations while hiking?
Anytime you go out on a hike, you should always prioritize safety first. There are many unknowns in the great outdoors, but many dangerous situations can be avoided using sound judgment and following the safety tips mentioned above.
4. How many miles should a beginner hike?
As a beginner hiker, it’s easy to overestimate your ability on the trail. But don’t get discouraged! As you gain more experience, you can increase both the distance and difficulty of your hikes.
As a general rule, a person brand new to hiking should plan to hike no more than 5 miles on an easy trail on their first time out.
5. How fast does the average person hike?
On average, the normal hiking speed for adults is about 2 miles per hour. However, this pace doesn’t account for breaks or any drastic changes in elevation gain.
6. How should you breathe when hiking?
Focusing on your breath while hiking can help you increase your lung capacity, allowing you to breathe more efficiently on the trail. There are many ways to choose to live, but some breathing patterns are more common than others.
An easy way to get started with focusing on your breath is by inhaling as you step forward with one foot. Then, you exhale with the next step of that same foot. The more relaxed you are, the longer you can make your breaths.
7. What should you eat while hiking?
There’s no exact science for finding the perfect diet for hiking. In general, you want to stick with nutritious, easy-to-pack foods that are shelf-stable. Here are some of the best hiking foods:
- Trail mix
- Nuts and seeds
- Peanut butter (or alternative nut butters)
- Dried or freeze-dried fruits and vegetables
- Granola bars, protein bars, energy bars
- Tuna salad packets
8. How often should you take breaks while hiking?
You should take a break about once every hour as a general rule. You should aim to have your breaks last 5-10 minutes. Make sure that you take the time to eat a snack and sip some water!
9. How can you improve your hiking?
Getting yourself out on the trail is the best way to get better at hiking. But if that’s not always possible, there are other options.
- Practice running or walking in the sand. This helps to build up strength on your knees and ankles.
- Use resistance bands to work on your range of motion and build strength.
- Focus on core workouts. Whether at the gym or in your home, strengthening your core is a great way to improve your hiking!
- Hop on a stair stepper to practice your uphill hiking skills if you don’t have access to a gym; practicing step-ups on your own stairs works, too!
10. What are some common mistakes in hiking?
We all make mistakes from time to time. But don’t fall victim to these common beginner hiking mistakes!
- Hiking too fast or too far often results in injury.
- Not eating and drinking enough.
- Not looking at the weather forecast ahead of time
- Not bringing a map
- Bringing too much gear
- Wearing ill-fitting hiking shoes
- Wearing cotton clothing