If you’re new to hiking or building up your confidence and knowledge before setting out, get to grips with some essential hiking tips for beginners. You want your adventure to be fun but you also need to ensure you understand the relevant safety measures and have the right equipment to hand.
Hiking for beginners can be intimidating, but there’s not much to it. Providing you have the required fitness levels, equipment and know the rules, hiking is a great way to immerse yourself in nature, get a good workout in, and recharge your batteries.
The exercise reduces stress and enables you to escape the hustle and bustle of city life – plus disconnect from technology.
Below are our hiking tips for beginners. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Gear up
Depending on the terrain in which you are walking, the anticipated weather conditions, and the number of days you expect to be trekking, it’s critically important that you have the right equipment.
The essentials are:
Shoes and socks
The most important piece of gear is a decent pair of hiking shoes. They should fit you well – ill-fitting shoes with poor traction will give you blisters, make you miserable and cause you to lose interest in hiking. Shoes must fit comfortably. Take the time to get a great fit, and choose bliss, not blisters.
If you’re looking for a pair of sturdy hiking boots that are suitable for all kinds of terrain, then high-top hiking boots are a good place to start. This style will provide the most stability and the most ankle support.
High-cut hiking boots also tend to be more durable and rigid than a low hiking shoe or a trail runner. Read more about what to look for in good walking shoes here.
A hiking sock can make or break the hike. Merino wool crew-length sock is the standard general-purpose hiking sock, and a good pair is definitely worth the investment! Keep in mind that socks prevent blisters and that they should be slightly longer than your hiking shoe, so it doesn’t ride down into the footwear.
Technically, hiking doesn’t require any special clothing, but you have to choose something that won’t prevent you from climbing and moving. You should be able to sit down comfortably and reach for things without worrying about your clothes restricting your movement or even tearing.
Be sure to dress in layers so you can add or subtract clothing as your temperature changes. It’s also important to always bring a lightweight rain jacket when there’s even the slightest chance of rain. Don’t forget to:
- Choose moisture-wicking materials that dry fast like nylon, polyester and merino wool since they wick away moisture and are breathable. Avoid jeans and cotton. Cotton keeps you feeling sweaty in hot temps and chills you if things turn cold and wet.
- Dress for different seasons and check the weather. You should choose a good weather day for a great first experience. Anyway, prepare for any weather change and bring a waterproof/breathable rain jacket (or puffy jacket with a polyester fill or water-resistant down inside if it is cold). In summer you will need to protect your skin from direct sunlight, so consider wearing a hat. Protection from sun exposure and even insects is recommended.
- Wear long sturdy pants. Thin yoga pants can be shredded by branches and boulders. Long sleeve shirts will protect you from the elements, but you can roll up the sleeves when it’s hot. Choose garments that will stretch, with reinforced seams and zippered security pockets. Long sleeves and pants minimise the risk of being bitten.
As well, you can use them to reduce the impact on your knees when you go downhill, to reduce the load on your legs going uphill, to test the ground to see how stable it is, or to use them as a selfie stick. The disadvantages of using them are their cost and weight. Secondly, if you aren’t using them properly the benefit is minimized and you are taking up more space on the trail.
The right backpack
There is no right model of a backpack for everyone. It depends on what you’re doing, when and where you’re going, and how long your trip is. Pick a backpack that fits your style and hiking activity.
When buying, try several different packs with weight in them, walk around the store for a couple of minutes wearing it and see what’s comfortable.
Packs are usually sized based on your torso length and waist size, and also vary in capacity. If it’s comfortable on the hips and in the shoulders, it’s probably fine for this first backpacking trip. Depending on the gear you have and the number of days of your adventure, the adequate size can be anywhere between 30 and 80 litres.
It all depends on whether you’re a minimalist (who chooses the lightest, most compact gear) or a more traditional backpacker, like most people. Ultralight backpackers won’t carry clothing to change, but if you aren’t one of them and especially if you bring kids along, opt for a bigger one.
For a day hike, a pack between 10 and 25 litres should be enough. For weekend length trips, 30 to 50 litres is right on the money. Within these parameters, you can comfortably bring everything you’ll need.
2. Food and Water
Good hydration means getting the right amount of water before, during, and after exercise. We lose a lot of fluid through sweating and breathing when exercising.
That’s why you need to increase the intake of water during hiking. If you’re not properly hydrated, your body will not perform at its highest level.
Dehydration can make a hike less enjoyable and even dangerous. Symptoms of dehydration are dizziness/lightheadedness, muscle cramps, nausea/vomiting, dry mouth, dry skin (no longer sweating), and rapid heartbeat.
To keep yourself safe, keep in mind our hiking tips:
- Pre-Hydration – Before hitting the trail, drink one or two cups of water. It can take time for fluids to be absorbed into your body, so make sure u take water in 2 or 4 hours pre-hike to keep your water level from dropping.
- Make yourself drink water even when you don’t feel thirsty – Don’t wait for body thirsty signals. It only begins to feel thirsty when the water level is already low. Prevention is always the best treatment- drink one half to one quart of water every hour you’re hiking and keep yourself safe and hydrated.
- Carry enough water- You need an entire litre of water for every 2 hours you plan to hike. About 1 litre per 10 km in cooler weather or 1 litre per hour in hot weather. It is important that you don’t under-pack, as you could add unanticipated time if you get lost or have to detour.
- Food and water should be easily accessible
Individually wrapped snacks, energy bars, dried food, and bottled water are typically sufficient for a person embarking on a day hike unless the trip involves meal times. High-calorie foods equate to low weight but that doesn’t mean you should just eat sugar. Nuts and trail mix are good options. It is always better to have a little too much food than not enough. For a day-hike, it’s best to bring high energy food that doesn’t need refrigeration or heating.
- Stay hydrated after the hike – Continue to intake fluids even after completing the hike to replenish water and electrolyte loss. Drink more than you think is necessary since thirst always underestimates your body’s fluid needs,.
3. Pick a hike for beginners
Overdoing it is a common beginners mistake. A tough hike will make you suffer. Don’t pick a hike that’s either too long or has too much climbing. If you’re just starting out, pick a hike under 5 miles with minimal climbing.
If you want to do a longer hike, make a training plan in advance. Do an extra mile or two each week and build up to your target distance. Urban hikes through city or town green spaces are excellent choices – there is no rule that says you need to leave town.
Start out easy, and carry a light pack with only the essential equipment. Don’t try to go too complex too early. Keep it short and simple so you enjoy what you are doing and as you build up your fitness and skills, you can increase the length and difficulty of your hikes.
4. It’s not a race
Your pace is your pace. If hiking alone it tends to be easier to maintain your preferred pace. If hiking with others, you should accommodate the slowest in the group.
Don’t forget to look at the total climbing on your hike. A flat 5 miles is much different than 5 miles straight uphill. Time spent outdoors is supposed to be relaxing. Take breaks and give yourself time to enjoy the miracles of nature.
5. A map? Understanding where you are and where you are going
A combination of electronic navigation and paper is a good route for hiking beginners. You may think print maps are outdated but it’s recommended to have a printed map and a compass. Don’t rely on a GPS signal and you never know when your mobile battery could run out.
Print out the hiking guide and map and if it’s raining, throw them in a Zip-Lock bag. Read over the guide, study the map, and have a good idea of what to expect.
When you use an app, you’ll also want to make sure you download the maps for offline use. This ensures that you have the map even when you don’t have a cell phone connection.
Anyhow, start with the basics which include paying attention to your surroundings. When you first start out you should choose trails that are well marked and easy to navigate. Learn navigation basics and build up your navigation skills as you go.
6. Put your phone in flight mode before you hike
When a phone goes out of cell tower range, it drains a ton of battery by searching for a signal. Putting it in flight mode (with GPS or location services on) saves your battery.
Use the GPS as a backup. Try to use your guide and maps to navigate, and then confirm your location by making sure you’re on the GPX line on your app.
You should always start your trip with a fully charged battery in case of an emergency. You’d be surprised how much service you can find way up on the top of a mountain if you need it. And it’s nice to have a camera to hand!
7. Source of light (flashlight and batteries)
Carrying a source of light is a must. Your hike can take longer than expected and getting caught in the dark without light could put you in a bad situation.
Our hiking tip is a head-lamp for a hands-off approach, so you can focus on balance and getting to your final destination. Your phone flashlight isn’t enough because it can drain the phones battery and turn off unexpectedly.
8. Allow plenty of daylight
Take 2 hours longer than you expect and plan to be back before it gets dark with it taking this extra amount of time. Who knows what will happen once you’re out on the trail, you might stop more than you thought for photos, or maybe you just move slower than you thought.
9. Tell someone where you’ll be
Here’s another great tip that’s easy and could save your life. It can be as simple as sending a text message with the hike webpage and noting that you’ll be back at a certain time. If something bad happens, this will increase your chances of being found dramatically.
10. You can turn your miles into charity
As well as improving your well-being, walking is also a simple and easy way to raise money for charity. You move for the causes and people you feel most passionate about. The app uses your phone’s internal pedometer and GPS to track your distance and turns the miles you walk into money for charity.
One last tip. It’s not essential but by downloading the Sweatcoin app you can convert your steps into a digital currency and take advantage of discounted prices with over 300 merchants.