Hiking For Beginners- Everything You Need To Know
You may have toyed with the idea for a while or you’ve just decided that now you need to get out into nature more. Hiking is one of those activities that’s difficult to beat; it combines exercise with fresh air all while being out in mother nature. I’ve been a keen hiker all my life but it’s only since moving to Chile and being so close to the Andes that I’ve really fallen in love with this amazing pursuit. If you’re just starting out on your fitness journey, keep reading for this essential guide to everything you need to know about hiking for beginners.
WHY GO HIKING?
There are so many different benefits of hiking from the physical to the mental and emotional. Hiking naturally means exercise and interaction with nature which in themselves have a plethora of benefits.
Exercise is probably the biggest benefit. Its the perfect exercise which you can make as easy or as hard, as you like. It’s a form of cardiovascular exercise which works many of the muscles in the body including the legs, butt, hips and abdominals and the best part? Most of the time it doesn’t even feel like exercise!
Hiking forces you to get outdoors and into nature which can be healing and freeing. There’s something magical about being in nature and feeling the sensations that come with that; the smell of that rain-soaked earth, the feeling of the wind in your hair and the splatter of raindrops on your face. It has the ability to connect us to where we came from.
Hiking can also do wonders for our self-esteem and mental health. Solo hiking teaches us resilience, confidence and can even have a positive effect on depression, anxiety and an ability to change your mood for the better.
Hiking is also free (for the most part) meaning that it’s a low budget activity that’s available to almost everyone.
HIKING FOR BEGINNERS: GETTING STARTED
So you’ve decided you want to start hiking but you’re not really sure where to start. Here are some hiking for beginners points you might want to consider before you choose and take on your first trail.
FIND A HIKING PARTNER
If you’d like to share your hikes and experiences with someone else then a hiking partner might be something you’d want to look into. Start with your own close circles. Perhaps there is someone in your family who would also love to try hiking or maybe you have a friend that has already started- just ask them to take you with them next time. The same goes for the office and other communities you’re a member off. Maybe you have a co-worker who is already an avid hiker who you could join on their next trek. Alternatively, there might be someone who would like to get into hiking in the same way you do- talk to people you know and see if you can find anyone interested.
If you don’t have any outdoorsy people amongst your nearest and dearest then don’t worry, there are many hiking networks and groups across the internet you can join. Are you a university student? Your university will probably have an outdoors or hiking society for you to join. Also, there will also be a variety of Facebook Groups and Meetup groups in your area for hikers and walkers. You can join the group and go out with them on their next excursion. If you’re in the US there’s also the American Hiking Society’s Hiking Alliance and in the UK there’s The Rambler’s Walking Society- each has supportive and friendly groups you can join and hike with.
WHY NOT GO SOLO?
When considering hiking for beginners this might not always come to mind straightway but there is definitely something life-changing about hiking solo so please don’t think you have to hike in a group or with someone else. I’ve personally had some of the best hiking adventures solo and I would highly recommend it, but if you’re a beginner you need to start slowly and surely. While hiking with a partner is considered safer, solo hiking does have a whole bag of benefits.
Firstly, you don’t have to wait for anyone to organise anything. Organisation can be a pain at the best of times and it takes time to organise even a small, group excursion. Going alone you don’t have to worry about the date, time and trek details of a hike to suit your needs. Hiking alone is simple- when you want to go, you go.
Secondly, while it may seem a little scary at first, hiking alone can make you much more self-aware and self-confident especially if you’re someone who doesn’t often do things solo. It teaches you self-reliance and oftentimes how to tackle your fears and how to solve problems. All that time in nature alone is also great for your mindset, productivity and you can use the time to really think about things and get perspective- literally.
Finally, when you hike alone you can set the pace. Hiking with an experienced trekker is all well and good in terms of safety but they will no doubt have a different trekking pace to you. Going alone you can set the pace and stop for snacks, breaks and photos when you like.
INVEST IN THE RIGHT GEAR
There’s nothing worse than setting out on a hike without or with the wrong gear. When it comes to hiking there are certain things that should always be in your backpack and you should leave home without. Having the right gear really can make or break a hike- especially footwear, so make sure you invest well into the basics at first to allow yourself to have the best time from the get-go.
Footwear– I cannot begin to tell you how crucial footwear is. You need good, sturdy hiking boots with grip soles to cope well with a different variety of trails. Converse just isn’t going to cut it. It’s a good idea to try on many different brands and styles before buying so I recommend going to your local outdoors store first instead of just buying online. You’ll also need to wear them in before your first hike to make sure they won’t give you blisters and ruin your feet. I’ve had these Soloman boots for years and I love them.
Rain jacket– Another must, especially if you’re hiking somewhere where the weather changes abruptly. Try to go for a jacket with Gore-tex technology as this makes it far more breathable in warmer temperatures. This jacket will protect you in the rain and keep you warm in windy conditions too.
Rucksack-When going out on a hike you’ll need to bring one to put it all your personal belongings, water and food. Opt for a rucksack that’s a good size; not too small and not too big as it will get too heavy to be comfortable. I recommend 20-25 litres for those starting out on day-hikes. Some additional features that go a long way are a built-in rain cover, a side water bottle pocket, comfortable, padded straps and a waist strap for extra support. I personally love Osprey and all their backpacks, both day and multi-trek ones.
Fleece– An essential for the colder hikes, an extra fleece is something you really shouldn’t leave without due to the changing conditions in the mountains. I personally like to have two kinds, a thin summer fleece and a thicker winter one- with those two I’m set for hiking throughout the year.
Water Bottle– Don’t leave home without water but don’t use single-use plastic either. A good water bottle is essential for daily life and not just for hiking. I recommend a water bottle that is large and one that filters and disinfects water on the go, meaning you can fill up from rivers, streams and lakes as you hike. Different brands have different filter and cleaning systems. I personally use this LARQ bottle which cleans water safety and efficiently through UV rays. It’s one of the best bottles I’ve ever bought.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT TRAIL
When considering hiking for beginners, it’s paramount to choose the right trail for your hiking and fitness levels. Choosing a trail that is too difficult can make you suffer unnecessarily and can even put you off hiking for good. When choosing a hike you’ll want to look at the plan of the hike before you go and pay attention to two things, the distance and the terrain. Think about the distance you’d feel comfortable walking and then take the terrain into account. A flat 3 miles is very different to a steep, uphill 3 miles.
It all depends on your fitness level too. If you’re a hiking beginner but you practise lots of other sports and activities then you might be more comfortable with an ‘intermediate’ level hike. If once you’ve chosen your trail but you’re still unsure, you can train for it and build up your fitness and strength slowly. Go on long walks around your city or neighbourhood and train by forgetting about the elevator- taking the stairs and training on stairs will prepare you for the hills or mountains.
HIKING FOR BEGINNERS TOP TIPS
Consider these hiking for beginners tips before setting out on your first hike.
MAKE SURE YOU KNOW BASIC HIKING ETIQUETTE
When it comes to hiking there are some guidelines that most hikers know and stick to and you should be aware of them when you start too. Rather than rules, these unwritten guidelines aim to make the hiking experience enjoyable for everyone.
↠ Know your right of way– Hikers going up have right of way. If you’re descending and the trail is narrow, step aside to let people pass. The same goes for horses and other animals, so if there are horses coming up or down, step aside to let them through. Cyclists are supposed to give way to hikers and horses but they sometimes don’t due to travelling at higher speeds, so keep that in mind.
↠Say hello– hikers will often say a quick hello as they pass each other on the trail. This keeps the atmosphere friendly on the trails. On less trodden trails it’s not uncommon to stop altogether and have a quick chat about the trail/terrain ahead.
↠Stay on the trail– this is to make sure the surrounding flora and fauna don’t get disturbed. Going off-trail can damage wildlife and with that ecosystems.
TAKE IT SLOW
Hiking shouldn’t be a race and you’re not competing with anyone so take it slow. Set your own pace- one that you can comfortably keep without struggling too much. If you set out too quickly you will tire easily and the hike will be much less enjoyable- a mistake many beginners make when hiking for the first time. Alternately, you could seriously injure yourself. Walk slowly and take the time to reflect and enjoy the company of nature and the people you’re with.
KNOW THE FLORA AND FAUNA OF THE AREA
It’s always a good idea to do some quick research on the flora and fauna- fauna, particularly in the area. If you’re hiking locally you might already know about the dangers of wild animals in the area but make sure you read up about local animals in every new area you hike. For safety reasons, you should be aware if there are animals like bears, moose, snakes, wolves and coyotes as well as ticks, leeches or mosquitoes. All this fauna can pose a problem if you encounter one so make sure you read up about hiking safety in your local area so you know what to do. Always be aware of your surroundings and watch where you tread.
TAKE ENOUGH FOOD AND WATER
When hiking, taking enough food and water is paramount to both safety and the enjoyment of your hike. How much food and water you take will depend on the trail you choose to do. If you’re only going out on a 4-hour hike you’ll need less food and water than if you’re going out for 8 hours. If you’re going out for the whole day aim to pack a variety of different snacks, plus a couple more for emergencies as well as some lunch- a buddha bowl or sandwich works well. Aim for healthy and light foods when hiking as these will be absorbed into your bloodstream quickly giving you energy. Some of my favourite snacks to take are bananas and apples, unsalted and natural trail mix and GoMacro Bars.
You’ll also need enough water. As a general rule, you should bring at least 2 cups of water (1/2 litre) per adult per hour of hiking. If it’s a really hot day or if the trail is steep you’ll need more. It’s always a good idea to bring a reusable water bottle with a filter or self-cleaning system so you can fill it up from streams or lakes nearby. I bring my LARQ Bottle with me everywhere.
While hiking is an (almost) free or extremely budget activity, you might need some money for a few things. You may have to pay a small entrance fee to access certain national parks and trails and these rural places often don’t take cards. The same goes for rural stores in the area. Make sure you have a bit of cash on you just in case you need to buy something or tip someone.
PLAN YOUR HIKE IN ADVANCE
You don’t need to spend many hours doing this but some research will help you to answer many questions such as Is this trail suitable for beginners? Are there picnic areas where I can have lunch? Where are the bathrooms, if any? Are there any steep parts on the trail? Researching and planning your trek will make you more confident in your hike and you’ll be more prepared for what is or isn’t available. Planning your hike in advance will also determine what you need to take with you and how long the hike takes to complete so you can plan accordingly.
BRING A PHYSICAL MAP
One mistake that many beginners make when hiking is relying on only a cell phone as a guide for directions or a map. Many things can happen to electronics i.e. they break and run out of battery and often times there is no service in national parks anyway. When doing a new hike, especially one a little out of your comfort zone, always bring a physical map with you and even if you don’t end up using it, it doesn’t hurt to have one as a back up anyway. If you are using your phone and digital apps to navigate then make sure to bring a portable charger as these apps tend to zap your battery pretty quickly. I always carry a portable Anker PowerCore just in case.
DON’T PANIC IF YOU GET LOST
If you’re just starting out with hiking and map navigating, getting lost might happen. It’s pretty hard to do so but it might happen. Most trails in national parks nowadays are very clearly signposted that it really is impossible to get lost. If you are going a little bit more into the wilderness then make sure you go prepared with a physical map and not just relying on a cell phone app. Pay close attention to landforms like mountain peaks and ravines that could help you if you get lost. When hiking, many beginners tend to panic when they get lost. If you do get lost, however, don’t panic, just try to retrace your steps and use those natural landmarks. If there is a river follow that downstream. In today’s built-up world there is always someone close by so don’t panic if you do get lost. If you are worried about the small possibility of getting seriously lost then choose a hike that’s popular and gets plenty of traffic. This way there will always be someone to ask if you’re not sure which turn to take.
CHECK THE WEATHER BEFORE YOU DEPART
Before departing on any hike make sure you check the latest weather report that morning. This helps you decide what you need to pack and what you’ll need to take with you. If the weather report says it will be hot and sunny you’ll need to take sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat and more water. Getting stuck in a thunderstorm, snowstorm or blizzard isn’t exactly fun not to mention dangerous too.
TELL SOMEONE ABOUT YOUR HIKE
Hiking is a very safe activity, but it’s still a good idea to tell someone about your plans, especially when going alone as you just don’t know what might happen. If you’re hiking in a national park you might have to also sign in and out when you begin or end your trek so that park rangers know which trail you’re doing in case of emergency. Remember you probably won’t have any cell phone service so calling for help when you need it might not be an option.
LEAVE NO TRACE
Nature is there for everyone to enjoy so make sure you bring out everything that you take in. Nobody wants to see trails lined with litter so we all need to do everything we can to keep nature free of rubbish. It’s always a good idea to bring a compostable bag with you for litter which you can throw out when in a safe, built-up area. The same goes for organic trash. While apple cores and banana peels do decompose, this takes years and in the meantime, nobody wants to see that along the trail.
Hiking really is one of the best activities you can do for both your body and your mind and I’m sure it’s something you will enjoy so much when you start. If you find any amazing hiking trails be sure to let me know and spread the word.
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Do you have any comments or questions about hiking for beginners? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you.
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