Hiking has become a favorite outdoor activity for all ages because it is great exercise, fairly inexpensive and gets you out to enjoy nature. Hence, why so many people are hitting the hiking trails. But, how do novices or beginner hikers who have never hiked a day in their life prepare to hike the outdoors? This hiking for beginners guide will get you on the hiking trail in no time!
If you’re wanting to get into hiking but don’t know where to start, the information out there can be overwhelming. So, here’s the straight scoop on how to become a successful hiker with our Hiking for Beginners Guide.
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Hiking for Beginners: Novice Hiker Tips for Hitting the Trails
Make no mistake, we do not consider ourselves extreme hikers but we’ve hiked enough to know our way around the trails. As experienced moderate to strenuous hikers, we can help guide beginner hikers find their way to the hiking trails safely.
So, before you go buying the latest and so-called greatest hiking gear out there, let’s see what we recommend to get you started on your hiking adventure!
Start off on easy hiking trails
As a beginner or even novice hiker, biting off more than you can chew may land you in the hospital. But also, it may persuade you to never hike again. Per the National Park Service, hiking trails are rated according to difficulty. So, before even hitting the nearest hiking trail, you’ll want to check the experience or difficulty level.
- Easiest – A hike that is generally suitable for anyone who enjoys walking less than 3 miles. It’s the perfect starting point geared towards hiking for beginners.
- Moderate – Suitable for novice hikers who may be up for a bit of a challenge. The terrain will involve a moderate incline and may have some steeper sections. Generally 3 to 5 miles.
- Moderately Strenuous – Hikes will generally be challenging for an unconditioned person. The terrain will involve a steady and often steep incline. Generally 5 to 8 miles.
- Strenuous – Will challenge most hikers. These hikes will be longer and steeper, but may be deemed “Strenuous” because of the elevation gain. Generally 7 to 10 miles.
- Very Strenuous – Only well-conditioned, experienced and well-prepared hikers should attempt very strenuous hikes. The hike will generally be long and steep, and may include rock scrambling, stream crossings, and other challenging terrain. Generally 8 miles and over.
All of that said, those difficult levels may differ according to the different parts of the Country. A moderate trail may differ in the Appalachian Mountains versus the Rocky Mountains.
So, when you’re in different regions of the country or even anywhere in the world, do your research to see really how hikers determine level of expertise. While you may eventually become accustomed to hiking moderately strenuous trails in the eastern part of the country may very well exceed your physical capability and comfort zone in the west.
Share your HIKING PLAN
A hiking plan is much like a float plan for kayakers and paddleboarders and boaters. Make certain you let your loved ones know where you’re headed, trails you’ll be hiking, what gear you’re taking and your ETA. By having a hiking plan, it could very well save your life.
Be a weather watcher
One of the most important elements to learn in hiking for beginners is the weather. Weather can make or break you on the hiking trail. This is why it’s imperative that you plan your hiking on days of no rain, severe heat and cold, intense sun and wintery weather elements. Know how to recognize certain weather patterns and know how to read the clouds.
Dress for the hiking trail
The hiking trail isn’t the red carpet runway. Nobody cares about what you’re wearing, nor does the wildlife. That said, there are a few tips on what to wear on the hiking trail. Because seriously, if you’re not comfortable, your day on the trail will suffer.
Your hiking shoes or hiking boots are one of the most important pieces of clothing and hiking gear you need. And believe me when I tell you that I’ve even tried 4 different brands of hiking shoes before I found a pair that doesn’t make my dogs bark at the end of the day.
In fact, since I have wide feet and need a bit more arch support, I’ve found Keens hiking shoes provide lots of toe room, no heel slippage and great arch support. And their sole treads are perfect for all terrains. Plus, they keep my feet dry which is imperative for outdoor activities. (I was not compensated for this review)
Whichever hikers you buy, for the love of the trail gods, don’t cheap out on your feet! A good, sturdy pair of hiking shoes or boots start at about $80. Remember, what you feel in your feet will transfer into how you carry yourself. Sore feet will also mean sore legs and knees, sore back and even shoulders. So, invest in your feet (and body) by getting the best hikers.
This is another reason hiking for beginners should start with shorter hikes. At least until you find a suitable pair of hiking shoes or boots. If you’re feet hurt only after 15-30 minutes of hiking, you need to look into other hiking shoes.
Socks are also a personal preference. You need to find what is most comfortable to you. That said, I highly recommend nature fiber moisture-wicking socks like merino wool as they pull moisture away from your skin. This will help make your shoes not ride or chafe your heels like cotton will.
As far as hiking clothing, I prefer to wear at least a brightly-colored ball cap or wide brimmed hat that’s breathable yet protects the face and neck from the sun’s UV rays. If it’s cold out, a brightly colored knit watch cap will help keep your head warm.
It’s also a good idea to wear a bright colored outer shirt; preferably a moisture wicking to keep you comfortable. In case you get lost, at least you’ll know you can be seen in the daylight. Depending on time of year and weather, you may want a long sleeve wick-away shirt over a short sleeve moisture wicking shirt to protect your arms from sunburn.
And if there’s a possibility of hiking at dawn or dusk, it wouldn’t hurt to have some sort of reflective clothing articles or something reflective on your body and/or hiking backpack.
Also, don’t forget to wear your polarized sunglasses, a moisture wicking neck gator and again, a ball cap or wide brimmed hat. And, if your hikes will include some climbing or rock scrambling, you may want to pack a pair of gripping gloves to protect your hands from the elements and provide better grip.
Plan your hike
Before heading out on the hiking trail, you need to plan your hiking adventure. First, you should figure, according to your comfort level, an approximation of how many hours and minutes your hike is going to be.
So, if you’re on an easy 3 mile hiking trail, consider a half hour to an hour for each mile. I know that sounds like a lot of time to hike just one mile. However, you may encounter rough terrain, switchbacks, elevation, and obstacles. And if you’re into stopping often for drinks, rest or to take photos, consider adding more time.
We’ve personally been on short hikes that have taken all day; not because we’re slow pokes on the trail but we hike to enjoy the outdoors. We may take a 20 minute lunch break or sit and watch wildlife for 10 minutes.
In other words, try to calculate your day of hiking based on how many miles, terrain and elevation as well as your stops on the hiking trail.
Why you should hike early in the day:
- The hiking trails tend to not be as busy.
- You’re sure to get a parking space at the trailhead.
- The afternoon sun, especially in the warmer months, will be stronger which will demand more from your body.
- The wind typically will pick up in the afternoons which may make your hike a bit more challenging. Also know that wind will cause you to dehydrate even on a cooler day.
Hydrate or Die
Speaking of dehydration, I know that sounds extreme but the most important element of hiking is staying hydrated. You will lose hydration through breathing, sweating and elimination (peeing). So, remember to drink water often, especially in dry and arid regions. Even so, if it’s a cold or windy day where you don’t feel dehydrated, the sun and wind will still, quite literally, dry you out.
Our rule of thumb is on longer days, we’ll hike with at least 100 ounces of water each. On longer hikes where I’d need a sizable daypack, I will stick my 2-liter hydration bladder inside my daypack for double duty.
On shorter hikes, I may just use my Camelback +2 liter hydration pack. It has small pockets for my chapstick, small tube of sunscreen and a couple pocket snacks. And for you ladies, yes, I also keep my Go-Girl for those ‘I really gotta go’ times.
Healthy trail snacks
If you’re going to be hiking more than an hour or two, it would be wise to pack a few healthy snacks in your daypack. Avoid meat protein packs and jerky because that may attract wildlife you certainly don’t want to encounter. Predators such as big cats and bears can smell for miles. Stick with plant based snacks like protein or fruit bars (those are delicious!), high protein granola bars, nuts and a piece of fruit like an orange or apple.
Don’t forget to include a couple small trash bag (they’re actually compostable doggie poop bags!) in your daypack. Remember, pack in pack out, leave no trace. This includes taking your wrappers, bags, apple cores, orange peels, banana peels, etc. with you.
Hiking for beginners gear
Don’t think that you have to run out and buy a whole bunch of expensive hiking gear. As mentioned above, your feet will be taking the brunt of your hike, so spend your money wisely on a quality pair of hikers.
Where you’re hiking and how long will depend on the hiking gear you need to take. In my opinion, it would be a good idea also to carry at least one trekking pole or walking stick to help with balance and stability. Also, a they can serve as protection and defense from snakes and other critters hidden in rock crevices and holes. And of course, if you ever had to fend off an attack, they are a great weapon (let’s hope that never happens).
You’ll want a decent day pack to carry a few hiking essentials like a first aid kit, high SPF lip balm, high SPF sunscreen, insect repellent, extra water, dry socks, rain poncho, emergency blanket and of course, your trail snacks.
Hiking is NOT a race!
As we’ve found out first hand, when hiking in a group, there will be hikers of every experience level. Some will be beginner hikers just like yourself. Or, you may be mixed into a group with expert hikers that seem to double time with their stride. I’m going to go out on a limb to tell you, hiking isn’t nor should it be a race. Seriously, isn’t the whole principle of hitting the hiking trails to get away from the rat race of society? So, why bring it to the trail?
Personally, we prefer to hike alone with each other or with friends who are of the same caliper of hiking experience. Because then, we only have to push or keep up with one other. We don’t have to worry about holding the group back or be waiting on others.
Hiking beyond your experience or comfort level will only get you hurt or injured. That’s how broken ankles, slips and falls happen. So, if you’re invited to a group hike, as a beginner hiker, it’s okay to say, ‘not this time’ or ‘go ahead of me, I’m going to take my time’.
If you’re hiking so fast to prove to yourself (or others) that you’re a superstar, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. As I mentioned earlier, hiking is about nature; seeing, hearing, smelling, even touching things in nature. If you do prefer to hike a much faster pace than your hiking partners, go on your own and meetup when everyone’s finished with the hike. Whatever you do, just hike your own hike (HYOH). Don’t allow others to dictate or push you beyond your abilities or comfort zones.
And of course, you may want to document your hiking adventure by taking lots of photos. You may see wildlife, cool plants, trees, even mushrooms may make you stop to take a photo. So, hiking the outdoors is one of those ‘stop and smell the roses’ type of adventures. Take time to enjoy why you’re out there.
There’s wildlife that can and will hurt you if they are compromised. You very well may encounter wildlife from small rodents, birds, reptiles all the way up to large game animals. You need to be prepared for any and all of those encounters.
Not trying to scare you or talk you out of enjoying a good hike, you just need to be aware and alert. If you have children who are with you, always keep them near you; especially in big cat, bear and rattlesnake (or other venomous snakes) habitats.
The one thing you don’t want to do is surprise or startle any animals you may come upon. And you certainly don’t want to get between any wildlife and their babies. But also, be aware of deer and elk ruts and wildlife mating seasons as male animals can become aggressive and dangerous.
If you’re in big cat country, know that they will probably see us before we’ll see them. So, as beautiful as the scenery is, keep your eyes looking everywhere; especially on hills and rocks above you.
Stay away from rocks and crevices where harmful venomous snakes and venomous spiders may take refuge. This is one of the reasons we encourage taking trekking poles to test out areas before stepping or grabbing.
While you may not have to worry as much about smaller game such as squirrels, rabbits and raccoons, you should know how to recognize animals infected with rabies.
And lastly, never feed, antagonize, chase, pet or try to disturb wildlife. In some states, that could land you a huge fines, imprisonment, being banned from parks, injury or all of the above.
Stay on the trail!
Hiking trails are like roads. Their purpose is to keep you concentrated in an area to damage nature such as flora, fauna and wildlife habitats. So, while you may want to trek a little off the beaten path, please don’t. Because you may be trampling on endangered species of plants, sapling’s, etc. And also, there may be venomous snakes that may be hiding in the brush, under leaves or against trees and rocks.
But also, be aware of challenging slopes, grades, steps, rocks; especially after a good rain as they may be slippery. And pay particular attention to erosion as the ground could give way. If you stick to the trail as it’s intended, you should enjoy your hike without worry of repercussions.
Share the trail
Just like driving a car on the road, there are rules of etiquette on the hiking trails. Because trails can get a bit crowded during camping season and when school’s out, we all have to learn to share the trail. From who has the right of way to leave no trace, there’s more to hiking than just…‘hiking’.
So, reading up on hiking etiquette would be a good idea before setting out on your hike. Your fellow hikers you meet on the trail will appreciate the courtesy.
Wrapping Up our hiking for beginners
As you’ve just read our hiking for beginners guide, you’re off to a great hike! Research the region or area in which you’re going to hike and follow this hiking for beginners preparation checklist:
- Research and choose the right trail for your physical and mental abilities
- Check the weather.
- Pack light but take what you’ll need for the trail.
- Share your hiking plan with a loved one.
- Dress for weather and temperatures
- Wear sun protection
- Start with short, easy hikes
- Take water and healthy snack breaks
- Check in with loved ones when you’ve reached your destination and/or return
Enjoy your hiking journey of the outdoors. Take the time to watch for wildlife, listen to the birds, and smell the air. And take lots of photos but leave only your footprints.
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