If you’re a hiking newbie intimidated by steep summits, narrow cliffs, and critter-filled woods, fear not! With proper preparation and realistic expectations, the joys and benefits of hiking are available to all skill levels.
This guide covers everything beginners need to plan their first hike and progress safely.
Getting Started with Hiking for Beginners
Hiking offers an ideal blend of aerobic exercise, stress relief, and nature immersion. Traversing trails by foot strengthens muscles while torching calories. Being surrounded by woods, lakes, and mountain ridges provides a mental reset. The sense of accomplishment from summiting a peak can become utterly addictive!
However, hiking may seem daunting if you weren’t raised doing it. Fears of getting lost, being unable to physically handle the exertion, and encountering bears can hold beginners back. But with smart planning, you can avoid becoming overwhelmed on the trail. Follow these tips to make your beginner hiking experiences enjoyable:
- Start with short and simple trails with minimal elevation gain. Build distance and difficulty over time as your fitness improves.
- Invest in quality hiking shoes or boots to prevent injury. Break them in before hitting the trail.
- Tell someone your hiking route and estimated return time for safety. Bring emergency supplies like a first aid kit.
- Study trail maps beforehand and use GPS apps like AllTrails to stay oriented.
- Pack plenty of water and nutritious trail snacks to stay energized.
Choosing Hiking Trails
Not all hiking trails are created equal when you’re just getting started. Choosing the right beginner-friendly route ensures you have a positive first experience rather than getting frustrated by an overly advanced hike. Use these criteria when selecting trails as a novice hiker:
- Distance should be no more than 3 miles out-and-back to start. Build up to longer distances over several hikes as your endurance improves.
- Seek out trails with less than 500 feet of elevation gain. Steep climbs require more conditioning.
- Look for gently rolling woodland terrain or wide dirt paths versus rocky or slippery trails.
- Research the trail difficulty rating on sites like AllTrails. Beginner or easy/moderate difficulty is best.
- Choose well-marked trails in busier parks. They tend to be well-maintained and easier to follow without getting lost.
Must Have Gear for Beginner Hikers
Hitting the trail unprepared is a recipe for disaster. Investing in quality gear tailored for novice hikers helps ensure a safe, comfortable trek. Here are some must-haves:
Hiking Shoes or Boots
Proper footwear makes or breaks the hiking experience. For beginners, look for boots or shoes with these features:
- Ankle support and rigidity to prevent rolling. Boots are better than low-cut shoes.
- Waterproofing to keep feet dry across creek crossings or rain showers. Materials like Goretex offer breathability and water protection.
- Aggressive tread and grip on the sole to maintain traction on varied terrain. Lug patterns that extend to the edges work best.
- A padded or gusseted tongue to prevent lace pressure and irritation.
- Shock absorbing midsole to reduce joint impact, especially when carrying a backpack.
- Quick lacing system for easy on and off. Consider slip-on styles to avoid retying.
Popular beginner hiking boot brands include Merrell, Salomon, and Oboz. Break them in fully at home before hitting the trail to prevent painful blisters.
A daypack carries all your hiking essentials in an easy-to-transport design. For new hikers, choose a 25-30 liter pack with:
- Padded shoulder straps for comfort when loaded down. Look for adjustable straps to customize fit.
- Breathable back panel so you don’t overheat. Mesh materials or air channels aid ventilation.
- Sternum and waist straps to stabilize heavy loads. Hip belts transfer pack weight to the legs.
- Multiple compartments and pockets to keep gear organized and easily accessible.
- Hydration reservoir sleeve and ports to use a hands-free hydration bladder.
- Attachment points for hiking poles, carabiners or other accessories.
Top daypack picks include the Osprey Talon, Deuter Speed Lite, and The North Face Borealis.
Water and Filtration
Staying hydrated is critical when hiking. Carry at least 1 liter of water per hour of activity. Beyond that, bring a water filter or purification tablets to treat natural water sources. Portable filter options include:
- Pump filters like the Katadyn BeFree: Filters up to 2 quarts per minute just by pumping water through the cartridge.
- Straw filters like the LifeStraw: Simply drink right from natural water sources like lakes or streams using the straw—no pumping required.
- Gravity filters like the Platypus GravityWorks: Fill with water and hang to have clean water flow through the filter into a reservoir. Fast and hands-free.
- UV pen purifiers like the SteriPEN: Dip in water and use the UV light to neutralize bacteria and protozoa. Requires batteries.
Walking poles enhance stability, balance, and power with less strain on the lower body. For beginners, look for adjustable-height poles with these features:
- Wrist straps to keep hands free and maximize grip security.
- Shock absorbers built into the tip and handle to reduce impact on joints.
- Durable carbon fiber or aluminum construction to handle pressure without breaking.
- Interchangeable rubber tips for traction on different surfaces like asphalt, mud or snow.
- Foam or cork handles to absorb sweat and prevent slipping.
Leading pole brands like Black Diamond, REI and Leki offer budget-friendly options under $100. Adjust pole height so your elbow forms a 90-degree angle when gripping.
First Aid Kit
A hiking first aid kit contains essentials for treating minor scrapes, blisters and strains. Stock your pack with:
- Wound care: Gauze pads, rolled gauze, adhesive bandages, disinfectant wipes
- Medications: Antibiotic ointment, antihistamine, aspirin, ibuprofen, Benadryl
- Tools: Tweezers, scissors, safety pins, thermometer
- Foot care: Blister pads, moleskin, athletic tape
- Miscellaneous: Medical gloves, emergency blanket, sunscreen, insect repellent
Prepackaged hiking first aid kits like the Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series include all essentials in a lightweight, compact case.
In addition to a first aid kit, carry a few extras in case of an accident or getting stranded overnight, like:
- Flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries: Illuminates the trail or work area if hiking past sunset or injuries occur.
- Fire starting materials: Stay warm and boil water with items like matches, lighter, fire starters.
- Multitool or knife: Cut bandages, rope, clothing or branches; pry open or loosen items.
- Emergency blanket and poncho: Retain body heat if injured or temperatures drop.
- Whistle: Signal for help if lost or in a crisis. Easier to hear than shouting.
- Paracord: Build shelters or splints, secure items, and manage other survival scenarios.
The right gear makes all the difference when you’re starting out on the trails. Invest in quality hiking-specific items suited for beginners. Your first hike will be that much more comfortable, safe and enjoyable.
Mastering Hiking Techniques as a Beginner
Proper form and pacing prevents injury while saving energy on the trail. Use these techniques for a smooth, comfortable beginner hike:
- Take short, steady strides while walking upright. Plant feet heel to toe while engaging the core.
- Use trekking poles for balance while ascending and taking pressure off knees while descending.
- Stop for sip of water or snack break about every 30 minutes to refuel and regulate pace.
- Focus on controlled breathing through the nose and out the mouth to maximize oxygen intake.
- On inclines, keep your head up and drive through your heels while maintaining short strides.
- On declines, bend knees slightly to absorb impact and walk steadily under control.
Getting Fit for Hiking
Don’t attempt long or difficult hikes without conditioning muscles and building hiking-specific stamina. Prep with these training tips:
- Climb stairs or use the incline feature on treadmills to simulate hiking uphill.
- Perform lower body strengthening exercises like squats, lunges and calf raises.
- Go on practice hikes once a week, gradually increasing distance or elevation gain.
- Do flexibility routines to improve range of motion and prevent injury. Focus on hips, glutes, quads and hamstrings.
The Trails Are Calling!
As a beginner hiker, challenge yourself while also being realistic. Start with short, flat routes and work your way up slowly over many trips. Invest in sturdy shoes, a backpack, and emergency essentials before hitting the trail. Follow proper hiking form and preparedness tips. With the right mindset and preparation, the beauty and thrill of hiking will soon have you hooked! The journey begins with a single step, so start exploring the vast hiking trails awaiting new adventurers today.