Hiking is a simple activity that is suitable for everybody. Therefore, hiking is a perfect way to stay fit and healthy. It also relieves stress and gives you a possibility to discover the beauty of nature at your own pace. Hiking is a relatively inexpensive activity and if you don’t live in a (big) city you can go hiking on a daily basis. However, many have negative experiences with their initial hikes as they start with too difficult trails, don’t have the right equipment, don’t check the weather etc. In this guide for beginners to hiking we’ll give you some tips to make your first hikes successful and enjoyable.
Hiking for Beginners – Tips:
- Choose the right trail
- Check the conditions
- Check the weather
- Dress appropriately
- Find the right footwear
- Pack the right things
- Invite friends
- Plan the journey
- Leave no trace
Choose the right trail for your fitness level
For your first hike, you should select a trail that is a little shorter than the distance you can normally walk. Besides the distance you should also check the elevation gain on the trail because steep trails will put extra strain on your body and thus require more time and energy. After several hikes you will get a sense of which distances and elevation gains work well for you. To find trails near your location, we recommend using Wikiloc, Suunto Movescount or Endomondo. On these websites you can find trails all around the world and each trail comes with information about the distance, ascent, descent etc. Furthermore, you can also download GPS tracks and use them for navigation on your hikes (with a Smartphone, GPS watch, GPS device etc.). To learn how to use a GPS track for navigation check out our article about GPS tracks.
Check the conditions on the trail
After you decided on a trail, try to get as much information as possible about it online. Search for ground cover, vegetation, water sources and technical difficulty. You should avoid technically difficult trails and trails which are covered with snow unless you already have experience with such trails. If there are sources of drinkable water along the trail you can take less water with you and thus make your backpack lighter.
Check the weather
Hiking in cold, rainy and windy weather is no fun if you don’t have the right gear and if you are new to hiking, your gear is probably not of the highest quality. Therefore, check the weather forecast and in case of a bad weather (rain, thunderstorms etc.) postpone the hike. Weather forecast will also give you valuable information on what to pack (sun cream, sunglasses etc.) and how to dress (long sleeves or short sleeves etc.). Hikes conducted in nice clear weather (whether warm or cold) can become unforgettable experiences and motivate you to continue.
Unlike many other resources about hiking for beginners online, we won’t recommend you buying loads of hiking gear. After all you are just beginning with hiking and unless your first hike is a very hard trail in bad weather conditions (which it shouldn’t be) you can most likely improvise with the clothing and gear you already have (sport pants, quick-drying base layer, backpack etc.). With time you’ll get a sense of what clothing and gear you need for the type of hikes you prefer – you can always double-check with our reviews of hiking gear. To get an idea of what to wear for hiking in general, check out our Hiking Clothing Guide.
Find the right footwear
While some trails (mainly on fields and meadows) can be done in ordinary running shoes, many trails do require more robust footwear. Therefore, it is vital that you get information about the ground cover along the trail. In case of a rocky terrain, running shoes will be too soft and thus uncomfortable. Furthermore, there is a big chance that you can damage or ruin footwear that is not designed for use on rocky terrain. For such trails we recommend stiffer hiking boots which offer good ankle support and prevent smaller stones from entering. Check out our selection of the backpacking boots to get an idea of what such boots offer. With time you’ll get a sense of what type of footwear you need for your type of adventures. If you want to get more information about hiking footwear check out our Hiking Footwear Guide.
Pack the right things
When it comes to packing a backpack, the rule of thumb is to not overpack. Bring the things you need and nothing more. A heavy backpack will slow you down and increase the aerobic demand – which in simple terms means that you’ll get exhausted faster. Nevertheless, don’t forget to bring vitals such as food, water and additional clothing (a warm or windproof layer for stops). If you are not sure how much water and food to bring, check out our articles How much water to bring on a hiking trip and How to choose food for hiking.
If you have friends who like to be outdoors, ask them to come with you. If you don’t know anybody who would be up for hiking, you can try to find hiking buddies on online groups such as MeetUp. Usually, it’s fun to have company while hiking. If you are going alone, don’t forget to tell someone where you will be. Regardless of the number of participants, be sure to pick a pace you can maintain all day.
Plan the journey to the starting point
When you decide on a trail, figure out how you will reach the starting point. If you are going by public transport (bus, train etc.), don’t forget to check when the last bus/train goes back so that you don’t end up stranded in the middle of nowhere. For most locations the Google Maps app (Android and iOS) gives accurate information about public transport routes. If you come by car, it might be good to know in advance where to park and how much it might cost.
Leave no trace
With the increasing popularity of hiking, trails around the world are being visited by more and more of people. It’s up to us all to keep them beautiful! Leave plants, rocks and animals untouched, and dispose waste properly – pack it in your backpack till you reach the first trash can.
We hope that this hiking for beginners guide will make your first hikes successful and enjoyable!