Essential Hiking tips for Beginners

Here are out 10 hiking tips for beginners to make your first trek and many other treks successful:

Hiking is an excellent low-impact workout. Studies show it offers multiple physical and mental benefits. From reducing anxiety to preventing osteoporosis, hiking is an outdoor activity delivering benefits beyond scenic and fun.

Unlike walking on a treadmill or paved path, hiking involves more and often times unpredictable variables. Of course, these variables are what makes hiking so enjoyable!

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1. Choose the right trail for your fitness level

For starters, select a hike that is a little shorter than the distance you can normally walk on a paved surface. My wife is notorious on this one…she always goes to for most extreme hike and regrets it later.

To estimate the time required to hike the trail, figure a pace of roughly two miles per hour. Next, review the elevation changes and add an hour to your estimated hiking time for every 1000 feet of gain.

After you’ve been out a few times, you’ll have a sense for what distance and elevation changes work well for you.

2. Familiarize yourself with the trail

Once you have selected your trail, obtain a map of the area and review other people’s reports and data about their hike. There are some excellent online resources available such as All Trails (my favorite) or Avenza Maps.

Find out if the trail is a loop or a circle hike, or if you’ll have to go out and back or spot a second car at the destination.

Take note of any intersecting trails where you could potentially make a wrong turn. I also like to look for a good lunch spot or break spots such as a lake or peak with a view.

3. Check the weather

Leading up to your hike, and again just a few hours before, check the weather. I repeat, check the weather as Mother Nature can and will be unpredictable and unforgiving!

This will give you a ton of valuable information on how to dress and what to pack. If the weather is forecast to be terrible, it will give you the chance to change your plans instead of getting caught out on the trail.

Hiking tips for beginners - check the weather

4. Tell someone where you will be

This for me is the absolute most important.

It is important that someone NOT on the trek knows your itinerary and what time to worry and call for help.

Pay close attention, I did not say, “when you expect to be done.” The “worry time” may be two or three hours later than your planned finish. This allows for slow hiking, an extra amount of stops for amazing views, or perhaps a sore ankle or knee causing you to go slower than normal.

From experience, I have learned not to rely on my mobile phone. So, another option is to carry an emergency device such as the SPOT tracker, which allows you to summon emergency assistance by satellite.

One caveat, devices like the SPOT are not an excuse to forgo responsibility for your own personal safety – they are only a backup.

5. Pack the 10 essentials

The 10 essentials are more like systems you should pack to stay safe in the outdoors, including facing a potential overnight stay.

Depending on the length and remoteness of your hike, expand or minimize each system.

For example, on a short summer hike near services, a compact emergency blanket should be fine. However, a remote winter hike would require something more extensive.

Ten Essentials

  • Navigation (map & compass)
  • Sun protection (sunglasses, sunscreen, hat or balaclava)
  • Insulation (extra clothing layers)
  • Headlamp/Flashlight (with extra batteries)
  • First-aid kit
  • Fire starter (waterproof matches/lighter/candle)
  • Repair kit and a knife
  • Nutrition (extra food)
  • Hydration (extra water or water filters)
  • Emergency shelter (tent/plastic tube tent/garbage bag)

This list may look large, but once you try it out a few times, it won’t be so bad. Just remember, many of these essentials are what you’d pack for a picnic.

Hiking tips for beginners -10 essentials

6. Wear the right shoes and socks

Painful feet or blisters can absolutely ruin a hike.

Invest in quality hiking shoes/boots and socks. This doesn’t always mean heavy leather boots. There are a lot of “light-weight hikers” or “hiking shoes” that require little break-in compared to the old clunky hiking boots of years past.

Also, don’t skimp on socks and absolutely no cotton! Wool or synthetic socks are the only way to go. My preference is wool socks and I always take a second pair. Also pack blister dressings in your first aid kit.

7. Dress for success

Once your feet are taken care of, dressing right is key to comfort on your hike.

Skip cotton anything, it gets damp quickly and stays that way leaving you feeling clammy and chaffed. Instead go for synthetics.

In dressing for hiking success, “Layering” is the word of the day. Layers allow you to easily adjust for your temperature and the weather. You can add or shed as necessary.

Lastly, pack an extra warm layer beyond what you think may need, preferably something that is waterproof and will block wind too.

Hiking tips for beginners - layers

8. Keep it light

Okay, now that I’ve told you to pack all of this stuff, I’m going to tell you to keep your backpack light.

What I mean by this is opting for the lightest or smallest amount of each item. For example, you only need a travel size tube of sunscreen instead of the whole 16-ounce tube.

9. Pace yourself

When you first get on the trail, you may feel like powering forward like Flash. However, you’ll be dead and dragging by the end of the day if you don’t pace yourself.

This isn’t a race. Instead, pick a steady pace that you can maintain. It might feel a little unusual at first, but after a few miles, especially when going uphill, you’ll be glad you paced yourself accordingly.

Hiking tips for beginners - lakeside trail

10. Leave no trace

The beautiful trails we love can only stay beautiful if we properly care for them. We must be good stewards and leave not trace of our being there.

Make sure read the Leave No Trace Seven Principals from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics and abide by them.

It’s up to every outdoor enthusiast to take care of our natural habitat.

Conclusion on the 10 Hiking tips for Beginners

Using these 10 hiking tips for beginners, I hope you’ll get out hiking this season.

Where will you go? You can go to exotic destinations or to your neighborhood nature preserve. Either way, get out and enjoy what Mother Nature has created!

Bonus Tip: Take a camera and take a few pictures along your route.

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