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beginners guide to hiking

A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking: 8 Essential Steps

Posted by Ryan Skidmore on

Hiking is a wonderful activity that all people can enjoy. Hiking comes with so many different health benefits like improved mental health, better weight management, lower blood pressure, improved bone health, etc. 

Furthermore, it is a great way to get some fresh air and enjoy quality time with loved ones. Nevertheless, if you are new to hiking, you may be wondering where to start. 

Here is a beginner’s guide to hiking complete with eight essential steps that will ensure you are prepared to hit the trail!

1. Choose a Trail

Depending on your health—and especially if you are new to hiking—you will probably want to start small and work your way up to harder trails. What makes a trail more difficult often has to do with the incline and general terrain. 

Some trails require long, arduous climbs up steep mountain faces, or are less manicured with slippery streams and narrow, rocky trails which are difficult for beginners. 

If you are unsure what the difficulty level of a trail is, you can often look it up online or ask someone what their experience has been.

2. Research Trail Conditions

Not every trail is your classic, winding mountain trail. Some trails run through meadows, while others are gentle sloping loops in the forest. Some are flat, others are hilly, and some are quite steep throughout. 

Some trails offer a lot of shady trees, while others require long hours under a scorching sun. Some even have snow on them—even in the summer! 

That’s why it is essential that you research the trail, its terrain, and the seasonal conditions.

For example, if you are planning to hike a slot canyon, you should be aware of which times during the year flash floods or high water levels tend to occur.

Or, if you are looking for a nice night hike, you should research nighttime temperatures which tend to be lower compared to daytime temperatures, even in the desert.

You should also research common animals in the area—particularly dangerous animals—and learn what to do if you happen to approach one on the trail.

3. Prepare for the Weather

Your experience hiking will likely be contingent upon how well you prepared for possible weather conditions. 

Preparing for the weather involves more than just a quick glance online: In reality, you should be checking for changes in the weather forecast throughout the week, and also monitoring hour-by-hour weather predictions. 

Even if you are quite sure that conditions will be perfect, you should always prepare for a change in weather. In many areas, especially on a mountain, weather can change quite rapidly and unpredictably. 

Don’t be the unlucky hiker who gets hit by a cold rainstorm miles away from protection and without sufficiently warm clothing.

4. Arrange Your Outfit

What you wear hiking will greatly depend on the conditions of the trail and weather. If you are hiking in hot conditions, wear light-colored clothing (so you won’t absorb as much sunlight) and breathable fabric, like nylon or polyester. If there will be a lots of bugs or brush, ditch the athletic shorts and opt for loose khaki pants.

Don’t wear jeans, as jeans retain water and tend to cause chafing. 

In most cases, consider wearing lightweight layers that you can take off and on in the case of fluctuating temperatures or changes in the weather.

If you are hiking in the winter, layers will still be your best bet: Wear water-wicking long underwear, a warm layer of merino wool, and a wind/water resistant layer. 

And, no matter the season, never forget a sturdy pair of shoes and a hat or sunglasses to shield your face from the sun. 

Ditch the perfume as it can often attract unwelcome bugs and animals, and lay off on the jewelry as it can easily get caught in rocks or foliage.  

5. Purchase the Right Gear

The right gear will again depend on the trail conditions and weather. Since you will most likely be starting with beginner trails, you won’t need anything fancy like climbing gear or a tarp. 

Nevertheless, there are few basic pieces of gear that you will probably want to purchase and take, even on an easy trail: a comfortable backpack, navigation tools in case you get lost, a first aid kit in case of an accident, moleskin for blisters, a multi-tool (you never know when it might come in handy), and a good water bottle. 

And don’t forget the bug repellent and sunscreen!

Many hikers swear by hiking backpacks with a water bladder and hose. These backpacks are lightweight and hold much more water than a single water bottle. 

Furthermore, if you hate having to awkwardly reach into your pack every time you get thirsty, a hiking backpack with a water bladder and hose allows you to just sip straight from the hose without needing to rummage through your bag to find water!

6. Get the Right Shoes

The shoes you are wearing will either make or break your hiking experience.

Shoes are incredibly important, and many people neglect to think about what they are wearing on their feet until they are on the trail and come to regret their footwear decision. Don’t be this person!

If you are taking the easy route with easy terrain, opt for light and flexible shoes, like a sturdy tennis shoe or midsole, low-cut hiking shoe. 

If you will be braving a more difficult trail with rougher terrain, get mid- or high-cut hiking shoes or boots. Choose ones with good ventilation and a durable sole, as well as a stiffer build to ensure you won’t hurt your feet scrambling up rocks or walking over roots. 

Get insulated, waterproof hiking boots if you are hiking in cold, snowy conditions. 

No matter what shoe you get, be sure to break them in before going on your hike: This will save you from a lot of discomfort and blisters on the trail.

7. Assemble Necessary Supplies

Now that you have all of your gear and clothing, and you have researched the trail and weather, you are ready to assemble all of your supplies. 

When loading your backpack, pack heavier items closer to the back and less-used items on the bottom of your backpack. This is to help even out the weight in a way that will be most comfortable for you, as well as keep frequently-used items in an easy-to-reach area. 

When assembling everything, don’t forget to bring plenty of water and some snacks as well. Good hiking snacks include nutrient dense foods like trail mix, granola bars, energy bars, and beef jerky.

8. Train Your Body  

If you aren’t already an active individual, it may be a good idea to train for your hike.

This will ensure that you can actually enjoy your time on the trail and that you can make it to the end without having to turn around prematurely. 

Start by incorporating a half an hour of low-intensity cardio, two or four times a week. Low-intensity means that you can easily chat with your exercise buddy without feeling out of breath. As you start feeling comfortable with that, steadily increase the amount of cardio by its duration, intensity, and/or the frequency you exercise in a week. 

If your hike will involve some steep climbs, try a treadmill on an incline or a stair climber. Practice wearing your gear or even walking in your shoes.

If you are feeling intimidated and under-prepared, you are not alone. It can be tricky trying something new and taking that first step—literally. 

This beginner’s guide to hiking offers a handful of essential tips to help you reach your hiking goals. 

As long as you do your research, you will be totally prepared and ready to hit the trail and enjoy a wonderful outdoor experience.

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