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Hiking for beginners: 12 Essential Tips

Updated: Sep 12, 2022

Hiking for beginners can be an intimidating for most people. I like to think we should do something hard everyday and if that's something hard is a hike lets go. What I love about hiking is you don't need any fancy gear or hiking shoes or big packpacks. Put on your sneaker and get out there. Hiking is a great way to immerse yourself in nature, get a workout, and recharge with the outdoors. This guide will give you 12 useful tips for the beginner hiker to stay safe and have fun.

1 Pick a hike for beginners:

The biggest mistake most beginner hikers do is bite off more than can chew. With either the difficulty of the trail or the length of the trail. If you are just starting out stay under 5 miles and keep it relatively flat. I know climbing to the top of an amazing vista is epic, but take it slow. We like to map out 2 or 3 hikes between 2-3 miles. So after the first one you feel pretty good go for 1 or 2 more.

Don't forget to look at the total climbing elevation on your hike. A 2 mile hike that is a straight climb up a mountain may not be the best choice.

There are tons of great apps and resources to find on most trails. Almost all state parks have really nice maps to use prior to entering the trails. I also like to use AllTrails or hiking project.

You are going to want to get familiar with the hike before you go. Read the trail guide and any comments or reviews on the apps.

2 Pick hiking gear for the beginners

What I like about hiking is that it really doesn't take any special gear. You can normally get away with things you have in your home.

Lets start with clothing. An easy mistake most beginners make is wearing jeans or regular clothes, which get heavy and will eventually chafe when you get sweaty or wet. Wear moisture wicking clothing designed for activity. Tech shirts or running shorts are a nice start. Although it is nice to wear long pants if you can to keep your legs from getting scraped up or getting the dreaded poison ivy. In turn long-sleeved are nice to have also to protect you from brush and jaggers.

Shoes are imortant too but should not be the deciding factor of not going on a hike. I have bee on many a trail with a pair of running shoes. A pair of sneakers or trail running shoes are the best options.

Backpacks would be next on the list to store food, snacks and water. Always take more water if you can to stay hydrated. Be prepard for rain and have a change of clothes in your car for that purpose.

3 Understand you map

Understanding where you are and where you are going is key to enjoying your hike. A combination of electronic navigation and paper is a good route for hiking beginners.

To start, print out the hiking guide and map. If it’s raining, throw them in a Zip-Lock bag. Read over the guide, study the map, and have a good idea of what to expect. I like to know what my next landmark is as I hike. For example, I’ll read the guide and know that say, in a mile, I make a right turn at the junction. Having this in my head keeps me aware of the next move.

I also load a GPX file onto a GPS device. A GPS can pinpoint your location using satellites. The good news is that most smartphones have GPS built in these days. The bad news is that most smartphones are easy to drop, shatter, get wet, etc. so you can’t rely on them. But they are good to have a backup. Here’s what I do.

I download a GPX file (basically a file that has a line on a map) load it onto my GPS units (yes, I have more than one). An easy way for a hiking beginner to do it is by downloading an app such as GaiaGPS or AllTrails. These apps have many hikes already shared and loaded by other other hikers. You can also upload a GPX file to them (which you can download for all the hikes on my site).

When you use an app, you’ll also want to make sure you download the maps for offline use. This ensures that you have the map even when you don’t have a cell phone connection. And here’s one last tip. Put your phone in flight mode before you hike. When a phone goes out of cell tower range, it drains a ton of battery by searching for a signal. Putting it in flight mode (with GPS or location services on) saves your battery.

4 Time it Right

Start your hike as early as possible. The later you leave the more crowded the trail is going to get. We went to Acadia national park and were one of the first ones there in the morning. The views were spectacular and the rocky cliffs were great photo opportunities. When we got back from our hike there were people everywhere. So trust me when I say the earlier the better.

Secondly check the weather. If you are hiking to a mountain top check the conditions up there as well.

5 Two minute Prep session

Every hike requires a little prep work, even if it just takes a few minutes.

A few trails require a permit (always mentioned in my guides). If you’re not sure whether you need one, a call to the park office will clear it up. They’re often free and obtainable before your hike.

And this might seem like common sense, but you need to check the weather before your hike. If the weather looks bad, wet, crazy, you should do the hike on another day. And be aware that the weather conditions on mountains can be drastically different that the closest town. For example, it can be 72F in Mt Baldy Village with a blizzard on the summit of Mt Baldy.

6 Tell someone that you are going and where

Here's another great tip that may save your life. At the very least tell someone you are going for a hike. Ideally that someone may want to go with you. Or ask around at work to see if anyone has an interest for a quick little hike. I asked my family who wanted to go on an overnight hike and sleep in hammocks and to my surprise I have 5 takers. (suckers) Letting someone know can be as simple as sending a text message with the hike and hikes webpage and note what time you should be back. If something bad happens your chances of being found increases dramatically.

7 Hiking is not a Run or race

In hiking slow and steady always wins the race. I see alot of beginner hikers starting off at a blistering pace and get burned out really fast. Conserve your energy especially on longer hikes. You never know if you may need that energy later on in the day. Lets say you get lost and now your 4 mile hike turns into 7 miles.

Also stay with the group if you are hiking with several people. If your hiking together stay together. I like to hike with other people so I can talk and chat while enjoying nature.

Hiking at a comfortable pace is also a great way to get the most out of nature. If you are running through the forest you could miss some beautiful sights, animals, trees, and or snakes. So take it easy out there and enjoy.

8 Watch you feet

I am not only talking about watching out for snakes, but also watching out for loose rocks and slippery roots. The biggest risk you can take while hiking may be turning an ankle or trpping on a root or rock. Just be conscious of where you are walking especially as you start to fatigue later in your hike.

9 Dont fear getting lost

If you think you’re lost, the first thing you need to do is stop. Take a look at your guide and see if anything sounds or looks familiar. If not, just backtrack until your surrounding match what’s described in your guide. Getting lost hiking is something that happens to the best of us all the time, and is not a big deal. Backtracking solves the problem 99% of the time.

However, if you backtrack for a while and still don’t recognize anything, stop. See if you have a cell phone signal and try calling 911. You can also try texting to 911, which is available in some areas. If you have a GPS rescue beacon, now’s the time to hit the button. You can also try yelling HELP at regular intervals. If you are in an area that’s open, hang any bright clothing for aircraft and spell out HELP with sticks and rocks on the ground. If you’re cold, simply piling dead leaves on top of you will keep you warm. People have lasted 7-10 days without water, 60-70 without food.

10 Learn hiking etiquette for beginners

  • A hiker going uphill has the right of way, unless they stop to catch their breath. If you’re on a flat section, just be courteous and move to the side allowing the hiker(s) to pass.

  • If someone is hiking up behind you, stop and let them pass.

  • Say a simple “hello” when you pass other hikers. On more remote trails, or when hikers are few and far between, a quick chat about what conditions to expect is pretty common. However, if you don’t feel comfortable around another hiker, just keep moving and play it safe.

  • If you’re with a friend or group of hikers, keep conversations down so that the hiker who is 100 yards behind you (that you can’t see) doesn’t have to hear about how bad your work week was. And if you’re talking loudly on your cell phone, just expect other hikers to consider you jerk.

  • Music is okay if you use headphones. Music is not okay when you play it from your phone’s speaker. People hike to connect with nature, not the Billboard pop charts.

  • Keep your dog leashed and under control. I love dogs but some people have a legitimate fear of them, especially larger ones. Respect other hikers right to enjoy the trail without fear.

  • Stay on the trail. Sometimes you will see short cuts. Unless they are official trails, stay off of them. Same goes for puddles and mud. The proper thing is to go through puddles (wear hiking boots), and not widen the trail by going around them. This helps protect the fragile habit around the trial.

  • Take your trash out with you. I just stuff my wrappers in my back pocket. You’d be amazed at how many CLIF bar wrappers, water bottles, and banana peels that I have seen on the trail. Just because a banana peel can decompose does not give you a reason to leave it on the trail. BTW banana peels take about a month to decompose.

  • Yield to bikes and horses. Technically bikers are supposed to yield to hikers, but usually bikes are moving quickly and it’s easy enough to stop and let them pass. When it comes to horses, that one is pretty much common sense, just step to the side and let them pass.

11 Share your experiences

First let someone know when you get back.

Then share your adventures on social media or with friends. The more people interested in hiking and being outdoors the better universe you can help create. Make hiking a habit and see your life improve.

12 Take Snacks

Ok I may go overboard on snacks, but its a life saver if you have kids. Stop every quarter mile if you need to keep them motivated and going. You need fuel for any hike you do so take some with you. It's also great to have some extra food if you get lost or you miscalculated your time it was going to take to complete the hike.

Here are some other useful tips and tricks for camping and hiking:

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