Hiking is a popular pastime and a fantastic way of discovering the beauty of nature. It’s something that almost anyone can do with a bit of planning and some preparations. If you are new to hiking and unsure where to begin, this guide is for you! We will go through the basics of what you need to know before heading out.
Before we start, it can be good to read our article on the difference between hiking, trekking, mountaineering and backpacking to learn the difference between these different outdoor activities. Some of the tips in this beginner’s guide to hiking will also apply to the other activities, but here we will focus primarily on day hikes.
The first step in your hiking adventure is choosing the right trail. This can be difficult for a beginner since you don’t know where to look for trails or don’t understand the different options and terms. Let’s start with where to find good trails.
There are many different resources that can help you find hiking trails for all difficulty levels.
Search engines. There are a lot of digital resources for information on local hiking trails, like hiking blogs or Google Maps. The easiest way to find these are by using a search engine. Try searching for “hiking near me” or hiking + your location.
Hiking Apps. Many hiking apps have interactive maps that can help you find good trails. They often come with more information on difficulty level, elevation gain and reviews from other hikers. Some popular apps to try out are AllTrails and Hiking Project.
National parks and nature reserves. Most national parks and nature reserves have a website with information about hiking trails and other services for hikers within their area.
Online communities. You’ll find lots of local information on hiking trails on social platforms like Facebook. Try searching the Facebook group section for hiking groups in your local area.
When researching different hiking trails, you might have come across some terms to describe what type of trail it is. Here are the most common:
1. Loop. The looped trail begins and ends at the same point. It can also be known as a circuit trail or ring trail. These trails are excellent since you don’t have to hike the same stretch twice, and therefore there is always new scenery to see.
2. Out and back. The out and back trail is where you hike to a destination, usually a lookout point, and then hike back to the starting point on the same path.
3. Point-to-Point. The Point-to-Point trail is a hike from point A to point B, meaning it starts and ends in different locations. Usually, this requires transportation to get dropped off at the starting point and picked up at your destination.
4. Lollipop. The lollipop trail mixes the loop and out and back trail types. It’s a looped trail, but you have to hike the same stretch at the beginning and end of your hike to get to the looped part.
So now you know more about different types of trails and how to find them, but what do you need to think about when choosing a good hiking trail as a beginner?
Location and logistics. Choose a trail near where you live that is easy for you to access. In the beginning, it might be easier to choose hiking trails that start and end at the exact location, so you don’t have to deal with the extra logistics. Make sure to read up on parking if you are going by car or the timetable for public transportations if those are available. Start early, so you avoid most of the crowd.
Distance and time. Choose a trail at a distance you feel you can comfortably hike. Your pace might be slower than during a regular walk because of the terrain, so also factor in the amount of time you have available. Don’t forget to account for the time it will take you to get to and from the trail.
Difficulty and fitness level. Choose a trail with easier terrain and not too much elevation gain. (you can read more about elevation gain further down). Getting caught on a more challenging hike than you are prepared for is no fun. Assess your fitness level and physical health honestly and choose where to start from there. When you feel comfortable, you can challenge yourself to longer distances, higher elevation gain and rougher terrain.
Season and weather. Make sure to check the condition of the trail before heading out. Some hiking trails can be inaccessible due to floods or snow during some seasons. Depending on where you want to hike, you might also need permission, and the park can also be closed for specific periods.
As a beginner, it’s not just the trail’s distance you need to consider when picking the right hiking trail. Before heading out, it’s essential to understand what elevation gain and difficulty levels are since these will affect how strenuous a hike is.
In the most simple case, a trail only travels uphill, and the difference between the highest and lowest points is the elevation gain. However, if a trail contains several hills, you need to account for every uphill climb. For example, if a trail has three hills, all 30 meters (100 feet) tall, the elevation gain is not 30 meters (100 feet); it’s 3 x 30 meters (100 feet) = 90 meters (300 feet). This way of measuring elevation gain is sometimes called cumulative elevation gain, and it’s a more accurate measurement of how much you need to hike uphill. It also explains why some trails with many “ups-and-downs” are more strenuous than others.
There are different classification systems of hiking trails in different countries, and the paths can also have different markings. The classification of a hiking trail usually considers your level of experience and the equipment needed to traverse it. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the system that applies to where you are before heading out.
Knowing what to wear for a hike is key to a good experience. You will want to dress in moisture-wicking clothes that do not chafe. This means you will want to avoid clothing made from cotton and instead dress in wool, polyester or nylon. Always check the weather forecast before choosing what to wear and dress accordingly.
Mid layer: Depending on the weather, you might need an isolating layer like a hoodie in fleece or wool, a puffy vest or a lightweight down jacket.
Hiking trousers, shorts or leggings: The trousers you choose for hiking should be hardwearing, stretchy and well fitted. They should withstand wear and tear, allow movement and prevent chafing.
Wicking tops or shirts: Choose a t-shirt or a long-sleeved shirt in a moisture-wicking material like polyester or wool. They dry quickly and keep sweat away from your body. Avoid using clothing made from cotton since it retains moisture, and is heavy and slow to dry.
Waterproof clothing: Even if the weather forecast does not predict rain, it’s always good to bring a waterproof jacket and pants. They can also serve as wind protection or an extra insulation layer when cold. To save space, you can get a lightweight and packable set that does not take up too much room in your backpack, like our Typhoon collection.
Hat and gloves: A sun hat helps protect you against the sun on warm and sunny days, and a beanie keeps you warm when it’s cold. Gloves can also be helpful even on milder days since your hands can quickly become cold when hiking.
Socks: Wear well-fitting socks in breathable and quick-drying materials to keep you comfortable and prevent blisters. Do not wear socks made with cotton since they have poor moisture-wicking properties. You are more prone to blisters when hiking with damp socks, so use socks made from wool or polyester and always bring an extra pair.
Shoes: The right pair of shoes is essential for a good hiking experience. A pair of sneakers with good traction is enough for hiking in easier terrain, but you might need a pair of hiking boots with better ankle protection and support for more rocky terrain. Sneakers are often lightweight, comfortable and offer good breathability. On the other hand, Boots are warmer and provide more support and protection, but they are also heavier, which can be tiring when hiking long distances.
The best thing about hiking is that you do not need a lot of expensive gear to get started. In the beginning, you can get by with a pair of comfortable shoes, clothing that does not chafe and a backpack for water and snacks. To help you choose the right gear for you, and the hike you are about to embark on, let’s take a look at some basics.
The “Ten Essentials” is a system of items that hiking and Scouting organizations recommend you always bring in case of emergency. The main focus is to prevent and handle emergencies that may occur during a hike and be able to spend the night outdoors if needed. The Ten Essentials system includes: navigation, headlamp, sun protection, first aid, knife, fire, shelter, extra food, extra water and extra clothes. What and how much of each you bring will depend on your trip.
Keeping your energy and water intake high while hiking is essential. But you don’t want to carry around more weight than you need to; thus, it’s important to consider what you bring and how much. You can burn many calories while hiking, so you must bring enough food to make up for what you burn. Think about packing calorie-dense foods that do not weigh too much and hold up well in the backpack. Some good choices are granola bars, trail mix, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and jerky. Fresh produce like apples and carrots keep well in your backpack, is easy to snack on while walking and leaves minimal waste. Pack foods you like to eat, and always pack extra if something unforeseen happens.
Generally, it’s advised to drink one liter of water every two hours of hiking. If there are no available water sources along the trail, you will have to carry all the water you need with you. You can also purify the water from streams and lakes to refill your water supply along the way. Remember always to bring more water than you think you will need.
Hiking safety should be top of mind for both beginners and seasoned hikers. By being prepared, you can help minimize the potential dangers. Here are some safety guidelines to consider before heading out into the great outdoors.
Check the weather forecast. Always check the weather forecast, and don’t head out in inclement weather. Keep checking the weather forecast during the hike; the situation can change quickly.
Research the route. Research the route properly and check the condition of the trail before heading out. Some trails can be flooded or closed off due to bad conditions. Also, take note of water sources near the trail, so you know where to refill if needed.
Start early. As a beginner, it’s harder to estimate the amount of time a hike will take. Start early so you can avoid getting caught in the dark.
Bring a map. Always bring a map with you when hiking. It can be a paper map, a GPS or your phone. If you take a digital map, make sure it can be used offline and that you have fully charged batteries. Don’t forget to make sure you can read the map before heading out!
Tell someone where you are going. Make sure to tell someone where you are going and what your plans are, and always bring a phone with you.
Be findable. Bring a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) or wear gear with Recco® reflectors. This makes it easier for search-and-rescue personnel to find you if you become lost. With a PLB, you can send out an SOS if something serious happens to you, even if the cellphone reception is spotty or non-existent.
The great outdoors is available for everyone, and it’s essential to be mindful of both nature and fellow outdoor enthusiasts. Learn the unwritten rules of the trail and show respect for both other hikers and the wildlife. Knowing who should yield on the trail and how to leave no trace is good trail etiquette that every hiker should know.
Just like on the roads, hiking trails have the right of way. It’s often common courtesy, but studying up before heading out to keep a positive mood on the trails is still a good idea.
People hiking uphill have the right of way. Uphill hikers have a narrow field of vision and often need to focus on the areas right in front of them. It’s also tougher to hike uphill, and if they have a good pace and momentum going, it’s harder for them to pause to let others pass. Therefore, downhill hikers should always yield to uphill hikers unless they are waved forward. If you come upon someone going slower than you are, don’t just pass without asking. Say hello to let them know you are there and ask if you may pass. If someone hikes up behind you, step to the side of the trail without squishing the vegetation and let them pass. Solo hikers should also yield to bigger groups since it’s often easier for one person to step aside. Remember that you pass on the left and keep on the right, just like on the road.
Technically bikers should yield to hikers, but they often travel much faster, and it might be easier for hikers to step aside. Therefore it’s often more practical for bikers to have the right of way.
Horses have the right of way on hiking trails. It’s generally a good idea to give horses a wide berth, keep calm, and don’t make any abrupt movements while passing each other.
To help preserve the nature we are enjoying; it’s essential to follow the seven leave no trace principles. They are intended to reduce the human impact on wildlife and help keep it beautiful and thriving. These are the seven principles:
Plan ahead and prepare. Make sure you know the area and the rules before you go hiking. Check the weather forecast and pack accordingly. Prepare for emergencies and pack your gear to help minimize waste. Visit in small groups and schedule your trip to avoid crowds.
Travel and camp on durable surfaces. Stay on the established trails, even if it’s wet or muddy. Camp on designated campsites or on durable surfaces where vegetation is absent.
Dispose of waste properly. Everything you bring with you, you should also bring back. Take all your trash with you, even food waste. Bury human waste in a 15-20 cm deep hole and pack out all toilet paper. Make sure you do your business away from water sources.
Leave what you find. Please don’t bring anything home with you; leave all rocks and plants where they are.
Minimise campfire impacts. If fires are permitted, use established fire pits, keep fires small and only use sticks from the ground or locally sourced firewood to avoid introducing pests and diseases. Burn everything to ash, put it out entirely and scatter the ashes.
Respect wildlife. Observe wildlife from a distance, do not follow or approach. Never feed animals in the wild and protect them by properly storing your food and trash.
Be considerate of other visitors. Respect other visitors and their experience. Avoid loud noises, control your pets and yield to other users on the trail.