Hiking for Beginners: An Ultimate Hiking Guide
Are you looking for an ultimate guide all about hiking for beginners?
Well, you’ve come to the right blog. This guide is all about hiking for beginners. Even if you’re not a beginner, you might find some helpful information in this guide.
I’ve been hiking for around twelve years. I’ve had to learn a lot on my own, but I’ve also had the internet on my side, so I was able to learn a lot from blogs like this one, too. So, I want to show you the important things I’ve learned on my own and from others when it comes to starting your hiking adventures.
I hope you enjoy this guide and that you find someone else to share it with who will also enjoy reading it.
Hiking for Beginners Table of Contents
What is Hiking?
Before we jump into all the good stuff about hiking for beginners, it’s important to understand what hiking actually consists of.
You might be surprised to know that there are many different types of hiking to get into.
The most popular form of hiking is day hiking.
This type of hiking is a shorter hike that takes less than a day to complete. This type of hiking usually takes place during the daylight hours and is typically under 10 miles.
Day hiking doesn’t usually require as much gear as other types of hiking that we’ll discuss below.
Backpacking is a form of hiking where multiple days of hiking occur.
A backpacking trip may last for two days to multiple days. Typically, hikers will have to bring extra gear to use for camping with them when backpacking.
There are other forms of backpacking when hikers are staying on a specific trail system even longer than a typical hiking and camping trip.
Fastpacking is a day hiking or backpacking experience.
This is usually where hiking is done at a quick pace, whether the hiker hikes fast or even trail runs. Typically, fastpacking is ultralight, and less gear is taken.
While fastpacking is mainly a day hiking activity, it could be done overnight, too.
Section hiking is when day hiking and backpacking are done in sections of longer trails.
In the Shawnee National Forest, many hikers will section hike the 160-mile River to River Trail. In other areas, the AT and the Pacific Coast Trail are even longer and often section-hiked.
Section hiking might be something along the lines of 20 miles or more.
Thru-hiking is when hikers completely hike a long trail from start to finish without stopping.
Many thru-hikers will hike longer trails from start to finish. Some of these trails, such as the AT or PCT, could take six months to a year to complete. There is a whole community of thru-hikers and a culture that is associated with it.
It is a milestone many hikers aim to complete.
Alpine hiking can be a day or overnight hiking activity.
This type of activity takes place in mountainous regions with higher elevations and very technical trail hiking conditions.
Alpine hiking usually requires guides and special equipment to hike safely.
What are the Benefits of Hiking?
There are many benefits of hiking. These benefits not only improve your health, but they can improve the health of the environment.
A guide about hiking for beginners has to show what benefits beginner hikers will be able to enjoy.
Exercise and Fitness
Hiking is good for cardiovascular fitness.
It’s good for your heart and lungs. Hiking will improve your muscle strength in parts of your body that you use for it, including your feet, legs, and knees. Uphill hiking will especially improve your lower body muscles. Hiking will also improve your balance and overall body and movement coordination.
It’s healthy exercise and fitness all the way around.
Hiking will give you a better appreciation of the outdoors.
Before I started hiking, I never really cared about wildlife or preserving nature. Now, I’m an advocate for snakes and other important wildlife.
I care about nature and the environment and have taken steps to help reduce my carbon footprint, especially when I am out enjoying nature on the hiking trail.
Free and Accessible Activities
In most cases, you can find free and accessible hiking trails.
Many hiking trails don’t cost anything to use. Some of these trails are in areas where camping is also available and free, such as wilderness areas. Many trails are accessible to all patrons, including those with disabilities.
More and more trails are being modified to allow everyone to be able to enjoy them.
Disconnecting from Technology
Technology is important and gives humans great benefits, security, and even medical breakthroughs.
However, being connected to technology 100% of the time isn’t healthy. Hiking allows us to disconnect and escape technology for a while.
It’s important to get out and breathe fresh air away from computers and our other electronic devices.
Great for Mental Health Improvement
Hiking relaxes you. It gives you a sense of well-being and ease.
Hiking is a wonderful cure-all for improving your mental health and awareness. Hiking has been known to prevent and treat stress, depression, and anxiety. I used to work for a factory, which gave me a lot of stress. If it wasn’t for hiking, I don’t think I’d have been in a good mental state.
It really does do a lot to keep you sane.
How to Train for Hiking?
You can hike and train yourself to get better at hiking just by hiking.
But there are other ways to get better at hiking through other means of physical activity. Getting better will make you a stronger hiker and allow you to do more strenuous hiking activities.
This section is meant for informational purposes only. This is not medical advice. Please ask your medical care provider about these activities before you take part in them.
Walking, Running, and Cycling
Walking, running, and cycling are some of the best ways to train for hiking.
Each other these physical activities works on the core muscles and strength mechanisms that are used in hiking. Walking is typically the easiest activity out of the three. Running can be difficult for some hikers. Cycling is a great way to build strength and is often a secondary activity for hikers. I am a very avid cyclist myself.
When doing these types of activities, try to aim for harder sessions to continue to improve your fitness and training.
Strength training is a great way to build up muscles, which will help you support yourself as a hiker.
It’s ideal to do a combination of different weight and strength training sessions. You should train your lower muscles, core, and upper body strength. You’ll notice that you use most of your muscles while hiking. Strengthening your upper body, for example, will help you carry a loaded backpack better than you have before.
Just be smart about the amount of weight you use, and don’t overdo anything.
Yoga and Stretching
Yoga and stretching are two important components of a healthy lifestyle with hiking in mind.
You should be stretching after every hike. Like with running or cycling, this greatly helps you reduce injury and stiffness and makes you feel better after your rugged walking activity. Yoga is another way to become more flexible and even helps you maintain healthy coordination and balance.
Yoga and stretching are something more of us should be doing on a regular basis.
Easy hiking is the best thing for hiking for beginners at first.
Choose an easy hiking trail (many found in local and state parks) to start with. Go for shorter trails with fewer hills. Hike these trails for a while and then gradually move on to more challenging trails. If you do this gradually, it will get easier to hike harder trails, and you’ll train yourself to do better at hiking overall.
I would even suggest hiking a very easy trail on your rest day so that you do get out and do something active but are still taking a break from harder training.
Dieting and Nutrition
A healthy diet and nutrition are also important when training for hiking, especially for hiking for beginners.
If you can stand to lose weight, try to do so. I lost about 60 pounds after hiking for around a year. It was enough to make carrying my backpack easier and last a lot longer on the trail without getting too sore. But I definitely recommend hiking to lose weight because it works.
Other than that, eating better is always a good idea when entering this healthy lifestyle.
Hiking Gear Checklist
Bringing the right gear with you on a hike is essential. Many new hikers overpack and that can be a problem. But a bigger problem is underpacking and not bringing enough gear to keep you safe.
Durable Hiking-Specific Backpack
One of the biggest mistakes that beginner hikers make is choosing a bad backpack.
There are many different types of hiking backpacks to choose from. There are different brands, different capacities, different features, and different types of packs for different types of hikes. As for packs for different types of hikes, these are what you want to know the most to determine which to choose:
- Daypack – A medium-sized backpack, typically around 15 to 30 liters. It has enough capacity for your day hiking gear but can be easily used as an overnight hiking pack if needed.
- Overnight Backpack – A large-sized backpack, typically 30 liters or more. It has the capacity for overnight gear like a tent, sleeping bag, camp kitchen items, and more.
- Hydration Pack – This is a smaller backpack with a few liters of capacity and a 1 to 2-liter water bladder. This is often used for shorter hikes and fastpacking.
- Hip pack – This is an alternative to a hydration pack. It secures around the hip and looks a lot like a fanny pack. It is often used for short hikes and fastpacking.
What’s important in choosing a pack is that you choose a pack that fits you. You should try on a pack before purchasing one. If the pack doesn’t fit you right, you’re going to have issues at some point, some of which might be painful.
Food, Snacks, Hydration, and Water Filter
It’s important to bring the right food and hydration with you when hiking.
As for food and snacks, consider things that don’t need to be refrigerated. This is stuff like freeze-dried meals (Mountain House and RightOnTrek are good ones) and trail bars. Other goodies are beef sticks, cheese sticks, and cheese and crackers. Bring something that is going to put carbs back in you as you lose them.
Bring plenty of water. Hydration is your most important objective. Your water weight should be the heaviest in your pack. You should bring enough water to last you a few days, even if you plan to be out for just one day. If something were to happen and you needed more water, you’d thank yourself for it.
Try to bring some hydration powder with you. This is for electrolyte replacement. You’ll lose this as you hike and start to get fatigued if you don’t put it back in you.
Pack a water filter (buying from this link will pay me a commission but not impact your price). This is used to turn dirty water into drinking water. I use a Sawyer Mini. It’s a standard water filter that most people use. Try to learn how to use it and make sure it works before taking it out on the field.
Of all the gear you can take, food and water are what will keep you alive the most.
Protection from the Sun and Bugs
It’s important to protect yourself from the elements. Some of the elements that you encounter the most while hiking are the sun and biting bugs.
Bring plenty of sunblock with you. It needs to be rated for at least SPF-30 or higher. You should apply the sunblock before your hike and reapply periodically, as you will likely sweat it off as you hike.
Bug spray is also needed. Spray permethrin on your boots, clothing, and gear before you go hiking. Spray DEET-based bug spray (or Lemon Grass if you don’t like chemicals) on your skin. Reapply the bug spray on your skin as you hike because you will sweat it off at some point.
Consider wearing a hat and arm covers if you are hiking in the sun for a while.
Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.
Protecting yourself from the sun and biting bugs will help reduce the chances of contracting dangerous diseases.
Navigation tools are important to bring while hiking. You need to be able to know where you’re going.
A PLB is a good tool to consider. PLB stands for Personal Locator Beacon. If you’re hurt, with someone else who is hurt, or you’re lost and need to be rescued – you can activate the PLB, and it will be intercepted through means of satellite, and help will be sent your way. A PLB can save your life.
Another hiking device to consider is a dedicated GPS unit. A GPS unit can be used to track your position and tell you where to go based on a topo map.
You can also bring a map and compass. But you must learn how to use a map and compass before you rely on it for navigation.
It is also ideal to download applications for your smartphone for navigation. Some of my favorites are OnXhunt, GAIA, and All Trails.
It’s ideal to bring a few different forms of navigation with you just in case one fails.
If you have to pee while hiking, it usually isn’t a big deal. But what if you have to poop?
I can tell you with certainty that I poop more in the woods than I do in my own home. It just hits me out there. But it doesn’t bother me because I have a poop kit, and I suggest you pack one, too, just in case.
My kit comes with a roll of toilet paper, a hand shovel, and a sandwich bag.
Take the shovels and dig a cathole. Do your thing. Put the used TP in the sandwich bag. You can add a few teabags to take any smell away. Then, bury your waste in the hole you used to do your thing in. Most TP takes a long time to degrade. It’s best to carry it out. But if you can’t, at least bury it.
First Aid Kit
It’s a good idea to carry a first aid kit with you just in case you need it.
You can buy one rated for hiking that comes with virtually everything you’ll likely need. They sell many different types based on what kind of adventure you’re having.
I wouldn’t try to bring a very large kit, typically, a smaller pouch type is all that most hikers will ever need.
I like to recommend only taking items that you know how to use and reducing the size and weight of the kit. In my kit, I include shears, band-aids, gloves, gauze, tape, alcohol pads, anti-septic wipes, anti-diarrhea pills, antihistamines, ibuprofen, and blood clot wound powder. These are the things I would likely need in the event of an injury while hiking.
Extra Socks and Layers
I recommend bringing some extra layers and socks, especially when it’s colder outside.
I pack a layers kit. My kit is for when I need extra layers or if I fall in a creek and get soaking wet and need to change clothes before my wet clothing freezes. The extra socks are nice, too. You never know what can happen out in the backcountry.
To keep my layers kit lightweight but effective, I chose to take to the running community. I carry a pair of insulated running tights, an insulated running long-sleeve shirt, extra socks, gloves, and a sock cap. The tights and shirt are made to be worn alone for runners so they are suitable if they’re the only clothes I have. Everything is super lightweight, and I keep them in a waterproof bag and have them ready if I ever need them.
You should carry a few light sources with you when hiking, whether you plan to be back before dark or not.
Anything can happen, and you might find yourself hiking back in the dark. The woods will look totally different in the dark. Nothing looks the same. There are more unseen hazards to deal with. You need a good light to see them all.
I suggest a good flashlight, a headlamp, and extra batteries. For the batteries in the lights, turn them the wrong way so they don’t accidentally activate in your bag. When you’re ready to use them, turn them the right way and use the light.
A good knife is a good piece of gear to take with you on a hike.
Get a strong, sharp, and well-built boot knife. If you need to cut sticks into firewood, it’s great for that. A folding saw is the best for cutting firewood, so you might consider that, too.
A knife has many purposes, including protection.
Cookware and Fire Starting Kit
Whether or not you plan to be hiking that long, it’s ideal to have cookware and something to start a fire. Maybe you’re camping, and it will help with that. If not, it’s a survival tool.
The cookware should be basic. A cup to cook in and eat out of. You could also use the same cup to drink from. Bring a spork to eat with. Consider a pocket rocket stove and a small fuel canister. I use an MSR pocket stove. If you buy from my link, I’ll earn a commission, but it won’t impact your price. Don’t weigh down your pack with too many cookware items.
A good fire-starting kit is also recommended. You need a striking rod, some fuel sources like cotton balls dipped in wax, and an emergency lighter, just in case. Fire will help keep you warm, keep animals away, and help dry wet clothing and gear if need be.
Shelter and Comfort
If you’re camping, you should bring camping items. If you’re not camping, you should at least bring survival shelter items.
For camping adventures, I recommend a sleeping apparatus. This can be a backpacking tent (buying from this link will earn me a commission but will not impact your price), a hammock, a bivy, or even just a tarp if that’s what you’re into. You should bring a sleeping bag and sleeping bag liner for really cold days. You might also bring an inflatable pillow and a pad to sit on for comfort.
If you’re not camping, an oversized rain poncho makes a good emergency shelter if you need it. Consider bringing a shock blanket or lightweight sleeping quilt just in case you need one. Your layers kit can also serve as more warmth if you need it.
Trekking poles are optional and not always for everyone.
I have a pair but I rarely used them. I need them the most when I cross creeks where I have to balance on wet rocks. Other than that, trekking poles get in my way more than they assist me.
But if you have bad balance issues, trekking poles can be a lifesaver. You can get all kinds, too. There are telescopic ones that fold in and are easier to carry when not using, or you can get walking sticks that stay one length.
Phone, Charging Cord, and Power Brick
Bring your smartphone just in case you need to make an emergency call or want to shoot photos and videos.
Bring a charging cord that fits your phone.
And bring a power brick that will take your charging cord and charge your phone. Phone battery doesn’t last a long time out in nature at times.
A single trash bag has a lot of benefits on the hiking trail.
You can use it as a backpack liner to keep your gear dry. You can use it as an emergency shelter or even a makeshift rain poncho. You can also use it to pick up any litter you see and leave the hiking trail better than you found it.
Bring a whistle in case you need to use it.
Sometimes, your backpack may have one built-in to it where the sternum straps clasp together. But a whistle can be used to call for help when you need it the most. Yelling and screaming will take a lot of your energy away from you. A whistle will not take anywhere near that amount of energy. It’s a good tool to have even if you never have to use it.
Types of Hiking Clothes
There are many different types of clothing styles for hiking. Some styles offer more functionality than others. It’s always good to know what options are available so that you can choose the types of clothing for the right type of hiking.
Hiking Footwear and Socks
First things first, you need to get some sturdy hiking footwear and comfortable socks.
There are different preferences for footwear. Some hikers want tall boots, while others want mid-height boots. Some people prefer hiking shoes, while others like to wear trail running shoes. Some people choose hiking sandals and even those who choose to go barefooted. They even make a specific hiking shoe that is almost barefooted.
The three things to keep in mind when getting hiking footwear are:
- Outdoor Use
You want to make sure you get footwear that will resist the weather conditions you’ll be hiking in. I’ll wear trail runners on warmer days during a drought. But on cold or wet days, I’m wearing my waterproof Oboz boots.
The grip is also important. If you’re hiking on rock or steep trails and your footwear has poor grip, you could fall and get seriously injured or worse. You need to make sure that the grip in your footwear is rated for outdoor and wet conditions.
And finally, your footwear should be rated for outdoor use. Don’t wear work boots on a hiking trip. Don’t wear tennis shoes on the trail. Wear comfortable outdoor-rated footwear that is going to function properly for a hiking trail.
And then there are socks. There are summer socks with padding and breathable materials. There is also winter socks that come with different thickness based on how cold it is. My thick alpaca socks keep my feet dry and warm all winter long.
Sometimes, you have to try different footwear and socks until you find the perfect brands and fits for you.
Seasonal Hiking Clothes
Hiking clothing is going to vary from season to season, and it will be based on what type of clothing makes you comfortable.
I’m a believer in wearing hiking clothing based on its overall function.
In the summer, I sweat a lot and chafe if I’m not careful. I typically wear short tights, which are compression shorts made for trail running. I get the ones with pockets on the side for my phone. I also like the ones with a liner for extra support. The material wickers sweat easily, and the compression keeps me from chaffing. I’m an avid cyclist and learned that compression clothing works well for this. When it gets a little cooler, I upgrade to running tights. I also wear regular baggy hiking shorts with compression shorts under them when it’s not too hot.
During the winter months, I wear tactical pants with cargo pockets. They’re ones that law enforcement or military personnel would wear. They keep me warm and have plenty of storage capacity. I’ll wear some insulated running tights under them when it’s really cold.
For tops, I’ll wear moisture-wicking athletic T-shirts in warmer weather and insulated running shirts with a hoodie or jacket (sometimes both if it’s really cold).
I also wear a sock cap (blaze orange in color for safety and visibility) to keep my head and ears warm.
I wear gloves when it’s cold. I like ones that are wind/water resistant and have the device touch capability.
You can buy athletic clothing or hiking clothing; you just need to stay away from materials like leather, denim, and cotton because they hold in moisture and are not friendly for outdoor use.
In the cold winter months, layering up is key to enjoying a safe and comfortable hiking adventure.
There are four areas of layering that you should be focusing on:
- Base Layer: This is next to your skin or your first layer of clothing.
- Mid Layer: This is your normal hiking clothing.
- Outer Layer: This is extra warmth that you will be adding.
- Shell Layer: This is for resisting wind and added weather elements.
Layering is important because it allows you to stay warm by adding extra layers if you need them. But at the same time, you don’t want to be so warm you start to sweat because that can lead to problems when it’s cold out. So, layering lets you remove layers to balance your body heat. It’s really the best method of dressing for cold weather hiking.
For your base layer, you should go with a thin, next-to-skin clothing layer. I wear non-insulated running tights and a non-insulated long-sleeved compression shirt. I then put on a pair of hiking socks. That’s my base layer. The running clothes are made of spandex materials that wick away moisture and keep me dry.
For my mid-layer, I’ll typically wear tactical-styled cargo pants like those in military or law enforcement would wear. They’re thick enough to keep me warm but not overly thick to make me sweat. I sweat easily because of my height and larger build. I’ll usually wear a long-sleeved, lightly insulated running shirt. If it’s really cold, I’ll wear thicker alpaca wool socks.
Your outer layer is typically a coat or hoodie. This preference is up to you. I rarely wear coats. I’m not a big fan of coats. I do like hoodies, though, and find them more comfortable than coats. I’ll typically wear a hoodie. But on super cold hikes, I might have a hoodie and a coat on.
The shell layer is meant to resist wind and protect you from moisture-added weather conditions like rain, sleet, and snow. This will typically be a rain jacket, rain suit, rain pants, or a rain poncho. This is all based on your preferences. I don’t wear rain pants. I will wear a rain jacket if hiking in the rain, sleet, freezing rain, or snow.
If you layer up properly, you’ll always enjoy a great hike as far as being warm is concerned. Just make sure you have a big enough backpack to store layers when you need to shed them off.
Hiking for Beginners – Leave No Trace
Hiking, for the most part, is relatively harmless to the environment when compared to other outdoor recreation activities. However, there are some issues to consider in an effort to Leave No Trace and leave the hiking trail better than you found it.
Plan and Prepare Your Hike
One of the best ways to Leave No Trace is to plan and prepare for a hike before you go on it.
This will lower your need to be rescued or have to go off trail because you get lost, or some other incident occurs. It’s easier to get lost, hurt, or need emergency assistance if you don’t plan for your hike.
Do some basic planning, such as researching the trail, understanding how rugged it might be, and taking a mental note of what you can and cannot do as a hiker.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
The best way for you to travel hiking is on a designated hiking trail. This is especially important in nature preserves and sensitive areas.
I can’t be hypocritical here. I do hike off trail but we typically wait for leaf off when no sensitive plants are present. We also really watch our steps and avoid going off-trail when we hike with a group.
Most of the time, it’s best to stay on the trail. A hard-packed path is better than the softer dirt beside it, which is often home to an ecosystem for living things that need to forest more than me, and you need it. We at least need to consider all the living things of the forest before making decisions about where we will step next.
Dispose of Waste the Proper Way
Take non-natural waste with you. That’s the best way to Leave No Trace.
I carry a poop kit. It’s a hand shovel for digging a cathole to poop in. I then take biodegradable toilet paper that I either carry out with me in a sandwich bag (put a teabag in to help with any smells) or bury it in the hole if I have to. I’m blunt about this because it’s important.
And if you have any trash, take it with you. It’s beyond irresponsible to leave it behind. If you do leave it behind intentionally, you’re not a friend of nature and you are putting someone else’s life in danger who has to clean it up.
Leave It How You Found It
Leave the forest how you found it or even better than you found it.
I’m against rock stacking (cairns). It’s because they do more damage than good. They’re rarely placed for navigation, and sometimes, when placed, they may fool people into thinking they’re for navigation and get someone lost or hurt. They damage ecosystems. They take away nature from visitors. I dismantle most that I see, and I recommend you do the same. Leave the last rock, though, as there might be a new ecosystem under it when connected with the dirt.
Bring a trash bag and take out any trash you find, even if it’s not yours. Leave it better than you found it. It feels good to nurture your public lands.
Reduce Campfire Impacts
It’s best to cook with something like a pocket rocket and fuel canister rather than to make a fire.
Fires can cause harm to the environment in certain circumstances. If the area is dry or under drought conditions, your fire could cause a wildfire. A wildfire would destroy a forest, burn homes down, and potentially cause loss of life. You don’t want to be the blame for that.
Starting a fire to stay warm, survive, or if you have no other way to cook is one thing, but if you don’t need a fire, there is no reason to start one to begin with. If you do start one, make sure it’s cold to touch and fully out when you leave it.
The forest is home to many different critters, from bugs to large animals and everything in between.
Consider wildlife as you hike, and remember to show them respect because you’re effectively hiking in their home as a visitor. Be careful where you step. Don’t contaminate the ground or water sources. Don’t leave any trash behind. Remember – leave it better than you found it.
And if you interact with wildlife (especially snakes, bears, mountain lions, etc.), try to give them plenty of room to get away and don’t harass them.
Always Consider Other Visitors
Remember that you’re not the only one likely to use the forest at any given time.
Respect other hikers and forest users. Don’t do anything to disrupt another user’s enjoyment of the trail, like playing music out loud. Yield for others, especially horseback riders. Say hello when passing someone on the trail passes you.
Treat other people how you want to be treated when out enjoying nature.
Please remember to Recreate Responsibly when hiking on public lands.
Respect any closure that has been issued due to public health concerns. Have a plan B and even a plan C just in case an area is closed or too crowded. If masking is required, observe the rules and wear a mask to help protect those who are most vulnerable to sickness.
Be a people protector by recreating with responsibility in mind.
Get Involved in Hiking Advocacy
It’s always a great idea to get involved in helping the hiking trails if that is available to you in your area. I’ve been a board member of several conservancy groups for a few years now, and it feels good to be able to help make an impact on public lands in my area. You should consider trying it, too!
Most natural resource areas and public land management agencies have volunteer programs. If there is a Friends group or a trail association, most of them need volunteers, too.
Volunteering lets you participate in critical needs like trail maintenance, invasive plant removal, litter cleaning days, graffiti removal, and even walking around and educating other users about the area and Leave No Trace guidelines.
If you can volunteer a few hours a month or even just a little while each year, you’ll really be making a big impact on your favorite trails. The trails need you.
Donate to Projects
If you can donate to public land projects and organizations, consider doing that.
I’m an active member of the organizations that I am a board member of. I usually try to choose the $100 a year levels. A hundred dollars goes a long way when conserving public lands. If you can donate more (or less), please consider it.
Donations are often used to help acquire more land, get the tools needed to maintain an area, buy supplies used to clean areas, and help organizations become better.
As I said above, I’m a board member of several Non-Profit Organizations that cater to the conservancy and tourism activities on public land.
It’s a great feeling to be able to help out as an NPO board member. I highly recommend that you consider joining boards, too. You get plenty of opportunities to help with your public land management efforts.
It feels great knowing that I have been able to make a big difference for the trails that I love to hike on every chance I get. You can make a big difference, too. Your trails need you.
Be a Hiking Leader and Teach Beginners
Another great thing you can do to help public lands and your local hiking trails is to lead others who are just starting at hiking.
There are plenty of people who don’t know what to do when it comes to hiking. They might not understand how to be the best hiker they can be. They might need help finding trail information or knowing how to Leave No Trace.
You can be a hiking leader on your own without any certification, and you can help teach people how to be the best hiking stewards that they can be. And we definitely need more people like that in nature.
How to Find Great Hiking Trails
Some of the best hiking for beginners advice I can give you is to thoroughly research your desired hiking trails. The more you know about them before you visit, the more prepared you’ll be.
Where to Find Hiking Trails
There are many different ways to find hiking trails in your area.
You can look at various websites, blogs, and official public land management agencies. This website for example, gives you information about hiking in the Shawnee National Forest. Most trails are managed under public land management agencies where you can find hiking trail information such as the US Forest Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management.
You can also find maps online and offline. Get paper maps from ranger stations and trailhead kiosks.
You can also buy guidebooks and seek trail information through word-of-mouth. Locals always know where to go for the best hiking trails.
You should also check to see how well-maintained trails are. Some agencies are not able to get to some trails that often. A hiking trail in the summer, for example, may be significantly overgrown, and that might add hours to your hike.
There are many different ways to find out about hiking trails in your area.
Hiking Trail Elevation
Elevation is an important skill of hiking for beginners toolbelt.
Elevation gain is will you ascend (or go up), and elevation loss is when you descend (or go down). If you ascend 500 feet and descend 500 feet, your elevation gain is 500 feet because you gained that much going up. The highest point of elevation isn’t always in the middle of the trail or at the start or end. It can be in any part of the trail.
You can read elevation gain through contour lines on a map. The tighter the contour lines, the steeper the hill will be. Elevation gain can be challenging and cause fatigue. It’s best to choose higher gains as you gradually get better at hiking.
A trail with 100 to 300 feet of elevation will be relatively easy. A trail with 500 to 1,000 or more feet will be challenging and hilly.
Hiking Trail Length and Type
There are many different lengths and types of trails, which is important to consider for hiking for beginners.
The length of the trail listed typically indicates how long the trail will be from start to finish. Finish typically indicates where the trail started, but this is not always the case.
The types of hiking trails include:
- Loop – This is a trail that starts and finishes at the same spot but never consists of doing the same portion of the trail. For ease, think of it as a circle or a square.
- Lollipop Loop – This is a loop trail, but a portion of the trail where you start will typically go to the start of a loop, meaning you’ll hike on some of the same trails you hiked on going to the loop.
- Out-and-Back – These trails start and go to a certain point, where you then have to turn around and come back. The total hike out and back is the total length of the trail.
- Point-to-Point – This is where the trail starts and finishes at a different spot. Many longer hiking trails like the AT or PCT have different sections that people will hike from point to point.
Most easier trails are loop trails with shorter lengths.
Hiking Trail Difficulty
Trails are often identified with difficulty ratings applied to them. These help you understand how easy or challenging the trail will be for you to hike.
The difficulty ratings are typically as follows:
- Easy – These trails are typically less than 3 miles, are not hilly, and are on relatively flat and even surfaces. Many local and state parks host easier hiking trails.
- Moderate – These trails are generally safe for hiking for beginners out there who want to do something more challenging. These trails might go up to 5 miles or more and are hillier with steeper terrain.
- Rugged – Rugged trails are usually longer trails that are geared towards more technical hikers. You may have to scramble over rocks, hike up challenging hills, and cross creeks or even rivers. Rugged trails are not for beginner hikers.
Most trail resources should tell you what the difficulty rating of the trail will be.
Hiking Trail Logistics
When researching your next hiking trail, it’s important to know the logistics it will take for you to hike the trail.
You want to know anything and everything about driving. How long does it take you to drive there? What sort of road conditions will be present? If it’s on rural roads, remember that they may not be treated for winter like main roads are. In my area, many trails are on gravel roads. The gravel roads are eroded in some spots and have large potholes. It’s important to know these things to you know to drive with caution.
You also want to understand the parking situation. Many not-so-known trails I go to have no parking areas. You typically have to park on the side of the road. Some trails have parking, but it costs money. Most of the time, you can only pay cash for parking permits.
Knowing and understanding your logistics before going to the hiking trail will ensure that you can drive to, park, and start enjoying your hiking adventure quickly and with ease.
How to Time Hiking Right
The biggest hiking for beginners mistake that I typically see is when hikers choose to hike at the wrong time. Timing is everything when it comes to hiking.
Hunting, Tourist, and Fire Seasons
Three seasons to get a good understanding of in the United States are hunting, tourist, and fire seasons.
Hunting seasons are when you should consider choosing your hiking trails carefully or wearing blaze orange if you go out into areas where hunting is allowed. Bow and arrow and crossbow hunting isn’t as dangerous, but it can still pose risks. Firearm seasons are when the real danger is present, and extreme caution should be taken.
Tourist seasons are typically the nicest days of the year. The tourists typically visit the very well-known and popular trails. That’s a good time for hikers to get to know the trails that are off the beaten path if the preference is to be away from the masses.
Fire season is when forests are at their biggest risk of wildland fires or if public land management agencies are performing prescribed burning campaigns in different forest units. The last thing you want to do is get caught on a trail during a fire.
It’s important to know the weather conditions before you choose to go on a hike.
Watch your local news and set up your phone to get weather information and alerts. Knowing the weather can help you plan for what to wear on your hike. But it can also help you determine if hiking is a good idea or not.
For example, you don’t want to hike on days when strong thunderstorms are forecasted. Lightning, wind, and severe weather can put you in a life-threatening situation on the hiking trail. The same would go if there were a blizzard. You could risk freezing to death.
You also want to understand what the temperature is going to be like. This will help you decide on your fuel and hydration plan. Not getting enough hydration can lead to a very painful death in an area where help will likely not be present.
Take the weather seriously when planning your hike because it will definitely make or break your hike at the end of the day.
Required Permits and Area Closures
Pay attention to potential permits and area closures.
Some trails or parking lots require use permits. These usually cost money, and many areas only accept cash. You might be able to get permits online. Some trails use a lottery system, meaning you may or may not get a permit. If you try to use an area without a required permit, you may be held liable for it in a civil or even criminal proceeding.
Some trails may have seasonal closures or close for different reasons such as maintenance, overcapacity, or public health reasons. Make sure you check on closure information before you visit an area. Ignoring closures is usually a criminal offense, and you may be charged with trespassing.
Local Animal Hazards and Seasons
It’s a good idea to research and understand the various animal hazards and animal hibernation seasons for the area you wish to hike in.
Different areas have different animal hazards. My area, in particular, doesn’t have much in terms of large predator animals, but we do have venomous snakes, including rattlesnakes. Some areas might have mountain lions, bears, and wolves. Other area animal hazards might include moose. It is ideal to know what type of hazardous animals are present and the gear to take with you in case you interact with them such as a bear bell or bear spray.
Knowing the migration seasons of hazardous animals is also helpful. You want to know when the animals are out in the wild or asleep for migration.
Trail and Area Curfews
Not all trails are open all day long.
Some trails close at dusk and don’t open until dawn. Some trails may have different times for opening and closing. The trail could also close for different seasons and days. For example, there are some trails in state parks where I am from that close to hiking during firearms hunting season for safety reasons.
Some areas may also have curfews for noise and use. This is usually very common in campgrounds that you might camp in along the trail.
Water Sources and Creek Crossings
It’s important to know what the water sources will be like during your hike.
Water sources are important if you rely on them for drinking water, but if there hasn’t been any rain for a while, chances are you won’t be able to filter water. Many creeks in areas where hiking trails typically rely on rainfall in order for them to be flowing. Make sure you know how to filter water before you attempt to do it.
But if there has been a lot of rain, it’s also important to know that too. You’ll likely have to cross creeks. If the creeks are too full, they can be hazardous to your safety.
Try to learn all you can about any camping information if you plan to do a multi-day hike.
Learn about the area you will be hiking in to make sure camping is allowed. Nature Preserves, for example, don’t typically allow camping. Some campgrounds prohibit fires, even from a stove. Some campgrounds close seasonally. Some are not maintained in the summer and may be grown up really badly.
It’s also wise to see if the campground requires a permit. You may need to pay for a permit before you can use it.
How to Find a Hiking Buddy
It’s better to hike with someone else than to hike alone. Solo hiking is rewarding, but it can be dangerous if something happens and you have no way to get help. Hiking with someone else can make hiking a lot safer and a lot less lonely.
Family and Friends
Before you look for anyone else to hike with, you should ask your close family and friends.
If your close family and friends are seeing photos and hearing stories about your hiking adventures, it might encourage them to try it. You just have to make sure you don’t start them off on a more difficult trail. You might be a little more advanced than they are.
Close family and friends are the best people to hike with because you can trust each other more, and there is a bit more safety awareness for one another.
You can also typically find hiking partners on social media.
There are usually social groups and pages where you can find locals who are interested in hiking. Just try to use caution. Meet in a public place and get to know one another before you go out alone in the woods. Research the person. Do a little bit of open-source intelligence.
Hiking Group or Club
A good local hiking group or club is a great way to find others to hike with.
Most areas have local hiking clubs. Some areas with multiple clubs and groups have different types of hiking. Some might be fast hikers, while others are slower and best for beginners. Some might even enjoy overnight hiking adventures. Find the best club for you and start making a lot of hiking friends.
Hire a Hiking Guide
Your area might have guides who are willing to take you hiking for a fee.
Most of these guides are relatively inexpensive. You just want to make sure that they are permitted to be a hiking guide. Most public land management agencies require hiking guides to go through a permit system. Hiking guides should also be insured. If something happens on the trail, you should be able to be covered by the guide’s services.
Make sure you shop around and read reviews on the different hiking guides in your area to choose the best one suited for you.
Hiking Trail Etiquette
When using a hiking trail, it’s important to remember that you’re not the only person using the trail. You need to have hiking etiquette so that everyone can enjoy their outdoor experience.
Uphill Hikers Have the Right-of-Way
If you’re hiking down a hill, you should always yield to hikers that are going up the hill.
Hiking uphill takes more energy than hiking downhill. It’s common courtesy to step aside and let someone hiking uphill to take the trail. It takes them a lot more energy to stop, let you pass, and then continue to move uphill.
Let Fast Hikers Pass You
Some hikers will be faster than you, and you should let them pass.
Not everyone is stopping to smell the flowers, as they say. Some hikers are hiking for fitness or are just fast in nature. Before I met my girlfriend, I was a very fast hiker. I would pass most hikers and horseback riders when I was on the trail.
Let these hikers get past you so that they can resume their speed, and you can resume yours.
Smile and Say Hello
I think one of the biggest problems in the outdoor community is the decreasing social behaviors between passing hikers.
Say hello. Wave. Smile. Stop and have a conversation. Tell a passing hiker about any hazards that they might be walking towards. Be social and act like a human being. Let’s be nice to one another and embrace our communities.
Keep Music on Headphones
Don’t be the hiker who blasts their music loud enough that everyone has to listen to it.
Some people hike in nature to get away from the grind of technology. In fact, more people hike that way than those who don’t. If you have music turned up where everyone can hear it, you are taking away someone’s ability to enjoy nature the best way possible. Use headphones if you have to have music going.
And music playing to ward off bears isn’t that good of an excuse to annoy everyone on the trail.
Dogs Must Be on a Leash
If you bring a dog, put it on a leash.
Having a loose dog isn’t being respectful to your fellow hiker. Having loose dogs following your stock animals isn’t respectful. Dogs may conflict with other dogs. People can get bit. If your dog bites someone or their dog and it is loose, you are completely liable for any damages, and you should be.
There are no public lands that allow pets to be loose. Some trails may actually prohibit pets altogether.
Try to Stay on the Trail
The best way for you to have an enjoyable hike is to stay on the designated trail.
Getting off trail will increase your chances of conflict while hiking. You’ll have a better chance of getting involved in a hazard. You’ll have a better chance of getting lost. You can get hurt easier when you’re off the trail.
Try to remain on the trail as much as you can.
Encountering Horseback Riders
If you encounter horseback riders while hiking, there are some important steps that you should take.
First, say hello to the rider to let them know that they are approaching people. This way, they’re not caught off guard. Make small talk with the rider so that their horse or mule can see that you’re a human and not a threat to them.
Yield to the horseback rider and let them pass. If they give you any special instructions, as long as you’re safe, consider following them to ease a nervous horse. All users are supposed to yield to horseback riders.
Encountering Mountain Bikers
Mountain bikers are supposed to yield to hikers, but sometimes, it’s best to yield to them.
This can be a controversial recommendation. Some hikers wish to hold mountain bikers accountable and ask that they yield to hikers. However, some hikers (myself included) will yield to mountain bikers instead. The bike is harder to stop, and it’s easier for me to step aside. Most bikers slow down and are thankful for your doing it.
At the end of the day, we should all use common sense and treat each other with respect.
Hiking for Beginners Important Tips
Over the years of being a hiker, I’ve learned some important tips that would be helpful in regard to hiking for beginners and even those who’ve been hiking longer. You’ll learn tips of your own that are not listed here, and you’ll likely pass them on to new hikers. The hiking community should always be a community that’s willing to help its own.
How to Use a Map and Compass
This is a very basic lesson on using a map and compass. You should consider taking some more organized courses online to help you learn more about it.
It’s important to first understand the features of a compass. The red needle will always stay fixed on magnetic north. This helps you understand what direction you’re looking in. The magnetic north isn’t always the true north. But maps are orientated to the true north, so using your compass with the map will simply understanding the direction. The American Hiking Society covers this more in-depth in terms of the true north and how to better understand it in simpler terms.
It’s important to understand topo maps. One feature of the map that will help you understand elevation is contour lines. When lines are tighter together, that means that a particular area will be steep and is likely a bluff, hill, or mountain. The looser lines mean that the hill isn’t as steep. This is handy when hiking off-trail and looking for the easier routes to take.
Everyone should try to learn how to use a map and a compass and keep it as a plan B just in case your other forms of navigation fail.
Tell Someone Where You’re Going
My biggest safety tip for you is to tell someone where you are going before you go hiking.
Designate a safety person. This person knows the location of where you plan to hike. If you don’t come back or call them at a certain time, they can contact search and rescue agencies and tell them where you should be at. If you’re hurt or need help, this will be a very critical need. Otherwise, you may not find it in time.
Print out a map of the area you’re hiking. Trace the trails or draw a circle of the area you plan to be in. Give an itinerary of what you will be doing.
Make sure your safety person has all the needed details.
Pace Yourself on the Trail
Hiking isn’t typically a race, and therefore, you shouldn’t treat it like one.
Even if you’re trail running or fastpacking, you need to pace yourself while on the trail. Slow down and move in a consistent form and manner. This will do many things for you. It prevents injury from going too fast. It helps you breathe better and not get fatigued as quickly. It will train your body how to be a consistent hiker.
When you slow down on your hike, you start to enjoy it better.
Start Easy, Start Local, Then Adventure
The best way for a beginner hiker to start enjoying hiking is the easy way.
The easy is very simple. Start with easier trails located the closest to where you live. Your town or county may have local and state parks with easier hiking trails. HIke those first. Hike them multiple times until you get to know them so well that you can lead a hike on them.
Then, move on to harder trails in the parks. After you’ve hiked all your local trails, you can start to go farther from home and hike other trails after you thoroughly research them.
Start out easy, stay local, and then go for an adventure after you gain more hiking experience.
Always Watch Your Step
Another of the biggest safety tips for hiking for beginners is watching your step.
Did you know that you can prevent most hazards by watching where you step next? Most major injuries and fatalities in hikers occur when they fall off high points. If you’re watching your step, you can avoid going into an area where you’re likely to fall. Getting a selfie and not seeing what you’re backing up into isn’t watching your step. Many people fall to their deaths that way.
Not only can you avoid falling, but you can also avoid other hazards like stepping into a ground bee nest or stepping on a rattlesnake.
If you watch your step, you’ll increase your chances of survival on the hiking trail.
Getting Lost While Hiking
Getting lost while hiking can be a very nerve-wracking experience but lucky for you, there are easy steps to take to get back on the right path.
Before hiking, always mark the start of the trail on your hiking app or map so that you know what direction to hike towards in the event that you do get lost.
Carry a pen and notepad with you and mark what trail numbers and directions you get on at trail forks and intersections. If you need the backtrack, this will be helpful.
The main thing to do when you get lost is to stop, calm down, and try to think about where you are. Look for natural features and landmarks that might work your memory.
You might need to power down your phone to conserve battery unless you rely on it for the hiking app. You should carry a power brick and charging cord with you, just in case.
You might also consider getting a Personal Locator Beacon or PLB. A PLB can be activated when you have exhausted your options.
And lastly, if you stay on a designated trail, it will be harder for you to get lost.
Hiking in Hot, Cold, and Rainy Weather
Hiking in the elements can be comfortable no matter the type of weather you choose to hike in.
If it’s hot outside, you can dress down or wear moisture-wicking hiking apparel to help keep you free from sweat. But you also need to ensure you stay hydrated. You might need to use an electrolyte powder since you’ll lose more sodium when it’s hot. Consider taking frequent breaks in the shade and remember to use sunblock.
You can apply the same tips above to cold weather hiking only you’ll be wearing warmer clothing instead of dressing down. Layering is the best way to comfortably dress for cold weather hiking. This is because you’ll warm up during your hike and shed layer to prevent sweating which can be hazardous during freezing conditions.
Hiking in rainy and wet weather is all about your shell and outer layers. Wear a raincoat, rain pants, and waterproof footwear for the best results. The idea is to keep the water off you as much as you can.
Hiking in any element is possible as long as you use common sense.
Hiking with Kids
Hiking is a great activity to share with your kids as long as you put their safety and needs first.
You don’t want to tackle the toughest trail around with a small child. You want to introduce them to easier and shorter trails with a lot to see. Big rock formations, swimming holes, waterfalls, and stuff like that are what will make them interested. You can also bring guidebooks and make it a learning experience.
As your kids get better at the trail, you can gradually increase the length and moderation. Just make sure you factor in their strength and need to take breaks more than you might think. They may seem like they have more energy than us, but they often need to take more breaks than adults do.
Try to talk to other parents about more hiking for beginners with kids’ advice and child-friendly trails in your area.
Hiking with Pets
If a trail allows pets, and you have a pet, then you might as well take them hiking.
Hiking is a great exercise for pets and you. Make sure you follow leash laws and Leave No Trace, meaning clean up after your pet.
If your pet is big enough, you can get it a backpack to carry its food and water on the trail. A body harness leash is best when hiking with your pet.
Consider other people and their pets when deciding to bring your own on the trail.
Encountering Predator Wildlife on a Hike
You’re hiking a trail when you come up on a bear, wolf, moose, or mountain lion… What do you do?
First, you stay calm and don’t run. Make noise so that the animal knows you’re present. If you have bear spray or another defensive weapon, you should use it as a last resort. Instead of using your weapon, make yourself look big and scream for the animal to go away.
If the animal feels you are a threat to them, most of the time, they will flee. Give the animal plenty of room to escape. Don’t approach it.
Put your backpack over your head to look bigger.
Throw rocks and natural debris at the animal if you need to. If it approaches you, then you may need to use your bear spray or a firearm if you have one. But in most cases, the animals don’t want to interact with you and will flee the area.
Share Your Hiking Experiences
Hiking is a great hobby and often turns people into nature lovers. We need more hikers in the world. More hikers means governments will spend more money on outdoor recreation needs. If you can get people into hiking by sharing your experience with them, then by all means, share it with them.
Share on Social Media
You can share your hiking stories, videos, and photos on social media.
You can do it from your personal page, a social group, or even create a page just for your hiking adventures. Other followers can share your adventure posts and you can often tag hiking locations on the content.
Start a Hiking Blog
You can also start a blog all about your hiking adventures.
Each time you hike, you can write an article about it. You can create trail guides and provide helpful tips to your fellow hikers. What you’re reading now is an example of a hiking blog.
Start a Hiking YouTube Channel
YouTube and other video-sharing platforms also make for a great way to share your hiking experiences.
I’ve been running a YouTube channel for six years. If you would love to support me, please subscribe to my YouTube channel. I post a new video (long and short ones) every day.
Hiking for Beginners Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s take a look at some frequently asked questions and answers about hiking for beginners.
Should I hike alone or with someone else?
Hiking alone is rewarding and will give you total peace and solitude. You can set your own pace, stop whenever you wish, and control all aspects of your hike. However, hiking alone has its drawbacks. It can be lonely. It could have safety issues. When you hike with another person or group, you can share your love for the trail, and typically, if something happens, one of you can go get help or tend to the other if needed. Beginners should hike with another person and then decide from there.
How do I use the bathroom in the woods?
The best way to go #1 or #2 in the woods is to find a secluded spot well off the trail. For #1, do your business. For #2, dig a cathole, do your business, and take your TP with you in a sealed bag. If you can’t take it with you, then bury it with your waste. Try to remember the importance of Leave No Trace while hiking in nature.
Will an animal attack me while hiking?
The probability of you getting attacked by an animal while hiking is very low. While it could happen, as long as you don’t surprise, touch, harass, or provoke wildlife, you should be safe from harm. But you should always proceed with caution and understand all the animal hazards in your area and what to do to prepare for them.
How do I get better at hiking?
The best way to get better at hiking is to keep hiking. The more you hike, the better you will get at hiking. You should gradually increase your mileage and use more moderately rugged trails as you get better and better at hiking. Fitness and healthy lifestyle choices will also help you get better at hiking.
How do I deal with the pain caused by hiking?
This depends on where the pain is coming from. Most of the time, it is due to bad gear or bad ways of using the gear. If your shoulders, neck, and back hurt, then your backpack may need to be adjusted, or you may be carrying too much gear. If your feet hurt, then your shoes or boots may not be the correct size or may need to be broken in if they’re newer. You should always consult with your doctor if hiking is causing you any sort of pain.
How do I deal with blisters while hiking?
The most common reason for blisters is improper footwear. Either your footwear is too small or too big. If you have the right size, longer hikes without breaking in new boots or shoes might also result in blisters. For dealing with a blister on the trail, the solution is to cover it up with some sort of padding so nothing rubs against it and makes it worse. Use a band-aid, moleskin, or even duct tape if that’s all you have. Treat the blister with some sort of infection-prevention topical cream, and don’t try to pop it.
Is hiking safe?
Hiking, for the most part, is safe. However, there are many hazards and risks associated with nature. As long as you take precautions, use the correct hiking gear, and use common sense safety awareness, hiking can continue to be a safe activity for you. Most unsafe elements of hiking can be completely prevented by the hiker.
Do I need to be physically fit for hiking?
You don’t have to be at a certain fitness level to start hiking. You should always consult your doctor before hiking if you’re concerned about your health. If you’re out of shape, you should start out hiking shorter and easier trails. As you develop yourself as a stronger hiker, you can gradually increase your length and ruggedness.
Do I need to learn CPR for hiking?
Yes, you should take a CPR class. CPR can save live. The more people who know basic CPR and first aid will, mean more lifesaving practices can be made when it matters the most. Most areas offer free classes to get certified with basic first aid and CPR.
Should I wear denim or cotton clothing for hiking?
No. Cotton, denim, and leather don’t breathe. They don’t wicker moisture. They typically hold in moisture and will make hiking very uncomfortable. Wear synthetic apparel using wool, polyester, nylon, spandex, and other materials like that.
How do I break in my footwear for hiking?
The best way to break in new hiking shoes and boots is to wear them on shorter hikes, working, or even around the house for a few weeks. Don’t wear them on a long, rugged hike until they are broken in. If you do, you might get blisters, and the tightness of the footwear could cause other problems.
Final Thoughts About Hiking for Beginners
This completes my hiking for beginners guide. Hiking is an excellent hobby and activity to start if you want to get close to nature, get into better shape, and help make the environment better. While this guide is extensive and covers a lot, you’ll learn even more about hiking as you do it more.
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And until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!
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Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!
Founder, Hiking with Shawn
Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman