Hiking – In Depth Beginners Guide

hiking guide

A lot of people tend to have the impression that hiking is complicated. There’s a lot of things you need and a lot of planning involved.

It is true that you should plan hikes carefully, even more so if they last an entire day or more. However, it’s not true that you have to buy loads of things first. You’ll see why throughout this article.

Here’s everything that you need to know before you start hiking.

Getting into Hiking

Hiking can be as strenuous and epic or as relaxed and simple as you choose.

You don’t have to go off on some adventure that lasts days; even a short walk in the woods near where you live is considered a hike.

What matters about hiking is that you get outside and enjoy some nature and that you do so by walking.

So, let’s see how you can get into hiking. I’ve listed you a couple of things you need to decide on so that you can start planning your hiking trip.

Duration

First, you need to decide how long you want to hike for. As a beginner, you want a trail that can be done in less than a day – no tent needed. Exactly how much time you have/how long you’d like to hike for will determine which trail you should choose.

Your first hike can last anywhere from 30 minutes to half a day. It’s up to you.

Solo or not?

Consider if you’d prefer hiking alone or with others. You’ll have to make this decision from early on because if you want to go with others you need to find a day that works for both/all of you. Going alone is easier and more efficient, and I do enjoy hiking more by myself. Every now and then I do organize a hike with a friend, though. It’s good to try out both at least once, so you’ll know what your preferences are.

It is more dangerous to wander into the wilderness alone, so I do recommend a buddy for your first hike.

Having said that, if you have a significant other then you should definitely drag them along because hiking is the perfect bonding opportunity.

Consider your Level

If you’re not an active person at all, and you don’t do much walking in your daily life, then you need to take things slow. Choose a hike that lets you comfortably stop for a break every now and then, and don’t go too far.

Although, if you’re like me, and you do a lot of walking to get to work and home, for example, you should still take things at a slow pace to start with as well. You just might not need as many breaks as others.

Also, consider the level of anyone else you’re hiking with too. Hiking with someone who has a much faster, or slower, pace than you isn’t very fun.

Finding Hiking Trails

This is the easiest part. All you need to do is look up ‘hiking trails near me’, and voila.

You could also search for ‘parks’ in Google Maps to find large plots of land. Don’t just choose any park and go – do a bit of research about it by searching the name of that park first. Check out things like the local wildlife. Avoid going in bear or snake country.

Alternatively, you could just use AllTrails and enter a city, park, trail name, or zip code and find a hiking trail in seconds.

It’ll even tell you if the hike is easy, moderate, or hard, the length, and the estimated duration.

Let Someone Know

Always let someone know about your trip. Tell them when you’ll be hiking, where, and when you expect to return home. If they don’t hear back from you by a certain time, they know to alert the authorities.

Don’t let this scare you or put you off hiking, it’s just a good habit than every hiker should have.

Hiking Gear

By hiking gear, I mean everything that you need for your hike such as a backpack, what will go inside that bag, and the clothes you’ll be wearing.

Footwear

Don’t let a lack of quality shoes keep you from hiking.

I’ve hiked the Hexenstäffele in Converse… Some people hike the Appalachian Trail barefoot!

If you go at a relaxed pace, you can hike in any athletic shoes you currently have that are comfortable. Once you start going on longer hikes, then you can invest in some proper hiking shoes.

Always break your shoes in and test them out with a short walk before you set off on your hiking adventure.

Hiking shoes are great for day hikes – they have good grip, provide just enough support, and aren’t heavy.

However, if you’re going on a hike that will last several days, you will need hiking boots or trail shoes.

Boots might be slightly better because they have more ankle support, they’re thicker and provide more protection. This comes down to personal preference though.

Socks

Socks are just as important as shoes. The right socks won’t cause you any blisters and can wick sweat properly.

Whether you should choose short or tall socks, and what material depends on a few things: the weather, the environment, and the shoes you’ve already chosen.

On a nice warm day, you’d wear some lightweight trainers or hiking shoes with thin hiking socks. Whereas in cold mountain conditions, you need to wear hiking boots with thick socks. The colder it is, the thicker the socks should be.

If you know you’ll be hiking in tall grass and plants, get some tall socks. Maybe even tuck your pants into them if necessary.

What kind of material the socks are made out of is really important. This is because you need materials that can both insulate and wick sweat well.

Well, merino wool is great, and let me tell you why. First of all, it’s a natural and renewable fiber. It helps keep your body at a stable temperature because when it’s cold its natural crimps trap air and insulate you. When it’s warm, it can transport moisture and sweat away from your skin. It’s able to wick sweat because merino fibers are porous, which means that liquid or air can pass through.

This wool creates an ‘escape’ for sweat and excess heat, by transporting sweat away from your skin so that your feet can stay warm and dry.

One more thing about merino wool, that also makes it unique, is that it is naturally odor resistant. It can absorb the odor that is caused by bacteria, trapping the smell and stopping it from building up.

Clothing

Should I wear shorts or pants on my hike? And what type of shirt do I wear? How about a hat?

There are a lot of questions when it comes to what to wear, and I’m going to cover as many as I can.

Pants

I only wear shorts when I’m going for a half-day hike, but that’s because I’m familiar with the trail now. It’s warm out and the trail consists mainly of stairs that are shaded by trees.

Whether you should wear shorts or not depends a lot on the environment, not just the weather.

When wandering through a forest or something like that, you’re better off just wearing lightweight pants that aren’t too tight. You don’t want plants brushing against your legs as you walk, and you could get cuts or worse – a bad allergic reaction.

Shirts

On my hike, I manage just fine with a loose T-shirt. To be honest, I’m not even sure what material it is. But again, this is for my half-day hike which is very relaxed. On these kinds of hikes, even athletic clothes are fine.

For longer hikes in various conditions, merino wool T-shirts or long-sleeved shirts are perfect. As mentioned earlier – it’s lightweight, breathable, it wicks sweat well, insulates warmth, and is odor resistant.

Jackets

Jackets follow the same general rule as the shirt and pants – are you hiking somewhere that’s close to home and there’s not a cloud in the sky? Then you’ll be fine. If it’s a bit chilly take a light jacket that you can easily just carry if you don’t wear.

If your hike will last a good number of hours and you’re going a bit far from home, then you definitely need to take one. Exactly what kind of jacket depends heavily on the weather.

Lightweight jackets are for moderately cool temperatures, whereas midweight jackets are for cold temps, and heavyweight ones are needed for below-freezing temperatures.

Jackets are important because they’re part of the outer/shell layer that protects you from wind and rain.

If you think it’ll rain you should take a jacket that is water-resistant because being cold and wet is a bad combo.

Accessories

When the sun is out, put on a hat and throw on a pair of sunglasses too. Slab on some sunscreen before you head out.

If you have long hair, you might want something to keep the hair out of your face.

When it’s cold, keep a beanie and a pair of gloves/mittens on you. Your head, ears, and fingers are really important to keep warm.

Extra

Now you’re about to find out what’s inside every hiker’s backpack.

I’ve already mentioned putting on sunblock, but you can go ahead and put the rest of the bottle in your bag.

Get some bug spray if you think you’ll need it, and a pocket knife.

A first aid kit is a must. Even if you think the worst that’ll happen is a small cut, it’s important to disinfect cuts and then cover with a band-aid. If you don’t have a medical kit lying around, don’t worry! You can easily make one yourself with what you already have at home.

Take your phone. A lot of people might think, well I don’t plan to stay on my phone so I won’t bring it. I get it, you’re going on a hike to appreciate nature and disconnect. However, a phone can get you out of a bad situation. Smartphones double as navigation.

You should still take a map and compass, or a GPS system, even if you have your smartphone because you shouldn’t rely on just one thing. It doesn’t matter if you’ve brought a charger – things happen. Maybe you drop your phone, it breaks, and you get lost. What then? Thank goodness you brought a compass and map to get yourself home.

If you have some space to spare, you could also take a book or a camera along with you. Personally, I love nothing more than stopping to take a break from my hike and read a few pages. Alternatively, Kindles are great if that’s more your style.

The Backpack

There are so many things that come into consideration when choosing/buying a backpack for hiking. Thankfully, this is a guide for beginners so we don’t need to get into all of that.

Honestly, whatever you already have should be fine. Most people already have a backpack – I still have the one I used when I was a student. It’s become my hiking backpack now.

Get yourself a comfortable and lightweight backpack, something a bit durable and not expensive. You can get a proper hiking backpack when you plan a multi-day hike.

Water

Drink about half a liter of water every hour if you’re hiking in moderate temperatures. The hotter it is, and the more strenuous your hike is, the more water you need to consume. It could go up to as much as a liter per hour.

You need a good water container that is reusable. For hikes that last the entire day, you could also look into getting something to treat water such as a purifier and/or filter so that you don’t have to carry much water with you.

Stainless steel or aluminum bottles are a good choice. If you don’t have anything like that, just take whatever you have.

On longer hikes, you’ll need something like a hydration backpack. These can double as your hiking pack, so it makes them very convenient.

Make sure you have drunk enough water before starting your hike so that you don’t get dehydrated just after you set out.

Food

I can’t tell you exactly what to take to eat on your hike because it depends on what you like personally. However, I can tell you some of the things that I like to take with me.

Nuts are great. Especially walnuts or almonds. Not only are they ideal for snacking while walking, but they’re packed full of healthy fat and protein, which is exactly what you need.

You need to plan this out well. Otherwise, you could end up gaining weight.

Start with how long you’ll be hiking for. If you’re going to hike the whole day, then you need about 2,000 – 2,500 calories a day, depending on if you’re a man or a woman.

So, mark down how many calories everything that you want to take has until you reach the needed amount.

Fruit is also great to snack on when on the go. On a half-day hike, all I need is a couple of apples and nuts and I already have all the calories I need.

Take any fruit that you like, but if it’s dried fruit then be careful because they can have a lot of sugar and calories.

You could also take beef jerky, trail mix, or granola bars.

Conclusion

It really isn’t as difficult as some make it out to be to get into hiking. It’s actually really easy and simple to start out.

You don’t need to buy loads of things; you probably already have everything you need.

The key is to be versatile. If you think that the weather could change, wear pants that can become shorts and a long-sleeved shirt that you can roll up the sleeves.

Until you’ve gone hiking a couple of times, to make sure that it’s an activity you’d like to invest in, then you can buy any proper gear that you need. For even more information on hiking, check out this article from REI. 

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