When it comes to physical activity, it should be plenty apparent by now that hiking is one of our favorites. And while it might seem like second nature to some, others may not know the first thing about it. If you fall into the latter group, but you’d like to become a bit more acquainted with hiking, then this article is for you.
From the gear you’ll need to get you started, to tips and tricks you might not otherwise know, to a few little shortcuts we’ve learned along the way – we’ve put together an exhaustive guide on how to start hiking. Whatever shape you’re in and however familiar you are with the great outdoors, the following is everything you need to know to get your out on the trails and, hopefully, get you in the habit of hiking as often as possible.
A Brief Primer
Walk into your local outdoor retail store and, if you’re not a seasoned outdoorsman or survivalist, you might be put off by the sheer amount of hiking gear they offer. Let us be the first to tell you, that’s a perfectly normal reaction. There’s a lot of stuff out there, from simple base-level hiking boots, to hardcore mountaineering loadouts.Hiking is actually extremely cheap to get into at the base levels. But, please, don’t let that deter you from giving hiking a shot.
In spite of what seems like a daunting entry fee into the activity, hiking is actually extremely cheap to get into at the base levels. And that’s very good news for beginners, as it means there’s not a ton you have to know to give it a go. Think of hiking like the outdoor equivalent to soccer (or football, for you non-Americans). That is to say, soccer is a great sport for its accessibility – all you really need to get started is a ball. Hiking is similar. You need very little to get you out there at the beginning. And you can learn as your skills increase.
Let that mindset extend to the trails, as well. You’ll almost certainly see people hiking that are more geared up and more experienced than you. And while some folks can be a bit elitist, most are just out there to enjoy their time on the trails, same as you. Leave your intimidation at the door and you’ll be set up to have a great time, get some exercise, and see a side of the world with which you might not yet be familiar.
Pick A Partner
If you’ve never hiked before, it is of the utmost importance that you find a partner to join you in your endeavors. And while the ideal situation would be to learn from someone who already has some experience, it’s also fine if you hit the trails with someone at the same level as you. The reason for this is simple: a hiking buddy, while great as motivation tool to keep you both going, has a very real purpose in the case of an emergency. You see, if you get yourself into some kind of danger, your hiking partner will need to be the one to go and get help from the proper authoritiesIt’s not an absolute necessity to have a friend alongside you – but it is an excellent contingency plan. (and vice versa). Now, it’s not an absolute necessity to have a friend alongside you – but it is an excellent contingency plan.
There are also added benefits to hiking with someone who has more experience. Namely, they may have gear you can borrow or they can make suggestions as to what you should bring with you. They also serve as a guide, as people with area experience will also likely know which trails are best suited for beginners. Similarly, they can continue to expose you to more difficult trails as your own skills grow. Lastly, it’s always extra motivational to be chasing after someone, as it can more quickly advance your skillset – which is especially true if you are competitive. Just don’t push too hard.
Know Your Limits
A Quick Assessment
Speaking of not pushing too hard, it’s an extremely good idea to do an honest assessment of your fitness level, skillset, and a few other factors (such as the time of day you intend to begin your hike and how long the hike is expected to take) before you ever even walk up to a trailhead. We know it can be difficult to judge yourself accurately, but give it a shot and take it seriously. Hiking might not be as immediately exhaustive as, say, running or going to the gym,Out on the trails, it can be very hard to get help. Always err on the side of caution. but it definitely takes a lot of energy and can be a lot more taxing than you might first realize.
The toll on your body will be increased by different factors relating to the trail you choose, as well. For instance, a 2-mile hike might not seem like that big of a deal, but if that two miles takes place entirely across an extreme uphill slope, the difficulty of the hike will be compounded exponentially. So long as you take it easy to start, pay attention to your energy levels, and pace yourself – everything should be fine. If you ever get to a point where the thought crosses your mind that it’s time to turn around, do it. Don’t push yourself or you might get hurt and, out on the trails, it can be very hard to get help. Always err on the side of caution.
Learn The Lingo
While there are certain activities in which the terminology cans seem as alien as another language (take surfing, for instance), hiking has a much less difficult to understand list of associated words and slang. The average person can probably gauge most of their meanings based on context, but it’s still a good idea to familiarize yourself with different words and phrases you might encounter. Some of the most common ones are as follows:
Access Trail: An auxiliary pathway that leads from a main hiking trail to an access road, parking lot, or otherwise.
Bushwhack: The act of off-trail hiking or creating your own trail off of regular marked paths.
Cache/Geocache: A hidden collection of goods or supplies intended to be accessed at a later date.
Crest: The top of a mountain or hill – differs from a peak/summit in that a crest is not necessarily the final stop on a hike.
Day Hike: A short-form trail journey that can be completed within the span of a single day.
Elevation Gain/Loss: The number of feet one rises or falls over the course of a hike.
Loop: A type of hike featuring a circuit-like system in which a hiker can travel from start to finish whilst repeating little if any of the trail.
Out-And-Back: A type of hike in which the hiker travels from the trailhead to an endpoint – most often a landmark, like a peak/summit – and then back again to the trailhead.
Peak/Summit: The highest point of a hill or mountain – often the endpoint of out-and-back hiking trails.
Switchback: A feature on a trail’s slope that consists of sharp back and forth turns intended to ease ascent or descent and prevent trail erosion.
Thru Hike: A type of hike in which the starting point and ending point are geographically independent from one another.
Topo/Topographic: A type of map that illustrates the given terrain of an area – including elevation changes, physical landmarks, and other defining features.
Trailhead: The starting point of a given hiking trail.
Zero-Mile Mark: The official beginning distance marker of a given trail – may not be found at the trailhead, parking lot, or access trail.
Get The Gear
Everything You Need
As we mentioned before, hiking is a very low entry cost activity. Of course, there are still a few things you’ll want to make sure you have before you get started. For reference, you can get away with missing a couple items on this list. As such, we’ve ranked them in descending importance, so if you absolutely can’t have all of them,There are a few things you’ll want to make sure you have before you get started. you’ll at least know which are the most vital to making your hiking experience enjoyable and successful.
As a secondary note, we are leaving topographic maps, compasses, and all other GPS trackers and the like off this list. As a beginner, you should not need them, as you’ll want to stick to well-marked popular hikes before moving into more difficult and dangerous territory. Plus, your smartphone can do a lot of the things these other devices have to offer, at least from a baseline standpoint. It has GPS built-in, an accelerometer, will measure your elevation, and so much more. Rely on that before you go making expensive electronics purchases.
If you can’t get anything else on this list, make sure you get a solid pair of hiking boots. And to make this clear as day: we mean boots and not shoes. Mid-length hiking boots are a must for new hikers, as they offer ankle support that just isn’t there in shoes. And trust us, if you take a spill and twist your ankle, getting help out there is a hard thing to manage. Not only are these ATV GORE-TEX boots from Under Armour tough enough to get you up to any summit, but they’re also waterproof – should you encounter any inclement weather or, say, a stream that needs crossing.
Do not ever go hiking without water. Yes, you can probably do a couple miles without needing it, but what happens if you find yourself dehydrated out on the trails without a drop of the stuff? At the very least, you’ll experience serious discomfort. At the worst, you could die. Hydro Flask makes excellent and very tough vacuum insulated water bottles. And this one has a handy sport style spout, so you can drink on the go.
Often looked over, socks are only slightly less important than hiking boots. Sure, your average pair of crew socks might work for a while, but if you want to avoid foot pain, bacteria, blisters, etc. then a solid pair of socks designed for hiking – like these ones from Smartwool – are a must-have. They’re also more durable than your regular socks (which will almost certainly rip a lot sooner than you might think).
If you’re going to be carrying a bunch of gear with you, a hiking backpack is a must-have. Even if you just need a water bottle, you might not want to carry it in your hand – especially if the trail gets a little rocky and you need your hands. Matador’s Beast28 pack is as tough as they come, is water-resistant, is compatible with hydration packs, and packs down to about the size of a softball for easy storage when you aren’t using it.
While a good pair of workout shorts could do you well on hikes, we definitely suggest looking into apparel that was designed specifically for hiking. Coalatree’s Trailhead Adventure Pants are lightweight, comfortable (thanks to breathable cloth and a comfortable stretch waistband), waterproof, and you can still wash them like you might a regular pair of pants – thanks to the waterproofing being woven into the fabric. For reference, they also make shorts, if that’s more your thing.
You can definitely get by with a regular cotton t-shirt as you learn to hike. But the more you do it, the more you may realize that a technical shirt might do you much better. The Windridge SS from Marmot will give you the same protection from the sun as a cotton shirt, but it’s also moisture-wicking and super lightweight. Trust us, if you have the drive to keep hiking, a shirt like this will definitely make everything more enjoyable.
Most folks stick to hiking during the warmer days of the year. But, some places experience rainfall even during the summer. If there’s a chance that your hike could be marred by inclement weather, you’ll do yourself a great service if you bring a waterproof jacket along on your trek. The Patagonia Stretch Rainshadow Jacket is flexible, breathable, packs down to pocket sized for easy carrying and it will keep you dry in any weather.
Pick Your Path
Choosing A Trail
Thanks to the internet, the world is a much smaller place than it used to be. It’s also a much more informed place. And you should definitely depend on the web to help you find good hiking spots. You can access guides through a simple google search, or you can download hiking apps to your smartphone that can help you find worthwhile trails. A simple “best hiking trails” Google search should elicit a bevy of results.Of course, you can also look to your local parks organizations, as they should have information on local hikes, campgrounds, and more.
The best part about user-centric platforms, however, is that they will help you determine appropriate hikes for your skill level. A simple “best hiking trails” Google search should elicit a bevy of results, and that should also include difficulty ratings, trail types, and even overall enjoyment of a given hike. If it’s your first hike, we suggest sticking to beginner-level hikes. Even if you think you can do better, don’t. You won’t know until you are out there. And if you think you can go harder, you’ll have another shot in the future. It’s also important to take it easy on your first hike, as you don’t know the after effects. The soreness you might experience could kick in as many as two days after your initial hike. Take it easy and you should be able to better gauge your preparedness.
Both an online forum and a free app you can download to your smartphone, Alltrails is the premier online service for hiking around the world. Driven by user data, this app/website will help you find hikes, gauge their difficulty, learn about landmarks and/or hazards, and just generally give you a good idea of what to expect on any hike. Best of all, it’s free. Of course, you can also upgrade to a premium service, for a fee.
Get Out There
Rinse & Repeat
Like playing a sport, learning an instrument, or picking up a new hobby, you’re going to need practice to get good at hiking. If your first endeavor seems unsuccessful or especially trying, your only way to improve is to keep doing it. If your first endeavor seems unsuccessful or especially trying, your only way to improve is to keep doing it.Don’t get discouraged if things don’t quite turn out how you wanted them to. Instead, get out there and do it again. And again. And again.
Hiking is a game of repetition. Not so much in the trails you take, but in the repeated activity itself. Practice by taking action. And don’t give up when it gets hard. That’s the point. It’s not always going to be fun, easy, or enjoyable in the moment. But it will all be worth it when you get to that peak and look out at your accomplishment and the world surrounding it. Hiking is both physically and mentally rewarding, as much as it is trying. So get out there and keep getting out there as much as you can.
20 Best Day Hikes In America
If you want to start hiking, you’re going to have to actually get out there and do it. Lucky for you, we’ve put together a list of the 20 best day hikes in America, for your adventuring pleasure.