Hiking can bring so many physical and mental benefits to people of all ages. It can get your body into better shape, reduce your stress, and be tons of fun. After a long, hard week at the office, what better way to spend your weekend than letting loose in the beautiful wilderness?
We know that hiking for beginners can be overwhelming, but don’t worry, we’ll cover everything you need to know from picking a trail to finding outdoor gear; by the end of this guide, you’ll be able to hit the trails!
Finding the Right Trail:
Picking the perfect trail is often what stumps many beginner hikers; after all, there are so many excellent trails to choose from, each with their unique perks. There are various factors to consider while picking a trail. How long is it? What is its elevation gain? How busy is the trail at this time of year? This long list of questions would give anyone a headache, which is why I strongly recommend checking out AllTrails. Their website provides all the information you need about a trail, along with helpful reviews of other hikers who’ve recently hiked the trail. My second favorite way of picking trails is by buying a local trail guide book. You’ll often find very detailed information in these books, along with specific tips and tricks to hiking them.
When just getting into hiking, please be careful not to pick a trail that’s too high of a skill level. Hiking a too-advanced trail can quickly make your hiking experience miserable, or even downright dangerous. Make sure to take your time and start experimenting with easier trails, and working your way up to the more advanced trails as you gain more experience. Remember, being just physically strong doesn’t automatically mean you can take on the hardest trails. Hiking experience is often more important than strength, especially on very advanced trails where one wrong move can prove costly.
The Essential Hiking Gear List for Beginners:
Having the correct gear is one of the most important elements of hiking. You may find that you don’t need everything on this list for easier trails, but if you’re planning on tackling difficult trails, these items are more than necessary and will get you started. If you want to be absolutely prepared for your next excursion you should investigate our list of 10 hiking gear equipment essentials.
A nice pair of hiking boots is by far the most important piece of gear for an enjoyable time while hiking. The last thing you’d want is to get painful blisters halfway into the hike, and a quality pair of hiking boots can help prevent this. Make sure to invest some time into researching which boots are the best for you, especially focusing on comfort, ankle support, and impact support. It’s often the case that the most popular brands, such as REI and GTX, are the most reliable, unfortunately meaning that the price tag can get hefty, but don’t worry! We’ll give you some great tips later on how to buy quality outdoor gear affordably.
A good set of hiking poles go a long way towards the longevity of your hiking experience, as they take a lot of the stress off your joints. Poles are also a great tool to help you stay balanced, evenly distribute weight, and engage your entire body rather than just your legs. Besides, most hiking poles are easily retractable and can be attached to your backpack, so you always have the option to go hands-free.
When you’re just starting out on shorter trails, you can grab any old backpack lying around in your house, but if you’re looking to tackle harder trails, a more specialized hiking backpack is a good investment. Other than holding your water, layers and snacks, a good hiking backpack has many other useful functions. Most hiking backpacks will have a hip belt for support, which takes the weight off your shoulders onto your much stronger hips. A hiking backpack will also have specialized clips and areas to attach other hiking gear you may need, such as rope if you’re getting your hands dirty by climbing, or even an ice axe for mountaineering. Your needs may differ, but a high-quality backpack really does make a difference.
What you’ll wear on a hike of course depends on your location and time of year, but even if you’re a veteran hiker and know the trail like the back of your hand, you should always check the weather report to see what clothes and gear you need to bring. Regardless of your location, the key is to always bring lots of layers. Having lots of thin layers available helps you moderate your body temperature, so you don’t overheat or freeze. Try to avoid heavy materials that take time to dry, such as cotton, and look for light materials like polyester, nylon or wool.
On the Trail:
Once you step on the trail, the fun begins! If you’ve followed my tips up to this point, then you should be more than prepared to absolutely crush this hike. Here are some last minute tips to make your hiking experience better.
- Stay on the established trail.
It may be tempting to take short cuts, but it’s not worth it. The risk of getting an injury or losing your surroundings is much higher if you go off the trail. There’s also a negative environmental impact of doing so, so please stay on the trail.
- Take periodic breaks.
I’m always stoked for a good challenging hike, but there’s a fine line between challenging yourself and pushing beyond your limit. The last thing you’d want is for you to pick up an injury miles away from the nearest access to roads, so don’t be afraid to take breaks when you need them.
- Pay close attention to trail signs
Ideally, you’d already have a good idea of the path you’re planning on taking from research beforehand, but oftentimes you’ll come across forks in the trail that leads two ways, one way to your trail, and another to a secondary trail. Be aware of these, and stick with the trail you were planning on going. If there aren’t any signs, stick with the trail that looks more established and used.
What to Bring Hiking
It’s essential to make sure that you’re prepared for your hike, especially if you plan on doing a longer hike or a hike in a remote area. Be sure to bring plenty of water. A good rule of thumb is to bring 1 liter for every two hours that you’re actively hiking. Hydration packs can make it easier to drink water as you hike in addition to being space efficient. If you don’t have a hydration pack you can’t go wrong with a regular water bottle. Nalgene is a great brand of water bottles. They are more durable, BPA free and environmentally friendly compared to single use plastic bottles.
Don’t forget to bring snacks! I promise that you’re going to work up an appetite by the time you get to that alpine lake or mountain summit. You can make your own trail mix by combining your favorite nuts and dried fruit. The fruit has plenty of simple sugars to give you immediate energy and the nuts are rich in protein and saturated fats, which will fill you up without weighing you down. Power bars are also an efficient source of energy for their weight. If you want to bring a sandwich, but hate squished bread you can substitute a tortilla and have a wrap instead. I love bringing peanut butter banana wraps on my hikes. Get creative with your favorite foods and find ways to make them trail worthy!
The last thing you need to think about when you’re getting ready for a hike is your extra layers. Keep in mind any potential changes in weather for your hike. If you’re hiking in the mountains the higher altitude will mean cooler temperatures. It's usually a good idea to bring an extra layer in case you get cold. You might be warm when you’re hiking, but you cool down quickly taking in the scenery. The weather in the mountains can also change drastically. I almost always bring a rain layer for those afternoon summer showers. Speaking of getting wet, I also always bring an extra pair of socks. You might encounter a creek you need to cross or a snowbank you need to trudge through. Having and extra pair of socks will save you from discomfort and blisters.
Unfortunately, the price tag that comes with hiking can be quite hefty, and ends up being the barrier to many beginner hikers’ first outdoor journey. But don’t get discouraged; I’m going to share some amazing resources to make hiking affordable to you.
Rerouted specializes in finding a new home for used gear in good quality, and provides some of the lowest prices on the market. This is a great way to buy high quality brands, such as REI, The North Face, or Columbia, for an affordable price; the amount of money you can save on gear by shopping at Rerouted is insane. What’s even better is that once you’re done with any piece of outdoor gear, you can easily sell it on Rerouted to another fellow outdoor enthusiast and pocket some cash while you’re at it! You can easily join the Rerouted community by making an account in less than 2 minutes. Additionally, by shopping at Rerouted, you’re not only saving money, but also helping the environment by recycling our gear. You can learn more about Rerouted here and start shopping to get you out on the trail today!
Asking friends and family:
Although not a surefire way of finding gear, it never hurts to ask your close ones, and maybe they’d have the exact piece of gear you’re looking for. Oftentimes outdoorsy people will have a large pile of gear in good condition lying around their house, and would be more than happy to offer some to you for free!
Going to local thrift shops:
Thrift shops can be a huge hit-or-miss but can occasionally produce great pieces of gear. It’s not as convenient as shopping online and having the item delivered to you, but can nevertheless still sometimes come up with great items. This option is personally my last resort, but it can never hurt to give it a try.
You’re now ready to tackle the trails! Make sure to have a good time and prioritize your safety. Good luck hiking!