Just like with any new hobby, there’s only one place to start, and that’s at the beginning.
Experienced hikers have their own way of doing things, and they might have found that they don’t need to remember to do some things anymore because they automatically remember them. Going to them for advice isn’t always the best idea, so here’s a guide to help you plan your first hiking experience with 10 essential hiking tips!
1. Choose the right trail for your fitness level
If you’ve never hiked before, you won’t be used to the elevation change or trail conditions. You want your first hike to be relatively easy, so make sure you do lots of research on different trails before making your decision. A day hike will probably be best, but a longer hike could interest you if you like camping as well.
If you’re not in the best shape, you might want to start being more active in everyday life before you do your first hike. Do some yoga stretches every morning, go for walks around town, etc. You don’t have to be an Olympian athlete, but you don’t want to overwhelm your body too much.
You might be a little sore the next day no matter what, but you’ll get used to hiking after a few times. Try to plan ahead for how long the hike would take you. Assume that you’ll travel a distance of about two miles per hour. It’s ago to do less than this, but don’t try to push yourself and do more.
Next, look at the elevation change of the hiking trail. Add another hour to your estimated time for every 1000 feet of elevation gain.
2. Study the trail map
After you pick a trail, do lots of research on it. Get a map of the entire area, and get some reports and data of hiking-related accidents. Try to find out what the most common accident is on that trail so you can plan to avoid this incident.
Find out things like whether or not the trail is a loop or if you’ll have to backtrack. Also, find out if the parking lot is near the trailhead or if you’ll have to walk to the trail. Does the trail run into any other trails? That’s a very important question because you could take a turn onto a different trail on accident and get lost. Take your trail map with you to ensure that you stay on the correct trail.
3. Double check the weather forecast
For the week leading up to your hike, check the weather a couple of times. If this will be your first time hiking, don’t try to hike while it’s raining. Hiking has its dangers, and wet conditions only make matters worse. While a good pair of hiking boots would help combat the rainy trail, it’s still a better option to wait until it’s nice and dry outside to hike.
You’ll also need rain gear, like a rain jacket or an umbrella. If it’s not going to rain at all, then you need to prepare for the sun, no matter what the time of year it is. The sun is incredibly dangerous, and you need to protect yourself from it. Sun protection is vital to a hiking trip.
Some things that you should bring for sun protection are sunscreen and a hat. Water-resistant sunscreen is never a bad idea because you’re more than likely going to sweat. If you’re going hiking during the colder months, you’re going to need extra layers. Remember, it gets colder the higher up you climb.
You’ll need items such as a fire starter in case you need one. There’s no shame in turning around if you get too cold either. Hiking can be dangerous, and you need to be as careful as possible.
4. Tell others about your hike
Let your family members, roommates, or work friends know about your hike. Have your cell phone on you at all times during your hike, and it might not hurt to share your location with some of them. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and no precaution is unnecessary. When telling someone about your hike, leave no detail unsaid.
Tell them what time you plan to get to the trail, what time you hope to be done, and when you’ll be back within cell service if you leave it. There’s also something called a SPOT tracker, which is a walkie-talkie-looking device that will call emergency services to come to your location through satellite. However, SPOT trackers aren’t meant to be plan A; they’re meant to be plan B. Remain aware of your surroundings and be as safe as possible.
At a certain point, you might feel like you’re annoying people because you’re reminding them everything about your hike so many times. However, it’s still a good idea because they would rather know everything so they can be active in case of an emergency instead of being clueless. If they act like they don’t care that much, find someone else to tell. Whomever you tell, give them a paper with all the information on it so they don’t forget anything.
If you’re hiking in a national park or forest, stop by the ranger station nearest to your trail. Ask some questions about their response time in case of an accident, and ask how often they survey the trail you picked. Let the rangers know who you are, where you’re hiking, and when you hope to be done.
You might feel silly doing this, but it’s for your own safety. It’s just one more person who knows where you are and telling the rangers of the park about your hike can benefit you in the long run.
5. Pack 10 essential items
There are 10 items that you definitely need to pack in your backpack on your hike. These items vary with the type you need, but you should take some version of each item to keep you safe. These items will keep you safe in case of a potential overnight. You can make each item bigger or smaller to fit the type of hike you’re going to be on.
- Sun protection (some sunscreen, a pair of sunglasses, and a hat)
- Illumination (a headlamp, a flashlight, or a lantern)
- Hydration (water bottles)
- Insulation (lots of layers, a sleeping bag)
- Navigation (compass and a map)
- First-aid kit
- Emergency shelter (a tent, a tarp, or a garbage bag)
- Nutrition (extra food)
- Repair kit/tools
- Fire (a lighter, some waterproof matches, or a candle)
All of these items will get you through an emergency situation, should you find yourself in one. You won’t be able to guess how much you might need until you’re a more experienced backpacker. You might be able to switch a few bottles of water for a water filter if you know how to find a good water source. A good snack to bring after you become more experienced is trail mix because it has lots of nutritious items.
This is a long list when you look at it, but it’s not as scary as it seems. When thinking about where you’re going to put all these items, try and find an old backpack that you have lying around the house. If you don’t have one, get a cheap one from Amazon or Walmart.
However, if you find yourself in love with hiking, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to splurge on a quality backpack that will last you a long time. One simple thing that you should look for in a backpack is a hip belt, so all the weight isn’t resting completely on your shoulders.
6. Wear quality socks and shoes
Blisters can and will ruin your hike. Everyone hates them, and they’re very common in leather hiking boots. However, you might not have to wear these thick leather boots that many people do. There are some lighter hiking shoes that lots of people love to wear. These shoes are also very easy to break in when compared to breaking in boots.
As for socks, you’ll want good socks. Don’t just pick a random pair out of your drawer; find a few quality pairs of socks that are made for hiking or outdoor activities. Cotton socks are a no-go, so wool or synthetic socks are the best options. You can also get some blister dressings in case you find you have a few and a little bit of time left in your hike.
Good hiking shoes are probably the most important thing a backpacker can buy. Don’t be afraid to go to an REI to find a pair that works best for you. If you’re going to spend a lot of money on any kind of hiking gear, your shoes are going to prove themselves well worth the money.
7. Dress appropriately
First things first, you shouldn’t wear cotton anything when hiking. When it gets wet, cotton gets clingy and leads to chaffing. Chaffing is the last thing you want on a hike. Stick to clothing with synthetic fabric. One thing you should do is layer your clothes. You never know how cold or hot it’s really going to be, no matter what the weather tells you.
Start with a tank top, one that you’re comfortable in. Next, add a t-shirt on top of that. It can be long sleeve or short sleeve; do whichever you want after checking the weather. Then, add a lightweight jacket, preferably one that is wind-resistant. You can make changes to these items; for example, if you aren’t comfortable wearing tank tops at all, skip one. The main objective is for you to be comfortable.
As for bottoms, this really depends on what you feel best in given the weather forecast. Moisture-wicking is never a bad idea, so whatever you choose, try to find something that is moisture-wicking. If you’re worried that your legs might get cold because you wore shorts, pack a pair of lightweight leggings or pants. Make sure that they don’t add too much extra weight to your backpack first, though.
8. Pack light
Now, after reading about everything that you should pack, you’re probably wondering how on earth you can pack light with so much stuff. It’s honestly really simple. For example, do you really need the biggest bottle of sunscreen you could find, or should you buy a travel-size bottle instead? If you’re just planning on day hiking, you could probably make do with the travel-size bottle.
This is mainly thinking about emergency situations and what you can do with or without in those instances. Do you need a big tent, or could you use a tarp? Do you need the massive first-aid kit that looks like you stole it from an ambulance, or could you use one that is about the size of a book? These questions may seem silly, but you should think about things like this while you’re packing.
Think about the trail you’ve chosen. If it’s in a popular national park that has very active rangers, you might be able to do without some emergency items. If your trail is a very short hike, you probably won’t need a sleeping bag. On the other hand, if your trail is in the backcountry, you should take extra precautions to ensure your safety.
Also, it’s not necessarily a bad idea to get some trekking poles. They won’t go in your backpack because you’ll be using them, and they’ll help you during the climb. They could even help take some of the load off your shoulders during your hike.
9. Keep a good pace
The beginning of a trail can sometimes be so easy that you think you can speed walk the whole trail. However, you’ll be worn out long before you’re done. That’s why it’s important to pick a good pace from the very beginning and stick to it. You’re probably going to feel weird while you’re doing it, but you shouldn’t. About an hour or so into your hike, you’ll be so grateful that you didn’t push yourself hard in the beginning.
Trekking poles are a good way to help you keep pace. It’s hard to want to walk fast when you’re placing poles in front of your feet with every step. Hiking isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. So, make sure that you keep a good pace.
10. Don’t leave a trace
Leave no trace. The trail should look the exact same way as it did before you hiked it. You’ll be surrounded by nature that has been there long before you got there and should be there long after you leave. It wouldn’t hurt to read the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace. This set of rules ensures that trails are loved and appreciated by everyone.
You obviously don’t have to do every single one of these things. But, these are some essentials tips that will help you get started on your journey to becoming a backpacking expert. Oh, one more thing. It probably wouldn’t hurt to bring some toilet paper along. You know, just in case.
Bonus tip: Check out this video for some more tips to start hiking!