Hiking for Beginners

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I don’t have any data but I read an article the other day that said since the onset of the whole Covid thing many people have taken up hiking and cycling. It makes sense to me. We’ve taken up cycling and wonder what took us so long, hiking we’ve been fans of for years. Hiking is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and clear the mind. Discover the beauty of nature without needing much more than a decent pair of shoes, and a couple other things. You can really immerse yourself into the great outdoors without breaking the bank. With just a little gear and a little planning almost anyone can enjoy hiking. That being said, you do need a little common sense and know how— which leads us to HIKING FOR BEGINNERS.

Whatever you do or don’t do, please have respect for the hike and other hikers. See our article on hiking etiquette. But in brief- quickly- a couple of big ideas-

  1. Don’t litter or throw fruit peels.
  2. Do not leave the official trail.
  3. Don’t disturb the environment around you. Read up on Leave No Trace.
  4. Be considerate of other hikers. A huge pet peeve of mine is the people that come by with speakers blaring- knock that off!!!!
  5. Remember shared spaces mean shared responsibilities.

So you’re new to hiking, obviously, it’s why you’re reading this. Some basics, first things first, simple steps.

  1. Find a hiking buddy. Like most outdoor activities hiking is safer with a partner.
  2. Choose a hike. I use a free AllTrails membership and App to find trails when I’m on the road. But make use of the public spaces near you.
  3. Gear up. A decent pair of shoes, a pack, and a couple of water bottles are enough to get started.
  4. Tell someone- always let someone know where you’re going. Where you’re parking and when you should be back. Always!!

Telling someone is easy and could save your life. If something unexpected happens your chances of being found, rescued, assisted, all increase greatly.  

Shenandoah National Park

If you have friends who hike, ask them to take you on a trek. Most people are happy to share their expertise, let you borrow gear and introduce newbies to their favorite trails.

Buddy up

Hiking is a great way to spend time with friends and family. But if you can’t get any of them to come, if you don’t know any hikers, many places have clubs or associations that plan group hikes. Or, you can use a site like MeetUp. This is a great way to find hiking opportunities as well as other group activities in your area. Meetup is a service used to organize online groups that host in-person events for people with similar interests.

Hiking alone

I don’t recommend hiking alone for any beginner and while I’ve done it. Mostly with my big old lab so technically not alone. I would always recommend an easier, well travelled trail for solo hiking. I understand the draw. Being outside by yourself really gives a sense of freedom, a sense of solitude that is hard to explain. A feeling of adventure and accomplishment that are hard to find elsewhere. A sense of loneliness that approaches overwhelming. If going alone I cannot stress enough the importance of making sure someone knows where you’re going and when you expect to be back.


Finding a suitable trail is fairly easy.

  • Guidebooks and of course websites are great. They supply all the stats you need: difficulty, distance, elevation gain, directions, stream crossings, and points of interest. Websites will often provide recent trip reviews and trail details- giving you an idea of what to expect.
  • Word of mouth; my buddy Dan knows every trail in our county and has been an invaluable resource. So ask friends and acquaintances.
  • Apps like AllTrails can provide trails in your area.
  • Rangers at park entrances are more than happy to share recommendations with you.

Some things to consider before choosing a hike:

  • How long does the hike normally take- most websites provide this information. Keep in mind that your hiking pace will be slower than your normal walking pace. Terrain, elevation gain and how much you’re pack weighs, all can slow you down.
  • What kind of shape are you in? Keep in mind you’re out for a good time, you don’t want to hurt yourself. Elevation gain is something to keep in mind. It really adds to the difficulty and pain, experience will teach you what you can handle and how much it will slow you down. Don’t over worry though there are hikes for everybody.
  • Season and weather. Some trails aren’t accessible in certain seasons, some streams can’t be crossed at certain times of the year. Obviously there is more light certain times of the year. Always, always check the weather before heading out. You don’t want any surprises and you definitely want the proper clothing.

With all that in mind, hiking is still one of the activities you can do without a bunch of expensive high end gear. Just a couple of good, well made essentials are all you need to get on the trail.

The Ten Essentials

Start by making sure you’re carrying the Ten Essentials. This is the recommended gear and clothing that all hikers should carry whenever they get out on the trail.

The following is From the Mountaineers website and blog

The Mountaineers Ten Essentials™ dates back to our climbing courses of the 1930s. This widely respected safety and packing system was formalized in the third edition of Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, released in 1974. Each of the nine editions of Freedom, as it is affectionately known, was written entirely by volunteers and reflects the collective wisdom of hundreds of outdoor skills instructors. The list has always sought to answer two basic questions:

  1. Can you prevent emergencies and respond positively should one occur?
  2. Can you safely spend a night (or more) outside?

Hiking Footwear

A good pair of boots is the most important part of your gear. Even this does not have to break the bank. I have both a pair of Columbia’s and a pair of Sketchers- not many brands cover my super wide foot.

Whatever you choose, make sure you break them in and they’re comfortable for long distances. And invest in a good pair of wool or synthetic socks, not cotton.

What to Wear Hiking

Quick-drying, moisture-wicking fabrics, such as wool or polyester. Avoid cotton, which takes a long time to dry when wet. Comfortable and weather appropriate!! Layers are important so make sure your pack has room for everything. Throw a cheap raincoat or poncho in your pack just in case.

Hiking Backpack

You need a pack to carry your Ten Essentials and other gear. Make sure your pack is comfortable and roomy enough- be careful packs can become addictive. I’m not sure how many I have now. But I know I can spend anywhere from an hour to a couple of weeks on the trail.

Food and Water

Hiking is a physical activity- stay hydrated!! While water is one of the heavier items you’ll find yourself carrying it is always better to over estimate what you need. You can also invest in a Lifestraw or other light water purifier. For food, we always pack some granola and fresh fruit- heavy but worth it. As you gain experience you’ll develop a better idea of what you need and what you want to carry.

But it’s always good to carry a extra food and water in case your trip ends up taking longer than expected.

Health and Safety

Get a small first aid kit or make one. Pack some Band-Aids, ibuprofen, antihistamines, tweezers, and Neosporin. You don’t need be a doctor but be prepared.

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