How to Start Hiking. A Beginners Guide to Hiking
Hiking is by far the best and easiest way to get outdoors and experience nature. Stunning vistas ahead of you, a solid trail beneath your feet, it’s a fantastic way to get outside. You can set your own pace and take it slow, or go harder if you want a challenge. There are many different landscapes just waiting for you explore and it’s an activity you can do around the world no matter where you are.
WHY GO HIKING?
There are a whole list of benefits to going on a hike! Here’s some reasons why you should be out hiking:
► Hiking makes you happier!
► Hiking makes you fitter!
► The amazing views!
► It’s a great way to bond with others
► It’s low cost to get started
► It has a low ongoing expense to continue to do
► Did I mention the amazing views?
When you start hiking, you experience nature at its finest, and also in its raw elements. The hard work pays off with great views and experiences, and you get away from our concrete tangles of cities, away from the technology, and experience the cleansing effect of being in the present moment.
PLANNING A HIKE
No matter if its a day hike or a multi-day trip, the questions you should ask yourself and planning for it are often the same. We have our fundamental needs of food, water and clothing, some safety precautions to take care of, and a bit of logistics.
If you are doing day hikes you can just prepare the night before or on the morning, but for overnight or multi-day hikes, it’s good to plan 2-4 weeks in advance.
Here’s the typical process:
Permits and Special Considerations
Are there bears/wild animals/access issues that need to be considered? Does the hike require landowner permission if its not national or state park? Make sure to allow enough time to research these things before arriving at the trailhead.
Do you need a permit for the hike? Some places will require very early planning for this! Always have the permits you need!
Hiking Trip Details
How hard is the hike? Are you ready for the hike physically, mentally and with the right gear? Look into what skills and gear you will need and adjust your plans accordingly.
Distance and elevation. How far are you hiking and what sort of elevation gain/loss will you be doing? Don’t mistake a short hike in distance as easy when you have to go straight up!
Maps/GPS. Are you prepared with the right maps and/or GPS files? Do you have your compass?
Campsites. Do they require a booking? And what can you find there? How much space will you have?
Water. Will you find water along the way through reliable sources? Do you need to purify it? Remember, some seasons see water supplies dwindle or even disappear!
How will you get to the trailhead? Do you need a 4WD? Are the roads open to get there? Are their restrictions on parking or are shuttles required?
Are your teammates confirmed as going? Are they ready? Do they have what they need?
Weather How’s the weather looking? Be sure to check it a few days out and then again on the day. Always adjust your plans to suit. TIP: Having a backup plan for bad weather makes it easy to still get out and do something so your plans aren’t ruined.
Have you packed the right clothing? Make sure that when venturing into any terrain considered ‘alpine’ to always have the full range of layers with you- even in the middle of summer! Read all about layering right HERE.
Trusted contacts notified. Have you sent the message to your trusted contact? Are they aware of your date and time due back? If you are going solo, this may be your only chance of getting help should you need it! More of this is covered at the end of the article.
FINDING A HIKING PARTNER
It’s totally OK to go solo, but if it’s your first time or you are new to it, it’s best to go with someone else for the extra confidence and support. Finding other people to go hiking with can often be the biggest hurdle for new hikers.
Asking your friends is the obvious choice but sometimes they might not feel like going or may not be serious about it. If this is the case, its best to try one of the following ideas below.
You can contact established hiking clubs or join in on the hiking groups on Meetup.com. Facebook hiking groups are also becoming very popular to meet other people keen to get outdoors. To find them, just search for them on Google, Meetup.com, or Facebook groups.
Once you have some fellow hikers keen to explore with you, getting out each weekend is much easier, and you’ll also gain experience very quickly.
If you want to learn more about finding some hiking and adventure buddies, have a look at this post:
YOUR HIKING GEAR - WHAT YOU NEED
What you will take will vary depending on your trip and its length and difficulty. To start with, the ten essentials is recommended for every trip into the outdoors. Rather than individual items, it’s been refined to a ‘systems’ approach which is adjusted for each trip.
These systems are:
1. Navigation. A map in a waterproof container, compass, altimeter or GPS device.
2. Sun protection. Sunglasses, sunscreen, hat and clothing.
3. Insulation. Layering with the right clothing.
4. Illumination. Headlamp with spare batteries.
5. First-aid supplies
6. Fire. Can be a lighter or waterproof matches.
7. Knife and repair kit. For any gear you are carrying and to help with basic tasks.
8. Nutrition. Add an extra days worth of food for multi day trips for emergencies.
9. Hydration. Water and hydration salts.
10. Emergency shelter. These can be bivvy bags or emergency space blankets.
Not every item will be taken on each trip, so use your common sense as to what you will need. At the bare minimum, always carry a first aid kit, some extra clothing layers, your phone, a headlamp, and plenty of water.
After the 10 essentials have been considered, here is the other important gear you may need:
To make it easy to carry all your gear, food and water, get a backpack! Invest in a quality backpack once you are convinced you will continue hiking. They will last a very long time, and will be with you on every trip. For day hikes, getting a 30 litre sized backpack is a good start. If you choose to do overnight hikes later on, you will need a larger pack, but it’s good to have 2 separate ones.
If you feel the investment is too much to buy 2, then just get a large one. When buying a any backpack, always try them before you buy, and get one that has a waist belt/strap to take the load off your shoulders and put it onto your hips. Get a store sales person to help you choose one that fits you correctly if you are not sure how to do this.
For most people, the automatic assumption is that to go on a hike, you have to wear boots. This is not entirely true.
Boots are great for carrying heavy loads and for people who may have foot weaknesses. However, our feet and all the adjoining muscular and bone structure is more than capable of handling uneven terrain.
Shoes, in the form of hiking shoes with robust construction that is able to handle the roughness of the trails, are great at building the strength in the foot to allow it to do what it has always done and was made to do- support us through every type of terrain!
However, when carrying heavy loads like on overnight hikes, wearing shoes can be harder on the ankle joint if it has not been properly strengthened.
If you start slow and build up to bigger hikes, your feet (and ankles especially) will get very strong and able to handle the uneven ground. This is true regardless of whether you pick boots or shoes.
The bottom line comes down to your personal preference and how you decide to hike. The boots VS shoes topic is constantly being debated by hikers, so your best option will be to try both over time and see what you like.
Either way, your focus should be on getting out there to hike, not spending hours wondering what shoe or boot to get! Pick one and then get hiking!
Your clothing will vary depending on the type of terrain and climate you intend to hike in, but all clothing you will wear in the outdoors will follow the widely accepted layering principles. You can read all about that in this detailed guide with examples:
Mastering the layering system for the outdoors will help you enjoy yourself, and also keep you safe.
OTHER THINGS TO REMEMBER WHEN YOU HIKE
Toilet breaks in the outdoors
Like most people, you will try to go before you start your hike but all that walking might soon ‘loosen things up’ a bit and the urge to go will come.
What do you do?
The best and most widely accepted method is to go off the trail, away from camps and away from water, aiming to be at least 50-100 meters away from these, and dig a hole 15cm (or 6 inches) deep and bury all your waste.
In some places you’ll need to carry out your toilet paper as well. Bring extra ziplock bags for this. And in really sensitive areas, like alpine landscapes for example, it may even be a requirement to carry out all waste. This is where waste bags or poo pots are useful. Research the rules before you go.
For women if you just have to pee, you can ‘shake dry’, use toilet paper, or use a pee rag. Pee rags are then hung on the outside of the pack to dry. Also, to make peeing easy, consider using a female urination device like the Go Girl. These are (according to the girls I know) a bit weird to use initially, but are great once you get the hang of it. Pro tip from them: practice in the shower!
For both guys and girls it can seem strange when you first go to the toilet outside, but soon you get used to it and it will feel natural!
Carrying some first aid is always recommended. Bandages, pain relief, band aids, tweezers and scissors are some of the commonly used items. Consider adding snake bite bandages if you live in countries with snakes.
As well as having the right gear, it helps if you know the basics. Giving first aid can save someone's life, and at the bare minimum you should familiarise yourself with some of the important aspects.
Food and Water
It can sometimes be difficult to take the right amount of food. Try to always take a little extra than you think you will need. Have a couple of high energy snacks around, just in case you need that little energy boost later on in the trip.
It is also recommended to always take extra water. A good starting point is always having at least 2 litres per half day of activity. Check the trail maps and info to see if water can be replenished along the way. Keep in mind that in summer, streams and creeks can dry up!
Stocking water purification tablets in your first aid kit is useful for this reason so you don’t make an excuse for not filling up when you can!
Trip Intentions and PLB’s
Leaving your trip details with someone you trust or with national park rangers or authorities is one of the most important things you can do. In the event something happens to you, it may be the only reason they come looking for you or know where to look!
To keep it simple and so you stay in the habit, let your trusted contact know these things:
- Your intended hike
- Date and time due back
- Who you are going with
- Your vehicles number plate, make and model
A PLB, short for Personal Locator Beacon, is a device that is used in life threatening emergencies to help rescuers pinpoint your location with satellite GPS. Once activated, they should not (and sometimes can’t) be turned off until rescue arrives.
PLB’s may seem expensive when you look at them, but spread over the life of the battery (7-12+) years, can often work out to less than $50US per year! If you are heading out regularly, or plan to later on, it is worth getting one. They can often be hired as well if you just want them for certain trips.
But to begin with if getting a PLB is not worth it for you, make sure you at least leave your trip intentions with someone!
Leave no Trace
Most importantly is our impact on the environment and ecosystem as we explore the outdoors. Take care and carry out all your rubbish and waste, tread softly, and leave no trace so that others can enjoy the outdoors like you have. For the full leave no trace principles, you can see them HERE.
Are you ready to go hiking? Starting out on easy terrain is the way to go, and then build up to whatever challenges you want as you progress. The important thing is to actually take that step outside and commit to a trip. Once you do, you’ll never look back and wonder why you weren’t doing it sooner! There's a whole world out there waiting for you to explore!
Got questions about hiking or the outdoors? Need some personal motivation to get started? Send me a message or leave a comment below!