Hiking is an excellent low-impact workout. Studies show it offers multiple physical and mental benefits. From reducing anxiety to preventing osteoporosis, hiking is an outdoor activity delivering benefits beyond scenic and fun.
Unlike walking on a treadmill or paved path, hiking involves more, sometimes unpredictable, variables. Of course, these variables are part of what makes it so enjoyable! Use the following hiking tips to make your first treks successful:
1. Start small and choose the right trail for your fitness level.
Select a hike a little shorter than the distance you can normally walk on a level or paved surface. To estimate the time required to hike the trail, figure a pace of roughly 2-miles per hour. Next, review the elevation changes and add an hour to your estimated hiking time for every 1000 feet of gain. After you’ve been out once or twice, you’ll have a sense for what distance and elevation changes work well for you.
2. Familiarize yourself with the trail.
Once you have selected a trail, obtain a map of the area and review reports and data. There are some excellent online resources available. Find out if the trail is a loop, or if you’ll have to backtrack or spot a second car. Take note of any intersecting trails where you could potentially make a wrong turn. I also like to look for a good lunch spot such as a lake or peak with a view.
3. Check the weather.
Leading up to your hike, and again a few hours before, check the weather. This will give you valuable information on how to dress and what to pack. If the weather is forecast to be awful, it will give you the chance to change plans instead of getting surprised on the trail.
4. Tell someone where you will be.
It’s important that someone not on the hike knows the itinerary and what time to worry and call for help. Note I didn’t say, “when you expect to be done.” The “worry time” may be several hours later than your planned finish to allow for slow hiking, amazing views, or perhaps a sore ankle causing a delay.
Another option is to carry an emergency device such as the SPOT tracker, which allows you to summon emergency assistance by satellite. One caveat, devices like the SPOT are not an excuse to shirk responsibility for your own personal safety – they are a backup.
5. Pack the 10 essentials.
The 10 essentials have gradually shifted from a list of items to a list of systems. These are the systems you should pack to stay safe in the outdoors, including facing a potential overnight. Depending on the length and remoteness of your hike, expand or minimize each system. For example, on a short summer hike near services, a compact emergency blanket should be fine. However, a remote winter hike would require something more extensive. Here are the 10 essential systems:
Ten Essential Systems
- Navigation (map & compass)
- Sun protection (sunglasses & sunscreen)
- Insulation (extra clothing)
- Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
- First-aid supplies
- Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candle)
- Repair kit and tools
- Nutrition (extra food)
- Hydration (extra water)
- Emergency shelter (tent/plastic tube tent/garbage bag)
This list may look daunting, but once you tailor it to your hike, it won’t be so bad. Many of these things are what you’d pack for a picnic. Visit Mountaineers Books for more details.
6. Wear the right shoes and socks.
Painful feet can ruin a hike. Invest in quality hiking shoes and socks. This doesn’t mean heavy leather boots, there are a lot of “light hikers” available that require little break-in compared to the old hiking boots I started with. Also, don’t skimp on socks and for goodness sake….no cotton! Wool or synthetic socks are the way to go. Also pack blister dressings just in case.
7. Dress for success.
Once your feet are taken care of, dressing right is key to comfort on your hike. Skip cotton anything, it gets damp and stays that way leaving you feeling clammy and causing chafing. Instead go for synthetics. To easily adjust for your temperature and the weather, wear layers that you can add or shed as needed. Lastly, pack an extra warm layer beyond what you think you’ll need, preferably something that will block wind too.
8. Keep it light.
Okay, now that I’ve told you to pack all of this stuff, I’m going to tell you to keep your pack light. This means opting for the lightest of each item. For example, a travel size tube of sunscreen instead of the NoAd 16-ounce tube you found on sale.
9. Pace yourself.
When you first get on the trail, you may feel like powering forward like a hero. However, you’ll be a zero by the end of the day if you don’t pace yourself. Instead, pick a pace you can maintain all day. It might feel a little awkward at first, but after a few miles, especially uphill, you’ll be glad you saved your energy.
10. Leave no trace.
The beautiful trails we love will only stay beautiful if we care for them. Take time to read the Leave No Trace Seven Principals and follow them. It’s up to every outdoor enthusiast to take care of our natural spaces.
Using these tips I hope you’ll get out hiking this season. Where will you go? Leave a comment to share your ideas; I’d love to hear them!
Any advice on where to Hike at Glacier National park?
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It is very important to pack out the trash, be sure don’t leave it behind
Hubby and I are going hiking tomorrow. This blog was a great find. Thanks for all the tips.
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I just finished a 14 mile hike at Bulow Woods Trail in Florida. We started shortly after 1pm and I knew the night was going to befall us even though we had a firm plan to stick to making 3 miles per hour.
Something told me not to leave my headlamp behind.
By 5:30pm the darkness started to fall and we had just started our 7 miles return trip. The terrain was very irregular and we took a couple of wrong turns.
It was 8pm and we were still out there’s.
My headlamp turned out to be the best $6.99 I have ever spent in my life, and the Duracell batteries lasted all 4 hours of our hike in the dark.
An advise: carry always extra batteries for you GPS
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I think we can carry instant water filter also at emergency level, so it keeps us to survive
Walk single file, not side by side. Keep single track singel!
Wanting to start hiking…small at first…and so happy to have found this site! Thanks for the valuable info.
Any tips for prehike stretching. A beginner at 62 with siatica problems. Maybe missed opportunity?!
Great post, Erika. It’s lovely.
I do go camping once in three months. Last time I had forgotten to take sleeping bags with me. So I found it uncomfortble in my camping. This time I had a plan for hiking, and found your article for the gears. It’s really amazing.
Good tips. ‘Don’t use cotton socks’, Well, I use to look for cotton first in everything I buy. Though hiking is easier in my country, I have known cases where people have lost the track & picked up after a few days by special forces in Black River Gorges National Park. So, the tips apply to everywhere around the globe. Thanks for all these important info.
Always carry safety gear like GPS, multipurpose tools and first aid box.
I hike once or twice a week. I know how hard it could be if you forget the essentials things that needed to hike. The article is really helping me to remember what to do in hiking. Thanks keep up the good writing.
I always plan for the day hike to become an overnighter. I carry survival basics: fire, water, shelter, compass, first aid, and emer communications. to include cell phone, hand held amateur radio, and a 3X5 glass signal mirror. My pack weight does not exceed 25 lbs. Because of my age I also utilize trekking poles.
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I like that you suggest packing in extra water. My friends and I are planning weekly hiking trips this summer and want to be as prepared as possible. I will send them this information and make sure to buy extra water bottles.
The biggest mistake beginners make is overdoing it. They pick a hike that’s either too long or has too much climbing. If you’re just starting out, pick a hike under 5 miles with minimal climbing. If you want to do a longer hike, make a training plan in advance. Do an extra mile or two each week and build up to your target distance.
Don’t forget to look at the total climbing on your hike. A flat 5 miles is much different than 5 miles straight uphill.
It’s great that you mentioned that packing a kit with 10 essential items is important if you end up getting stranded in a location. I believe that keeping items dry, like matches, is really important in this kind of situations. That’s why my wife and I carry waterproof backpacks every time we go hiking.
Solid article. Good reminder even for those who are a little experienced. For things to pack, I always bring a hat to help with blocking the sun.
It’s interesting to know that you need to familiarize with the trail before going. My husband and his friends are thinking about hiking next weekend, and I’m looking for advice. I will make sure to follow your advice about hiking to enjoy my first experience.
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I like that you mentioned that it is a good idea for you to make sure someone who will not be on the hike with you knows when you are expecting to be done. My wife and I want to exercise more, and we think it would be a good idea to go hiking more next summer. It would probably be a good idea for us to find the right kind of boots to wear so that we don’t get blisters.
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Thank you so much for a wonderful post, which includes what a beginner should have to start the journey of trekking. This is what I wanted to start my trekking journey.
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This is a great article and super helpful! I’ve been incorporating Anti Monkey Butt into my packing list as well for all my hikes. My husband and I just got back from Olympic National Park and oh man it made such a difference in my comfort for our all day hikes.
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Nice blog. It will surely help beginners update their knowledge. The efforts you have put in to create the posts are quite interesting. Looking forward to seeing you soon in a new post.
We have a hiking packing list of essential items written down below that you will need to keep them with you for going on a hike. You never know which one is going to come handy for emergency purposes.
A great piece of content and depth knowledge of hiking for beginner. It will surely help my readers to find a better way to get into hiking.
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The tips you describe in your article are very helpful for the new hiker like me. Thanks for this article.
This is a great post for the hikers, like me. You point out every essential hiking tips, that give me a very informative. I always carry a canvas tarp with my hiking bag. Keep posting another informative post.
Your post is great! I am planning to do hiking activity this year and I don’t know where to start. Your article is really great to read today, and I will surely use your ideas here like the 10 essentials I need to bring. Thanks!
Amazing list, however for flashlight I’ve been hearing a lot about using a red lamp instead of white. I’m still unsure how this would really make a difference other than “stealth”.