OK, so if you’re on this page, hiking for beginners, I’m going to make the assumption that you’re either:
- A complete newbie to hiking or
- Bullet Have hiked once or twice over the years but never really gave it much thought other than that
I will also assume that for one reason or another you have decided that you want to get more into hiking and so you’d like to learn some more information on what you might need to consider before taking it further.
The final assumption I will make is that you may not be heading for the wilderness just yet, although it’s fine if you are, and you may want to start and even locally to see if hiking is the thing for you.
Here at Cool Hiking Gear I've written a bunch of posts that I think are relevant things for newbie hikers to consider before heading out on the trail.
While I will be giving key points on this page I will also be referencing these posts as I go through the key topics one by one, linking out to them where appropriate to elaborate on a particular aspect of hiking.
Now, I should mention before we get started that we've got a lot to cover! It was only when I started writing it all out that I realized that there is actually quite a bit involved when you first get started and you're starting from zero. More than I had initially considered for sure.
So, with that in mind, before you begin I suggest you get a cup of coffee, tea or whatever tickles your taste buds and make yourself comfortable. There is a lot of information here to read through and take in.
Fear not, if it all seems too much you can always bookmark it and come back at a later date too. I've also added a handy table of contents below so you can just click on the links to help you navigate to the desired section on the page.
So, I guess you're sitting comfortably by now and are ready to get rolling 🙂 For convenience, I've added a quick navigation table below to enable you to jump to sections easily should you want to.
Where to Start?
If you’re thinking hiking might be a good past time but aren't 100% sure, check out this post on some of the benefits of hiking and the post how do I know if I’ll like hiking as a pastime. These two will give you some pointers to think about on whether you want to pursue hiking.
In all likelihood though, you probably already have a pretty good idea on whether you would enjoy it or not. If you like being outdoors in nature and you enjoy getting your heart rate up a bit, all odds are that you will enjoy hiking.
What do I Need to Consider?
Well, the beauty of hiking is that you already pretty much have the core essential tools to get started, them of course being your legs 🙂
The next piece of good news is that you don’t need to spend a fortune to get started. While there are some essential bits of gear that you should try and acquire to help ensure you have as pleasant a hiking experience as possible, you probably already have some of them or can make do in the short term till you decide if you really want to get into hiking.
However, in saying that there are still quite a few things to think about before heading out hiking be it in your local area on a nearby trail or further afield. I've broken these down into the eight headings below which I will look at individually:
- Hike Alone or with a Group
- Where to go Hiking
- Hiking Gear
- Planning a Hike
- Hiking Safety
- Further Tips for the Trail
- Taking your Hiking Further
Your immediate gut reaction when you read that title is probably a good initial indication of where you are at with regards to this one 🙂
If your first thought was 'AWESOME! I AM SO READY, WILLING AND ABLE TO DO THIS!', you are probably not too far away from intrepid exploring of your local peaks and trails. If however, it was more of a 'AWESOME! I AM SO READY AND WILLING TO DO THIS', less the 'ABLE' bit, you prob have a bit of work to do. Either way, rest assured that it's all good, READY and WILLING goes a long way!
Now, this may not be what you want to hear as you’re keen to get heading for the hills ASAP! However, if you’re a complete newbie and you’re not sure of your fitness, you need to take stock!
Soooo ... for example, If the extent of your current exercise program spans from trips to your car from the door of your office or house and hand gymnastics with the television remote, and even that leaves you wanting to take a nap, you need to start small! Mountain trails are probably a fair bit away from you just yet and you need to be practical.
Starting with short walks in your local area is just fine to build up your fitness. With patience and consistent effort you'll build up your fitness fast and you’ll most likely enjoy the process of getting fitter.
Am I only referring to people who are ‘unfit’ per se? NO WAY!
Going to local mountains and hiking trails from the get go can be too much for a lot of people, even ones who would consider themselves to be pretty fit already. Remember, hiking requires a certain kind of fitness.
A guy who squats and bench presses all day could be in great shape but doing a whole lot of up and down out on the trail, over mountainous terrain and over long distances will be tough for him. He’ll move muscles he doesn't normally move and exert himself in ways that he normally wouldn't.
Similar to the person who is more or less unfit, if you don’t have the right kind of fitness, you need to build it up slowly until you're ready to take on the tougher trails in the hills. Granted, people in this category will likely be hitting trails much faster than someone who lacks basic fitness but preparation and build up is still key.
Whether you're in either of the categories touched on above or anywhere on the broad spectrum in between, you need to assess where you're at before taking on bigger hiking challenges.
Common sense should always prevail in this and if doing any exercise of this kind is really a big change for you or if you have any concerns, always discuss it with your physician first. However, if you tell your Doc that you want to get out hiking on the trail, I'm pretty sure that, in most cases, it will bring a smile to his face 🙂
Hike with a Group or Solo Run
You can of course go out hiking alone but if you’re new to hiking, I think you’re wiser to get out with other hikers first. Ideally, you have someone with you who has hiked a bit before but this is not always a necessity as long as you and your hiking buddies keep your hiking plans realistic in terms of the other categories listed on this page.
Hiking alone is special, there is no doubt about that. Some of the nicest moments I have had on the trail have been on my own encapsulated in the timeless stillness of the wilds of nature ... yes, this is beginning to sound somewhat zen like ...
Ha ha ... I am kidding, but only partially. I have had some very peaceful and serene moments while out on the trail on my lonesome. It can be a good way to shake off the cobwebs and process what needs to be processed while you're away from the 'real' world for a bit.
Now, in saying this, most of my hiking is done with groups. Group hiking also has a whole lot of great advantages not least of them safety. If something happens to you while you're out on your own, you've got no-one to pick you up or call for help if things go awry and you're incapacitated.
Group hiking is also fantastic for meeting new people or spending quality time with friends and family.
I'm taking it as a given that you're new to hiking so to get started, try and get out there with a few other people first until you get more familiar with what's involved.
Where to go Hiking?
This can sound a bit silly when you first think about where you should go for a hike. Some folks will immediately say, ‘don’t be daft’ you head for the nearest mountains and get to it!
WELL, THIS CAN BE FINE UNDER CERTAIN CONDITIONS ... FOR EXAMPLE:
- You stick to a well established route
- You are already pretty fit aerobically (You run, cycle or the like) - see Fitness above
- You have appropriate gear
- You have an idea what to expect weather wise and so on
- You have experienced hikers with you
This list is not exhaustive!
However, for the complete newbie, I think it is better to start small. It is perfectly fine to start preparing for your hikes in the hills walking in your local area on streets, along river banks, in city parks and so on, over distances you’re comfortable with. Check out the post hiking in towns and cities for some ideas on where you can go before you head for the hills.
The final key point related to this, and to all your hiking regardless of experience, is to always think safety first. So, with regards to where to go, only go to places you know you can handle. Then, you can build up from there.
In summary, only you will know what is suitable for you. As a newbie, hopping on a plane and heading for a week long solo trek across the Pyrenees in mid winter, would obviously not be a wise place to start 😉
This is probably the most important thing you may need to invest in, if you don't have it already, to help ensure you enjoy you’re hiking adventures as much as possible. Now there is a lot of gear on offer today from a lot of brands and you can quickly spend a fortune if you don’t know what you’re buying.
As you get more into hiking you need to get savvy and ensure you always wear the right hiking gear on your hikes. You need to take a lot into consideration when thinking about your gear: weather, temperature, terrain, seasonal considerations and so on.
When you’re starting out, you don’t need to get too wrapped up about this. While investing in good gear, which is usually a bit more expensive than cheap stuff, is definitely a good idea down the line, in the beginning you can start off small.
When starting out, you should be fine to get away with the following:
GEAR LIST - THE QUICK VERSION
- A decent waterproof jacket – of the rain shell variety
- A solid pair of hiking boots - ideally waterproof but you can get away with this for a while if you’re hiking in warmer climes
- A decent pair of hiking pants – ideally waterproof or water resistant but you can get away with this for a while if the weather is favorable - please avoid jeans!
- A breathable tee or two – if you take part in any sport at all, you probably already have one of these
- A base layer – required if it’s cold where you will be hiking
- A fleece – again a must if it’s cold while out hiking
- A backpack (the day pack variety) - ideally with a rain-cover - this is used to carry some essential items e.g. food, gear, water, etc.
- Walking poles - these are optional - I don't use them personally but they are good
Check out The Complete Day Hiking Checklist in Pictures to learn more
As already mentioned, you probably already have some of this stuff lying about the house. The good news is that if you do get a few introductory bits of gear like these and you find you don’t like hiking, they are still very functional and you will get your money’s worth out of them for general day-to-day use.
As a final note on gear, if it’s a colder time of year you need to think 'layering' to ensure you stay warm and comfortable while out and about.
Heading for the Hills - Planning Your Hike
OK, this is it, the real deal. You weren't sure why you signed up to this hiking gig after a friend suggested it in a burst of drunken enthusiasm as a New Years resolution but you did. You got your tootsies moving gingerly one after the other on a cold winters night with an almighty hangover on Jan 1st and while part of you was screaming, 'what the hell am I doing out here in the cold at night!', another part of you was saying, 'hey, I think I'm enjoying this!'. That was the start of it ...
You were hooked from that point on and every day afterwards you couldn't wait to get home to get out and stretch those tired legs after a day spent slaving in the office in front of your PC or fighting traffic across town!
One month on, you've ditched the TV remote and have been happily clocking up the miles in your local parks and city streets ever since. You have reached the stage where you know you can take on any mountain challenge with your eyes closed. You are Superman!
Ha ha ... not quite, but all in all, your fitness is up where it needs to be and you want to get some serious mountain action!
Note: All the points below are based on a day hike. That is, you probably get started somewhere between 9 / 11am and finish up between 4 / 6pm.
The first time you head out to the hills, I highly recommend you stick to marked trails. In most cases for a newbie hiker, a map and compass will be as useless as a ladder to a carpet fitter. Most people simply won't know how to navigate properly with these two crucial pieces of kit so heading out across open mountains, in my opinion, is not advisable at the start.
While you can pick up a lot from videos and posts online, I strongly suggest you practice your orienteering and navigation skills in the company of experts first.
Taking a mountain skills course or testing your skills while hiking on marked trails are good ways to learn and practice (the process of reading topographical maps, taking bearings, measuring distances, estimating times, etc. will still be the same on marked trails - you just won't get lost).
SO WITH THAT IN MIND:
- Stick to well marked trails if it is your first time in the mountains
- Be sure to have a map of the trails you're in and a compass (A compass is not totally necessary if you're on well marked trails but you should still have one and have a bit of an idea how to use it)
- Know some basic things about your route e.g. what landmarks you should see along the way
- Note any dangerous areas or hazards to be on the lookout for e.g. ongoing forestry
Always spend suitable time reviewing and planning your day hike route in advance. It's just common sense. You wouldn't get into your car and drive off to another city 20 miles away without checking directions on Google Maps so your day hike should be the same. If you're heading out in a group you can nominate one member of the party to take this on but it I recommend that everyone has a look.
A final point that is definitely worth a mention here is to be careful about relying on technology. Smart phone hiking apps are all the rage and some of them are excellent. There are some great ones available for hiking routes which are really good and there are countless weather apps available. GPS devices are also very handy to have.
However, batteries die and technology can have the horrible habit, sometimes, of failing when you need it most. I've also seen phones getting damaged while out on hikes too. With that in mind, the trusty map and compass are irreplaceable. While I'm all for hiking apps, they should be part of your navigation kit, not all of it. It can be very good practice to check things in multiple ways too just for confirmation purposes.
Next up you need to think about what hiking supplies, (gear, kit, etc.) you need to take with you on your trip. Check out the complete day hiking checklist for a comprehensive list of gear you need to wear, supplies you need to take and things you need to do before setting out on a day hike.
This one is a biggy! Nothing can turn the status of a hike from 'just peachy' to 'code red' faster than the weather. Being ill prepared gear wise has a big effect on this one. However, even with the best laid plans, the weather can sometimes just turn on you.
You should always check the forecast and know what is on the horizon but don't take it 100% for definite. Mountain weather is notorious for changing quickly, easily and often so always be prepared for the worst.
Food and Drink
As already mentioned, you're going to be out most of the day when you go for your first day hike in the mountains so you will need food and drink with you to keep your energy up and your demeanor positive!
Obviously, some foods and drinks are more suited to the trail than others. A leftover slice of pizza from the pizza shop the night before and four cans of red bull are probably not the best idea for hiking on the trail. Ultimately though, it's down to personal taste but if you've ever had a reasonably healthy packed lunch, which of course you have, you prob have the guts in there of what you need to take with you.
In brief, for food, healthy snacks that provide good energy that are easily carried and consumed are a winner ... I like to take:
- Fruit - bananas and apples are my favorite trail fruit 🙂
- Trail Mix
- Chocolate - a minimal amount for a quick little energy or morale boost here and there
- Main meal - usually a sandwich, rice with chicken, of that type of thing
As a general rule with regards to food, eating small and often is a good idea. I do like to have a main 'lunch' as such when I am out on a day hike though too.
- Water - Lots of it ( I'm a thirsty man 🙂 )
- Hot Tea / Coffee - Carried in a Thermos Flask
Again, as with food, you can take whatever tickles your fancy and yes, I have seen hikers on several occasions take a little snifter of the old 'Uisce Beatha' (Irish Gaelic word for whiskey - translates as 'the water of life') on the trail. It wouldn't be my thing but when you're on a peak on a cold winters day, I can see the logic as to why someone would opt for a short one.
Check out the post on the 10 best day hike foods for more ideas on what to bring with you to keep you adequately fed on your day hike!
You've planned your route, you've got some nice vittles on the hiking menu for the day and you've got some appropriate hiking gear to keep you protected from the elements. You're pretty much good to go but before heading out on your hike, there are some important safety considerations to think about first.
In reality, the first and continuous point of reference when planning your hikes should always be safety. All the previous points - route planning, gear, food, etc. - are all in some way directly related to your safety on the hike. It can be easy not to think of it this way but it really is the case:
- Route planning will keep you away from dangers and hazards
- Your hiking gear wll keep you protected from the elements and terrain
- The food and drink you bring will give you energy to keep on moving
- ... you get the idea
There are some other key things you should do before you head out on your hike.
Tell Someone Where You're Going
The most important thing when heading out on a hike is to be sure you tell someone where you’re going and how long you plan to be away. Whether hiking alone or with people, this is crucial. They need to know where to send the search party should things go awry 😉
I think the best thing to do is to leave a photocopy of a map with your route marked out on it. That way there can be no confusion as to where you were planning to go.
As alluded to when planning your route, depending on where you go hiking, each type of terrain will have its own set of potential dangers that you should be aware of.
Hazards are everywhere and can be natural or man-made. Hazards on the trail do not always need to be blatantly obvious e.g. dangerous cliff hangs. Something as simple as wet rocks in rain can be a dangerous hazard.
Check out the post on hazards while hiking for some common dangers you should think about before heading out on the trail.
In conclusion, in the area of safety there is a lot to consider. These basic pointers should keep you good but check out these safe hiking tips too.
First Aid Kit
Someone in your party should have a first aid kit with them. You can get these online for twenty bucks or you can make your own. Just a basic kit with enough to treat some basic things is all that's required. Think of treatment for small injuries like blisters, headaches, cuts and that type of thing.
Further Thoughts and Tips for the Trail
There is nothing better than being out in the beauty of mother-nature enjoying all that she has to offer. As every day goes by hiking becomes a more and more popular pastime and recreational activity for so many people.
It is marvelous to see so many people improving on their health and happiness by taking to the hills. Hiking can form a key part of any health or weight loss program.
It is worth keeping in mind then that you share the trail and the wilderness with, not only, lots of other hikers but also with a broad range of other types of outdoor enthusiasts. It is important to keep this in mind and always show fellow users, as well as landowners where applicable, the respect you would like to be shown.
Hiking trail etiquette is easy to learn and should always be practiced to ensure both you and others fully enjoy your hiking experience. It’s easy to show good manners to fellow users and it costs you nothing.
As already mentioned, hiking can take you to some of the most beautiful places and unspoiled wilderness this amazing planet has to offer. As a hiker you are using nature and wilderness for your enjoyment so you should always show the environment and surroundings maximum respect.
There is nothing more saddening than getting to the top of a beautiful peak or mountain and seeing someone has left an empty soda can or chocolate bar wrapper. Always Leave No Trace of you having been there. remember the Maxim:
In the Wilderness, take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints and kill nothing but time.
Taking Your Hiking Further
So, you've put the hours in and you went from the couch to 5k in no time out and about on your local streets. You moved on and now you've been out on a few hikes in the hills. It is safe to say now that you've got a taste for the trail and you know you want to take your hiking adventures even further!
A great way for the newbie hiker, or any hiker for that matter, to learn more about hiking and meet other hikers, is to join a hiking club. This is also great with regards to all the safety aspects mentioned above, as when you join a hiking club you will be joining a group hikers with all levels of experience.
Invariably this means your hikes should be properly organized and will have mountain team leaders or experienced hikers who are experienced at guiding groups. They will also take care of things like what route to take and so on, a club will know lots of good hiking routes.
This can also be a great way to get exposed to the hills much quicker than if you were to do it alone or with your friends.
It's easy to find a club, just check for your countries mountaineering association and go from there. They will have lots of hiking and mountaineering clubs listed. Check out this post to learn more about hiking clubs.
Also, there are all-sorts of hiking trips and trek holidays available these days so when you want to take the leap from your local trails to some of the world’s biggest and baddest mountains and trails, there are all sorts of ways to do it.
So, I think that is pretty much everything you need to consider as a beginner hiker. Only a few things 🙂 It does seem like quite a lot but much of it is probably common sense to a large degree.
Check out the other posts and resources available here on Cool Hiking Gear for any queries you might have or feel free to drop me a note or leave a comment below with any questions and I will get back to you ASAP!
If you're considering getting started with hiking, I think it's a really good idea. It will give you hours of pleasure and can be enjoyed just about anywhere around the globe.
I might be a little biased though 🙂
Did you find this hiking for beginner’s guide useful? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!