When you hike, it feels like you’ve been teleported to a different place—far away from the hustle and bustle of the city. This is why I fell in love with it in the first place. Not only is hiking a fun hobby, but it’s also great for both your mental and physical health and is an amazing way to enjoy the outdoors. This blog post is all about hiking for beginners and it includes 13 tips I wish I knew when I was getting started! It includes trail etiquette, ways to find hiking friends and trails, gear recommendations, and much more. There’s a lot to know, but once you learn the basics and start hiking, it’ll all become second nature.
This blog post is in collaboration with Backcountry—an incredible outdoor retailer that is a one-stop-shop for everything hiking, camping, climbing, and more. Get 24/7 advice from their Gearheads, choose from an amazing selection of good quality gear, quick shipping, and easy returns. This post also contains some affiliate links, which means if you buy something I will receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you).
The Leave No Trace Principles
This may be one of the most important things you can learn before hitting the trails! The Leave No Trace Principles are seven things everyone needs to follow when recreating outdoors. If we follow them and take care of nature, we’ll preserve the environment for generations to come. For example. it’s incredibly important to pack out what you pack in. This means taking all your garbage with you—including natural things like banana peels or apple cores. Even though they may decompose, it takes a long time (especially in the colder months) and it attracts animals. Check out the Leave No Trace Principles below:
- Plan Ahead & Prepare.
- Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces.
- Dispose of Waste Properly.
- Leave What You Find.
- Minimize Campfire Impacts.
- Respect Wildlife.
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors.
Find a Hiking Buddy
While some people enjoy hiking on their own, I think it’s always better to go outside with a friend—especially if you’re a beginner. It’s an incredible way to create long-lasting friendships and stay safe. These are some great ways to find a hiking buddy:
- Social Media: Share on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok that you’re looking for people to go hiking with. I guarantee there’s someone in your social network who is looking for a buddy, too. Also, check out local groups on Facebook in your area that are all about the outdoors (ie. Chilliwack BC Hiking Club).
- Meetup: This is a great website to meet fellow hikers.
- BumbleBFF: This is a simplified way to create meaningful friendships.
Note: Please follow your local Covid-19 guidelines.
Do Your Research
One major suggestion in this hiking for beginners guide is that you research the hike you want to do beforehand and are prepared. There have been way too many times where I’m hiking and someone asks me which trail we’re on, how much longer to the top, and if they are in the right place. These questions shouldn’t come up. You should know where to go and generally how long you’ll be outside. To find a hike, these are my suggestions:
- Check out websites like AllTrials, the Outbound, Washington Trail Association, and other blog posts that may come up when researching general areas or parks (ie. ‘hikes in the North Cascades’).
- Social media platforms, especially Instagram, is a great way to find parks or trails.
- Giving ranger and information centers a call is really helpful for recommendations on trails in a particular park and the current conditions.
- Google Earth is also incredibly helpful at finding lesser-known areas.
To ensure you know where to go, having a GPS is crucial. While I admit I haven’t always had one, it’s definitely a worthwhile investment to make when you’re starting to crush longer and more difficult trails. I have the Garmin InReach Mini and I use it to let my loved ones know that I’m safe, for offline maps and emergencies. The only downside to the Mini is that it doesn’t have a keyboard. I always bring a portable charger with me because if my phone dies I wouldn’t be able to use the GPS. If you want to avoid this problem, I’d go with the Garmin InReach Explorer+ which has a keyboard. Note: you will need to buy a subscription for the SOS and text features.
Alternatively, you could download the trail on apps such as AllTrials, Maps.Me or Gaia GPS. Once downloaded, you don’t need cell service so you can use them on the trail. Make sure to bring a portable charger as your phone will die much faster when using these apps.
The 10 Essentials
The Ten Essentials are items that will help you in emergency situations which is an incredibly important part of hiking for beginners. They don’t weigh that much and when you need them, you’ll wish you had them. The essentials include navigation, headlamp, sun protection (hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen), first aid kit, knife, fire (matches, lighter, and stove), shelter, extra food, extra water, and extra clothes.
No matter the season, make sure you bring extra layers to stay warm—even in the summer months. The weather in the mountains changes really quickly! When you’re packing, ask yourself, “could I survive the night with the clothes I have with me if I had to?”
Always avoid wearing cotton because it’s heavier than synthetic fabrics. It absorbs moisture and sweat and is just an all-around no-go for hiking. You want to wear fabrics that dry fast and keeps you at your body’s natural temperature (not cool you down like damp cotton would). Wool and polyester are great options and are what I usually gravitate towards. Here are some of my favorite layers:
Base layer suggestions:
- Backcountry Spruces Merino Baselayer 1/4-Zip Top
- Icebreaker BodyFit 200 Oasis Crew Top
- Icebreaker BodyFit 200 Oasis Legging
- Icebreaker Sprite Racerback Bra
Mid-layer and insulated layer suggestions:
- Patagonia Los Gatos 1/4-Zip Jacket
- Patagonia Better Sweater 1/4-Zip Fleece Jacket
- Arc’teryx Cerium LT Hooded Down Jacket
- Patagonia Down Sweater Jacket
Outer layer suggestions:
Trail Manners Matter
Trail etiquette is an important part of this hiking for beginners guide. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years:
- When you pass by another hiker, say hello!
- On the trail, the hiker going downhill should stop, step aside and create space for the hiker going uphill. This is because the person going uphill may be concentrating on what is right in front of them, while the person coming down has a bigger field of vision.
- Don’t play loud music when there are others around.
- If you’re slower than the people behind you, step aside and let them pass.
- When you need to use the washroom and there’s no outhouse insight, do your best and find a private spot away from water sources, trails, or camping areas. Make sure you dig a hole, cover it when you’re done and take the tissue with you.
Hiking Boots Can Make or Break You
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again—if you buy a quality pair of hiking boots, they will last you for years. I have tried three brands in the last five years and the Danner Mountain 600s are my all-time favorite. They are incredibly comfortable, waterproof, lightweight, and stylish. Keep in mind that boots are hard to recommend because everyone’s feet are so different. What may work for me, may not work for you. That said, most of my friends (both guys and gals) all use this boot. What I also love is that Danner will fix your boots if they break or full out replace them. To me, this is a worthwhile investment.
Be Bear Aware
An important suggestion in this hiking for beginners guide is that you need to be aware of the wildlife in the area you’re exploring. I usually hike in the Pacific Northwest so I look out for animals like bears, cougars, moose, etc. It’s important to research before you start hiking (especially if you’re a beginner), so you know what to do in case you run into an animal. I usually hike in areas with bears (although I’ve only seen a couple while on the trail in my 6-7 years of hiking), so here are some general tips:
- Never approach a bear, especially cubs (because wherever cubs are, mama is there, too).
- Hike in a group of two or more people.
- In areas where you can’t see around you (like forests or shrubs) make your presence known by talking loudly, singing, playing music, and calling out “Hi buddy!”.
- Carry bear spray with you—and make sure it’s somewhere accessible. If a bear charges you, you’re not going to want to have to take your backpack off and go searching for it. I usually have it attached by a carabiner or a holster so it either hangs by my chest or side.
- Look down and around the trail. If you see a bear far away, keep your distance and wait for it to pass.
- If you have a close encounter with a bear, stay calm. Never run from a bear. They are really fast and this will trigger them to chase you. Don’t scream, crouch down, turn your back on the bear or make direct eye contact.
It’s important to note that there are different types of bears and every encounter with a bear is unique. If you want to read more about bears and know what to do in specific encounters, check this article out.
It’s Not a Race
I used to think that I had to get the “hard part” over with and get to the destination/viewpoint so I can start enjoying myself—and boy, was I wrong! If you try and get up the trail faster than your current physical ability, you’ll be exhausted and it won’t be enjoyable. If I had to give one piece of advice for hiking for beginners, it would be to pace yourself. Take breaks. Stop and look at the views along the way. Enjoy them! Have a snack—or two, three or four. Also, more importantly, no one cares or thinks about how fast or slow you hike.
Always Bring Extra Food and Water
This is apart of the Ten Essentials and is really important. Whether I am planning on hiking one hour or one day, I will always bring extra food and water with me. In case of an emergency, you never know how long you’ll be outside for so you’ll want to have extra snacks. Try and pack snacks that are high in calories like nut butter, energy bars, candy, etc. In terms of water, the amount I pack depends on the hike’s length, if there are water sources along the trail (lakes, streams, etc.), and the temperature. I usually pack a minimum of 2L in my CamelBak Crux Water Reservoir and have a Nalgene bottle in my side pocket for refilling.
- Kate’s Real Food Snack Bites
- Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews
- ProBar BOLT Chews
- Kate’s Real Food Tram Bars
- Clifbar Clif Shot Bloks
Water bottles and filter suggestions:
- Nalgene Wide Mouth Tritan Bottle
- CamelBak Crux Water Reservoir
- Hydro Flask 24oz Standard Mouth Water Bottle
- Grayl Ultralight Compact Purifier Bottle
- Katadyn Micropur Purification Tablets
Packing is Key
Packing your backpack correctly will help a lot with hiking and avoid unnecessary back pain. Store light items on the top of the bag (ie. clothes, headlamp, and other small items), the heaviest items on the bottom (ie. food and camera gear), and water in the side pockets or water bladder pocket. Make sure to bring what you need, including the Ten Essentials, but don’t go overboard. Packing is a classic skill to learn on your hiking for beginner’s journey and you’ll have it down to a science over time. I have used the Osprey Packs Tempest 30L Backpack for over three years now.
Give Someone a Heads Up
Before going on a hike, whether you will have cell service or not, you need to tell one person (could be a family member or friend) the following details:
- Which hike you’re doing (be specific) and who you are going with.
- Your projected timeline, with an emphasis on when you’ll be back in service.
- The time they should call for help in case of an emergency (usually is a few hours after you should be done the hike). Sometimes you may hike slower, want to stay for sunset, help out someone on the trail, run out of gas, took a nap, etc. So, I usually leave extra time in case I’m a little late.
This is an incredibly important part of hiking for beginners so don’t skip it. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s always a great idea to invest in a satellite phone/GPS so that if you’re delayed in getting back home, you can update your family member or friend and avoid unnecessary stress.
Don’t Need New Gear Right Away
It can be overwhelming to see how much gear is needed for hiking. When I was a beginner, there was no way I could buy everything new so here are some tips:
- Use what you have at home and borrow gear from friends and family.
- Buy second-hand at thrift stores, on Facebook Marketplace, Kijiji, or Craigslist.
- Upgrade your gear a little bit at a time and do so when there are big sales. Sign up for Backcountry’s mailing list (which can be found in the footer of the website) so you know when a sale is coming up.
Thanks again to Backcountry for collaborating with me on this blog post! I couldn’t recommend them enough for all your outdoor gear. They have the best selection, shipping times, return process, and help from experts.
If you have any questions about hiking for beginners or gear, let me know below!