Hiking for Beginners: A Guide for New Hikers
Updated: May 13
Hiking is the perfect outdoors activity for any and all who want to unplug from their devices and escape to the tranquility of natural beauty.
I have been hiking since I was a child, as this is a significant part of the outdoors culture where I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I can personally attest that hiking, or just going on long walks, is one of the best ways to de-stress and enjoy all nature has to offer, as well as to get some great physical exercise.
Hiking allows you to explore your locale, but it could also take you all over the world.
In this article, I have put together a guide to hiking for beginners if you or someone you know is interested in hiking in the great outdoors.
What is hiking?
Hiking is simply walking a trail in the forest or out in the country.
It doesn't have to mean trekking a route on a multi day backpacking trip to a faraway destination that only should be undertaken by the most experienced outdoors expert.
Hiking for beginners can be a walk in the park, quite literally.
Hiking is really any journey that takes you on a route through nature, and it can be enjoyed with a friend or in the solace of your own company.
Choosing the right hike for you
The great thing about choosing a hike is that you can pick the right journey for you based on your skill level and experience, particularly if you live in an area with many different trails and routes.
The first thing I look at when selecting a hike is distance. You need to determine how many miles your trek will be, and how much time hiking it will take you.
If you're going on trail that is 10 miles long, you'll want to start hiking early in the day to ensure you can finish in one day, unless of course you're planning on a multi day hike.
Always remember, every mile you hike to the scenic view of the trail is a mile you have to hike back to return.
A great thing to purchase if you're planning on becoming a regular hiker is a topographic map to show the surrounding terrain where you plan to hike. We will cover maps in more detail in a bit when I discuss gear and provisions.
It is extremely important to choose a hike in which the terrain will not be too difficult for you.
Where I grew up, there are trails that consist of simple walks, to trails that consist of climbing rocks uphill throughout the duration of the journey, and everything in between.
Hiking is a great leisure activity, but it can also be dangerous if you don't plan carefully.
Get an idea of your local terrain, and pick a hiking trail that matches both your experience and your desired physical exertion.
It is also important to consider the elevation your planned hiking trip will take you. It can sometimes drop 10-20 degrees from the elevation where you started to the elevation where you end up, so you'll want to plan accordingly.
Here in the Coastal Plains of Texas, where I currently live, elevation isn't a concern, as there isn't a single mountain here. Hiking trails here are closer to flat walks than hikes.
However, in the Blue Ridge where I'm from, you can't turn a corner without a mountain in sight.
How far uphill you are wanting to end up is an important factor in planning your trip.
It's also worth mentioning that you should check the weather conditions in your local area before you plan on hiking.
Weather can be quite the damper on any outdoors activity, hiking included.
Depending on where you live, there might be local hiking groups that you can join. This is a great way to connect with other hikers and make friends who can recommend trails, routes, and gear, or even accompany you on your future hikes.
Hiking in a group can also be a memorable experience. Some of my favorite hiking trips were with a group of friends, with everyone working together and sharing an enjoyable day outdoors.
Also, I personally have used Alltrails for years when I want to plan a hiking or backpacking trip, especially if I'm in an area I'm not familiar with. This is a great, modern resource that recommends hiking in your location based on distance, elevation, and terrain and since nearly everyone seems to carry a phone with them wherever they go, this can be something you always have with you.
Bringing the right gear and provisions for hiking
As discussed, successful and enjoyable hiking begins with planning the right hike for you by determining distance, terrain, elevation, and weather. However, your gear and provisions need to also be considered before starting any hiking trail.
I'll only be going over gear and equipment you might need for a day hike in this article, so if you're planning on setting up camp for a multi day adventure, you're going to need more than what I'm discussing here.
Weather is typically the biggest determinant in what clothing you should wear when hiking. Obviously if it is going to be a hot, sunny day with little shade, you'll want to wear loose clothing that keeps you cool. And the opposite is true if you know you will experience deteriorating weather conditions such as rain or snow.
Waterproof trekking pants that can also be unzipped to reveal shorts are a great option for all types of hiking conditions, and I highly recommend these.
You'll also want to invest in a good pair of hiking shoes or hiking boots if you plan on making this a regular activity.
The right shoes or hiking boots can offer solid ankle support which is incredibly important when navigating uneven hiking trails.
I personally like to wear some sort of hat when hiking. A hat can protect your head from sun damage and ticks who would like to burrow in your scalp.
A waterproof jacket might also be a good idea if you're planning on hiking in places where the weather is more unpredictable.
Also, if you begin hiking early in the day, your clothing needs might change by the end of your hike, so packing layers is generally recommended.
Being in nature, you're sure to at some point see many different types of animals, and unfortunately this includes insects who thrive by feeding on humans. Bringing along some mosquito repellant to carry is a must for me.
If you're in an area with a high number of ticks, you might also want a repellant that contains Deet or Permethrin, but use these chemicals on your clothing only, not your skin.
Throw these in a backpack to have just in case.
Food and drink
If you're planning a long day of hiking, you must bring an abundance of water.
Even if you think you might not get hungry or thirsty, I cannot stress enough the necessity for packing provisions.
For food, I usually recommend some protein or granola bars; things that can easily be stuffed in your backpack but contain high levels of nutrition.
Water might be the most important thing you bring hiking, even more so than food, as a dehydrated hiker isn't going to make it far.
For me, I also carry with me a way to filter water when I'm hiking, for the unlikely event that I run out.
Safety and first aid
Safety is so important when venturing outdoors, so a first aid kit is recommended.
This doesn't have to be complicated, as most casual hikers are probably not EMT's. Just make sure your aid kit includes bandages, antiseptics, antibacterial ointments, and some tape.
You can generally find pre-made first aid kits for hiking at outdoors suppliers that will fit right in your backpack, and you can add to it as needed.
Map and compass
I briefly mentioned before that having a topographic map can come in handy when mapping out terrains in your area. These maps will show the contours of the land, as well as related manmade features, so they are a great resource for hikers trying to determine their path or route.
Having a map and compass is also important in the particularly unsettling occurrence of losing your way on the hiking trail.
A gazetteer, which is a geographical index, can be used with a map to understand your path while hiking, so this is great to carry with you as well.
Learning hiking etiquette
As with most activities done in public, hiking has an etiquette that you should learn and follow.
These are rules and guidelines of behavior when hiking that ensures the safety and preservation of the hiker, the animals and wildlife, and the environment.
Stay on the trail
While hiking, you should make every attempt to stay on the designated trail.
Straying from the hiking trail can potentially harm wildlife ecosystems of both plants and animals.
Maintain a respectful noise level
It's no secret that people choose to go hiking to escape the noise of urban life and to enjoy the peace and tranquility of nature. Try not to talk too loudly or let the noise of devices disturb the peace of wildlife or other hikers.
You'll find that listening to the natural sounds around you will be more satisfying than the noise of yourself or a friend anyways.
Leave wildlife be
If you find yourself encountering wildlife while hiking, never try to approach or disturb the animals.
This should go without saying, and it is for the safety and wellbeing of both you, the hiker, and the wild animals.
If you are hiking in a national park, there are typically rules against approaching wildlife, and there are regulations as to how much distance you should keep between yourself and the animals.
Leave no trace
This concept is one that can be applied to any activity in the outdoors. It is no different when you are hiking.
To leave no trace means to leave the trail, mountains, park, country, or whatever environment you find yourself hiking as good as you found it, as if you had never even been there.
Make sure not to leave any gear behind, pack out your trash, and clean up your waste.
This is how we as hikers ensure that our natural environment is preserved for all future generations of outdoor lovers.
If you want to learn more about hiking etiquette, check out this article by the National Park Service.
Whether you plan to go for a walk in the park, take a day hike through the mountains, or venture out on a multi day backpacking trek, all hikers start somewhere.
Hiking can provide for a lifetime of fun and natural beauty as long as you choose a hike that is right for your level of skill, pack the right gear, and respect the rules and guidelines set forth by your park, trail, or fellow hikers.
I hope my hiking for beginners guide has helped introduce some of the most important aspects of hiking, and thank you for reading.
Check out another blog from my friend, Caitlin. She writes articles on hiking and travel destinations. Click here for her article on 3 Unique Hikes Within An Hour Of Reykjavik.