Hiking For Beginners - The Ultimate Guide
Is there a better way to enjoy nature and get your body moving than a good, long hike? We don't think so!
Although for many, hiking is simply a delightful recreational activity that people enjoy on the weekends, it's so much more than that.
Ask anyone with a sedentary occupation, and they'll tell you all the benefits they get from hiking - it's a natural form of exercise that promotes a healthy lifestyle, it's super economical and convenient, and anyone can enjoy it.
We'll leave the choice of duration, location, and company up to you, but leave everything else up to us. We're here to teach you in this ultra-informative, detailed hiking guide.
Even if you're just dipping your toes in hiking, don't sweat it. Hey, we've all been there!
Our guide is beginner-friendly, and you can rest assured we'll answer all the possible concerns you may have as an amateur hiker (even those you never meant to ask but should).
As for you, experienced hikers, don't leave us just yet. We've got a few pieces of advice you'll find useful.
Are you ready for the ride? Let's get that engine started and fly straight into it!
What Is Hiking?
Hiking is a long walk on off-road terrains, be it hiking trails, woods, or countryside. Every bright-eyed and bushy-tailed individual enjoys a good hike, and how could they not?
It does wonders for high-spirited folks.
Hiking is a pursuit of moderate difficulty, so you get just the right amount of exercise, perfect for those that don't like incredibly arduous activities. Even if you're not particularly sporty, have no fear!
With a good pair of hiking boots and our helpful beginners & advanced hiking tips, you'll get a good idea of what hiking really is and how to experience each hike to the fullest.
Your next adventure might be just around the corner, so what are you waiting for? Grab your friends, wear proper attire, bring some food and water, and start hiking today! It's outdoor adventure time!
Hiking vs. Walking - The Main Difference
Both hiking and walking are considered great forms of exercise, but they're not exactly the same, as one may think.
When we talk about hiking, our head is filled with thoughts of long peaceful walks done for pleasure, usually off the road, on nature trails, through the woods, or the countryside.
It's the perfect mix of outdoor physical exercise and deep serenity that you often won't get in your busy everyday life.
Not only do you get to enjoy being in the great outdoors and breathing in that crisp, fresh air, but you can also create heartwarming memories by turning a two-hour hiking excursion into a two-week backpacking trip.
Now that's what we call hiking!
On the other hand, walking is what you do every day - short distances and uneventful streets and roads on your way to class, work, or wherever your day takes you.
Not to diminish the benefits of walking, cause there are plenty, but there is certainly nothing particularly exciting about it.
That being said, hiking is technically walking, but you get to spice things up. There is this saying that we hikers like to use - If you can walk, you can hike.
They're almost one and the same, but there are crucial differences between them.
How To Hike - General Hiking Tips
While hiking is no rocket science, there are still a few things you should get familiar with before you set out on a hiking trip of your life.
Here are a few general tips to incorporate into your next hike.
You're not running a race, so there's no need to lose your breath trying to go too fast or at a pace that doesn't feel comfortable.
Stop for a minute and take in all the beauty that surrounds you (we're positive you'll see breathtaking landscapes and animals if you just look around).
Always remember that slow and steady wins the race, and you'd rather be the tortoise than the hare.
Also, try to hike at the same pace throughout your entire trip - rhythm and flow are your best friends.
Make adjustments to your pack
Every once in a while, make sure to adjust your pack's harness, hip belt, stabilizer, and shoulder straps. Alternate the weight between your shoulders and hips.
Doing this will help immensely in the long run as it will minimize the pressure on the spine.
Don't forget to stretch
Use each break to stretch your muscles and keep them supple. Your body will thank you later.
Also, try and stretch for a good 10-15 minutes before and after hikes - it will pay off for your long-term on-trail health.
Take a break
Everybody needs a break!
Some hikers disregard the importance of regular breaks, and we don't blame them. Once you get going, it's hard to stop, and it's hard to actually remember to stop.
Make time to stretch and breathe in the fresh outdoor air.
It also helps to make the breaks short and regular, rather than erratic, long, and unfruitful.
Simply said - when you go hiking, make every moment count.
Mix it up
In the same way you'd adjust your pack, you need to adjust your stance.
Listen to what your body is telling you - shorter strides, longer strides, back on your heels, or up on your toes. Do what feels right in the moment in order to minimize the tension in your muscles.
Types of Hiking
You wouldn't believe how many types of hikes there are aft your disposal - from casual strolls to those that will have you shaking in your boots, there is something for everybody.
This is one of the main reasons so many people like hiking - the variety of options appeals to people with different interests and desires.
Here are the most popular types of hiking:
Day hiking is a perfect option for those who want to pave the way for more adventurous trails.
As the name suggests, a day hike is one that doesn't exceed daylight. If you're a beginner that wants to stretch your feet and enjoy the outdoors without experiencing considerable strain, it is an excellent choice.
For individuals or groups who want to stay safe in the cozy environment of urban areas but still want to escape the hassle of the city, a national park or a small mountainside trail could make for a great daytime escape.
Gather your family or a group of friends for casual day hiking, and don't worry about the safety of your kids or those you're hiking with.
Even though your time is somewhat limited when day hiking, you don't have to limit yourself completely.
Find a relatively close trailhead, hop on a bus and start your hike. Just remember to turn the GPS on your phone or, if you're an old-fashioned kind of hiker, pack a map and draw a route.
If possible, a more convenient option would be to drive to your location of choice. This even gives you the chance to have more equipment with you on your adventure.
Summit hiking is a type of hiking where you're conquering a particular peak or point of interest which is highly elevated. It involves detailed preparations and an oft-strenuous climb completed by a sense of glorious achievement.
Surmounting the summit is just as fulfilling as it is challenging. Many hikers like this type of hiking as it is a truly rewarding experience.
Is there a better feeling than witnessing an incredible view from the top of the summit after enduring the strenuous climb?
Ask any experienced hiker, and they'll tell you it's a sight for sore eyes.
BONUS TIP: If you're feeling extra adventurous, try peak-bagging - hiking to multiple peaks and reach as many summits as possible!
One thing that long-distance hikers are well aware of is that time tends to put things into a different perspective.
If you're someone who's looking to clear your mind of the stress of everyday life, a long hike is exactly what you need.
BONUS TIP: In case you decide to go solo, always tell someone where you're going.
It can take several days or even weeks, and - unlike with a day hike - you can't just turn around and go home if you suddenly feel like it.
Well, technically, you can, but that's not the point.
The point is to break your limits and test your perseverance, as long-distance hiking challenges both your mind and your body.
Bonus Read: Interested in very long hiking? Learn everything about thru-hiking with Oceas!
On a long hiking session, your only "concern" should be which panoramic view to see next.
If you decide to embark on a long-distance hike, don't forget to pack essential gear (that might not be necessary on a short hike), like a waterproof fleece blanket.
The portable carry-pouch makes it convenient to carry so there's no extra heavy load.
Types of Hiking Trails And How To Choose Them
You should always choose hiking trails for your next hike according to your abilities and circumstances. Sometimes, even if you desperately want to hike a certain trail, ask yourself if it's a good idea. Are you prepared physically and mentally for what that hiking trail brings?
If the answer is "Yes", get right into it.
On the other hand, if you're leaning towards "No", it's time to consider another trail and leave that one for when you're more experienced and able to endure challenging routes.
These are the ones that beginners can enjoy. Novice hikers can benefit from these trails in that they will practice endurance for more challenging ones.
If you're in search of a casual hike, there are excellent trails that offer precisely that. For instance, loop trails are a good option for beginners. Point-to-point hikes are also a superb choice, but they do last a bit longer.
A stage trail is a step up from general trails. It is usually longer and divided into stages (hence the name) alternating between hiking and resting.
Don't let the rest breaks fool you though; beginners should not take a stage trail lightly.
If you've already conquered several stage trails, it's time to test your mettle against technical trails.
These are notoriously difficult as they involve obstacles such as water, mud, loose trails, rocks, roots, and steep descents/climbs.
Consequently, they take longer to complete and pose a bigger risk of injury. If you don't think you're physically or mentally prepared for the heavy toll of technical trails, continue with general or stage trails until you're ready.
BONUS TIP TIP: Check the weather forecast before you go on such a hike; you want the best possible conditions!
Hiking Uphill - Tips & Advice
Consider these tips before climbing:
Finding the perfect rhythm between your breathing and strides is vital for long, gradual uphills where the terrain is somewhat even, and you don't have to worry about your foot placement.
When climbing a hill, no matter how steep, you have to stop and take a break. However, you want to take fewer breaks and maintain a steady pace. Sudden and frequent breaks can disrupt your rhythm and heart rate.
If the climb is steeper than anticipated, try zigzagging instead of walking straight up.
- Rest step
If it's getting exhausting, introducing a rest step might be a good idea.
With every movement forward, straighten your back leg to momentarily shift your weight onto the joints rather than the muscles.
- Happy thoughts
When you feel like you can't go any longer, think happy thoughts! Maintaining a positive attitude can have a make-or-break type of effect on your hike and train your brain to endure more.
Hiking Downhill - Tips & Advice
You might think that going downhill is the easiest part of hiking, but it's definitely not the case. it might be easier, but it's definitely not easy.
Many hikers tend to make the mistake of taking downhills for granted, even viewing them as a reward that comes after challenging climbs.
When going down a steep hill, you can encounter a number of hurdles that could result in injury. We're talking twists, slips, and tumbles.
Imagine tipping over a rock while carrying a heavy backpack only to meet the ground face-down. Not quite the definition of fun, right?
Here are a few tips for a more efficient descent:
- Prepare your gear
This entails tightening your belt and shoulder straps so your backpack doesn't move and disrupt your balance. Also, check if your shoelaces are properly tied so you don't trip.
- Find your center of gravity.
While descending a mountain, don't lean forward or backward too much - your center of gravity should be low and slightly over your legs.
- Reduce the stress
We're talking about physical stress, especially if you're carrying a heavy load. Trekking poles can be very helpful in this case. Also, make sure to keep your downhill leg slightly bent on impact. This will significantly help your knees as the muscles will take on the strain rather than the joints.
- Pack weight
This is a pretty obvious one - you want to carry a lighter load as you descend.
It's the best way to mitigate the stress your muscles and bones go through on a steep decline. Your pack should contain only the essentials - first aid kit, safety attire, food, and water.
An overly packed bag can weigh you down, which not only makes hiking uncomfortable but can also be a safety hazard when going downhill.
- Find your pace
It's important to go down at a pace that feels comfortable to you.
If you're feeling like slowing down a bit, don't try to keep up with your group at all costs.
Hikers tend to have differences in comfort levels when it comes to hiking downhill, so it's perfectly natural to have your own pace that feels comfortable.
If you take larger steps just to keep up with other hikers, it could lead to an injury as steep descents are no joke. One wrong step and your hiking might be over sooner than you planned.
So, take shorter steps, increase your concentration level, and stick with what feels comfy!
The more you practice and hike, the more the speed at which you descend increases, so don't worry about being too slow.
How To Become A Hiker?
All master hikers have to know a thing or two about navigation. If you're on a technical trail, getting off-course can be dangerous, especially in harsh weather conditions, such as cold, snow, heat, wind, etc.
Before you go hiking, familiarize yourself with the map and learn every nook and cranny of the trail. Wherever you go, you have to stay safe and know your way back in case you stray from the trail or get separated from your group. It's also useful to tell someone about your itinerary beforehand.
This is especially important for hikes where you might actually be in jeopardy, like in the woods or mountains surrounded by wildlife.
Learn how to navigate
All master hikers have to know a thing or two about navigation. If you're going on a technical trail, getting off-course can be dangerous, especially in harsher weather conditions, such as cold, snow, heat, wind, etc.
Before you go hiking, familiarize yourself with a map and learn every nook and cranny of the trail. Wherever you go, you have to stay safe and know your way back in case you get lost or separated from your group.
This is especially important for hikes where you might actually be in jeopardy, like in the woods and mountains surrounded by wildlife and all kinds of animals.
BONUS TIP: Don't forget to bring a compass! It's a lifesaver in situations like this.
Bring the right gear
"Be prepared" is not only a scout's motto; it goes for hikers as well.
A good hiker is always prepared for both expected and unforeseen circumstances. This is particularly important if you're a beginner. Having the right gear by your side can save your life.
The hiking essentials include water, food, a map, a compass, warm or breezy clothes (depending on your location and the weather), and a good pair of boots (your feet will thank you later!).
Sun protection should also be a part of your hiking gear. Check the weather - is it sunny? It might be perfect for hiking, but not so much for your skin.
Oh, and never forget a first aid kit. If you ever get injured on a trail, you probably won't be able to get immediate medical help, so a first aid kit is a must!
Throw in a compact waterproof pocket blanket just in case you decide to rest - it's conveniently pocket-sized so you'll forget it's even there!
That being said, don't overpack. A backpack stuffed to the brim is a classic beginner's mistake.
Why is that an issue?
Because you don't want to carry an unnecessary load that will put a strain on you for god-knows-how-many miles.
When it comes to hiking, it's all about utility.
You will never find a pro hiker in flip-flops and khakis. And there is a perfectly good reason behind this (besides good fashion sense).
Proper attire is a must on any hiking trip. Your choice of clothes matters, and your choice of footwear matters even more.
Can you imagine walking for miles on end in uncomfortable shoes? Not only is it a drag, but it also makes you prone to accidents and injuries.
Wearing high-quality footwear can make or break your hike.
BONUS TIP: Make sure your footwear is water-resistant. This way, you're prepared for all kinds of trails and weather conditions.
Practice makes perfect
No amount of reading and preparing for hiking will compare to actually going on hikes. The insight you gain during each hike is invaluable knowledge that will serve you in the future.
It wouldn't hurt fitting a hike into your schedule once every couple of weeks, on the weekends, or whenever you've got time.
If you happen to be too busy, go on a shorter hike. Just go outdoors, to the nearest park and walk 5 miles or so.
This doesn't require you to bring a map or any special gear; you don't even have to bring or wear special shoes. Go stretch your feet on a familiar route where you know you won't get lost alone.
Don't wait till you can go on long hikes - make every trail, even the short ones, count!
If nothing, it can be a great part of your fitness routine.
Going on the same old local trail every time won't make you an expert.
The key is to always keep challenging yourself, so you can grow as a hiker.
Test your endurance each time you hike, but don't overestimate yourself. If you feel like you're not up to the challenge, weigh out whether it's actually out of your league or you're just feeling anxious (for no good reason) about your abilities.
If it's the latter, don't hesitate - just do it!
Of course, this goes for beginners too, who probably often question their endurance. But consider this - how can you improve if you're always going on the same local hike?
The answer is simple - you won't.
How To Prepare For Hiking?
Once you have a strong will and desire to go hiking, it's time to actually prepare for the hike.
Follow these steps and tips before your next hike. Beginners, pay special attention now!
Step #1 - Pick a trail
The first thing to do would be to choose your trail. You can't really do any of the following steps before this one - how will you know what to bring and how to dress if you don't know where you're going?
Knowing which trail you want to hike will give you important information, such as:
- travel time
Think about the time you want to invest in your hike, and pick a trail accordingly. Beginners should pay special attention to the difficulty level of the trail, as well as the length.
The elevation is also important to know as the high altitude hikes that require a ton of climbing are generally more challenging.
BONUS TIP: If it's your first time hiking, pick a beginner-friendly trail, like a national park in the local outdoor area.
Step #2 - Get in shape
You want to be in the best possible shape for your hike. This goes without saying for the technical trails that feature numerous obstacles.
However, don't underestimate general and stage trails either. You don't really want to stop mid-hike because your legs or joints hurt or you're suddenly gasping for air.
How to get in shape, you might ask? Here's what you do:
- go on small hikes (a mile to 5 miles tops) 1-2 times a week
- break in your boots
- carry your pack wherever you go
- work out regularly (lift weights, do cardio, go swimming, etc.)
Step #3 - Pack the essentials
Getting the right kind of backpack and equipment is of utmost importance.
We already mentioned all the hiking essentials:
- first aid kit
- rain gear
- dry pair of socks
- extra clothes depending on where you're going
Of course, the size and content of this list will depend on the location, meteorological and atmospheric conditions, and the length of your hike, but the ones listed above apply to any type of hike.
You always need your phone, GPS, and a map in case you're alone and get lost.
If you think of anything else you deem vital for a hike, pack it.
BONUS TIP: Make a list beforehand and tick off all the items as you pack them. You won't forget a thing!
How To Become a Better Hiker?
There is always space to improve yourself and your knowledge of hiking. If you want to become a master, consider these tips:
- go on weekly hikes and walks (even for a mile or two) to build endurance
- learn how to read a topographic map (without a compass)
- learn how to use a compass if you don't already know
- join a hiking club and find groups to go hiking with regularly
- try peak-bagging
- hike in challenging conditions
- go on a really long hike every once in a while
Any knowledge you gather, whether it's about a specific location, survival techniques, the wildlife in the area where you hike, or something else, won't go to waste. Any piece of information is precious when it comes to hiking.
Hiking For Beginners - Final Words
You could say that this super thorough hiking-for-beginners guide was made for both first-time hikers and those with a bit of experience.
Whichever applies to you, kudos to you for staying till the end! Now you are equipped with all the necessary knowledge for a successful hike.
The last piece of advice - don't wait a second longer to plan your next adventure; each new escapade is bringing you one step closer to becoming a hiking expert.
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