Hiking for Beginners: Essentials, Gear, Tips & Training

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Hiking is tremendous. There’s no other way to describe it. It promotes positive physical and mental health, gets you acquainted with the outdoors and allows you to spend some much-needed time in Mother Nature without the everyday distractions of life — including the abundant amount of time we spend staring at screens.

But for those people who want to get into day hiking or trekking but don’t quite know where to start, you may quickly find out that hiking for beginners seems like a daunting task.

You’ll need essentials to keep you safe on the trail, proper gear to make your hikes more comfortable, training to make them feel like a walk in the park and, most importantly, to find hiking trails you can successfully conquer — or push yourself on harder trails for a more self-fulfilling payoff.

But beginning hiking is a lot easier than you think. While all of these hiking tips, essentials, gear and training are designed to help beginner hikers feel comfortable on the trail and start their journey, the most important thing about hiking for beginners is it’s all about getting out there and pushing yourself past your limits of comfort.

I always like to say that hiking is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other — and doing it a few thousand times. It’s the same as walking, except you’re doing it outdoors with much better scenery to focus on.

So let’s get cracking and we’ll have you hiking in no time! Hiking for beginners is as easy as following this guide. Below you’ll find a table of contents, so feel free to skip around to the sections you may find most important!

How to Start Hiking for Beginners

Find a Hiking Buddy

If you have friends who hike, or who are genuinely interested in beginning hiking with you, ask them to go hiking with you. Most hikers are ecstatic to share a few tips and pleasant conversation on the trails while gawking at the natural beauty around.

Hiking for beginners is best done with a hiking partner. That way, if somebody gets injured a hiking partner can find help. Hiking partners are also good for pushing each other. It’s just like having a trainer or friend to go to the gym with. You’ll always get a better workout. Think of hiking as an outdoor gym and your hiking partner as your trainer or workout buddy. If you feel like giving up, they’re there to push you through the mental roadblock!

If you can’t find anyone to hike with and don’t want to go alone, don’t worry! The internet has made it much easier to find people with common interests. Places like MeetUp, Facebook Groups and REI Events are home to like-minded hikers who will be more than happy to have you on their hike! Just make sure they’re taking you on a hike and not a multi-day trek when you’re beginning.

Hiking Solo

If you want to hike by yourself or can’t find anyone to hike with, that’s quite alright! I hike by myself most of the time. It’s a great way for me to unplug, enjoy nature and hike at my own pace, stopping when I need rest or want to get the perfect photo or video.

If you’re just beginning your hiking journey and you’re going at it solo, I’d recommend sticking to short hikes on popular trails while you’re getting your feet wet in this amazing activity. That way you’re always around other hikers who can get help if you twist an ankle or share their water if you run out.

When you’re hiking solo, especially if you’re traversing tough terrain or hiking through bear country, always let someone know what trail you’ll be on, what time you expect to be done and follow up with them when you make it safely back to the trailhead. If something happens on the trail, they’ll be your lifeline to the outside world.

Training for Hiking Beginners

Gym Training

Training for hiking isn’t all that difficult. When starting, you’ll be able to hike longer and further if you hit the gym a few days a week and walk or jog on the treadmill. Try to hop on one of those treadmills that allow you to increase the incline. That will mimic the incline of hiking.

Another great way to get your glutes and hamstrings going is to hop on the stairmaster. Ohhh, I know, why would anyone want to walk up stairs in the gym when a wise person invented the elevator decades ago? You’d be surprised at the cardio training you can get from stair machines.

It trains you for hiking trails with steep inclines with naturally formed, rugged rock steps like those you’ll get in the mountains. Those kinds of trails are everywhere, and are some of my favorites! You can find this terrain on hiking trails like Machu Picchu and its amazing mountains, one of my all-time favorite trails in Colorado, Arches National Park in Utah, the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois and so many more places around the world.

Everyday Life Training

If the gym isn’t your thing, I’m with you there! And don’t worry, you can get a similar workout in your everyday life. Trade in the treadmill for walking a few miles on a sidewalk. Swap the stairmaster for going up and down hills with moderate-to-steep inclines. Skip the elevators and escalators for stairs, and pretend you forgot something once you get to the top, forcing yourself to hit the stairs again (I did this when I was training for Machu Picchu).

Hitting the Hiking Trails

If training for hiking in the gym or everyday life just doesn’t cut it for you, just hit the trails! There’s no better training than hitting the trails because it’s exactly what you’re training for in the first place! Training for hiking beginners is best on highly populated trails that are easy to moderate in their difficulty rating.

Hiking Essentials for Beginners

No matter if you’re a beginner hiking heading off on your first trail or an experienced backcountry trekker heading out on your 100th multi-day trek, it’s important to always bring along the 10 essentials for hiking.

The list was designed by expert mountaineers to bring awareness to hiking safety. It provides every single hiker, from the first-timers to the most experienced, with a list of items that will help keep you safe if you get lost, injured or stranded on the trail.

  1. Navigation: Compass, map, GPS, altimeter, satellite messenger
  2. First-Aid Kit: Bandages, splint (ankle stabilization), medical wraps
  3. Emergency Shelter: Emergency sleeping bag or lightweight tent
  4. Fire Starter: Lighter, matches, magnesium fire sticks
  5. Water: More than you think you’ll need (or lifestraw if hiking near water)
  6. Food: More than you think you need (compact space/hiking no-cook meals)
  7. Protection: Sunglasses, sunscreen, bug spray
  8. Clothes: Extra pair and jacket in case of wetness
  9. Light: Headlamp, flashlight, solar-powered lantern
  10. Repair Kit: Knife, duct tape, rope

Hiking Gear List for Beginners

The hiking gear list for beginners is a baseline of what every hiker should carry with them at all times — from the most green to the most experienced. Sure, experienced hikers will likely have better gear than beginner hikers, but that’s just because they’ve found out what items and brands they like and need over others.

Let’s face it, if you’re just starting, you’re probably not going to buy $300 trekking poles and you likely won’t need a backpacking tent because you’ll be taking shorter hikes. But you will need all of the following to make your introduction to hiking a seamless experience!

1. Hiking Boots

The most underrated piece of hiking gear is undoubtedly hiking boots. Choosing the right hiking boots for your needs is an essential part of starting to hike. You’ll need a pair that are comfortable for long periods, give you much-needed support on the trail so you don’t twist your ankles easily and are designed for the trails you plan on hiking.

The last piece may be the most important. Not every hiking boot is designed for the same trails. For instance, if you’re hiking trails in the Pacific Northwest covered with snow, like the amazing trails at Mount Rainier National Park that are covered by snow year-round, you’ll want waterproof hiking boots to keep your feet dry.

But if you do the majority of your hiking in the desert (including places like Canyonlands National Park and my personal favorite trails in the Arches National Park area called Devil’s Garden Loop and Corona Arch Trail), those same waterproof hiking boots will have your feet sweating puddles since they’re not breathable.

It’s quite alright to have multiple pairs of hiking boots. But when you’re on the boots portion of your hiking gear list for beginners, highlight the types of terrain you’ll be hiking and choose your boots accordingly.

2. Regular or Rain Jacket

Unless you’re hiking in the desert during those amazing months when it’s the perfect temperature and rain hasn’t been in the forecast for weeks, weather conditions on the trail tend to change quickly. That holds especially true if you’re hiking mountains and gaining elevation.

Even though the weather may be clear and a brisk 70 degrees at the trailhead, it may be raining and 55 degrees a few thousand feet higher on the trail. To always stay prepared, keep a lightweight jacket and a lightweight rain jacket in your pack.

They’ll keep you dry and comfortable on the trail so your hike can still be amazing even if the weather doesn’t cooperate. I personally always carry with me a lightweight rain jacket that folds up into its own pocket. It saves space and can be accessed quickly if rain begins.

3. Daypack or Backpack

You’re probably wondering how you’ll carry all this gear with you on the trail. The answer is with a small daypack or backpack. There are many options out there, but if you’re carrying just the essentials you should be fine with a 10-liter to 15-liter daypack — even a smaller pack with a built-in water pouch for drinking.

If you’re like me and carry the 10 hiking essentials, all this hiking gear, plus a DSLR camera, drone, extra batteries and portable chargers, you’ll need a bigger backpack. I always carry an expandable 30L backpack. It’s big enough to hold all my camping gear for overnight hikes and has built-in clips on the bottom that come together to cut the size in half for shorter hikes.

4. Trekking Poles

Trekking poles, trekking poles, trekking poles! If hiking boots are the most underrated piece of hiking gear, trekking poles are a solid number two. Many people don’t realize that going down a hiking trail puts 10 times your body weight on your knees.

Just yesterday, I had an MRI on my left knee and an orthopedic surgeon checked it out. Thankfully, everything’s fine (my patella slips a bit when I move my legs due to playing hockey and being a catcher in baseball when I was growing up) and can be resolved by a few sessions of physical therapy. But now I’m upgrading to those $300 trekking poles I mentioned earlier.

Oftentimes you’ll only see seasoned hikers on the trail with trekking poles and that’s for two reasons: they’ve had years of experience to figure out hiking poles are a wonderful invention, and they don’t care how they look on the trail as long as they feel great afterward!

Investing in trekking poles is basically a beginner hiking hack that most people don’t abide by until they feel their knees throbbing for days after their last hike.

5. Sunglasses

No matter if you’re hiking in sunny or cloudy weather bringing sunglasses along is always a great idea, especially if you’re hiking at higher altitudes. Remember that when hiking at higher altitudes, you’re closer to the sun, so the sun’s ultraviolet rays are stronger. That’s why sunglasses and sunscreen are so important!

6. Water & Snacks

No matter how long or short the hike, you’ll need to have water with you. You should bring more water than you think you’ll need, and a good rule of thumb to gauge how much you should bring is to measure how much you typically drink in a day, multiply that by 1.5 for your hike and gauge your hike time accordingly. Obviously, if you drink 1 liter of water per day and are only going on a 1-hour hike, you probably don’t need 1.5 liters of water.

You may also want to bring food because it’s fuel for the body! Nuts (think walnuts, almonds, peanuts, etc.) will give you a healthy balance of protein and healthy fats. Fruit (apples, bananas, raisins, etc) will give you carbs and some extra protein.

The granddaddy of them all, and my personal favorite, beef jerky! I regularly go through packs and packs of beef jerky while hiking (and since I’m car camping across North America, have even been known to eat solely beef jerky for dinner when I don’t feel like cooking or driving into town).

7. Solar Phone Charger

As I said earlier, I always hike with my phone, DSLR camera, drone and sometimes my GoPro. Taking pictures and filming videos for this blog at all times means I use a ton of battery power on the trails.

Since I can’t afford to let my gear die on me and there are not outlets within a 10-mile radius (I’ve checked under every rock), I must rely solely on charging everything before I set out on the trail and keeping everything powered up with my handy dandy portable solar power bank!

This thing has saved my life, figuratively not literally, many times when my phone runs out of juice or I forgot to charge my camera batteries before the hike. I simply attach the solar charger to my backpack, plug in my batteries and let the sun do the rest! Even if there isn’t sun on the trail that day, my solar power bank charges everything about 10 times before it needs some love from the sun (or a regular power outlet).

Hiking Tips for Beginners

1. Pack Your 10 Essentials

I know I’ve already talked about the 10 essentials for hiking in this article, but I can’t stress them enough. If you’re ever injured or lost on the trail and in dire straits, you’ll be so glad you packed these items. They only add a few hundred grams to your pack’s weight, but you’ll be prepared for whatever comes your way!

2. Start With Beginner Hikes

One of the most devastating things a beginner hiker can do is take on a trail that’s well above their skill level. Beginners want to start with beginner hikes, meaning you’ll want to stick to trails rated easy or moderate and that don’t require you to do scrambling (getting down on your hands and knees while you navigate rough or rocky terrain).

Sticking with beginner hikes will help you build confidence because you’ll learn the ropes on trails you can conquer without pushing yourself to the brink — and potentially getting injured. Beginner hikes are similar to training. Think of it like this: if you’re training for a marathon, you don’t start out running 26.2 miles on the first day of training.

You’ll build your strength and conditioning up to take on harder trails, I promise. But it will take some time and precision to get better.

3. Find a Group or Hiking Buddy

Hiking for beginners is a lot easier when you’ve got a hiking buddy or a group to tag along with. As I mentioned earlier in this article, hiking buddies can help push you to your limits so you get better and stronger quicker. If you turn an ankle or get injured on the trail, they can go for help. Also, it’s just nice having people to talk to and share a common interest with on the trails!

4. Research Before Hiking

What’s the weather? Do you need a permit for the trail? What kind of clothes should you pack? What’s the terrain or elevation change like? There are so many things to know about trails on an individual basis, and doing your research before setting out can make your hike much smoother and more comfortable.

For instance, the weather could be clear and in the mid-70s at the trailhead, but that same sky could be dropping rain in droves and sending lightning bolts to the ground 2,000 feet of elevation higher.

While beginner hikers typically won’t be going on trails that require permits, there’s always a chance you’ll need one for off-the-beaten-path trails. The last thing you want to do is get your hopes up, drive an hour to the trailhead and then find out a permit is required to hike the trail.

5. Watch for Wildlife

This beginner hiking tip could fall under the research portion, but there’s a little more to it than just researching. You’ll need to be aware of your surroundings and put some of the tactics in place you learned while researching.

For instance, you’ll need to know if you’re hiking in bear territory and, if you are, learn what deters and attracts bears — and know how to properly use bear spray! If you’re in the desert or another place that’s home to rattlesnakes, be aware of that too and watch your step, especially if you need to get off the designated trail.

Are you hiking through thick wilderness in places like the Pacific Northwest, East Coast Mountains or somewhere else in the world? Be aware of the presence of ticks and check yourself for them after your hike.

There are plenty of wildlife critters out there to be aware of, so you need to do your research. The good thing is that most wildlife actively avoids human interaction, and they’re typically more scared of us than we are of them.

6. Learn to Properly Hydrate

Many hikers who are just starting fail to properly hydrate before their hike and don’t bring enough water along with them on their hike. It’s recommended that each hiker carry at least 1 liter of water for every two hours they plan to be on the trail.

I drink a lot of water as it is. I don’t know what it is. I can drink a gallon of water and still feel dehydrated. So I always take more water with me than I think I’ll need, plus I properly hydrate before every hike. I take the equivalent of 1 liter for every 1.5 hours on the trail. On strenuous hikes, I’ll go for 1 liter per hour. It adds weight to my pack, but it’s worth it.

To properly hydrate, drink small sips of water every 30 seconds to a minute for 10 to 30 minutes (depending on your hydration levels). Your body can only process so much water at once without having to secrete the rest with little to no nutritional value. Drinking slowly ensures the majority of water you’re consuming goes into your body and isn’t just secreted.

7. Find Comfortable Hiking Boots

Comfortable hiking boots are extremely important. Period. End of story. You need to buy a pair of comfortable hiking boots that will give you support and hold up for many hikes (or years). It’s always a smart idea to get fitted for hiking boots at the end of a long day on your feet. That way, your feet are swollen and you get a better idea of how much room you actually need in your boots.

8. Leave No Trace

Pack everything you need in your bag and don’t leave any trash on the trail. If you see that others have left trash, try to pick it up and pack it out with you. You’re helping Mother Nature stay clean. You should abide by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics 7 Principles, which gives a guideline for safe, sustainable hiking.

  1. Plan Ahead & Prepare
  2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

9. Practice Hiking Etiquette

If you’ve ever been golfing, you know that course etiquette is important. If you’re not a golfer, think of etiquette in terms of treating others like you’d like to be treated. There are certain things you should and should not do on the trails.

  • Hikers: Hikers going uphill always have the right of way. If you’re going downhill and spot a hiker going uphill, stop and let them pass. If they stop to take a breather, they’re yielding the right of way to you, so you may pass them going down.
  • Bikers: Hikers technically have the right of over mountain bikers, but most hikers give bikers the right of way out of courtesy. When you’re on a bike, you need to balance and it’s annoying to have to stop and start. Plus, they’re much quicker, so it’s better to just let them pass.
  • Horses: Horses always, always, always have the right of way over anyone. If you spot a horse on the trail, especially on hiking/equestrian trails, move clear to the side of the trail and try to stand as still as possible when they pass so you don’t spook them.

10. Learn How to Read a Topographic Map

Learning how to read a topographic map is important as you start graduating to tougher trails that gain a few thousand feet of elevation or traverse scrambling terrain. Topo maps let you visualize what the trails and terrain are like and give you detailed points if you ever get lost on the trail.

11. Slow Down and Enjoy It

Remember, hiking is supposed to be a fun way to reduce stress, live a healthier lifestyle and connect with nature. Hiking isn’t a race to the top. It’s a journey into the unknown and you should enjoy it! Slowing down, taking it all in and realizing that you’re one of the lucky ones who figured out that hiking is an amazing activity is what it’s all about!

Finding Hiking Trails for Beginners

Starting with easy to moderately rated trails is the best tip for how to start hiking. You can find those trails (and the more advanced trails as well) on AllTrails.com. It’s by far the best hiking app out there because it showcases pictures and reviews from actual people who have hiked those trails!

The pictures will show you what to expect for scenery, the distance and difficulty rating will tell you what to expect and the actual reviews will give you insight into what the hike is actually like. I have the pro version, which gives me offline GPS while I’m on the trail and plenty more features.

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