If you love hiking or want to start hiking in 2023, I have written a guide that will help beginners get on the trail.
Where do you start, what gear do you need to buy, and what safety precautions should you take? These are the questions that are likely to run through your mind. Don’t worry, I will answer them for you and give you all the hiking tips you need in this Day Hiking for Beginners Guide.
What Is Hiking?
If you want the simple definition, then hiking is when you take long walks over hiking trails, on unmarked land, or cross country. This description is rather vague and might lead you to wonder what the point is.
In reality, hiking is when you take long-distance walks around breathtaking scenery or through isolated locations. Sometimes these hikes are intense and require practice runs before compilation, and others are more relaxing and slow-paced as you enjoy the natural world around you.
In general, you might expect to break a sweat, but the view and the quiet are why most people hike.
Normally, you can expect your trip to last for half a day, but sometimes people will hike for weeks or months on an expedition of a lifetime. These longer trips allow you to take in the wilderness at a slow pace, explore cultures and towns as you make pit stops on the way, and reconnect to the enjoyment of discovery. This guide is aimed at hiking for beginners, mainly shorter day hikes. These overnight or longer trips are covered in more detail in the Backpacking for Beginners Guide.
Hiking is a form of exercise, and if you take a half-day slow walk or a month-long mountain climb, you will feel your body stretch its limbs and earn its food.
You might think that jogging, running, cycling, or other exercise enjoy the same scenic pleasure, but in reality, they cannot appreciate their surroundings in the same way. Moving fast defeats the object of a hike.
The Benefits Of Hiking
Hiking has a lot of benefits, including reducing your body fat, strengthening your muscles, keeping your brain active, and improving mental health. Sometimes being outdoors is all you need to improve your quality of life.
Keeps Your Brain Active
Hiking forces you to move around and look at your surroundings. These new images in your mind keep the brain active as it digests the new data and stores it. The simple act of seeing something new is enough to engage your thinking.
However, looking at a map and comparing the information to the landscape around you is another way in which your brain’s health will improve. As you move around, your brain will map the location it is walking through to help you return later. It will catalog the data and predict your next move so you don’t get lost.
Research has proven time and time again that being in the wilderness is a fantastic way to reduce stress and anxiety. The therapeutic release of endorphins, after walking around greenery and through natural landscapes, can reduce the risk of depression by almost 20%. These results are only true when you don’t encounter dangers on your hike. As long as you follow the advice below, you will be happy, healthy, and stress-free because of your walk!
Reducing Body Fat
Hiking can help you lose weight due to the slow-releasing calories you will burn throughout the day. If you were to run or participate in an activity that requires fast-releasing energy, you would burn through the calories you have recently digested. However, if you are on a slow-moving activity, where you don’t need a quick release, then your body will burn your body fat.
This way, you will lose fat in your body and not just burn through your morning breakfast.
I can attest to this being true. When I thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail I lost 33lb / 15kg over 5 months of hiking.
Reducing The Risk of Disease
All types of exercises are great at reducing the risk of disease due to their weight loss abilities and the reduction in hormone levels. For example, cancer researchers found that exercising caused the hormone estrogen to move around the body less. This hormone normally sends messages to the body asking for more production. If the cells are told to do this action too often, they will divide too much and grow out of control. This is the main factor in cancer.
Exercising levels the body and redirects your hormones to their appropriate needs, like switching a computer off and on again.
Strengthening Your Bones
Because hiking is a low-impact exercise, your joints and bones will not be harmed or overworked on the journey. Your bones will naturally become weaker as you age, which is why low-impact activities throughout your life can keep you strong. If you start off with strong bones, the deterioration won’t affect you too much, and if you notice a decrease in bone strength, starting hiking will strengthen the bone density you have left.
Being outdoors will also increase your vitamin D intake, which means that your body will get the nutrients it needs just by being in the sun.
Toning Your Muscles
Although hiking is a low-impact activity, the long day’s walk will slowly build on your muscles. Specifically, your calves, quadriceps, and hamstrings muscles (all of which are around your legs) will constantly be moving and working throughout the day. This will give your legs an improved definition! Although on your first hike you will probably feel sore as you may have discovered muscles you haven’t used for a while. As your fitness level increases the sore muscles will become less and less.
The Types Of Hiking
Speaking in general terms, there are three types of hiking. Each consists of at least a couple of hours of walking and can be on a pre-made trail or the open landscape.
It is rare that you’ll need to know which is which, but if you are following a new trail and they don’t give you a lot of information about the hike, it might be helpful to understand the brief terminology they do provide.
Because hiking is a casual activity, it’s unlikely that you’ll find gatekeepers blocking your path and demanding you know which of the three types you are currently on before allowing you to pass, but it can be helpful to understand what kind of snacks you will need, what type of gear you should bring and if you have the time to complete the trail.
1. Day Hiking
As the name suggests, day hiking is a trip that doesn’t last longer than a day and doesn’t venture into the twilight hours. These walks can last anywhere from an hour to the whole day and can be simple walks through the woods or hiking up mountains. This article is primarily focused on Day Hiking.
Some day hikes will come with tours, others with handy maps and coffee shops along the way. The style of terrain for day hiking is vast, as it only refers to the length of time.
Some of these hiking trails will end where you started, in a nice circular hiking route, and others will require you to turn around or book a hotel for the night. Whichever path you take, make sure you plan your adventure in advance.
A Day hike is perfect for hiking beginners. Start off with your first hike as a journey that lasts only a couple of hours, so your leg muscles can get used to the workout. As you get stronger, you can go for longer and become more adventurous with your choices.
2. Trekking or Backpacking
Trekking is a hike that lasts multiple days, and you carry your gear with you. You need a tent, all your food, and a map so that you can wild camp along your journey. These types of hikes are popular where wild camping is legal.
These backpacking adventures can last for just one night or for months on end!
People who take on these challenges often have a goal in mind. Maybe they want to make a pilgrimage like someone from their ancestry, maybe they aim to climb all the mountains in their area, perhaps a movie was made nearby, and they want to follow the same trail as the characters. Whatever the reason, the sense of accomplishment when the track is completed is worth more than anything!
These goal-oriented hikes are soul-affirming, as you manage to hike a trail that most couldn’t.
When you start off on a day hike, these types of adventures will be too difficult, but as you get more confident and knowledgeable, you too can walk through the wilderness.
3. Thru Hiking
Thru-Hiking is a very common American take on the two styles above. Thru-Hiking is a multi-week or multi-month hiking trip that requires resupply along the way.
Another word for thru-hiking is “end-to-end” hiking. You pick your thru-hiking trail, plan your route and resupply option, and set off on your multi-week trip.
There are hundreds of official hikes like this across the globe, including the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the Great Divide Trail in Canada, and The Pacific Crest Trail in the United States. These long-established routes will have camping sites, log cabins, and hotels along the way.
Walking through different towns and enjoying the world in the slow lane allows you to notice the small changes along the way.
How To Choose A Beginner Hiking Trail
With technology at our fingertips, you would think a quick internet search should show you the best hiking trail for a beginner, but our search engines have not figured out how to send us this information yet. Instead, you will have to rely on your friends, local hiking groups, the online community, and a couple of choice apps.
Listen To The Community
If you talk to your friends, family, hiking groups, or the online community, you will get reviews from real people and their experiences with hiking trails. They give you hiking tips that you couldn’t tell from a picture. For example, one path might look great on paper but actually has a surprisingly steep incline making it difficult for an experienced hiker, let alone a beginner. Or they could suggest avoiding a location on the weekend because it is always packed.
These local hiking tips can help you navigate the right hiking trail around you, and you can ask the questions that matter the most to you. As a beginner hiker, I joined a local hiking group and went out with experienced hikers. I learned a lot in a safe environment. Do a google search for local hiking clubs in your area. Hiking clubs can be a good way to find hiking buddies.
They will also teach you about important things such as hiking trail etiquette. There are many things to learn about trail etiquette such as not playing loud music when hiking and more. Hiking etiquette also involves learning that if you are on a shared trail with horses and people mountain biking you learn to give way to people on horses and mountain bikers should give way to hikers. You should also learn about the Leave No Trace Principles.
Look Out For The Elevation
If you are given a leaflet about a trail, found it online, or are using an app, check out the elevation gain of the path before you step out on your journey. The elevation gain is the measurement of the high points and low points on your route.
As a beginner, you will want a route with very little elevation gain, so you can have a nice and flat journey with minimal climbing. As your body strengthens, you move on from beginner hiking trails with more gradient changes, but for now, you want to have fun and not pick something too strenuous.
Ideally, go for something that is around 5 miles long, with little to no elevation gain.
Look For For The Weather
When you have picked out your hiking route, be sure to check the weather forecast on the day of your hike. Beginner hikers should travel on sunny days with a gentle breeze; that way, you stay warm but won’t get heatstroke. Until you are confident and comfortable on the trail you have chosen, you should avoid days with strong winds, heavy rain, and even light snowfall.
If you do go out on a drizzly day, be sure to take a raincoat to keep you dry. If you hike on a sunny day, bring sunscreen and water so you stay protected. We discuss safety gear more below, but the weather should be an indicator of what type of protection you may need.
Are There Warnings About The Hike?
Some hiking trails will explicitly say not to travel during the winter. Maybe the area is likely to flood, or perhaps ice gets trapped in the middle of the path. Look at the details around the trail and search for their warnings.
Do You Need A Permit?
Some walking trails are private, protected, or have legislation tied to it. This doesn’t mean your hiking dream is over, but you may need to pay for a permit to join in with the landscape. These permits often pay for the upkeep of the natural environment, keeping it safe and clean. In more dangerous locations, these permits are used to help find lost hikers. We advise that you avoid these types of hikes until you learn the basics. National Park Websites can advise on permits, weather, and trail conditions.
Use A Hiking App
Lastly, a great way to figure out if a trail is good for you is to use a hiking app. There are thousands available, most of which are free. These apps often have online maps, so you can follow the path if you get lost. They have online communities that can help you decide your difficulty level, and they give you the facts about the elevation gain, so you don’t need to do the math. Some also have a hiking guide or allow you to print out a hiking guide for the area you plan to visit.
How To Physically Prepare For A Hike
Training for a hike can be a great idea if you plan on pushing yourself further, like climbing a mountain, or if you’re new to exercise in general and don’t want to be worn out before you start.
Cardio is an important workout for endurance-based exercise. Because hikes last for hours at least, you may want to start off your training by walking more than you’re used to.
Add half an hour or more to your daily walking habits, and increase the number until you think you can match your hiking time. Be sure to mix in different elevations, so your calves get the workout they need too. The natural world will not be as flat as your treadmill, so add gradient shifts to make the training more realistic.
Work On Your Core
Although your legs will get the biggest workout on a hike, you cannot ignore your core! Many beginner hikers forget that you need your core to pull yourself up hills and balance your backpack. We suggest taking a backpack on your walks to adjust your body’s expectations.
Also, try doing some crunch workouts in the gym or by following a Youtube channel. We expect your first couple of hikes will be a little tame, so you probably don’t need to struggle too hard in this department, but remember that no core workout at all will likely leave you wanting to turn back and go home.
Hiking is a workout on its own, and just like any exercise, you will need to stretch your muscles so they can recover afterward. You will need to stretch your whole body as every muscle will be used on your hike. You can find 20-minute stretching videos on Youtube if you’re struggling for inspiration.
Walk Easier Hikes
When you are doing you hiking planning and you plan on tackling a strenuous hike and want to make sure you can reach the top without your body demanding you turn back, then practice on the weeks leading up to the adventure by walking easier hikes.
Doing small hikes often will give your body the workout it needs to prepare for more challenging locations!
Hiking Checklist for Beginners
What To Take With You
Having the right equipment might seem like an overwhelming problem, but you don’t need to buy the whole store! There are just a couple of hiking essentials and hiking clothing you need to put in your backpack!
First, you should try and get one of the Best Day Hiking Daypacks. Ideally, it should be the length of your back with bottle holders on the sides and plenty of room in the middle. The day pack is the first item of essential hiking gear you need to carry all your stuff. Aim for comfort when choosing your day hiking day pack.
If the darkness rolls in earlier than you expected, then a Lightweight Backpacking Headlamp can help you continue on the path until you find a place to rest. The headlamps free up your hands as the light is wrapped around your forehead, but as long as you have a source of light, you will be okay.
3. Sunscreen and a Sun Hat
Most of the time, you will be hiking during the day, and although sunny weather is more pleasurable than rain, it doesn’t come without trouble. You will need sun protection. If you have sunscreen and a hiking hat to protect you from getting burnt or developing heatstroke. With proper sun protection, you are one step closer to a healthy trip.
4. First Aid Kit
For every 2 people, there should be 1 first aid kit. These first aid kits are considered hiking essentials. They can contain band-aids, antiseptic wipes, bandages, and other small health aids to stop you from getting an infection while in the wilderness. The most common illness or injury involves blisters. So be sure to know how to treat blisters. Hopefully, you will never need to use the equipment, but if you do, it’s better to have it on hand. You should also bring toilet paper and a method to bury or dispose of your waste.
5. Offline Navigation
If you are using an app, Google Maps, or a classic hiking compass, you need a way to travel on your hike without the internet. Many walks don’t have internet access, so you shouldn’t rely on the service to show you the way. Instead, prepare for an offline experience and make sure you understand your navigation tools before you set out. You might even consider a GPS Hiking Watch or Handheld GPS Unit.
6. Knife, Fire, Shelter, and Duct Tape
If you get stuck in the woods, you need to have a backup plan. Most hikes will not force you into this dramatic issue, and if you only expect to be walking for a couple of hours, you may never need to use this equipment. However, if the worst does happen, you need to make sure that you can settle for the night and try again in the morning.
Firestarters will keep you warm, a knife can help you cut up twigs for burning, duck tape can repair your gear, and a lightweight emergency bivvy is all you need for a temporary shelter.
Keep these items at the bottom of your bag because if you need them, you will be already settling for the evening.
7. Extra Food, Water, and Clothes
If the hike burns more of your morning breakfast than you thought, then you will need some sustenance to power you through to the end of the journey. There is no shame in eating as you walk, so put some travel bars in your backpack in case you get peckish. If you don’t eat enough, you may end up passing out, so don’t push your hunger to one side.
Water is the most important thing you need to take with you. You should be drinking 3000 ml of water a day anyway, but on a hike in the sun, you may need more. So much will depend on the trail conditions. Pack as much water as you can reasonably carry, and remember to take breaks to let the body soak in the nutrients.
A hydration bladder is a good way to carry water inside your pack. Or look for a water bottle with a filter so you can always drink clean water. I also like to carry some water tablets to water purification tablets if needed.
A cold front can come from nowhere, so taking an extra jacket or a new pair of sockets is always a must. If you end up walking in a puddle, you need to make sure your feet get dry; otherwise, you will end up with blisters. Replacing wet clothes is an important safety tip.
What To Wear for Beginner Hikers
Although you might be climbing up a height, you will need light and breathable clothing more than thick layers. It will be better to bring an extra jacket to keep warm later on, rather than wearing thick tops and pants to start with.
1. Breathable Tops
Breathable tops don’t have to be expensive or filled with the latest fabric technology. It can be a cheap workout top you can find at any store. You just want to avoid fabrics like cotton, which still absorb your sweat. If the top absorbs your sweat, it will become cold and heavy as you hike, adding more pressure to your carrying capacity and possibly making you ill or give you a rash. Take a look at some of the Best Hiking Shirts and Best Base Layers for hiking.
2. Lightweight pants
Some people prefer Lightweight Hiking Shorts, others leggings, but you want Lightweight Hiking Pants that are comfortable to walk long distances in and won’t weigh you down. Jeans should be avoided at all costs.
Some people would suggest avoiding shorts, too, as you will leave your legs open to poison ivy or bramble cuts, but depending on the trail, that might not be an issue.
3. Rain Jacket
Ideally, you should have a Lightweight Rain Jacket that can be packed into a small size and stored in your backpack. If a rain cloud comes over you while you walk, this will keep you safe. I also like the latest Lightweight Hiking Umbrellas. They are not only lightweight but strong enough in most situations except for the strong wind. I started hiking with them a few years ago and love them.
4. Fleece Jacket
Fleece jackets create breathable warmth for cold hikes. The Fleece Jackets for Hiking are the perfect jacket to take with you, and you can tie them around your waist when you don’t need them. Fleece jackets and Mid Layers are worth carrying but not absolutely essental for all hiking trips.
5. Hiking Footwear
Any hiking shoe with a good grip on the bottom can be used for hiking but hiking footwear is generally more technical and better quality.
When you do buy Lightweight Waterproof Hiking Boots, make sure to wear them before hiking to avoid blisters when hiking. Most provide good support for your ankles and as a beginner hiker, you should opt for a pair of lightweight hiking boots. When you start hiking there is no need to buy very heavy boots.
Some people prefer Lightweight Hiking Shoes. Hiking shoes are very similar to hiking boots. Hiking Shoes have the same good quality tread for grip on all surfaces but they are lower in height and don’t cover the ankles. If you don’t have weak ankles they are usually a better option for a lot of people.
If you are new to hiking and don’t want to spend tons of money on new equipment, you can opt for Trail Running Shoes for Hiking as they have good traction. Trail running shoes are a very good first option because you will be following easier routes as a beginner hiker. You shouldn’t need hardcore boots for a while.
If you are planning winter hiking in very cold weather, take a look at Winter Hiking Boots. These insulated boots keep your feet warm when hiking in snow and temperatures well below freezing, some of the good ones will keep your feet warm in temperatures down to -40F / -40C. These are very specific for cold weather trail conditions.
6. Hiking Socks
Don’t forget a good pair of Hiking Socks. A good quality pair of hiking socks are so much better than a pair of cheap cotton socks that you might wear at home.
When hiking in very muddy or wet areas there are also Waterproof Hiking Socks, but as a beginner hiker, I would not recommend them until you have a bit more experience on easier hiking trails.
7. Trekking Poles
A good pair of Lightweight Trekking Poles will assist you when day hiking. When I first started using trekking poles I felt clumsy and awkward. Using these walking poles is something new to understand.
Overall, they will take some of the weight off your ankles, knees, and hips which will reduce fatigue over the course of a day hike.
Staying Safe While Hiking
If you have followed the advice so far, you are on your way to a safe hiking experience. You have an offline map to guide you on your trip, you have chosen a trail that matches your walking skills, and you have food, water, and shelter emergency kits readily available in your backpack. You are going great.
There are just a couple of extra things you need to do.
1. Keep Your First Aid Kit Up To Date
I mentioned first aid kits already, but before you start the hike, double-check your gear is up to date. If you used a band-aid on your previous trip, make sure that it is replaced.
2. Tell A Friend Where You Are Going And When You’ll Get Back
If something goes wrong, someone needs to know where you are. Give a trusted person all the details of your trip. This includes the map you are following, the food and water you have taken with you, and when you expect to get back. This way, if you don’t get back on time, your friend can tell the local rangers that something is wrong.
They will know how much food you have with you, and therefore how much time they have to find you. If your trail is 2 hours long in total, you shouldn’t be 5 hours late.
3. Put Your Details In Your Car
Everything you told your friend should also be available in your car. The local rangers will notice when a vehicle has been parked for too long and will use it as a sign that someone has gone missing. If you have a little bag of information on the passenger’s seat small enough to not warrant a thief’s interest but big enough to be noticed by someone worried, then they might break into your car to find this life-saving information.
4. Make Sure The Offline Map Is Accessible
Some may tell you that a picture of your map on your phone is enough, but unless you have a solar-paneled phone charger or a Power Bank for Backpacking, you run the risk of running out of battery. I suggest you have a paper copy of the map too, so you can always find your way home. Consider taking an Emergency Hiking Beacon to alert authorities if you need help.
Hiking is a fantastic experience, so don’t let these safety worries and equipment lists put you off. Once you wrap your head around these issues, you’ll remember them time and time again. I hope I have given you enough information to start hiking.
Need some advice on Hiking Gear? Take a look at all the Best Hiking Gear Reviews on the web.