Hiking for Beginners – or – HIKING 101

Hiking gives you the chance to be out in nature and see incredible scenery that you can’t see from a car.  It gives you a chance to be in fresh air, commune with nature and gain a deep respect for the environment.  However, it can be daunting at the beginning.  So, it’s good to know that if you have only just started hiking – or are thinking about doing for the first time – you are not alone. 

HIKING FOR BEGINNERS hikers on mountain trail

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Day Hiking for Beginners

For the longest time, I hated the thought of hiking.  I had been on a few enforced ‘bush walks’ (as hikes are called in Australia) when I was a kid and hated them.  It was hard, hot and boring.  I was unfit and would rather be inside reading a good book. 

Over time, however, I have come to appreciate hiking and while I still love reading a good book, I am happy to be out and get the chance the see this incredible planet up close. I wish that when I started, I had some basic information about hiking for beginners, so I am going to share some tips with you.

If you are just starting out, this beginners guide to hiking will introduce you to some basic hiking etiquette, some hiking essentials beginners shouldn’t leave home without, some great day hikes you can do in national parks in the United States (check here for a list of national parks by state) and around the world, and some books to read to help and inspire you.

You can also check out my general Hiking Guide, which has useful suggestions for things to consider when choosing a hike. 

Hiking Tips for Beginners

If you are you thinking “I want to start hiking” or maybe you are just getting into hiking, before you start hiking, it’s helpful to review some basic hiking tips. 

Here are some helpful hiking guidelines:

1.  Plan ahead

One of the most essential hiking tips beginners often overlook is to plan ahead.  Even easy hikes can become uncomfortable if you haven’t planned right.  Know the hike, know the difficulty level, know what gear to take, etc. 

I like to read blog posts that describe the hike so that I know exactly what is in store for me. Knowing what to expect will not take away that feeling of awe of being surrounded by incredible scenery, but being prepared will help prevent unpleasant surprises. 

2.  Pick the right hike

The best hike is the one that matches your fitness level.  You can push yourself a little, but if you are sore and exhausted, it is difficult to actually enjoy yourself.  There is a myriad of things to consider when choosing a hike and deciding if it is right for you.  I have summarized them in my Hiking Guide for Beginners, which you can read here.

3.  Check the weather

Even an easy hike can become difficult if the weather is not right.  Weather can change quickly, of course, but you should always check to see what is expected.  Some hikes are bad news when the rock is wet or icy.  Others are ill-advised if the sun is beaming down and it’s 110°F.  Always check and be prepared to postpone your hike if inclement weather is expected.

4.  Know the area

Part of your research will teach you more about the area of the hike. What is the terrain like?  How is the trail marked?  Do you need a map or is it easy to follow?  Many trails are marked by signs, logs, cairns or trail blazes.  Knowing this (and having a map, if necessary) beforehand will make the hike easier. 

5.  Learn to read trail blazes/ markers

The word “trail blaze” is used to describe something that helps mark a trail.  Sometimes trails, especially very easy ones, are obvious, with a clear path.  However, there are often times when the trail is not super clear and this is where trail blazes come in.  There are different systems used around the world, but in the United States and Canada, there are seven common methods used.  Knowing them and how to use them is essential if you on trails that have them.

If you aren’t familiar with trail blazes, read my post on How to Read Trail Markers.

6.  Tell someone where you are

Some trails will require you to register before you go.  This is most common with more advanced trails.  However, even if you are just going on an easy trail, you should always tell somewhere where and when you are going, with a detailed itinerary, and then tell them again when you are back.  Things don’t often go wrong, especially on easy hikes, but this doesn’t mean that things can’t go wrong.  There is always a possibility, so you should always plan for it, just in case.   Register with a national park office or tell a friend or family member. 

You can also leave a note with your plans inside your vehicle, if you are parked near a Trailhead (out of sight, so thieves can’t see it).  Then if things do go awry, search-and-rescue people can get into your vehicle and find it easily. 

7.  Protect yourself from bugs

Some of the hiking basics for beginners include protecting yourself adequately from the elements.  If you are hiking in the woods, rainforest, jungle, bush, etc. then there will be bugs.   You do not want to be eaten alive by bugs, so make sure you have adequate bug spray/ insect repellent.

When it comes to bug spray, there are two main categories – with DEET and without DEET.

DEET is a chemical that is strong and will repel most insects.  It is, however, somewhat toxic and can burn your skin and isn’t great for the environment.  If you are going into a jungle and want to make sure you don’t get malaria or something else from bugs, then I would use a bug spray with DEET.  

You can buy Repel with DEET here on Amazon.

If you don’t need anything too heavy duty, then I would go with a non-DEET version.

You can get a Skyorganics bug spray here on Amazon that is DEET-free and organic.

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8.  Protect yourself from the sun

Never underestimate the power of the sun.

You should, of course, always have a good sunscreen. I like Banana Boat sport because it stays on when I sweat and doesn’t hurt my eyes.

You can get some on Amazon here if you need it.

If I am hiking in the sun for any time at all, I also wear a sun hat (I hate wearing hats, but I hate being sunburned more).

I like this one because it can get wet and still keep its shape and it has a mesh panel to help keep your head cool.  You can buy it here in Amazon.

9.  Stay hydrated

Always take water with you, even for a short hike.  Always take more water than you think you will need. 

I carry two water bottles with me (and sometimes three for long hikes), as I drink a lot.  You do NOT want to get dehydrated.

I like the Que collapsible bottles, because they get smaller when you aren’t using them, so they take up less space in your luggage.

Check out the Que water bottles on Amazon here.

I don’t recommend drinking water out of a stream without filtering it first – the water may seem clean, but you don’t know if there is a decaying animal lying in it just upstream, sending germs down to you. (Though obviously if your choice is between dehydration and drinking water from a river, then choose to stay hydrated and take the chance).  It is better, however, not to have to take the chance.  Therefore, for longer hikes, you may want to consider a water filtration system.

This Life Straw personal water filter (check it out on Amazon here) is fairly small and light, so it’s easy to put in your bag.

10.  Keep your energy up

Hiking can take more energy than you think.  Even on flat trails, there is often more up and down than you think.  Your feet are often landing at uneven angles and your body is having to adjust constantly.  You are also out in weather that often drains your energy.

It is extremely important to keep your energy up the entire time so that you don’t struggle at the end of the hike.  This is why you should take some kind of trail mix with you, in addition to lunch, if you are going to be hiking throughout the day.

The best trail mix for you depends on your taste.  Check out a range of options on Amazon here.

11.  Wear the right gear

This is extremely important.  The wrong shoes or clothing can make the difference between a great time and a miserable time.  Check out my guide for hiking gear beginners need here.

12.  Leave No Trace

This is a no brainer, but let’s say it anyway. You should leave no trace at all that you were out in nature.  Take every piece of rubbish back with you.  I like to take an empty Ziplock bag and out my trash in it.  This includes organic matter such as orange peel.  It may be biodegradable, but it isn’t part of the native ecosystems, so you shouldn’t leave it behind.

13.  Stay on the trail

It can be tempting to go off trail and explore regions that others haven’t.  But trails exist for a reason.  They enable us to be out in nature while minimizing our impact on often fragile environments.  When you go off trail, you are trampling on plants or other living species that may be extremely fragile, rare, indigenous to the area, slow-growing and/ or important to the ecosystem.  You may also be encountering some hidden danger that you weren’t aware of.  You should always stay on the trail.

14.  Pace yourself

Make sure you have plenty of time, so that you don’t need to rush.  Take your time and enjoy the surroundings.  If you rush, you risk overdoing it and then the past part of the hike can be miserable, with your muscles aching, you feeling faint and exhausted, or worse. 

When I hiked the Bright Angel Trail out of Grand Canyon, a twenty-year old in our group hiked it as quickly as he possibly could.  Yes, he finished the hike much more quickly than any of us, but when I saw him that night, he looked ROUGH.  Whereas I, who was much older and less fit, felt fine.  Plus, I figured – what was the rush?  I wanted to enjoy my time in the canyon.  I stopped frequently to take a million photos and enjoy the ever-changing view.  So stop, slow down and enjoy the journey and not just the destination.

15.  Know some basic hiker etiquette

Yes, there is etiquette that hikers should follow.   Read my post on Hiking Etiquette for Beginners.

Hiking Gear for Beginners

Hiking equipment for beginners doesn’t need to include lots of technical things like GPS systems, etc. unless you plan to start immediately with advanced hikes (which I don’t recommend).  However, there is still some essential hiking gear for beginners that you should take with you. 

Check out my list of the Best Hiking Gear for Beginners here.

Travel Insurance

The vast majority of times, nothing will happen when you are hiking, if you are sensible, prepare, have appropriate gear, watch the weather and stay on the trail.  However, you are walking on uneven ground, weather can change unexpectedly, and other things can happen.  It’s important not be paranoid, but it’s equally important to be prepared.  And that means having travel insurance that will cover you.  Being emergency lifted out can be crazy expensive, and even if you get yourself out and then end up in hospital, you don’t want to be slapped with a huge medical bill.

Travel insurance comes in all shapes and sizes.  For the lowdown on what to look for when choosing travel insurance, read my Guide to Travel Insurance.  Check out World Nomad’s insurance and coverage (it covers most hiking-related events, but check the fine-print for your own hike).

 

Best Hikes for Beginners

A Beginners Walking Guide wouldn’t be complete without some fun hiking trips for beginners.  My favorite easy-moderate day hikes include:

Bryce Canyon, USA:  Bryce Canyon is filled with large sandstone pillars called hoodoos.  Hiking down into the canyon among the hoodoos involves some elevation change, but the trails are wide and easy to follow.  A moderate level of fitness is needed because of the elevation change.  Read my post on hikes in Bryce Canyon here.

Sequoia National Park, USA:  Sequoias are the tallest trees on earth and being amongst them makes you feel awed and insignificant at the same time.  There are easy hiking trails for beginners on wide, fairly flat paths past the tallest of them all.  My favorite is the Congress Trail (read about it here).

Grand Teton National Park, USA: The Grand Teton mountain range is most often seen from the plains nearby.  However, the hike into Cascade Canyon takes you up close and personal with incredible scenery.  There’s an elevation change at the beginning and end, but most of the hike is flat – alongside a river, surrounded by craggy peaks and with good chances of seeing moose.  Read about the Cascade Canyon hike here.

Portofino-San Fruttuoso, Italy: After taking a boat to picturesque Portofino, hike up into the hills, then alongside the sparkling blue Mediterranean before descending along a switchback down to tiny San Fruttuoso Bay, where you can have lunch and relax on the beach for the afternoon.  Although the hike has a steep elevation change at the beginning and end, it is a great hiking trail for beginners because most of it is flat. Read about the Portofino-San Fruttuoso hike here.

Acadia National Park, USA: With plenty of hills, woods and islands, Acadia is a beautiful place to go hiking, and it has some of the best hiking trails for beginners.  Some of the more famous like the Beehive and Precipice are not good for beginner hikers, as they have technical elements such as iron rungs permanently attached to cliffs that you need to climb.  But you can get to the same view via easier routes along the Bowl and Beachcroft paths.  Plus, there are loads of other great day hikes to do. Check out several hikes in Acadia National Park here.

Danum Valley, Borneo (Malaysia): Take guided hikes through virgin jungle in the heart of Borneo.  Chances are good to see orangutans and red leaf monkeys, hornbills and other exotic birds, and more.  Visit a waterfall and have tiny fish nibble your feet in shallow water.  Most of the hikes are not that hard (though one of them has a drop off on one side) and there is a guide the whole way, but the jungle is steamy and there are leeches (wear leech socks!). Read about these hikes from Borneo Rainforest Lodge here.

More challenging day hikes

If you are fairly fit, then there are some other day hikes to consider:

French Valley, Torres del Paine, Chile: This park is the jewel of Patagonia and this hike – in good weather – is the best of the best.  The first part is gentle up and down with stunning views of the Cuernos del Paine in front.  Then it climbs steeply into French Valley to a lookout with breathtaking views of French Glacier, Grand Paine and bright aqua alpine lakes.  Read about the French Valley hike here.

Arches National Park, USA: There are plenty of easy hikes in Arches National Park, but the longest, hardest and arguably the best is the Devil’s Garden hike.  Featuring eight arches and the stunning Fin Canyon, this six+-hour hike is fantastic fun, but does involve some sections that you will not want to traverse if you have a fear of heights.  Read about the Devil’s Garden hike here.

Grand Canyon National Park, USA: There are easy hikes along the rim of Grand Canyon, but there is nothing like going below the rim and being surrounded by the towering walls of the canyon.  The Bright Angel Trail from the south rim to the Colorado River far below is a challenging hike, but you can do just part of it and still get the ‘below-the-rim’ experience.  Read all about the Bright Angel Trail here.

Zion National Park, USA: There are several famous hikes in this park, but perhaps the most famous is the Narrows, which involves hiking IN a river (flowing knee- to thigh-high water) in a narrow slot canyon.  Make sure you wear appropriate gear for the water temperature and have a stick to help stabilize you.  It’s awesome fun, but check the weather before you go.  Read all about the Narrows hike here.

Best Hiking Books for Beginners

Hiking for Beginners

This hiking for beginners book is a nice introduction to hiking.  Includes tips for choosing a safe trail, what to take with you, first aid, etc.

Buy Hiking for Beginners on Amazon

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Backpacking and Hiking

A comprehensive overview of all aspects of hiking from day hikes, to overnight hikes, including gear, safety, how to get fit and more.

Buy The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Backpacking and Hiking on Amazon

100 Parks, 5,000 Ideas: Where to Go, When to Go, What to See, What to Do

This one is for inspiration.  Featuring parks in North America, it is bound to get your wanderlust firing and give you plenty of ideas on places to hike.

Buy 100 Parks, 5000 Ideas on Amazon

Happy hiking!

Do you have any favorite hikes or tips to share? I’d love to hear them. Comment below. 

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