Are you looking for an enjoyable way to incorporate regular exercise into your life? Do you need more opportunities to recharge your mental batteries? Do you love to immerse yourself in nature?
If you answered “yes” to these questions, now is the time to give hiking a try. This outdoor activity not only imparts a variety of physical and mental benefits, but it’s fun, offers stunning scenery, and is easily accessible to beginners. To help you get started and make the most of your first foray into the wonderful world of hiking, here are some of the most important tips to follow before you hit the trail.
Choose the right hike for your level.
Perhaps the most important hiking tip for beginners is not to overdo things when starting out. For your first hike, it’s usually a good idea to choose a trail that is under 5 miles and involves minimal climbing. If that distance and terrain don’t cause you any difficulty, you can gradually build up to longer, steeper hikes as you get more experienced. Also, if you’re feeling uncertain about how you’ll handle those initial hikes, think about going with a friend or a hiking group so you’ll have some extra support.
Know where you’re going.
Once you’ve chosen your hike, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with both the trail and the area. Check out maps of the hike, read any trail guides or reviews you can find (these resources are often available online), and get a sense of how long the hike should take you and whether there are any special features you should know about.
Tell someone about your plans.
Never set off on a hike, even a short or easy one, without letting someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back. This is an essential safety step, and it can make all the difference if something unexpected happens on the trail. Make sure your emergency contact person knows who they should call for help and when. Note that this “worry time” should be later than your planned finish time to take into account factors like a slower than expected pace or more break time to enjoy the scenery.
Pack the essentials.
You don’t need a lot of fancy gear or equipment to enjoy hiking, but there are certain things that you should always carry with you on any trail to ensure your comfort and safety. Many online resources refer to these “10 essentials”: a map and compass for navigation; sunglasses and sunscreen; extra clothing; a headlamp or flashlight; basic first aid supplies; matches or a lighter so you can start a fire; basic tools (a Swiss army knife is a great option); extra food; extra water; and some form of emergency shelter.
Check the weather.
Always check the weather the day before your hike, as well as in the morning before setting off (checking more than once is important because conditions can change very quickly, especially in mountainous areas). This will not only help you figure out what to wear and how to pack, but it will also allow you to change plans or postpone your hike if conditions don’t look good.
Whatever the weather, dressing in layers is key to hiking comfortably. This allows you to easily add layers if you feel too cold, or remove them if you warm up. It’s usually a good idea to avoid cotton clothing as it tends to get damp and clammy quickly; instead, opt for breathable synthetic fabrics. In addition, as per the packing list of essentials described, make sure you take along one more warm layer than you think you’ll need, just in case.
Not taking or drinking enough water is a common mistake among beginner hikers. A helpful rule of thumb is to carry about 1 liter of water for every two hours of hiking (though, of course, you’ll need more in hot weather or on challenging terrain). And don’t forget to drink the water that you bring! Don’t wait until you feel thirsty; instead, stop for a drink at regular intervals to prevent dehydration.
There’s no need to treat a hike like a race, especially if you’re a beginner. Stick to a moderate pace. You should easily be able to carry on a conversation while hiking without feeling short of breath. Also, take a short break at least every hour to give your legs a rest.
Leave no trace.
Treating the hike and other hikers with respect is perhaps the most important hiking rule you’ll need to follow. Essentially, this means leaving no trace of your presence on the hike; in other words, don’t leave any litter behind (carry your trash back home with you, even organic material like banana peels or apple cores), don’t stray off the trail, and don’t disturb the environment around you by breaking branches or stepping on flowers.