How to Start Hiking For Beginners – Tips and Gear for Your First Hike

If you are wondering how to start hiking, I’ve put together these tips on hiking for beginners to make sure your first hikes are both enjoyable and safe. With these beginner hiking tips, I’ll help you to master the fundamentals of hiking and get you ready to embark on your first adventure! 

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This is a guest post by Mikaela from Voyageur Tripper

Benefits of Hiking

If you’ve never been hiking before, you might not realise just how amazing it is.  There are many benefits of hiking that beginners can enjoy just as much as experienced hikers.  As well as a method to get in shape, hiking is also a way to challenge yourself and to explore nature in its purest form.

Hiking is a terrific outdoor activity for everyone because it is (usually) free and accessible to people of all physical levels.  Even hiking for a couple of hours can help you to feel more relaxed, energised and with an improved mood.

If you are prepared, hiking can be done in all weathers but in comparison to walking on a treadmill or paved route, hiking has some additional considerations you’ll want to be mindful of.  With these beginner hiking tips, you’ll be ready for your first hike in no time!   

Woman with her back to the camera looking out at mountains from the peak of a hiking trail
Getting outdoors brings a host of benefits

Hiking for Beginners on a Budget

The great thing about starting hiking is that you don’t need any additional equipment; you can probably get by with what you already own. Start off with the basics and gradually add more hiking equipment as you gain more experience. 

Hiking Gear for Beginners

These are the basics that you will need to begin hiking and to be comfortable and safe while you’re doing it!

Appropriate Footwear

Keep your attention on your feet. Good footwear is usually the most important piece of gear you’ll need. Your footwear should be comfortable, give traction on various conditions from powder dry to muddy and endure for a respectable amount of time.

On shorter and low elevation hikes, you can usually get away with running shoes. As you advance to more challenging hikes, consider trail shoes or hiking boots. For specific tips on buying your first pair of hiking boots, read this post.

Blisters (and the resulting misery) in hiking will result from poorly fitted shoes and damp sweaty socks. Avoid blisters by breaking in new shoes before your trip and wearing wool socks with cushioning.

Happy Feet on the Trail - View of a pair of feet in hiking boots against beautiful mountain scenery
Happy Feet on the Trail | Credit: Voyageur Tripper

A Backpack

When you first start hiking, any backpack will do. But as you take longer treks, you’ll want something with more back support and functionality. Before you go out and buy a new pack, borrow one from a friend or rent one from a local store or club if that option is available.

If you’re going to buy a new pack, check out a few different weighted packs. Take a 10-15 minute walk around the store while wearing the pack to evaluate what feels comfortable. Packs are typically sized according to your torso length and waist size, and their capacity varies.

Buy your pack last to accommodate the equipment you’ll be carrying. Why carry a large, half-empty pack when a smaller, lighter bag with the right capacity suffices? It takes a little practice to figure out how much capacity you’ll need.

If you get obsessed (like me), you’ll probably end up with multiple packs based on the varied types of trekking you do. Consider obtaining a daypack as a starting point for beginners conducting short walks.

Clothes for Hiking

Dress appropriately for the weather. Wear whatever is most comfortable, but keep in mind the weather forecast so you can stay at the perfect temperature. Pack several layers of clothing. Avoid wearing jeans and cotton while hiking because they won’t keep you warm if they get wet or if the weather is cold.

Hiking Gear for Beginners You Might Need - Flatlay image of various hiking equipment including a backpack, trekking poles and other items
Hiking Gear for Beginners You Might Need | Credit: Voyageur Tripper

Hiking Poles

Hiking poles can be a big support to beginner hikers, especially if you are not used to steep ascents or descents as you hike. Some hikers believe they are either superfluous, good to have, or vital for serious trekking. They’re vital if your knees hurt a lot on steep downhill slopes, especially when carrying a heavy pack.

In snake habitats, hiking poles are also useful for announcing your presence. If you have knee problems, borrow or buy a pair, but first, observe how you do.

Hiking Tips for Beginners

Check the Weather

Choosing a pleasant day to hike is the best approach to ensure the best experience for new hikers. You may be tempted not to allow bad weather to deter you from hiking, but adverse weather is often the cause of hiker mishaps, and it can also make a hike unpleasant. Even if you plan to walk rain or shine, knowing the weather ahead of time will allow you to pack the necessary gear to keep dry and safe.

Bring Enough Food and Drink

Water is the most crucial thing to bring on a hike! You’ll need a complete litre of water for every two hours you expect to hike, and it’s critical not to under-pack because getting lost or having to detour could add extra time to your hike.

Pro tip: Get a reusable water bottle and adorn it with stickers from all of your hiking adventures! You’ll save money, reduce your usage of plastic, and feel happy to flaunt it on the trail!

As for food, it’s preferable to bring high-energy food that doesn’t require refrigeration or cooking for a day trek. Jerky, dried fruit (I love dried mangoes), trail mix, and energy bars are also popular options. You don’t need to overeat; just make sure you have enough to get you through your journey. Then, for good measure, put in another granola bar for emergencies!

Always Have a Light Source

Make sure to have plenty of time to get to your destination before it gets dark. However, if your hike takes longer than intended, being caught in the dark without light could be dangerous, so keep one with you at all times!

For a hands-free approach, I recommend a headlamp so you can focus on balance and getting to your desired objective. Ensure you have something other than your phone flashlight, which can quickly consume your power and switch off.

Glencoe in Scotland - Green mountains with a woman in front of them
Hiking is a wonderful activity – If You Are Prepared!

Tell Someone Where You’re Going and When You’ll Be Back.

It’s critical that someone who isn’t on the hike be aware of the schedule, know when to be concerned, and ask for assistance. I like to leave my mom and boyfriend with the route I’m doing, when I’m expecting to be back, and the latest time I will return (usually two-three hours after my expected return). If they haven’t heard from me by then, I provide instructions on who they should contact (usually the park ranger office).

An additional option is to carry an emergency device like the SPOT tracker, which lets you call for help through satellite. One caveat: gadgets like the SPOT are not a substitute for personal accountability; they are merely a backup.

Bring the 10 Essentials

These are the 10 hiking essentials you’ll need to keep safe in the outdoors, even if you’re planning on staying the night. Expand or decrease each system based on the length and remoteness of your hike. A compact emergency blanket, for example, should suffice on a short summer hike near services. A distant winter hike, on the other hand, would necessitate something more substantial. Here are the ten most important essentials:

  • Map & compass for navigation
  • Sunglasses & sunscreen for UV protection
  • Extra clothing for insulation
  • Headlamp/flashlight
  • First-aid supplies
  • waterproof matches/lighter/candle to light fire
  • Repair kit and tools
  • Extra food
  • Extra water
  • Emergency shelter such as tent/plastic tube tent/garbage bag

This list may appear intimidating at first, but once you personalize it for your hike, it won’t be so hard. Many of these items might be ideal for a picnic, so when you start hiking it really won’t be that different.

Learn Basic First-Aid

Every hiker should have a basic understanding of first aid to keep your group healthy and comfortable in the event of an incident, whether small or major. Don’t forget to bring a basic first-aid kit on each hiking trip, and make sure you know how to use everything in it!

Charge Your Phone

If you’re using your phone for navigation or you aren’t carrying an emergency communication device, ensure your phone is charged and bring a power bank and charger for additional power. Your camera and hiking app will quickly drain your battery.  Remember to keep the power bank (and phone) in a waterproof bag to protect it from the elements.

Hiking Highland Backpacking Trail with a Friend - Two women hikers in full hiking gear
Hiking Highland Backpacking Trail with a Friend | Credit: Voyageur Tripper

Bring a Friend

After you’ve gained some experience, you can begin to consider solo hiking. When you’re just starting out though, if you have someone to come with you it’s great to bring a companion or two along who can help you traverse the route, assist in the event of an injury, and, of course, make the hike more enjoyable!

Start Slow

Isn’t it true that the trip is more important than the destination? Rushing through the hike in order to reach the waterfall, vista, or summit, for example, may detract from your overall hiking experience. Moving at your own pace, enjoying the surroundings, and pausing for breaks as needed helps ensure that you genuinely enjoy the trip and avoid injuries. Plus, once you arrive at your destination, you’ll have plenty of energy to celebrate!

The same goes for the types of hikes you do. Start with easier trails and gradually build to harder trails. This will ensure you have a positive experience and avoid getting hurt or lost when you’re still new.  Shorter day hikes of a couple of hours along relatively flat terrain are a nice way to start out – don’t head straight for the mountains! 

Keep Fit

Hiking requires some level of fitness. Think of it like this: if you’re going to hike for four to six hours, your fitness should be able to handle that amount of exertion with room to spare.

As you gradually increase the difficulty of your hikes, your hiking fitness will also improve. In between hikes, you can supplement your fitness with cardio activities and weight training. This will make going uphill or carrying a heavy pack easier.

It’s entirely up to you how fast you want to go. When hiking alone, it’s usually easier to stick to your desired pace. If you’re hiking with others, you should make allowances for the slowest member of the group and have regular rest points along the route where you all meet.

Hiking with Friends - People hiking through scrubland along a path leading to trees in the background
If you Are Hiking with Friends, Set the Pace for the Slowest Hiker

Follow Hiking Etiquette

Here are some tips on how to avoid becoming a jerk on the path.

  • Unless they stop to gather their breath, a hiker moving uphill has the right of way. If you’re on a flat section, simply move to the side and let the hiker(s) pass.
  • If someone is approaching you from behind, step to the side and let them pass.
  • When you pass fellow hikers, say a quick “hello.” A quick talk about what to expect on more distant trails or when there are few hikers is common. If you don’t feel at ease around another hiker, simply keep moving and stay safe.
  • Keep conversation volume to a minimum if you’re hiking with a friend or a group of hikers so that the hiker 100 yards behind you (who you can’t see) doesn’t have to hear about how horrible your workweek was.
  • If you wear headphones, music is acceptable (depends on the hike though – sometimes it’s unsafe to wear headphones while hiking). On most trails, do not listen to music over your phone’s speaker. The exception to this would be if you are on a seldom travelled route with few other hikers and you’re alone (playing music provides sounds to alert animals of your presence, so as not to startle them).
  • Keep your dog under control and on a leash (unless the trail allows for off-leash dogs). I adore dogs, but many people don’t or they are hiking with kids or dogs that don’t like other dogs. Respect the right of other hikers to enjoy the trail safely.
  • Continue on the path. Short cuts are occasionally seen, but this increases erosion and damages plants. It is proper to go through puddles (use hiking boots) rather than go around them to avoid widening the trail. This helps to safeguard the trail’s delicate habit.
  • Bring your garbage out with you. The number of food wrappers, water bottles, and banana peels you’ll see on the route will be astounding. The fact that a banana peel can disintegrate does not justify leaving it on the trail. Banana peels, by the way, take a month to degrade and are harmful to many woodland creatures!
  • Allow bicycles and horses to pass. Bikers are meant to yield to hikers in theory, but bikes are usually travelling rapidly, and it’s easy to stop and let them pass. When it comes to horses, simply step to the side and let them pass.

You’re Ready to Start Hiking!

We hope this article will help to debunk the myths surrounding hiking and show you how little you need to know before getting started.  All you need to do now is choose your route and plan your hike!  Don’t forget to take it easy at first, then work your way up to the longer hikes.  

Most importantly, have a good time!

Woman Standing on the edge of a mountain with arms outstretched admiring the view
You’re Ready to Go Hiking and Embrace the Outdoors!

About the Author

Mikaela is the voice behind Voyageur Tripper, a blog dedicated to outdoor adventure travel. After several seasons working as a hiking and canoeing guide throughout Canada, Mikaela now balances weekend adventuring with a full-time job and writes stories, resources and travel guides for her blog.  You can also find her on Instagram and Facebook.

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