First Time Hiking? 14 Hiking Tips for Beginners

Beginner Hiking Tips

National Take A Hike Day 2021 is on Wednesday, November 17 (coincidentally the day this post goes live!). There’s no denying that hiking is fun and good for your health, but getting started can be daunting. 

There can’t be any serious disagreement, Frodo’s trek across Middle Earth is the greatest hike in all recorded hiking history. And that monumental journey is even more amazing when you realize it was accomplished without the benefit of our hiking tips for beginners.

Review these tips and then Take A Hike!

1.  Don’t hike alone (unless you actually need solitude)

Coping with ticks and sunburn doesn’t require companions with Fellowship of the Ring capabilities, but there are good reasons to avoid hiking alone. It’s nice to have companionship, especially when facing unexpected or risky circumstances. If you’re injured, a hiking buddy can be a literal lifesaver.

If none of your friends are hikers, find and join a hiking group. It’s a great way to meet new people with hiking experience. It can also be helpful for a new hiker to meetup with more experienced hikers.

There are plenty of online groups, and many local sporting goods stores (such as REI) offer groups and classes for beginner hikers.

2.  Wear the right hiking footwear

Frodo was naturally well-equipped with hobbit feet, which are huge, hairy, and have soles thicker and tougher than the most durable hiking boots. If you are not similarly equipped, you need to obtain some hiking footwear.

Unless your hiking path is short, flat, and smooth, sneakers are not going to cut it. Many light-weight, yet sturdy hiking shoes are available. Choose waterproof hiking shoes and break them in around the neighborhood before your first hike.

Here’s a good hiking shoe for women from Hoka that can accommodate orthotics. And another one from Altra. For men, here’s a good Hoka hiking shoe and one from Altra. Make sure your new hiking shoes fit properly and are broken in before you hit the trailhead to avoid chafing and blisters!

Be sure to wear hiking socks made of synthetic fabric or wool. Never wear cotton socks on a hike, unless you’re hopelessly masochistic.

3. Wear the right hiking clothes

Layer up.

If you’re going to start hiking in cool weather, start with a base layer made of moisture-wicking material. Next, T-shirts and pants of polyester or wool are appropriate layers for hiking in cool or cold areas. A final insulation layer can be provided by a vest, a jacket, or a lightweight fleece pullover.

Whatever the weather may be, do not forget to bring a hat and consider gloves. And remember, the sun radiation doesn’t stop just because it’s cold out. Make sure you have proper sun protection in the form of a hat or sunscreen any time of year.

4.  Pick your places to hike and learn all about them

Websites and guidebooks detailing places to hike are everywhere. The websites of most park systems describe their trails, including elevation gain and level of difficulty.

Use these resources to plan a hike that matches your current fitness level. For your first time, start with shorter and easier trails. Then work your way up to longer hikes. You’ll be trekking those 15-mile hikes in no time!

You’ll also want to learn about poisonous plants in the area, animals that might pose a threat, and trail conditions, including closures for maintenance or weather. The websites of state parks and national parks will contain this information.

When estimating the time of your hike, use a rate of about 2.5 miles per hour. Add an hour for each 1,000 feet of elevation change.

If you’re going on a full-day hike, pick a good spot for lunch, like a lake, or a peak with a view.

Many apps offer GPS tracking or maps of parks and trails. Many hikers swear by the AllTrails app for finding hiking trails and tracking their whereabouts. Offline maps (or, if you’re really old-school, printed hiking guides and paper maps) are a good idea in case cell coverage gets spotty.

If you’re not going to be using a loop or a back-and-forth trail, you’ll need to figure out how to get back to your car.

5. Check the weather forecast

You don’t want to be surprised by storms, so get updated on the current and predicted conditions a couple of hours before heading out on your hiking trip.

6. Tell a trusted friend all about your hike, in writing

Whether your hike is going to be long or short, easy or tough, leave a written summary of it with someone who’s not going with you. Include details of:

  • The trails or route you plan to take
  • Where you parked your car
  • When you expect to return, and
  • Who to call if you’re significantly late

7. Take along orientation gear and know how to use it

Buy a compass and learn how it works. Even more important, get a topographic map of your hike area and learn to interpret it.

8. Get the right backpack

For a short hike in pleasant weather, on a trail that is close to home, a daypack with a capacity of 15-20 liters should suffice. For longer day hikes, use a 30-liter backpack to carry everything you need.

9. Hiking essentials: food and water

Beginner Hiking Tips

For a moderate hike in moderate weather, figure on a food intake of 200-300 calories per hour, and water requirements of about a half liter per hour. Water bottles are essential hiking gear!

These estimates will vary, of course, depending on your height, weight, age, and perspiration rate. As you get more experienced, you’ll develop a better sense of your actual needs. As a newbie, it’s always a good idea to overestimate a little on water; hydration is essential!

If you think that you’ll need more than 3 liters of water, you might consider learning how to purify/filter water that’s available along your hiking trail.

10. Bring the right types of food

  • Trail mix
  • Nuts, seeds, energy bars, or nut butter packs
  • Dried fruits and vegetables
  • Granola or granola bars
  • Jerkies, such as chicken, turkey, salmon, or beef

Try to bring foods that don’t have too much packaging material; you’ll be carrying all that trash back out with you!

To keep our natural trails clean and beautiful for our fellow hikers (and future hikers!) be sure to follow the Leave No Trace principles. This includes not leaving your trash lying around!

11. More hiking essentials for your backpack

  • Compass
  • Topographical trail map
  • Cell phone – keep it handy for all those great pictures
  • First-aid kit
  • Fire-starter
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Lightweight and waterproof poncho
  • Insect repellent
  • Toilet paper
  • Flashlight or LED headlamp
  • Bear spray (if permitted)
  • Ziploc bag for trash

12. Prepare for insects

You’re unlikely to encounter the Great Spider Shelob, or any of her ghastly brood, but get ready for ticks, mosquitoes, Lesser Spiders, and bees. See how here.

13.  Get ready to go radio silent

Cell coverage is the exception, rather than the rule, even on many popular trails. If you’re heading into the backcountry, you might consider a personal locator beacon or a satellite messenger. If coverage is available, think about taking along a portable charger.

14. Waste management

Tolkien is no help at all here. Use your knife, a stick, or that small trowel that you were thoughtful enough to bring along to dig a 6- to 8-inch hole. Make sure it’s at least 200 feet away from the trail or any campsites. Afterward, refill the hole and tamp the dirt down. Used toilet paper should be closed up tight in a baggie and taken out with you.

If you’re looking for more tips before setting out on your epic hiking quest (cursed ring optional) check out this Hiking for Beginners Guide. Enjoy your outdoor adventure!

Why choose University Foot and Ankle Institute for your foot and ankle care?

If you’re experiencing foot problems, we’re here to help. Our nationally recognized foot and ankle specialists offer the most advanced podiatric care and the highest success rates in the nation. We are leaders in the research and treatment of all foot and ankle conditions.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, please call (877) 736-6001 or visit us here to make an appointment online.

Our podiatrists take patients’ safety seriously. Our podiatry facility’s Covid-19 patient safety procedures exceed all the CDC’s coronavirus pandemic recommendations. Masks are always required in our institutes.

University Foot and Ankle Institute is conveniently located throughout Southern California and the Los Angeles area as our foot doctors are available at locations in or near Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach, Northridge, Downtown Los Angeles, Westlake Village, Granada Hills, and Valencia.

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