I created this guide for beginners wanting to learn how to into hiking. When I first started, questions popped up that I was unable to answer.
By my 3rd or 4th hike, I felt confident in my planning abilities. My goal by documenting my journey was to help others who want to learn how to get into hiking. I will answer any questions you may have about how to get into hiking below and prepare you so that you can hit the trail confidently.
As I was learning how to get into hiking, there were three main things that stand out as key contributors to ensuring a hike is more enjoyable:
- Hiking with others
- Choosing a suitable hiking trail
- Packing the right gear
Below, you will find these three key areas explained in further detail. I’ve added some other considerations that you may find useful as you learn how to get into hiking!
Table of Contents
- Hike With Others
- How to Choose a Suitable Route
- What to Pack When Hiking
- The Ten Essentials
- Hiking Etiquette
- Leave No Trace
- Animal Safety
The benefits of hiking are plentiful. From weight loss to mental clarity, everyone can benefit from time spent on a trail.
We’ve consolidated these hiking essentials for beginners in order to help make the process easier for you to get going!
Hike With Others
Surrounding yourself with others with a passion for hiking is key as you learn how to get into hiking.
It’s likely that you have friends who are into hiking. When you identify such friends, reach out and ask if you can join them on their next hike. Most seasoned hikers are happy to share their knowledge. They may even help you by providing you with the required gear!
If none of your social circle are hikers, then you can seek out hiking clubs and groups. Most cities have established groups that hike together. You can check MeetUp and social platforms to connect with experienced hikers as well.
A Note On Solo Hiking
Getting out on the trails on your own can give you an unrivaled sense of freedom and adventure. It can also be intimidating and at times a bit lonely, especially if you are just learning how to get into hiking.
On your journey of learning how to get into hiking, we recommend starting off with a few companion hikes. Having an experienced companion can help if you get hurt, become unmotivated, or lost.
If solo hiking is your only option, I would recommend that you start out with short trips at popular trails. This will ensure that there are always people around you who can assist as required.
How To Choose A Suitable Hiking Route
Although I was fit when I first learned how to get into hiking, I followed the advice I found on many hiking blogs. As a beginner hiker, a trail under 5 miles in length and with minimal climbing was most suitable.
I was glad I listened to that advice! As my experience and comfort grew, I began taking on different elevations. Let me tell you, 5 miles with elevation is a much different experience than 5 miles of flat terrain.
Here are some tips I learned that may help you plan your hiking routes:
- Use guidebooks and hiking websites as resources.
- These resources provide you with important information like trail length and elevation.
- Leverage other peoples experience.
- Word of mouth is a powerful tool in assisting you plan your hike. First hand experience and knowledge from someone you trust is priceless.
- Speak with local hiking organizations
- Hiking groups have a contact who is there to answer questions for people learning how to get into hiking. Ranger stations can also provide up-to-date information about trail conditions. They can even suggest hikes suited for your skill level.
Hiking Is Not A Race
I have been on trails where I see people passing at a very quick pace. More often than not, I also see them further down the trail trying to catch their breath.
When hiking, especially on longer trails, you want to conserve energy. In the unlikely event that you get lost or take a longer than anticipated route, you will be thankful you did.
Energy conservation is a matter of safety. You should plan on finishing your hike with some energy to spare. Learning how to get into hiking safely is a key to building good habits on the trail.
As a bonus, hiking at a comfortable pace allows you to enjoy your surroundings, the fresh air, and wildlife.
What To Pack When Hiking
The great part about hiking is that you don’t need to have the top-of-the-line gear to enjoy your time in the wild. As you are learning how to get into hiking, you can borrow gear from friends or local groups!
Depending on the type of hike you are embarking on will affect the amount and type of gear that you bring. While most beginners will stick to day hikes, it’s worth looking at the three types of hiking.
- Day Hiking is exactly that. Lasting a single day, a day hike can range from a shorter distance hike to an all day journey lasting 12 hours.
- Backpacking, also known as trekking is a multi-day experience. Backpacking trips will need you to pack (and carry!) more gear, including tents and cookware. Novice backpacking trips can be one to two nights, while more seasoned hikers can go months at a time!
- Thru-Hiking is a more advanced trip that starts and ends at different locations. These hikes are longer in duration. Popular thru-hiking trips include destinations like the Appalachian Trail.
Getting ready for your trip can take a bit of planning. It can be a daunting task to pack everything you need on a hike and still maintain portability!
Here are some of the non-negotiables that you will need. to consider as you learn how to get into hiking.
Hiking footwear is the most important decision you need to make. While some prefer supportive hiking boots, others will prefer lightweight trail-running shoes.
The terrain is a factor to consider when selecting the right footwear. If trail you chose is well-groomed with few obstacles, a lightweight shoe will work. If you expect rocks, rugged terrain, and water, a more heavy-duty hiking boot is likely to be the better choice.
No matter what you choose, always make sure that the footwear you choose is well broken in. It is also best practice to skip the cotton socks! Get yourself a pair of synthetic or wool socks for hiking.
Choose clothes with quick-drying features as you plan your clothing. These moisture-wicking fabrics may include wool, polyester, or other synthetic materials. As much as possible, avoid cotton clothing as it takes a long time to dry when wet.
As you plan and pack your clothes, consider the various layers that you will need:
- Base layers: These are the layers next to skin and are very important in cooler temperatures. We recommend wool or polyester clothing.
- Hiking layers: This next layer includes your pants, t-shirts, sun-shirts, sun hat. We recommend a nylon or polyester fabric for this layer.
- Insulation: If the weather ahead looks cool, be sure to pack clothing that will keep you warm. This would include vests or jackets, fleece pullovers, warm hats, and gloves.
- Rainwear: Always pack a rain jacket and rain pants. Weather forecasts can change, and you don’t want to get stuck on a trail soaking wet.
A backpack with the proper support straps will make your trip more comfortable and ensure that you are not putting stress on your back and shoulders.
If you are taking on a day hike with reasonable weather, a daypack will suit your needs perfectly. Normally 15-20 liters of packing space, a daypack will provide room for water, snacks, and an extra layer of lightweight clothing.
If you are planning a longer trip further or headed off the beaten path, you’ll find yourself needed more space for added gear, clothing, water, and food. A more advanced hiking backpack with a 30 liter capacity is a better option.
Food and Water
When I first started hiking, I was unconfident about what food to bring, let alone how much of it I needed!
To keep this article clean, I recommend you check out our guide on Backpackers Meals. In the guide you will find answers to all food and water questions, and some inspiration too!
Adding to the above, every hiker should carry with them at all times the Ten Essentials.
What Are The Ten Hiking Essentials?
As I was learning how to get into hiking, I came across these 10 mandatory items. Every hiker should pack every one of the following items. These crucial pieces of gear are necessary and are with you throughout your journey.
- Navigation – For beginner hikers sticking to simple trails, your smartphone can be a good tool to use. Download a custom Google Map to ensure offline access, and take a photo of the trail map on your phone. Be sure to pack a basic compass as well.
- Headlamp – you do not want to get caught on the trail after dark without a headlamp. Be sure to carry some extra batteries.
- Sun protection – Always protect yourself from UV rays. Pack a set of polarized sunglasses, sunscreen, sun hat, and sun-protective clothes.
- First Aid – You can buy basic first aid kits from most outdoor stores. Be sure to review your inventory and restock before hitting the trail.
- Knife – a small pocket knife and a gear repair kit (or ductape!) is great in case of emergencies.
- Fire – Packing water proof matches and a lighter will ensure you can get a fire started if needed.
- Shelter – While unlikely, it is possible for hikers to get stuck overnight on a trail. Even if you are day hiking, you should pack and carry a lightweight emergency bivvy. Think of a bivvy as a very compact sleeping bag and shelter hybrid.
- Extra Food – Pack a few calorie-dense snacks beyond the required amount. I pack a few extra protein bars as an emergency stash.
- Extra Water – It is always better to bring more water than needed. As a rule of thumb, you’ll aim to consume 0.5L per hour of hiking. If the trail ahead is more intense, double that amount. For longer trips where lugging around water is more difficult, use a water filter system.
- Extra Clothes – Forecasts are unpredictable, and weather can change. Be sure to keep a few extra layers of clothing in your pack.
Hiking and Trail Etiquette
If you are like me, my first few hikes were on trails that were quite popular for new hikers. Choosing popular trails as you are learning how to get into hiking has its perks. Some etiquette lessons I researched online, others I learned through experience.
I am fortunate to have an experienced hiker who joined me on my first few hikes to lean on for advice. This friend contributed a lot of knowledge as I was learning how to get into hiking.
One of the more obvious etiquettes that I needed to learn was right of way. Being on a popular trail meant passing many hikers both uphill and downhill. Following these scenario-based guidelines ensures that you remain respectful on the trail:
- Hiker vs. Hiker: The hiker(s) headed uphill have the right of way. Uphill hikers may decide to move out of the way to take a break and catch their breathe. The key is that the uphill hiker is in control of the decision.
- Hiker vs. Biker: By the book, an attentive biker should yield to hikers. In reality, mountain bikes can be moving at high speeds. It is easy for the hiker to step aside and give the biker the right of way. Always be attentive to your surroundings.
- Hiker vs. Horse: I had not experienced this yet, so I referenced REI’s Trail Etiquette Guide. I learned that the horse and rider will have the right of way. REI recommends giving the horse a lot of space, and do not make any abrupt movements as you pass.
What Is “Leave No Trace”?
Leave No Trace are 7 guiding principles that hikers should follow while outdoors. As you learn how to get into hiking, make these principles a part of every planning process.
These principles ensure sustainability and reduction of human impacts on the environment. These 7 principles are:
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of others
Learn more about Leave No Trace by visiting the REI blog and check out their Leave No Trace article and video.
What To Do If You Come Across An Animal While Hiking
Part of learning how to get into hiking is knowing what to do if you encounter an animal.
On some trails, it is likely that you will come across wildlife, some more aggressive than others. There are some proactive steps that you can take to ensure the safety of you and the animal.
- Make Your Presence Known
- As you are hiking, hold conversations with hikers around you, or even sing your favorite songs. While this may sound silly, the human voice carries through the air, helping animals to locate you. This minimizes the risk of a surprise encounters as animals will tend to stay away.
- Note: Do not play loud music on your trail, as this is distracting and disruptive for others. Do not scream or yell without reason, as this is for emergency situations.
- Give Animals Space
- It is imperative that you remain at least 100 yards away from bears, and 25 years away from all other wildlife. Note that I say ALL wildlife, which includes some of the less harmful animals like deer. While generally harmless, they are still wild. It is important to leave them alone, and they will do the same.
- What To Do If You Encounter A Bear?
- I am under-qualified to answer this question, so I will refer you to the National Park Service Article. Their article about Staying Safe Around Bears is packed with great information. I hope you find it helpful, though you never end up face-to-face with a bear.
The Bottom Line
The process of learning how to get into hiking can be enlightening. The research that I did leading up to my first hike was enjoyable and allowed me a baseline of confidence.
Don’t get stuck in the research and learning phase though. With a basic understanding of how to get into hiking and the key considerations, you are now ready. For an extra source of inspiration and guidance, be sure to check out our guide on the best hiking map app!
As a new hiker, understand that you will grow and learn with every step forward. Mistakes are common and provide learning experiences for your next hike. Hiking is one of the best ways to reap the health benefits of being outside, so don’t let the opportunity pass.