Hiking is the kind of activity that satisfies the needs of many people. It’s a wonderful way to get outside to enjoy nature. It can be done alone or in small groups. It can be low-impact or test your physical endurance.
As a beginner, you’ll want to know how to prepare, have some knowledge about what’s expected of you, and know what the most essential equipment is to bring with you. This will help you get the most enjoyment out of hiking that you can.
Finding a Trail
Finding the right trail is key when you’re first starting out. Choose a trail that’s too easy and you might think that hiking is boring. Choose one that’s too difficult and you might give up before you really get to experience it.
Choosing the right trail also requires you to be honest with yourself. You need to know how much time you have to hike and what your fitness level is. If you’ve only got a few hours you won’t want to choose a hike that spans days, for instance. Being very physically fit will mean you can tackle a longer trek than if you’re just getting back into shape.
One characteristic of hiking trails that beginners sometimes don’t take into account is elevation, but it can play a significant role in how challenging the trail is. Hiking up a steep incline is a challenge, but so is a more gradual incline that is constant for miles.
Weather will also play a factor in choosing a trail. A backcountry hike might be more dangerous for a beginner in winter than it would be in the spring. And while it’ll be easier to navigate a trail in summer, the heat and humidity should influence your choice of trail length and difficulty level.
There are a number of ways to discover information about the hiking trails near you. Web searches will give you maps and suggestions, as will mobile apps like AllTrails. These apps will let you see nearby trails and give you information about them, as well as let you save them for a future trip.
Some trails will make you feel like you’re the only person out for a hike. Others will seem positively busy. As a new hiker, you should be aware of how to navigate when sharing the trail with others.
If your trail is also being used by riders – on bikes or horses – you should know how to handle running into them. The general rule is that the more maneuverable trail user should yield to others, but how that is applied to riders may surprise you. Bikes are considered more maneuverable and are expected to get out of the way of hikers most of the time. Horses, on the other hand, are slower moving and hikers should yield to them.
When it comes to other hikers, the general rule is that the hiker going uphill has the harder time and therefore the right of way.
If you’re passing anyone from behind, always let them know well ahead of time that you’re coming up and on what side. A simple “On your left” should do in most situations.
In addition to horses, you’re likely to see pets, especially dogs. In all cases with animals, don’t just assume you can pet them. You have no idea how an unfamiliar animal may react to you. If you must, ask to pet before reaching, but if the owner declines, respect their wishes. If you’re hiking with your dog, be sure to have control of them when passing other trail users.
Hiking doesn’t require a lot of equipment to get started, but don’t skimp on the equipment that you need.
Boots or shoes – You don’t need an expensive pair of hiking boots for your first hike. Your footwear should be determined by your comfort and the type of terrain you’ll be hiking. If you’ll be heading out on rugged trails with rough terrain, consider a shoe or boot with a stiffer sole. Softer, lightweight shoes are fine for a well-maintained trail. Socks are almost a more important consideration – go for wool or synthetic, not cotton. And be sure to break your shoes in well before tackling a longer hike.
Bag or backpack – Obviously, if you’ll be heading out on a long hike, you’ll want a backpack big enough to store all of your gear. If you’ll only be out a few hours, consider something that you can keep snacks and water in.
Navigation equipment – Your phone probably seems like a great choice, but depending on where your hike takes you, you may not have a signal. Pack up your phone’s navigation with a good, old fashioned compass and trail map.
First aid – The longer you’ll be out, the more important first aid supplies become. A short hike calls for a smaller kit, while a backcountry hike could have you stranded with an injury. Consider a more complete first aid kit if you’ll be out for a long period of time or a significant distance from civilization.
Safety and Protection – You never know what you’ll run across, even on a well-traveled trail. The path you decide to take could be overgrown, or you could end up stuck out in the woods. It’s better to be prepared than sorry. If you’re going for a longer hike or out to the backcountry, bring a tarp and some rope that you can throw up quickly if you get caught in bad weather or unexpectedly kept out overnight. You should also consider carrying a survival tool like Woodman’s Pal. With it, you’ll be able to clear brush quickly, chop kindling, or even protect yourself from attack. The leather sheath is easy to attach to your belt or backpack, leaving your hands free but keeping the tool easily accessible if and when it’s needed.
The most important thing about hiking, after ensuring you’ll be safe and comfortable, is to leave no trace. Pack out anything you pack in. Remove all garbage with you. When all hikers care for their trails, they will be enjoyable for everyone for years to come.