Regardless of why have chosen to take up hiking as a new hobby, knowing how to prepare for your first hike is extremely important to enjoying all that the outdoors has to offer.
One of your New Year’s resolutions may have been to get into hiking. Perhaps you have friends or family who hike or you’ve always wanted to try it but never could until now.
As with any hobby you’re inexperienced with, you probably have a ton of questions. What essentials do you need as a beginner? Is there a certain time of day that is best to go hiking? What should you wear and what should you bring?
If these questions are swirling around your mind and giving you pause, don’t worry. In this guide on hiking for beginners, we’ll answer all those questions and more. By the time you’re done reading, you should have all the info you need to get ready to enjoy your very first hike.
The Benefits of Hiking
Why hike? Like any type of physical activity, hiking can be an exhilarating way to burn calories. It’s about so much more than trimming fat or losing weight, though. According to WebMD, when you take a hike—literally—you enjoy the following mental and bodily benefits:
- Less anxiety and stress: American Hiking Society president Gregory A. Miller says there are proven links to less anxiety and stress in those who hike than those who don’t.
- Better balance: Traversing rough, sometimes uneven terrain is anything but easy. Doing so regularly can better your balance.
- A stronger core: Forget yoga class! Your core is as strong as it can be if you hike often.
- More bone density: Since you’re bearing your weight more with hiking, you can change your bone density for the better.
- Controlled blood sugar and blood pressure: Do you have high blood pressure? You might want to get into hiking. It can have positive effects on your blood sugar and blood pressure levels.
- Less chance of heart disease: Any activities that can safeguard your heart sound good to us. Hiking is of course one of them!
Hiking Essentials for Beginners
Now that you’re sure you want to start hiking, what do you need? Here are several essentials:
- A pocket knife
- Portable first aid kit
- Insect repellant
- A headlamp
- A pack of carabiners
- Portable hiking snacks like energy bars
- Water bottle
- State or country map and compass
- Hiking backpack
- Hiking clothes and shoes/boots
Why These Essentials Are So Important
The above list may seem like a lot, but as a first-time hiker, it’s important you bring every last item on the list with you. A pocket knife comes in handy for slicing and cutting. While you may hope you never end up in a sticky situation while hiking, being prepared for the worst is smart.
First aid kits are another crucial item, but who has room to carry a whole kit? That’s why this first aid kit on Amazon is meant for on-the-go use. It’s a lot smaller than most kits but still includes bandages, gauze pads, cleansing wipes, and more.
No matter where you hike, insects are going to be buzzing nearby. Mosquitoes and flies are an annoyance, not to mention their bites and stings can hurt! Safeguard yourself with some insect repellant. Also, be sure to wear long sleeves and pants so there’s less available skin for insects to feast on.
It can be a little embarrassing to wear a headlamp for the first few times, but if you’re ever lost or alone in the dark, you’ll be very glad you have one on. The Cobiz headlamp illuminates nearby areas in 6,000 brilliant lumens.
Another way you can get light as well as fire is with a lighter. Even if you’re hiking during the day, keep a lighter or two in your pocket.
A pack of carabiners can also save you in tough situations. These aluminum clips are heavy-duty and can aide you in erecting a quick hammock or tent.
Please, please don’t go out for a day of hiking without sunscreen. Even on overcast days, UV rays can still permeate through the clouds and damage your skin. Apply to all exposed areas of the body every few hours.
When you get hungry, what will you eat? You need to keep your energy levels up, which is why energy bars are such a smart snack. They will keep you full and focused so you can enjoy a successful hike.
These water bottles will attach to your hiking backpack so hydration is never a problem. The TETON Sports Scout 3400 Internal Frame backpack is designed for camping, hiking, and backpacking. It comes in three colors: Mecca Orange, Hunter Green, and Coyote Tan. Able to hold 3,400 cubic inches of gear, you can camp for between two and four days with this impressively large backpack.
Finally, don’t forget a local map. You can’t always rely on your smartphone when camping, so learn how to read a map if you don’t already know how to. Learn how a compass works as well.
The Best Time to Go Hiking During the Day
We hope you’re ready to get up early if you plan on hiking. That’s because many fellow hikers agree it’s best to plan a hike early in the morning, just once the sun has come up. Why is that? There are several reasons:
- You get more time to hike. Since it’s early in the morning when you start your hike, you get practically the entirety of the morning plus almost all afternoon, too. That maximizes your time out in nature. Sounds good to us!
- More daylight = more safety. You don’t know how quickly you’ll hike if you’ve never done it before. If you’re a slower hiker, you’ll have plenty of time to hike the trail and make it back before it ever gets dark.
- Less heat earlier in the day. The hottest times of the day are typically about 2 p.m. If you go hiking early in the morning, you should be wrapping up right around then. That means you can avoid strong sun and humidity when it’s at its worst.
- Fewer people are around. While we recommend you bring a buddy with you the first few times you hike, once you become a natural, you might want some privacy. Hiking early in the morning ensures only fellow dedicated hikers like yourself are around, no one else.
What to Bring on a Short Hike
Don’t be fooled; no matter the length of your hike, bringing the above essentials we listed in the prior section is best. You don’t want to be without food or water, and leaving a pocket knife or first aid kit at home will of course be the day you need those items most.
Don’t take any chances. Always bring your essentials with you as a beginner.
How to Prepare for a Day Hike
If you’re planning a day hike, there are plenty of ways you can prepare yourself. Having a clear-cut plan like this will alleviate the nerves that come with hiking for the first time. We’ll now outline preparation steps to follow.
1.) Choose the hiking trail you want to visit before the day you plan to hike. Do as much as research as you can, reading reviews, watching videos, and the like.
2.) If you have the time, a day or so before you go hiking, drive out to the trail so you know how to get there and back.
3.) Buy all the day hiking essentials we linked you to earlier in this article.
4.) Pack your essentials. (We’ll tell you how in the next section).
5.) Eat a nutritious and filling dinner the night before your hike.
6.) Get to bed early if you plan on waking up early the next morning for your hike. Getting adequate sleep is very important!
7.) Double-check that you’ve packed up everything you need on the morning of the hike.
8.) Check the weather. You should closely monitor the forecast the day or two before your hike, but look again the day of.
9.) Don’t skip breakfast. Your body needs carbs, so try oatmeal, low-sugar or no-sugar cereal, and eggs.
10.) Hydrate yourself. Consume at least 20 ounces of water before you go. If you can, aim for 32 ounces.
11.) Continue drinking water as you hike. Also, fuel yourself up consistently with snacks.
12.) Before you hit the trail, make sure you stretch your body.
How to Pack for a Hike
Okay, you’ve got your essentials, but how do you make sure they all fit in your backpack? Here are some pointers courtesy of REI:
- Use hipbelt pockets, side pockets, front pockets, and lid pockets for smaller items. These may include ID, keys, snacks, bug repellant, your headlamp (if you’re not wearing it), sunscreen, a compass, and your map.
- At the top of your backpack, you can stuff in your heaviest, bulkiest, biggest items. They can be toilet paper for overnight hikes, a water filter, a large first-aid kit, and rain or fleece jackets.
- In the middle of your backpack, put your heavier things. These are bear canisters, water reservoirs, cooking kits, and a multi-day food supply.
- At the very bottom of your backpack, you can put more heavier things still. The point of these is that you’re less likely to use them throughout the day, hence why they’re at the bottom. Try adding shoes, sleeping pads, and sleeping bags here.
What Should I Wear My First Time Hiking?
Now, let’s talk clothes, shall we? While your outerwear is very important, your base layers are, too. For instance, there’s socks. If you’re wearing the wrong socks, then you’re going to have an awful time hiking. You need synthetic or wool socks for hiking, they will keep your feet cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The cotton ones you have in your drawer will hold in sweat and can get very slick. That means there’s a higher chance of you getting blisters.
You also need hiking boots or hiking shoes that fit. There are tons of options out there at stores and on Amazon, so shop around and see what you like. Make sure you try on your shoes with the hiking socks you bought.
When it comes to outfitting your body, again, you don’t want to wear cotton. It still won’t absorb or wick away sweat, which is kind of nasty. Synthetics are far better as sweat won’t stick to you.
Layering is key. Up top, start with a light short-sleeved or long-sleeved synthetic shirt. Then, add a jacket, and finally, an insulating coat. If you get warm, you can always take things off.
Underneath, you might want to wear two layers of pants or bottoms, one of those layers being synthetic hiking pants. Don’t wear anything that’s so tight that it constricts your movement.
If you’re a woman and want to look stylish out on the trail, this article on how to look cute on a hike might interest you.
Hiking Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
You’re all ready to go on your first hike! Before you set out, keep these mistakes in mind so you can avoid them yourself:
- Not staying hydrated. Every time you hike two miles, you should consume 32 ounces of water. If you’re not, you may not be adequately hydrated for your hike.
- Failing to check the weather. Weather can admittedly change in an instant, so sometimes you get stuck in a temperamental storm. That said, it’s within your best interest to check the weather the night before and the day of your hike as we advised you to do before.
- Hiking during the late afternoon. There are too many risks for inexperienced beginners. You might get lost or not make it back to the trailhead before the sun sets, which poses its own set of problems.
- Not breaking in your hiking boots. Like any shoes, you must break in your hiking boots before you go out and walk around in them. Not doing so will cause blisters for sure.
If you’re thinking of making this the year you take your first hike, the congratulations. With some preparation as we’ve outlined in this article, you should have all the gear and info you need for plenty of happy trails ahead. Good luck!