Hiking for Beginners Hiking Trails Sign. Photo by Ronan Furuta on Unsplash

Hiking for Beginners: The Ultimate Guide You Need to Know in 2023

Last Updated on 30 October 2023

Are you new to hiking, but aren’t sure where to begin? Do you like the idea of spending time outdoors with other hikers or by yourself as you explore hiking trails near and far? Hiking is a popular pastime and is a wonderful way of getting outside. Even if you’re a newbie hiker, almost anyone can do it as long as a bit of preparation has gone into your hiking trip.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Hiking for beginners can be a daunting undertaking, especially if you’ve never considered it before. After all, there are so many things to think about: your gear, what to bring, the mileage you should do, trail conditions, finding a hiking trail, and hiking buddies, to name just a few.

Even though a little more planning is needed to ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible, it’s not difficult to get some hiking miles under your belt. To find out all you need to know in this comprehensive blog, read on to find a few tips that’ll help you get started hiking.

Two people hiking across a mountain ridge

What is Hiking and Why Should I Do It?

Someone walking through a dense forest. Photo by Elise Zimmerman on Unsplash

Believe it or not, hiking is just an extension of the walking we do naturally every day. The only difference is that it’s on wilder terrain such as trails or footpaths in the countryside. In essence, hiking is a form of walking that’s done to explore the great outdoors.

Every hike will have its own difficulty level depending on whether it’s a beginner hike with minimal climbing, an easy hike, a medium hike, or a strenuous hike. Some have an elevation gain whereas others can be as flat as a pancake. So, if you’re a beginner, have no fear as you’ll soon know the ins and outs of hiking for beginners to feel confident on your first hike.

People hike for all kinds of reasons whether it’s for exercise, boosting their mental health, or just to explore more of the great outdoors around them. Whatever your reasons, let’s dive in so you can find out what you need to know.

Types of Hiking

A lone hiker with some mountains in the background. Photo by Ali Kazal on Unsplash

There are three main types of hiking. These are:

Day Hiking: This is what most people tend to do and is exactly what its name suggests: a hike done during the day.

Backpacking: This is a multi-day trip and involves a little bit more work as you need to carry your hiking gear, including a tent to pitch up for the night whether that’s as a solo camper or with a group. If you are camping, you might want to consider a few luxuries such as a camping kettle to start your day off right.

Thru-Hiking: These types of hikes tend to be longer and involve starting and finishing in different locations. If you’re in the UK, think the Cotswolds Way (102 miles), South West Coast Path (630 miles) or the West Highland Way (96 miles). If you’re in the US, and after a bit more of a challenge, this would be the Appalachian Trail (nearly 2,200 miles) or the Pacific Crest Trail (2,650 miles).

Different Types of Trails

A cobbled trail going through a forest. Photo by Jeffrey Keenan on Unsplash

Did you know that there are over 20 names for the types of hiking trails out there? Well, there are, and when you’re researching the various ones, you may come across some of these different terms for them. Here we give you the rundown of the hiking trails you’ll likely encounter.

  • Access Trail: This is a hiking trail that connects to a village, car park, town, road or another trail.

  • Backcountry Trail: As the name suggests, these types of off-trail hikes are unlikely to encounter any roads, people or amenities.

  • Bridlepath: This is a path you’ll find in the UK that’s often used by horse riders.

  • Day Trail: With these types of trails, you can complete them within the day.

  • Extended Trail: If you’re looking for more of a challenge to see if hiking is for you, you could always go on an extended trail, which is over 100 miles long.

  • Hiker-Biker Trail: These types of paved trails are designed for hikers and bikers to share as they explore the outdoors in their own way.

  • Interpretative Trail: For those who are keen to explore the natural world around them, they should look into interpretative trails. Here, you’ll find shorter hikes where you can enjoy the plants or historical remains.

  • Lollipop: These trails have a looped part, which starts and ends at the same part that combines an out and back trail.

  • Loop: Also known as a circular walk, this type of trail starts and finishes in the same location. These are great trails to encounter as it means you’re not doubling back on yourself, only to see the same scenery again.

  • Multi-Use: This trail is intended for a number of activities. Here you’ll find mountain bikers, trail runners, hikers and horse riders.

  • Out and Back: With these trails, you start at point A, head off to a particular location, and then turn around to head back along the same route.

  • Point-to-Point: P-to-P hikes are ones that start at point A, follow a trail, and end up at point B to finish. You can cover greater distances with these, but it does mean you need transportation to get back from point B to point A.

  • Side Trail: These types of trails are ones that break away from the main trail and end up at a viewpoint.

  • Single Use: As the name suggests, this trail is only used for one type of activity whether that’s mountain biking, hiking or horse riding.

  • Thru-Hiking: If you have time to spend hiking, a thru-hiking trail is the one for you. These trails – think the South West Coast Path – are long-distance trails that take weeks and months to complete.

How Much Does Hiking Cost?

The great thing about hiking is that it’s completely free and relatively cheap to take part in.

If you already own hiking poles, a decent pair of trainers for walking in, comfortable clothes, a waterproof jacket, and a handy backpack, then you’re pretty much set to start hiking.

On the flip side, hiking can also be expensive depending on the gear you buy.

It all depends on what you want and need, but it’s reassuring to know that you don’t have to buy a lot of expensive things just to go hiking.

What Gear Do Beginner Hikers Need?

People hiking wearing trail shoes. Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

With so much kit available for hikers whether you’re a beginner hiker or a more experienced hiker, knowing what to bring can be a bit daunting.

If this is your first foray into hiking, you don’t want to buy things that you’ll only use once only to find out that hiking might not be for you. Chances are it will, but it’s best to go with the essentials first before adding to what you already have.

So, what hiking essentials should you have as part of your hiking gear for beginners for that day hike you’re thinking of doing?

  • Comfortable hiking shoes are a must and should definitely be one of your main essentials before heading out on a hiking trail.

  • A backpack to carry any spare clothes or that all-important energy snack.

  • Suitable hiking clothing. If you’re hiking during the summer pick lightweight clothes and preferably not cotton. If you’re going during the colder months, wear suitable layers that’ll keep your body warm and will be easy to take off or put on depending on the situation. Bring an extra layer for those moments when the weather turns.

  • Navigation. Don’t forget your map and compass. There might not be any phone signal where you’re going, so it’s best not to rely too heavily on your mobile. Plus, there’s nothing better than using a map and compass whether you’re day hiking or going on a long hike over several days.

  • Food and water. To keep your energy levels stable and to remain hydrated, always carry water and some food.

  • Sun protection. When you’re outside for the day hiking, it’s important to keep your skin protected from the sun. Always pack your sunscreen and if you have a sun hat, bring that too.

  • First aid kit. You might never need your first aid kit, but it’ll give you the peace of mind to know it’s on hand should you need it.

  • Camera. Either bring a camera or use your phone camera to take those important photos along the way.

  • Shelter. While it’s uncommon, hikers do get stuck on the trail overnight. For this reason, it’s worthwhile carrying an emergency bivvy that is compact and lightweight.

  • Knife. In case of an emergency, pack a small pocket knife and make sure to put it somewhere where you can get to it easily.

  • Headlamp. If you suddenly find yourself walking in the dark, you’ll want to make sure that you have sufficient light to guide your way. Make sure you pack a headlamp and spare batteries for those nighttime walks.

Now that you’ve got the essentials covered, let’s move on and find out how to plan and prepare for a hike.

Hiking for Beginners: How to Plan and Prepare?

Four people hiking along a wooded path. Photo by Lukas Allspach on Unsplash

Once you’ve got all the items you need to start hiking, the next thing to do is plan and prepare where you’re going to hike. Planning and preparation are key to ensuring you have the best adventure, so put the time in now and everything will go smoothly when you set off.

Set the Right Expectations

If this is your first hiking adventure, you might want to take things easy to begin with. Pick a trail that’s around four miles and, preferably, one that’s circular so you can start and finish in the same place.

Also, check the elevation gain as you don’t want something that’s too hilly that could put you off. Anything under 1,000 feet should be plenty.

This should give you a good indication of your fitness level and will help determine if you want to do more miles the next time.

On Your Own or With a Hiking Group?

Are you planning to hike by yourself or will you join other hikers? If you’re thinking of joining hiking groups, you don’t really need to worry about too much, other than getting to the starting point. This has the added benefit that you can meet other hikers like yourself to go at an easy pace while socialising.

If it’s the former, you’ll need to ensure you have everything you need (including your map and compass) so you know where you’re heading to. Having no one with you also lets you enjoy the nature around you without the distractions that others may bring.

Time It Right

Before heading off on any adventure, the one thing most people do is check the weather. The same should go whether you’re heading out with beginner hikers like yourself or more experienced hikers.

The last thing you want is to have the worst weather when you’re trying to explore hiking trails.

The best way to ensure you’ll have good weather is to time your hiking right. Instead of going during the winter when the nights are shorter and the weather is colder, why not pick a time during the spring, summer or autumn months?

During spring, you still have those fresh mornings, but nature around us is beginning to wake up which is amazing to see. In summer, you have the advantage of longer evenings, and during the autumn, particularly during September, you can still experience those warm days that remind you of summer.

Make Sure You Have Enough Time

When you’re going for a hike, you don’t want to rush it. Being outside and getting some fresh air while exercising, is supposed to be relaxing, isn’t it?

So make sure you give yourself plenty of time to enjoy what you’re doing instead of rushing from A to B.

Wear the Right Clothing

This brings us nicely to what you should wear.

When you check the weather, have the correct hiking clothing you’ll need. If it’s forecast for rain, bring your waterproof trousers and jacket. If it’s going to be blistering sunshine all day, pack a sun hat and that all-important sun cream.

If you have all the things you need to start with, you won’t get caught out when you least expect it.

Pack Your Bag

When you know when you’re heading off on your day hike, leave plenty of time to pack your backpack.

You want to leave it to the last minute, which increases the chance of you forgetting something. If you want, make a list of what you need to bring and give yourself a day or two to put everything together.

When packing your bag, put the heavier items near the centre of your back and easy-to-reach items at the top.

Once everything has been packed, try your backpack on to see how it fits. If something needs changing, move it around. But giving yourself a few days to do this, you’re not rushing when you need to leave.

Have a Safety Plan in Place

Regardless of whether you’re hiking with fellow hikers or going at it by yourself, you should always have a safety plan in place.

Before heading off, make sure someone knows where you’re going and when you’re likely to be back. Here are a few other tips to consider:

  • Research the route: By researching the route beforehand, you’re less likely to come across anything unexpected such as flooding or closed-off sections.

  • Bring a map: Bring a paper map with you so you can keep track of where you’re going, especially if you’re hiking somewhere you’ve never been before.

  • Start early: As a first-time hiker, you may not know your exact fitness levels, so to ensure you complete your hike without rushing it, start early. That way you can see all you want with plenty of time to finish it.

How to Train for a Hike?

A woman in a yoga pose. Photo by Carl Barcelo on Unsplash

I am not a personal trainer, but the following information is based on what I have found to work for me when going on a hike.

Go for a walk or run. Either of these options are great at building your stamina as you work toward the hike you want to do. If you’re new to this, take things slowly and gradually increase your mileage to get your body used to the training you’re doing. The last thing you want to do is cause yourself an injury. If you can, train where there are some hills rather than just flat terrain as this will help you mentally and physically when you do those steep hikes.

Do easier hikes. The best way to tackle those difficult hikes that have more of an elevation gain is to do easier hikes. To get motivated, find hiking buddies or join some hiking groups where all the work of figuring out where to go is done for you. Your first hike doesn’t have to be much, but by building your mileage and elevation gain up steadily, you’ll soon find you can tackle that longer hike when you get to it.

Stretch. It might not feel like it, but you’re using a lot of muscle power in your legs, bum, and back when you go for a hike. The best thing you can do when you finish is to give your body a good stretch. You could try a few yoga moves, which are great at improving flexibility and muscle recovery.

Don’t forget about strength training. The biggest mistake beginners at hiking make is forgetting about the importance of strength training. In order to carry your backpack and support yourself when walking, you need to have a strong core and lower body strength. To successfully do this and complete those longer hikes is to do strength training.

What to Wear Hiking?

A man and a woman holding hands in their hiking clothes. Photo by Waldemar on Unsplash

Wearing the right hiking gear for your adventure will help set you up for a good experience that’ll keep you coming back for more. Choose clothes that are moisture-wicking and aren’t made of cotton.

Why is this?

Well, cotton absorbs the sweat we create when hiking and retains it rather than wicking it away, leaving the hiker wet and cold. Instead, pick clothes made from polyester, merino wool or nylon.

Here is an idea of what you should consider wearing or bringing with you on your next hike.

Baselayer: A baselayer is the perfect starting point for what you should wear on a hike, especially if it’s cold. Pick a moisture-wicking top that will keep you comfortable throughout your hike.

Midlayer: Depending on the time of year you’re doing your hike, you might need an insulation midlayer such as a fleece hoodie, a gilet or a lightweight down jacket.

Moisture-Wicking Tops: Pick t-shirts that are made from moisture-wicking material, which dry quickly and keep the sweat away from your body. Again, avoid cotton as that extra dampness can make you feel cold on chilly days or make it hard to cool yourself when you’re hiking in the heat.

Waterproof Clothing: Even if the weather isn’t forecast for rain, it’s a good idea to bring a waterproof jacket and pants just in case. And if it doesn’t rain, you can always use the extra layer for insulation against the wind and cold.

Hiking Boots or Walking Shoes: If you want the best experience when hiking, you need to have the right pair of footwear. You can either wear hiking boots or shoes which will give you the best protection and ankle support when you’re navigating those paths that can sometimes be tricky.

Hat and gloves: Regardless of the time of the year, it’s a good idea to pack a hat and some gloves in your backpack. It’s amazing how quickly your hands will get cold when your hiking even on those mild days. A hat is a great idea as a sunhat will give you sun protection and a beanie hat will keep you warm during cold temperatures.

Socks: An important item that can often be overlooked are the socks you wear as part of your hiking gear. To have the best hiking for beginners experience, pick a pair that a well-fitting and breathable and has fast-drying materials. The last thing you want is to get blisters on your feet halfway through your hike, which is what will happen when your socks are damp. Don’t forget to bring a spare pair as well.

A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking Etiquette

A please close the gate sign. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

No one wants to look like a newbie on a trail. And as with most things in life, there are a few rules that should be followed to ensure everyone has a great time. Here are a few hiking tips to consider when it comes to hiking trail etiquette.

Hiker vs. Hiker: Similar to if you encounter a car driving uphill, if you come across uphill hikers on the trail, they always have the right of way. This is because they often have a good pace going and may find it hard to let others pass. Downhill hikers should give way to them unless of course they’re waved to continue. Similarly, if you come across someone who is going at a slower pace than yourself uphill, make sure you let them know you’re behind them. A simple hello will do. Don’t pass without their knowledge first.

Hiker vs. Biker: If there are bikers on the trail, hikers still have the right of way. However, because of the speed bikers sometimes go, it’s often easier to step aside to let them pass.

Hiker vs. Horse: When it comes to horses, they have the right of way on a trail. Horses are easily spooked, so give them plenty of space when you step off the trail to let them pass.

Don’t Scream or Shout: Unless it’s an emergency or you need to alert wild animals to your presence, don’t scream or shout.

Let Other Hikers Pass: It goes without saying that should you stop on the trail whether that’s for some water, to have a snack or to take photos, you should always make room for other hikers to pass.

What Are the Leave No Trace Principles?

A leave no trace sign. Photo by Florida-Guidebook.com on Unsplash

To help maintain the outdoors we love exploring, there are seven leave no trace principles that every outdoor lover should know and follow. These are:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare: Take the time to know the area before you leave. Check the weather forecast and prepare the clothes you need accordingly. Check for any local or seasonal restrictions, and if possible plan your trip during the off-season and in small groups. Travel via public transport or car share.
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: Make sure you travel on established trails and walk in a single file. If camping near water, ensure this is 75 metres from riverbanks to protect them. Camp on designated ground and keep these campsites small.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly: Another tenet of the leave no trace principle is to always take away everything that you bring with you, even biodegradable food. Bury human waste in holes 15-20cm deep and at least 75 metres from water and footpaths. Ensure it’s well covered when you’re finished.
  4. Leave It As You Find It: As tempting as it may be to sometimes take things away as momentums from your time outdoors, you must leave all rocks, sticks, and plants where you find them.
  5. Minimise Effects of Fires: If fires are permitted, always use allocated fire pits to make them. Keep fires small and controlled at all times. Make sure to only use sticks and leaves that have fallen to the ground or use locally sourced wood to prevent the introduction of pests. When finished, properly extinguish fires by burning to ash, making sure to check the fire is cold before leaving the area.
  6. Respect Wildlife: When encountering wild animals, ensure that you observe them from a distance. Never follow or approach them and don’t feed them either. If you have a dog with you on your hike, make sure it’s under control to prevent wild animals from fleeing or attacking if they feel threatened. And always make sure you store your food and rubbish properly.
  7. Be Considered of Other Visitors: Just like you’re enjoying the outdoors, so too are others. Make sure you respect other visitors and how they are experiencing their time outside. Avoid loud noises, voices, and music.

Final Thoughts

Every day, hiking beginners are finding out the joy that hiking brings whether that’s by themselves, with a hiking partner or a hiking guide in a group.

While it can seem daunting knowing where to begin, hopefully, this comprehensive guide will help you step out of your comfort zone and outside exploring.

You may start on the beginner hiking trails, but with a little practice, you’ll soon be hitting those challenging trails with increased elevation gain to conquer.

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