More and more people are getting interested in hiking not only as a form of exercise but also as a way to immerse themselves in nature. And the best part is that compared to other outdoor activities, hiking doesn’t require much in terms of gears and equipment and can be done virtually anywhere, from the forest in the outskirts of town to the wilderness up in the mountains. If you are planning to get started with hiking, here’s a hiking guide to help you out. We list here what you need to do before and during the trip along with some tips about hiking for beginners so you can have a grand ol’ time in the outdoors.
Find a Suitable Hiking Trail
There are quite a few things you need to consider when choosing your first hiking trail. For one, you need to think about how much time you want to and can spend out in the trail. Don’t forget to factor in your rest periods, which includes soaking up the views and enjoying the wildlife. Another consideration would be your fitness level. You don’t want your first hiking adventure to be so strenuous that it makes the trip insufferable. More often than not, these two factors will decide how many miles you’re comfortable hiking, and ultimately, the characteristics of the trail that you want to tackle.
When it comes to hiking, one of the biggest mistakes that beginners can make is to overdo it. They pick a trail that is too long or has too many uphill climbs so that they end up exhausted and sore all over after the trip. So just take it easy at this point, be honest with yourself and choose a trail that is suitable for your level of fitness and abilities. After you gain more hiking experience, you can move on to conquering the more challenging trails waiting for you.
Once you’ve chosen a trail, do your research and gather as much information as you can about it. You can go online and read up on the trail reviews, tips, and comments from hikers who’ve been there before. The point of this exercise is to familiarize yourself with the trail even before you go so that you have an idea of what to expect when you get there.
Choose When You Want to Go
Some trails won’t be accessible at certain times of the year. For instance, many trails are closed during the winter up to early spring because they’re still covered in snow. Some parks also undergo scheduled maintenance or trail work. This is why you must contact the park ranger’s office first and ask if the trails are open so you can plan your adventure accordingly.
Solo Hiking vs. Group Hiking
One of the best things about hiking is that this activity can be enjoyed alone or in the company of other people. It is okay to hike solo provided that you choose a well-frequented destination and are capable of protecting yourself from dangers you may meet along the trail. Besides, something is calming and rewarding about walking in the wilderness by your lonesome as it offers an ideal opportunity for reflection. Also, hiking solo provides you with the freedom to choose the pace at which you walk, where you camp and have lunch, and how long you want to stay and enjoy the scenery.
Some experts though would advise that as a first-time hiker, it would be better and safer to go with a group or at least a guide. This way, you get to spend time with like-minded people and have the opportunity to learn from the more experienced and knowledgeable members of the group. And when accidents do happen, you’ll be less worried since you know that there are people who can provide you with immediate help. And if you do choose to go with other hikers, be sure to stay with the group. Avoid the temptation to check an unknown ‘shortcut’, chase wildlife, or do anything else that will separate you from the pack.
Know What to Bring
As a beginning hiker, you don’t really need to bring a lot of items with you for a short hike that will only last for several hours or a whole day. Aside from food and water, you only need to fill your backpack with a few essentials including:
- First Aid Kit. You should never leave for a trip into the wilderness without a hiking first aid kit (as well as some know-how about how to use them properly). The farther you are from civilization and the longer you stay outdoors, the more important this piece of hiking essential becomes.
- Field Guide or Map. Most hiking trails, especially those managed by government or private organizations, have field guides and maps available. These will help you navigate your way through the trail as well as provide information about nearby campsites, water sources, and emergency exit routes. Having a GPS is also helpful, but you still need to learn how to read and use a map just in case your device fails.
- Emergency Whistle. An emergency whistle can be really helpful when it comes to attracting attention and calling for help, so be sure to have one attached to your backpack’s shoulder strap. Emergency whistles (not the ones you find in toy stores) are much louder than the human voice and the sound carries much farther as well. Besides, blowing a whistle is less tiring than shouting or yelling for help.
- Multi-tool. Multi-tools allow you to carry a bunch of tools in one handy device. With this, you can cut strips of cloth to make bandages, remove splinters and thorns, and perform a host of other minor repairs on malfunctioning gears and equipment.
- Super Glue. Although it is quite rare to find your shoes or boot’s soles falling off during a short hike, it is still best to be prepared. Having a tube of superglue at hand can save you from such a problem, and can even be used to fix broken sunglasses, torn backpack straps, and others.
- Small Towel. If you’re hiking on a particularly hot day, then you’ll need something to wipe away the sweat trickling down your face and the rest of your body. Although any type of towel (or even a handkerchief will do), consider getting a small microfiber towel instead. It’s less bulky than a regular towel and more effective in removing and collecting moisture.
Feel free to add and remove items in this list as you see fit. Just remember to pack light because even a half-filled backpack can feel like a sack of bricks after several hours of walking. Also, learn how to pack a backpack properly. This will allow you to save space so you don’t have to carry a heavy and overstuffed backpack while hiking.
Bring Food and Water
Obviously, you’ll need to bring some food and water even if it’s just a few hours of hiking. Hiking is supposed to be fun, and being hungry or dehydrated out on the trail is far from being fun. So pack a bunch of tasty trail mix and energy bars for snacks, and a sandwich or a packed lunch for your midday meal (just make sure that they don’t spoil easily). You should also bring plenty of sports drinks or water for obvious reasons.
Dress for Success
Technically speaking, you don’t need any specialized type of clothing for hiking, especially if you’ll just be walking for a few hours and spending most of your time admiring the awesomeness of Mother Nature. Nonetheless, if you’re pretty serious about this activity and are planning to make regular trips outdoors (and eventually venture out and get started with backpacking and camping), then you may want to consider investing in proper outdoor clothing early on.
- Hiking Shirts. Hiking shirts are generally made from nylon or polyester. Such fabrics are breathable, allowing a small amount of air to pass through which helps to cool you down while hiking. They also have moisture-wicking capabilities that capture sweat from your skin. They also dry pretty quickly so you don’t have to endure walking around in a wet shirt.
- Hiking Pants or Shorts. If you’re going on a short, low-altitude hike on a warm day, then wearing a pair of shorts should be fine. On the other hand, if you’re planning to climb mountains and during the colder seasons of the year, then you should definitely be wearing pants. If you don’t want to buy shorts and pants separately, consider getting hiking pants with zip-off legs that can turn into shorts at a moment’s notice.
- Hiking Boots or Trail Shoes. There are many types of hiking boots and trail shoes out there, but whatever you choose, you need to make sure that they’re comfortable, durable, and fit your feet perfectly. Some experts recommend getting footwear made from waterproof materials (for muddy or excessively wet trails) and one that comes up slightly over the ankles (for added support).
- Rain Jacket. Even if there’s no rain forecast for the day, consider packing a lightweight rain jacket just in case. Weather conditions can change quickly especially when you’re going up in elevation and you may suddenly find yourself walking under a light rain.
- Brimmed Hat. Brimmed hats are very effective at shielding your face and the back of your neck from the scorching heat of the sun. They’re also great for protecting your head from light rains and drizzles.
- Choosing a pair of sunglasses for hiking shouldn’t be a trivial matter. More often than not, using the ones you already own should suffice. Still, if you have money to spare consider getting yourself a pair of polarized sunglasses as they are much better when it comes to reducing glare.
Again, you don’t have to buy any specialized clothing for hiking unless you really want to, especially if you’re hiking a relatively short and simple trail. However, once you advance to more challenging terrains, having the right hiking clothes can really make a difference between having fun and being uncomfortable.
Lather Up on Sunscreen
While the sun might not always be shining brightly from a clear blue sky, you are still exposed to harmful UVA and UVB rays. Yes, even on a cloudy or overcast day, a significant amount of the sun’s rays will still be able to bypass the clouds and reach your skin. For this reason, lather up on the sunscreen before you leave the house or get out of the car. Also, because you’ll be sweating a lot while on the trail, don’t forget to reapply sunscreen every hour or so. The choice of which sunscreen to use is a matter of preference. But it is recommended that you choose a sunscreen with an excellent SPF rating, doesn’t feel sticky or greasy, and won’t leave streaks of white on your face and skin.
Get a Permit
Many hiking trails are free for use for anyone and really don’t require a permit, especially the short hiking trails in open public spaces. However, there are hiking trails that will require you to get a permit from the authorities or the park managers. If you’re not sure whether you need one or not, call the park office and clear things up with them.
Tell Someone Where You’re Going
So you have your gear and permit ready, but before you drive out to the starting point, be sure to let somebody where you’re going and at what time they can expect you to be back. This is whether you’re hiking on your own or in a group. This can be as simple as sending a friend or a family a message, or you can also leave an itinerary of your trip on the fridge door. This way, if something bad happens while you’re out on the trail, someone can inform the search and rescue team where they’re most likely to find you.
Watch Your Step
Now that you’re out on the trail, you need to keep your eyes open, not just to soak in the scenery and admire the beauty nature has to offer, but more importantly to stay safe. Along this line, be sure to be mindful of where you’re stepping. One of the most common injuries that many people suffer while hiking is a twisted ankle, which is usually caused by slipping on a rock, tripping on a root, or stepping in the wrong place. Aside from that (and more alarming), you may unknowingly step on a venomous snake. You don’t have to keep your eyes glued to the ground, but just be conscious of where you’re walking and your surroundings.
One issue that many first-time hikers often worry about is bathroom breaks. However, this isn’t really something to be concerned about since many hikers, from novice to experienced ones, have learned how to deal with it when the need arises. For instance, if you really need to pee, simply look for a place that’s well away from the trail and at least 200 feet (or around 70 paces) from the nearest water sources. As an aside, many public trails, especially the most-frequented ones have official bathrooms set up at various points along the trail.
Don’t Forget Hiking Etiquette
Unless you’re going to far-flung and less-frequented hiking trails, you are most likely going to be sharing the trail with other adventurers. That said, you need to be considerate of and show respect to other hikers.
Hiking etiquette is pretty much like the unspoken rules of the trail. For instance, if you’re going down, always yield to hikers going uphill as blocking their way will ruin their momentum. Another is that if you’re going to pass someone along the way, let them know your intention and pass to their left whenever possible. No need to be overly formal though, a simple ‘excuse me’ will do nicely. And if you’re going hiking with your dog, always keep Fido on a leash and don’t let them run about. There are many other rules to keep in mind, and doing so will help to foster a positive atmosphere among everyone sharing the trail.
Practice the “Leave No Trace” Principles
One reason why you may have decided to go hiking is that you love nature, and to show that you do please practice the “Leave No Trace” principles when you’re hiking, backpacking or camping. The principles are pretty common sense (i.e. don’t litter on the trail, respect the wildlife, etc.) and fairly easy to follow. By doing so, we do our part in preserving the environment and ensuring that we still have a hiking trail to return to next time.
Enjoy the Moment
A final piece of advice would be to simply enjoy the moment. As a novice backpacker, avoid going walking too fast as this will not only burn up your energy faster but it will also make you miss some outstanding views or an opportunity to encounter wildlife. So take it slow, conserve your energy, and just soak it all in.
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Hiking can be so much fun and is definitely something that you should experience at least once in your lifetime. It provides you with an opportunity to see the world from a different perspective and enjoy everything that Mother Nature has to offer. Just remember to start easy and stay safe always. Refer to the hiking guide above from time to time, and be sure to have some fun while you’re out there.
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