Getting fit for the trail shouldn’t be a chore. In 6 Weeks to Trail Fit from Outside LEARN, professional guide Jason Antin teaches you the exercises and routines you need to know in order to feel comfortable and competent on the trail. Outside+ members can start learning today.
Watch: Get ready for your next big hike with 6 Weeks to Trail Fit from Outside LEARN
How to get in shape for hiking? Maybe the better question is how to stay in shape for hiking.
There is no official hiking season. Some places are mild and hike-friendly year-round, but in many parts of the northern hemisphere, the weather and trail conditions are only good for trekking from late spring all the way to mid-November. That’s six solid months for day hikes, backpacking, mountain climbing, and scrambling. Add snowshoes or skis, and there’s no reason you can’t get into the backcountry all year round.
But if you think you can just hop off the couch after a long layoff, slip on your boots, and hit the trail, think again. Most trails are uneven and have at least some elevation gain, so even the easiest hiking requires balance and strength to avoid injury. The good news: getting back into the swing of things isn’t as hard as you think.
Start With These Basic Hiking Fitness Tips
Two of the most common hiking injuries are ankle rolling and ankle sprains. If you’re out of shape or just haven’t been active for a while, start with some basic exercises to warm up your muscles and get your heart rate up.
Run or walk in sand
It builds the muscles that protect your knees and ankles.
Build range of motion
Get a resistance band to strengthen your muscles through their full extension. Standing on a tennis ball or balance disc is great for this too as it builds the small stabilizer muscles around the ankle and knee.
Building your core strength will help you keep your balance on uneven surfaces.
Squats and lunges
Keep your back straight and take each squat and lunge slowly to strengthen your core muscles.
Good upper body strength (especially in your back) will serve you well on long trips where you need to carry a heavier pack.
Getting this is as easy as walking on a trail. (City-dweller? Hitting the treadmill or stationary bike at your local gym works too.) Whichever you choose, make sure to get your heart rate up. This will help build your lung capacity so you can hike longer.
Before a backpacking trip, weight your pack (use 20 lbs. to start) and step up onto a park bench 16 to 18 inches high. Add 5 pounds a week until your pack is as heavy as it will be on your hike. To prepare for an extended, multi-day hike, do this exercise three times a week until you can do 700 steps in less than 30 minutes.
Build Out Your Home Gym
You can do all the exercises on this page with a few, simple pieces of gear.
Free weights: A simple set of dumbbells will let you both lift and easily and precisely weight your pack.
Resistance band: Useful for lunges and other leg-strengthening exercises, resistance bands can also be a rehab tool to help mitigate shin splints.
Shoes: You can use your trail shoes, but if you’re cross-training, something flatter will let you lift and run on pavement without the wobbliness of aggressive tread.
Training for a Day Hike
If you’re a beginner or haven’t been out hiking for a while, celebrate the good weather with a day hike. But first, let your body know you’re going to be pushing it beyond your afternoon stroll. If you’re planning a hike for the weekend, here are some tips to get your body in shape.
- Take yourself out for a walk two or three times during the week. Make sure to move briskly enough to get your heart rate up, and then keep it up for at least 30 minutes.
- Be sure to wear the same shoes that you’ll be wearing on your hike. A sure-fire way to get blisters is to walk for a long time in shoes you haven’t worn in a long time (or at all).
- Carry a lightly-weighted daypack on your weekday walks. That way, you’ll make sure you’re prepared to tote your essential gear.
The Three Best Exercises to Get in Shape for Hiking
Hold equal weights in both hands. From a standing position, step forward until both legs are bent at 90 degrees. Push up, bringing rear foot forward. Repeat with the other leg.
Poor Man’s Leg Curl
Lay flat on the floor and scoot your hips toward an elevated bench. Place your left foot on the bench. Lift your right leg up as high as you can bear. Press your left foot down into the bench, clench your glutes and hamstrings, and raise your hips off the ground. Do 10, then repeat on the other side.
Tie a resistance band around your legs, just above the knees, so there’s tension while you stand with legs at hip-width. Stand straight, tuck your abs, put your hands on your hips, and walk sideways while maintaining the band’s tension between your shins.
Take your fitness to the next level with our 16 exercises to help you train like a guide.
How to Avoid Injury on Steep and Rocky Trails
It may seem like a welcome break after a hard hike to the top of a peak, but don’t be deceived: Downhill hiking is tough on your legs, toes, and especially knees. On the downhill segment of a hike, your body is holding its own weight back, plus whatever you have in your backpack, to avoid falling. This repeated pressure can lead to injury. Scrambling over rocks and uneven surfaces can also strain joints. The best prevention is to exercise in advance of the hike to build your body’s strength for the task.
How to Avoid “Hiker’s Knee”
- Exercise during the week to build up your quadriceps, calves, and hamstrings. Brisk walking, either outside or on a treadmill, is good for this. Riding a bike also targets these muscles.
- Try exercises with ankle weights. Start small—5 pounds is a good goal if you haven’t done this workout before. Lie on your back with one leg bent. Slowly lift the other leg keeping your knee slightly flexed. Repeat with the other leg. To work your hamstrings, stand and lift one weighted leg behind you until it is at a 90-degree angle. Hold for a few seconds and lower to the floor slowly. Repeat on the other side.
- Do bodyweight exercises including lunges and step-ups.
- Use trekking poles (see tips below on how) to help reduce the impact on your knees.
How to Use Trekking Poles
If you’re concerned about your knees or ankles, consider getting a pair of trekking poles. They aren’t just for newbies or older hikers: Poles help anyone keep their balance on very rocky or uneven terrain. They give you an extra two “limbs” to hold yourself up while you navigating the trail. People with joint issues are especially wise to invest in a pair. Here’s how to use them:
- Keep your arms in a fairly neutral position, only slightly bent at the elbows and use your shoulders to propel yourself forwards.
- Keep a relaxed and loose grip on the poles by using the straps.
- When hiking downhill, keep the poles slightly in front of you. Shorten your stride to reduce the impact on your knees. If the trail is very steep or muddy, try ramming the poles into the ground and taking side-steps up to the pole.
- When hiking uphill with poles, you should use the poles to push off, not pull yourself up the hill. Avoid planting the tip of the pole in front of your lead foot.
How to Choose Hiking Boots and Shoes
We cannot stress it enough: No matter how fit you are, your footwear will make or break your hike. More to the point, it will either protect and support your feet and ankles, or it won’t and you’ll want to rip it off your feet at mile two and throw them off the cliff. When shopping for hiking boots and shoes, make sure your pick complements your fitness and packing style: While you’ll spend a lot less energy hiking in trail-running shoes, you may need the extra support of a mid-cut boot if you’ve injured your ankles in the past. Likewise, ultralighters won’t need as much support as everything-but-the-kitchen-sink packers. Buy your boots someplace where you can be fitted by someone who knows what to look for. Some boots are designed for specific terrain and even certain strides, so it’s worth doing some research before making a purchase.
Preparing Physically for a Backpacking Trip
If you’re planning a multi-day hiking trip, the last thing you want is to wake up on day three too sore to keep going. Give yourself time to prepare for several days of hiking—like anything else, you’ll want to work your way back up.
Tips for Getting in Shape for Backpacking:
- Depending on how long your backpacking trip will be, give yourself up to a month to prepare. Take yourself on walks and shorter hikes three times a week.
- Make sure to wear the same boots you’ll wear on your trip. If you’ve just bought new boots, give yourself time to break them in. Wear them around the house for a few days, Then build up to a short walk. Finally, take a hike with them on, paying attention to any sore spots on your feet.
- Wear your backpack on hikes. Gradually increase the load until it’s as heavy as it’ll be on your trip.
- Lift weights to build up your strength.
- Sore joints? Swim to build strength and lung capacity while they recover.
Basic 9-Week Early Season Training Program
Fitness coach Jordan Smothermon recommends building a good strength base early in the season (early spring, for those who live where winter isn’t good for hiking). As you need more endurance, you can easily trade short-burst power for long-burn performance. Think of your muscles as savings account for fitness. As you move from segment to segment, build on the fitness and strength gains you’ve made.
- Weeks 1-3: Strength-training 3 days per week, 1 hour/session. “Put on strength now and you’ll have muscle that you can later sacrifice to build up your endurance,” Smothermon says. Keep rest periods to a minute or two: “No time to flex in front of the mirror.”
- Weeks 4-6: Add one endurance workout every week for 45 minutes at moderate intensity (e.g. jogging, hiking).
- Weeks 7-9: Increase the intensity of your weekly endurance workouts to 1.5 to 2 hours and add 1 day of high-intensity exercise with high output but less weight (e.g. speed hiking).
Preventing Altitude Sickness
Anyone planning a hike that will take them above 8,000 feet, especially flatlanders, needs to know how to recognize and treat altitude sickness. Medical experts have researched the best ways to beat altitude sickness and stay healthy overall at high elevation, but here are the most important tips to keep in mind.
- Give yourself time to acclimate to the elevation. Gradual gain spread out over a number of days is key.
- Symptoms including headaches, insomnia, and nausea usually wear off in a day or two
- Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol.
- Eat a lot. Trekking burns a lot of calories.
- Keep your pace slow.
- If you do have headaches, ordinary painkillers, Star Kratom capsules, along with rest and hydration, may help.
- The surest cure for altitude sickness: go down. If your symptoms fail to improve or worsen, retreat to a lower elevation.
Tips for Getting in Shape for Mountain Hiking
Mountaineering, technical or not, is a huge strain on the body. Steep ascents to high altitude tests your lung capacity and requires extra strength. At higher elevations, the weather is also less predictable, which can create challenges for hikers.
“Mountain athletes put their bodies on the line,” says Smothermon,. “The way to test our fitness is, if the weather changes, can we get down or out quickly and safely?”
Training for mountain hiking requires all of the same gradual conditioning as backpacking, Smothermon recommends starting earlier and adding weight-bearing exercises. It takes at least six months to prepare for a basic mountaineering trip. Mt. Rainier, for example, is a 9,000-foot elevation gain on snowy and crevassed with only ⅔ of the available oxygen compared to sea level. Add a 50-pound pack and you’re looking at a major undertaking.
Six-Month Training Program for Mountain Hiking
If you’re planning a mountaineering trip in the summer, start your conditioning around New Year’s. (Pro tip: Training for a big goal makes for a great resolution.) Conditioning for a mountain hike is best done in three phases:
- January/February: Foundational strength and cardio exercises to get in shape, focusing on lower back muscles, thighs, and calves. Alternate during the week between taking a run and hitting the gym.
- March/April: Push yourself further during this phase by running further and faster. Add to your load while weight-training. This will help you build lung capacity and strength.
- May/June: Taper off on the weight-training. This is the time to maintain fitness. Keep up the cardio and weights, but just back off a bit so you’re in peak condition for the mountain.
Getting in Shape for a Thru-Hike
A thru-hike is a commitment. Hiking a trail end-to-end involves long distances and takes multiple weeks, if not months. If you’re planning to hike the Pacific Crest Trail or the Appalachian Trail, you’ll need to consider mental as well as physical preparation. A thru-hike is like a pilgrimage. Give yourself six months to get ready, both physically and mentally. It’s smart to really consider what weeks of hiking will feel like and prepare for what to expect.
The Pacific Coast Trail is 2,650 miles long and takes about five months (the entire snow-free season) to complete. A thru-hike of this length is different than a backpacking trip because the first weeks can act as part of the training. Use shorter hikes to train for your thru-hike and set up a six-month conditioning schedule with cardio and strength-building exercises.
The best way to prepare is to check out the advice that long trail alumni and other thru-hikers have to offer. You might be wondering how to condition for your first thru-hike, or even how to work a months-long hike into your life without quitting your job. Whatever your question, the thru-hike experts will have the answer.
— Update: 16-03-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article Hiking 101: The Complete Guide to Hiking for Beginners from the website veggievagabonds.com for the keyword learn to hike.
Want to get your boots on and head into the outdoors but don’t know where to start? This guide to hiking for beginners has all the info you’ll need!
You’ve got your hiking boots on, your worries left at home and a sprawling trail in front of you.
You leave the built world behind and become surrounded by dense nature. No sounds of cars or chatter, just the calming symphony of birds singing, streams flowing and a breeze whistling through the trees.
Feel the sun on your skin, fill your lungs with fresh air and smell the ecosystem around you. There’s a world of adventure opportunity ahead.
Welcome to the world of hiking!
It’s 100% everything it’s cracked up to be, and so much more. If you want to hit the trail but you’re not sure where to start, you’ve come to the right place!
Over the years we’ve learnt all the hiking tips and tricks and have put them together in this guide. You’ll find all the info you need to become a hiking pro, no matter your level of fitness or experience. Everything you need right here.
In this hiking guide you’ll find:
- What is hiking?
- The benefits of hiking
- How to plan and prepare for a hike (incl. different types of hiking, picking the right hike for YOU and how to find the best trails)
- What to pack for hiking trips
- What clothes to wear hiking
- Hiking foods and water
- Hiking safety tips
- What to do post-hike
- How to stay green and respectful on the trail & trail etiquette
- Hiking FAQ
What is hiking?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it’s “the activity of going for long walks in the countryside” but we think it’s more than that.
Hiking is when you deliberately spend time walking in a natural setting, often done on hiking trails. These trails can go through mountains, lakesides, forests, deserts etc, can take hours to months to complete and would be at the least light exercise.
At the same time, it also doesn’t have to be done at a high intensity, or a long period of time, and it doesn’t need to be about getting from A to B. Our advice is to plan your first hiking trail and find out exactly what it means to you.
Why is hiking so great?
There are hundreds of hiking benefits but these are just some of the most important ones…
- It’s the perfect exercise – from easy walking trails around a lake to intense multi-day hikes across mountain ranges. It’s a great cardio workout that uses all of the muscles in your body without being overly strenuous and with little risk of injury.
- It helps you appreciate the outdoors – Ethical adventures are the answer to a whole lot of problems and hiking particularly helps you value the natural world.
- Hiking is free to everyone and very accessible – You don’t need to find a team, buy a membership, go at a certain time or buy loads of fancy equipment. All you need is a natural setting and the desire of spending time outdoors. Anyone can hike and it’s completely free!
- A time to switch off – Put your phones away, forget about social media and leave the emails at home. Hiking is a time to unplug.
- Hiking is scientifically proven to be good for mental health – According to the University of British Columbia: “any form of immersion in the natural world, outside of your internal world, heightens your overall well-being and improves your positive engagement with the larger human community”. It’s also used as a tool to treat depression and other mental health illnesses – definitely a winner!
Step 1: How to plan and prepare for a hike
To make the most of your time on the trail, a little planning goes a long way (particularly for first-time hikers). The good news is that hiking prep is surprisingly easy, and we’ve gone through the steps below.
Oh, and if you’re planning a BIG trip, you might also want to check out our guide on how to plan an adventure quickly and easily.
1.1 Different types of hiking to choose from
There are quite a few different types of hikes, some more suited to beginners than others.
- Day hike – started and finished in a day but the difficulty and technicality can change. These are normally the best hikes for beginners to build up experience.
- Walks – typically refer to a short or easy hike. A very good option for beginners wanting to start simple.
- Multi-day hike – multi-day hiking is done over a number days, normally camping overnight. There are more elements to think about and physically harder so less suitable for new hikers.
- Trekking – normally describes long, tough, multi-day hiking and better left for the more experienced.
- Thru-hike – an American term used for hiking very long routes like the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail. Requires lots of planning and physical strength so better to build up to.
- Section hiking – another American term for hiking individual sections of longer thru-hiking trails. Good preparation to build up for thru-hikes.
- Backpacking – this means multi-day hiking trips with your gear and camping equipment carried in your backpack. Again, has many aspects to think and is better for more experienced hikers.
- Loop – a hike that starts and finishes in the same place going in a loop. Quite enjoyable as you’re constantly seeing new scenery.
- One way hike – hiking from point A to B. The hike may finish at the ending point or you could come back on yourself to return to the starting point.
- Summit hike – when the main objective is to reach the summit or a peak. This is not necessarily a bad choice for beginners as you can find many smaller peaks which are safe and easily achievable in a day.
- Ridge walk – hiking trails that go along the ridge or edge of mountain areas. Often there is more risk involved and should be attempted by confident hikers.
- Technical – for hikes which require technical ability and equipment, with more risk of danger – not advised for beginners.
- Scramble – hikes which involve aspects of climbing and using both your hands and feet. Typically not suited to beginners as they can be more technical and dangerous.
- Mountaineering – very technical climbing of mountains.
Short day hikes are great starting points to safely build up confidence and knowledge. Then, you can slowly build up to more demanding hikes when you’re ready.
1.2 Picking the right hike for you
If you’re just starting out we’d suggest thinking about your ideal hike. To find the perfect route, there are a few things you need to think about:
- Hiking distance
- Elevation Gain (how much altitude you will gain)
- Time needed
Pick the right hike for YOU and the time you have.
For your first one, pick something close to home which is easily within your fitness level and not too technical.
Pay particular attention to elevation gain! Even if a hiking trail is short it could be made much harder if it’s all uphill or on difficult terrain.
1.3 Where to find hiking trails
Now you know the kind of hike you want to go on it’s time to start looking for the trail.
Keep in mind the details listed above and whether you’ll find amenities for food, water, shelter etc closeby.
Below are some good places to find hikes nearby or inspiration further afield:
- ‘Hikes near me’ platforms – Use interactive maps to find hikes close to you – All Trails, MapMyWalk, Outdoor Active (also shows other outdoor activities) and Hiking Project (good for America) are all great sources for outdoor inspiration.
- Local hiking information or national park websites – If you know a certain area, national park or even country you want to find hiking trails in then try a Google search for the area name + hiking e.g ‘Peak District National Park hiking’ or ‘Pyrenees hiking’. You could also search for ‘hiking near me’ or ‘beginner hiking trails near me’ if you’re looking for something easier.
- You’ll find trails from national websites (like National Trails in the UK), specific websites for certain regions (like this one for hikes in the Mont Blanc region) or even from national park websites like this from the Bavarian Forest National Park in Germany.
- Online communities – You’ll find a wealth of information on different social platforms and forums. Facebook has some excellent hiking groups – this one is really useful for the UK but you’ll find plenty more by searching for different locations + hiking in the Facebook groups section.
- Hiking and outdoors blogs (like this one!) – These can be great places to find different hiking routes and tips, some of our favourites are Bald Hiker (perfect for the UK) and Modern Hiker (top choice for North America).
- Hiking movies and documentaries – this can be a great source of hiking inspiration, or for trails you can build up to.
- GPS – You can use GPS apps like Maps.Me or Komoot to find local hiking trails as well as navigating on the trail. I wouldn’t advise using this method to find your first hike as it can be hard to estimate route details (distance, elevation gain, difficulty, etc.) and you can end up on a trail much harder than anticipated.
- Topographic maps and walking guidebooks – 1:25 000 topographic maps show detailed hiking trails and walking guidebooks generally have lots of useful hiking information for specific areas or routes too. It can also be difficult to estimate route details just from a topographic map so approach with caution if it’s your first time using them.
1.4 Find some trail buddies
For beginner hikers, it can be nicest to start off with a partner or group. It’s enjoyable to share the experience as well as being safer, plus, it’s someone you can split the planning and preparations with!
Friends, family, partners, children are all great options but you can also think about joining local hiking groups.
Towns/cities might have hiking groups who organise trips, or you can look for local groups on things like Facebook or MeetUp. This can be a great way of experiencing hiking for the first time whilst not having too much pressure to plan everything yourself.
Want to go hiking on your own? Make sure the trail is well within your capability, you’re completely prepared with a working phone (will you have signal?), navigation, food and equipment. Then make sure you tell someone where you’re going.
Keep reading below for some extra safety tips in the following sections.
1.5 Check the conditions
With the hike decided, now check the conditions with local weather forecasts.
Don’t rely on big national forecasts, try and find smaller regional ones which are more accurate. If you’re hiking a popular mountain or region, you might be able to find forecasts specifically for the trail or peak.
Local weather apps can also be useful for your planning. We like Windy!
Pick a day which will be enjoyable – there’s no point going for your first hike in a storm. Once you’ve picked a day, then you can decide the things you need to take with you hiking (you’ll find advice in the next section).
For more detailed advice for different conditions, check out our guides below:
- Top Tips for Hiking in the Heat
- The Ultimate Winter Hiking Guide
- Everything You Need to Go Hiking in the Rain
Step 2: What to wear hiking
Picking the best hiking clothes will depend on where you’re going and at what time of year.
Below you’ll find some general recommendations for year-round conditions, and if you’ll be somewhere hotter, colder, wetter etc you can add or take off items. These are some of the essentials you should focus on:
- Hiking shoes or boots – Get ones that fit comfortably, have good grip and don’t rub. We’d highly recommend opting for trail runners in hot conditions, then switching to boots for colder and wetter hikes. Our guide to vegan-friendly footwear has lots of good hiking shoes for beginners too.
- Waterproof jacket – This can be used to keep you warm as a windbreaker and also as protection from the rain. I love the Arc’teryx Zeta (men / women)
- Insulated Jacket – A light thermal layer is really useful for warmth and is normally small enough to keep in your bag in case the weather drops. We love the Arc’teryx Atom LT (check out the link for our full review) or find our full guide to vegan insulated jackets for more options.
- Good socks – Pick well-sized, hard-wearing socks which have enough insulation for your hiking destination.
- Gloves – even in milder conditions your extremities can get cold. Decent hiking gloves are lightweight and can be a godsend if the temperatures drop or wind picks up.
- Hard-wearing hiking trousers (pants), shorts or leggings – they need to tough enough to last, stretchy enough to allow movement and fitted well to avoid chafing.
- Waterproof trousers – Good for rain and snow but also as an insulating layer in the colder months. Our pick are these flexible Mountain Hardwear waterproof trousers (men / women)
- Wicking base layer – Choose something which wicks moisture away and is warm/cool enough for your environment. You can pick these up very cheap!
- Warm, lightweight fleece – You’ll find many different options for fleeces but go for something which drys quickly and provides the right amount of warmth for your hike.
- Hat – Whether it’s a sun hat for hot conditions or a warm beanie in colder conditions, the right hat is a must.
For a complete guide to gear and clothing, for both summer and winter, our day hiking packing list has a much more detailed breakdown.
Obviously what YOU need for YOUR trip may vary greatly, but above are the foundations you should focus on. If you’re looking to buy new hiking clothes, you can find everything you need at outdoor retailers like Cotswolds (for UK hikers) and REI (North America).
Step 3: Additional hiking gear for beginners
With your clothing sorted, now it’s onto the equipment in your backpack.
For safety, you should consider having the hiking essentials below in your backpack for every hike. They’re always in ours.
- Navigation – A compass, map or GPS device
- Water – A water bladder is an easy way of comfortably carrying and drinking water whilst hiking. Ours is a simple 3 litre one from Decathlon but you can also find them on REI here.
- Food – Taking the right food and snacks is very important, we like to make vegan energy balls to take with us. More food info below
- Additional warm clothing – clothes get wet, conditions change – spares are important!
- Headlight or torch – We use a Black Diamond Storm and think it’s pretty awesome
- Sun protection – A hat, sunglasses and sun cream
- First-aid kit – We use a simple first aid kit and then add additional items in.
- Fire – A lighter, matches or flint stick
- Multi-tool or penknife – The ultimate outdoor tool, our choice is a Leatherman multitool which has a lifetime warranty
- Mobile phone – Good for communication and for navigating
- Waterproof stuff sack – Even if you have a waterproof rucksack cover this can be used for extra protection with phones, cameras and valuables.
- Hiking rucksack – find the right option in our Guide to Outdoor Backpacks
Find more info and guides on our Outdoor Gear and Reviews section
Step 4: What food to take hiking
If you’re like us, half the fun of hiking is taking some tasty vegan grub to eat in a stunning location. Fun aside, it’s super important to take the right amount of food and water with you because a hungry hiker is not a happy hiker!
For food, opt for things that are lightweight, easily stored and have a good amount of calories and carbohydrates. We put together a guide to the best vegan hiking foods which you can use for ideas.
Taking the right amount of water is also crucial
When planning your route, consider: will there be water available along the way?
Taking too much water will weigh you down whilst not enough can be extremely dangerous. If there are reliable refill spots along the way, you can go with less and top up as you go.
It’s generally advised to drink 1 litre of water for every 2 hours of hiking but this will change depending on temperatures. To be extra safe carry more than you need, just in case you decide to hike for longer or get lost.
If you’re going on a shorter hike then perhaps your average water bottle will do. If you need to carry more water then pack a water bladder can be brilliant.
You can also consider buying a water filter or water purification tablets to drink from natural water sources.
Picking the Best 2-Man Tent
Adventure Planning Essentials & Guides
All Our Outdoor Adventure Content
Step 5: Staying safe – hiking safety tips!
For hiking beginners and pros alike, if you’re away from populated areas it’s especially important to stay safe. Stick to these tips and you’ll stay safe on the trail!
- Research your route properly
- Check to see if there are water sources or nearby amenities for food
- Pack the essentials you need (check the list above!)
- Wear the right hiking clothing for the weather
- Break your footwear in before the trail – blisters can be seriously painful!
- Make sure you tell someone where you’re going and always carry a phone
- Look at local weather forecasts and if a storm approaches then turn back
- Make sure you stay hydrated and keep energy levels high with the right foods
- Go at a consistent pace and be sure not to over-exert yourself – listen to your body!
Step 6: What to do post-hike
Once you get back home, there are a few tips you’re going to appreciate!
- Make sure you stretch – If you’re not used to hiking you can get mighty stiff the next day. Doing some whole-body stretches when you finish will help soothe your recovery
- Hydrate and have a good meal – Your body is likely to be craving water, electrolytes and a good meal!
- Dry out your clothes, clean your gear and prevent mold in camping fabrics (it’s what can cause that stinky odour)
- Do some DIY outdoor gear maintenance to fix any problems before storing your equipment
- Get planning your next hike – Hooked? Get planning your next trail!
- Repack – having your hiking rucksack ready to go will mean you can get out the door even quicker for your next hike
Step 7: How to stay green and trail etiquette
We’re very lucky to have beautiful parts of the world to hike through – let’s make sure we protect it. Here are three things every hiker should be aware of on the trail…
- Leave no Trace – There are 7 simple Leave no Trace Principles you can follow to make your time outside more eco-friendly.
- Stick to the hiking trail – Coming away from the path causes unnecessarily trampling of wildlife and vegetation which really adds up in more popular areas.
- Don’t approach or disrupt animals – This tip is for your safety as well as theirs. Wild animals, however small, can be dangerous when threatened.
- Peeing and pooing outside – If you need a poop in the wild (it will happen eventually) do it away from water sources, trails or camping areas and dig a whole – make sure to cover it when you’re done!
Don’t forget trail etiquette!
There are a few simple considerations you can have to keep friendly with your fellow hikers:
- For priority on the trail, the general rule is horses, hikers then bikers
- Give way to people going uphill
- Stick to the right of the trail, pass people on the left
- If you want music, do it with headphones
- A hello and a smile go a long way!
Your hiking Questions Answered
Want more hiking tips and beginner’s guides to outdoor pursuits? Sign up for our newsletter at the bottom!
Hiking 101: The Complete Guide to Hiking for Beginners
We always want to help more people spend more time on the trail. You really can’t beat spending a day hiking – it’s something we think EVERYONE should try at least once – so hopefully this guide can help!
Still not sure how to start hiking? Give us a shout in the comments and we can share some more tips!
— Update: 17-03-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article Hiking for Beginners: Essential Hiking 101 Tips from the website bearfoottheory.com for the keyword learn to hike.
There are so many mental and physical health benefits of hiking. It can help you get into better shape, reduces stress, and even improve brainpower. If you’ve read my story you know that hiking helped me lose 30 pounds, build self-confidence, and was the start of my relationship with the outdoors. Now, more than 15 years later, it’s why I’m so enthusiastic about encouraging you to get outside. And it’s also the reason I wanted to make this Hiking 101 guide with all of my best hiking tips easily accessible to you.
If you’re interested in hiking but don’t have a lot of experience, it can be a little overwhelming when you are first starting out. So in this beginner’s hiking guide, we share everything you need to know to get started. We include advice on how to pick a trail, recommendations on gear, how to manage fears of getting lost and wildlife, and more. So dive in and get ready, because you’re about to discover all you need to know to enjoy a life spent outside.
Here’s the Bearfoot Theory Beginner’s Guide to Hiking 101.
How to Physically Prepare for Hiking as a Beginner
When you are first starting out hiking, we recommend choosing trails that are in line with your current fitness levels. Of course, hiking is a way to kick-start your exercise routine and get in shape, but if you pick a trail that is way above your pay grade, you won’t enjoy it and might never hike again. We will talk more about how to find the right hiking trail in a bit, but prior to your first hike, doing some physical preparation and establishing a healthy awareness of your body will help grow your confidence as a beginner hiker.
Stretches and Exercises for Hiking
As a beginner hiker, the more you can work a few gentle stretches and exercises into your normal routine, the more quickly you will build up strength. Whether this means going to the gym, doing exercises at home, or starting your morning out with some yoga poses, being more active in your daily life will help build your stamina and confidence when it’s time to get on the trail. But remember, you don’t have to be a marathon runner or a serious athlete to start hiking. Simply being out on the trail will help you get in shape.
As you are training, remember to always listen to your body and any pain signals, as this can be great experience for knowing when to push yourself or turn back around on bigger and more challenging hikes. For more tips on hiking training, see our post, How to Train for Hiking.
Improving Your Lung Capacity for Hiking
Another thing that used to bother me as a beginner hiker was I’d always be so out of breath on the trail. I felt embarrassed, and it prevented me from hiking with people who I knew were in better shape than me. Fifteen years later, if I let my routine slip, I still get out of breath very easily. I’ve learned that it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and for many people, it’s completely normal.
With that said, if you find it uncomfortable and want to get in control of that heavy breathing, you can learn some simple exercises and steps you can take to improve your lung capacity in this blog post.
Dealing with Aches and Pains
Hiking is hard work, and it can leave your body and joints tired and achy. Beginner or not, if you have weak knees or sensitive feet, there are proactive steps you can take to take to prevent hiking from taking a big toll on your body. Read about how to protect your knees while hiking and how to eliminate foot pain from hiking for more on this topic.
Essential Hiking Gear for Beginners
Supportive Hiking Daypack
A daypack is the first piece of gear you’ll need. When you’re just starting out, you can grab any old backpack you have lying around your house. However, once you decide you are hooked on hiking, there are a few features of a proper daypack that will be worth investing in. A hiking day pack will have a supportive hipbelt that will transfer the weight off your shoulders onto your much-stronger hips. A hiking daypack will usually also have a dedicated pouch for a hydration reservoir which allows you to drink from a hose while you hike without having to take your pack off.
Read our blog post to find the best hiking daypacks for women.
What To Bring Hiking
The Internet is full of lists of what to bring hiking – but how do you know what you actually need? We recommend carrying the “ten essentials” – a tried and true list of the top ten things you’ll want to carry with you that work well for most easy to moderate hikes. The Ten Essentials cover everything from hiking snacks and water to navigation tools, a first aid kit, and other safety items. Remember that you can use this list as a guide and simply tailor it to whatever you’re doing.
Check out our article on what to bring hiking to get your gear systems dialed.
What to Wear Hiking
In addition to the Ten Essentials and basic day hiking gear, you need to prepare for the weather with the right hiking layers. Knowing how to dress appropriately is an essential hiking 101 skill. The first step: check the forecast and be aware that the weather in the mountains can change very quickly. Always prepare for the worst.
Good hiking layers are moisture-wicking, which means they dry quickly and move sweat away from your body and are typically made of polyester, nylon, or wool. Avoid cotton and other heavy fabrics, like jeans, that are heavy and slow drying. Most of what you pack depends on the season, temperature, and forecast. Here are some of the Bearfoot Theory blog posts to help you brush up on what to wear hiking:
- What to Wear Hiking
- Best Lightweight Rain Jackets for Hiking
- Cold Weather Hiking Clothes Basics
- Best Women’s Synthetic Down Jackets
- Best Women’s Hiking Underwear
- What to Wear Hiking in Fall
- Sun Protection for Hikers
Hiking Boots / Hiking Shoes
Hiking boots are by far one of the most important pieces of gear for a hiker. Invest some time and money to scout out a good pair that fits your foot well, feels comfortable and supportive, and suits the terrain you hike in most often. There’s nothing better than having a great pair of hiking boots to help kick off your journey in the outdoors — not to mention, you’ll avoid getting painful blisters on the trail.
If you need recommendations, read all about how to choose the best hiking boots and our favorite pairs and our blog post on the difference between waterproof vs. non-waterproof hiking boots.
You’ll definitely want a set of trekking poles, not just as a beginner hiker, but even as a seasoned peak bagger (I use trekking poles on almost every hike). Get a good pair of trekking poles that are lightweight and adjustable to help you protect your knees on the trail. It’s a great tool for staying balanced, evenly distributing weight, and keeping a good pace on varied terrain. Plus, most are easily attached to your pack, so you can go hands-free when you need.
Read this blog post about the best trekking poles to find the right pair for you.
How to Choose a Hiking Trail
A barrier to entry for many first-time hikers is simply knowing how to choose and find the right trail. Don’t let the different options and unfamiliar terms scare you off or discourage you from choosing a good hiking trail. There are plenty of resources like apps, Facebook groups, and websites that can provide you with a ton of information. This will help you plan out things, like where to park, whether pets are allowed, difficulty levels, and any recent updates on trail conditions.
My #1 go-to app for finding trails is AllTrails. You can filter by mileage, difficulty, or a number of other factors, see photos, and read other hikers’ reviews. My second favorite way of finding trails is to buy a local trailfinder book. If you want more, here is a full list of our favorite trail finder apps and websites to help you choose a hiking trail.
Bearfoot Theory readers can get a FREE 7-Day Trial of AllTrails Pro using this link (upon signing up, click the green “Try Pro for Free” button).
Hiking for beginners should always be enjoyable and match your skill level. So, pick a well-maintained trail that is clearly marked and manageable for where your skill level is now, not where you think you should be. In general, and especially as a beginner hiker, remember the following when choosing a route.
- Fitness Ability
Ask yourself beforehand how far should you go? How much elevation is too much? 1000 feet might not sound like a lot, but in terms of hiking for beginners, 1000 feet could prove to be pretty challenging. Start small and as you build confidence, work your way up. You got this.
How to Navigate on the Trail
You should always carry some sort of trail map on your hikes and know how to read it. This is a classic skill to learn in your hiking for beginners’ journey. Improving your trail navigation skills will boost your confidence and keep you safe, so take some time to familiarize yourself with a map and be sure to spend a little time reading about the trail ahead of time, including any recent trip reports logged by fellow hikers.
If it’s a short two-mile hike, downloading a trail map to your phone should be good. You can use an app like AllTrails or a more advanced GPS app like Gaia to see your whereabouts. Just make sure you download the map for offline use if you will be out of cell service. For longer hikes where there’s a chance that my phone might die, I like to bring a paper map. For more tips to ensure you don’t get lost hiking, check out these blog posts:
- How to Read a Topographic Map
- How to Avoid Getting Lost While Hiking
How to Find People To Hike With
As a beginner hiker, having a few friends to get outside with is a great way to enjoy yourself and get used to hiking without having to go it alone. Don’t worry if you don’t have anyone to hit the trail with just yet. Recruit your friends and family, find local hiking Facebook groups, or even join a group or class at your local REI to meet other outdoor enthusiasts who are just as stoked as you are to get outside. You can share all your hiking 101 knowledge with them so they have a great first-time experience as well.
For tips on how to get your friends to join you on the trail, check out this blog post.
Leave No Trace & The Rules of the Trail
Having an awareness of yourself and your impact while you’re outside is basic hiking 101 and key to having a good experience as a beginner hiker. First, learn the seven principles of Leave No Trace, a set of guidelines that apply not only to hikers but outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. These ethics ensure the wild places you love will stay that way for years to come. Also, take the time to familiarize yourself with the unspoken rules of the trail. Don’t worry, this isn’t inside information, but more like common courtesy and a basic understanding of proper trail etiquette, so you can help maintain mutual respect with other trail users. Use these Bearfoot Theory guides to get in the know:
- The 7 Basic Principles of Leave No Trace
- Trail Etiquette 101: The Basic Rules of Hiking
- How to Poop Outdoors and Leave No Trace
- What Are Rock Cairns and Why You Shouldn’t Build Them
- How To Hike in the Desert & Protect Cryptobiotic Soil
- How to Be A Good LGBTQ+ Ally on the Trail
- How to Be An Ally to People of Color in the Outdoors
Addressing Your Fears of Hiking
Know that as a beginner hiker, it’s natural to have some fears or reservations about being outside. Be it wildlife, ability, or getting lost, all of these things can hold you back from getting the experience you need to overcome your fears of hiking. What you might not realize is that you are safer than you think. Try not to limit yourself or imagine you’ll have a bad experience. Positive thinking and a good attitude are key to hiking 101 and can go a long way with hiking for beginners. Read our blog post about how to manage outdoor fears here to learn more.
How To Stay Safe While Hiking
There is plenty to think about when you’re going for a hike, and a valuable tool for beginner hikers is knowing how to stay safe in the outdoors. If you are nervous about your physical ability, pick a moderately-trafficked hiking trail that won’t be too demanding and allows you to turn around or adjust your route if you need. Bring a friend who has some hiking experience or go with a group to make it even more fun. For more blog posts to help you stay safe while hiking, check out:
- Winter Hiking Tips: How To Hike In Snow
- How to Hike Comfortably in Rain
- Tips for Hiking With Type 1 Diabetes
- Safety Tips for Hiking With Your Dog
Now, here are some additional safety things to keep in mind while hiking:
Doing the research before you go hiking will prepare you for any possible wildlife encounters. Sticking to a popular trail during a busy time, like a weekend afternoon, can put you at ease so you aren’t totally alone. Remember these basic wildlife safety tips:
- Most wildlife naturally avoids humans.
- As you explore, watch for animal tracks and droppings on the trail so you can access what types of animals might be near the trail.
- If you come across wildlife, remain calm.
- Always walk, don’t run. Running away from wildlife screams “prey.” You could also trip and injure yourself if you take off running in a panic.
- Let a ranger or local agency know of your sighting.
Read our full article on staying safe and avoiding wildlife encounters while hiking.
Nervous about getting lost or going hiking on your own? Overcome your fears of hiking by following a few hard and fast rules for staying safe on the trail:
- Always stick to a well-marked trail
- Check the weather and trail reports before you go
- Tell someone where you are going, when you leave, and when you’ll be back. You can even leave a note in your car.
- Know your limits and trust your instincts
- Be prepared. Always bring the Ten Essentials (give or take a few)
Get over your fears of hiking alone with these tips for hiking solo safely.
What are your favorite hiking 101 tips? What questions do you have about hiking for beginners? Leave a comment below!
— Update: 17-03-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking: Everything You Need For Your First Hike! from the website www.nerdfitness.com for the keyword learn to hike.
Before you step foot in the great outdoors, read this guide!
There’s nothing more embarrassing than a city slicker getting lost in the woods, so let’s make sure you know where you’re going, what to wear, and what to bring.
That way your first hike will be fun, adventurous, and more importantly safe!
Today we will cover:
- How Do I Find Hiking Trails Near Me? (How to Start Hiking)
- What Shoes Do I Wear Hiking? (Proper Footwear)
- What Do I Wear While Hiking? (Clothing)
- How Much Water Should I Bring on My Hike?
- What Gear Should I Bring on My Hike? (Sunscreen, Knives, and First Aid Kits)
- What Food Should I Bring Hiking? What Should I Eat on a Day Hike?
- 7 Hiking Tips for Beginners.
I’m happy you’re excited about hiking and I can’t wait for you to get started!
I took the above picture while hiking through Killarney National Park in Ireland many years ago, and every time I look at it, I can’t help but think of Tolkien’s Middle-earth masterpiece, so I apologize (not really) for all of the Lord of the Rings nerdery running throughout this post!
Our community members love hiking too. In fact, one of our recent success stories specifically cited hiking as one of the fun activities she loved to do to help her lose 50 pounds:
By the end of today’s post, my goal is to have you pick a trail, pick a date, and identify a fella or gal to join your fellowship (galship?).
Before we jump in, are you here because you’re learning to hike to lose weight? Did you hear it’s a fun way to exercise and get your body moving?
If so, you’ve come to the right place!
As I mentioned, some clients in our uber-popular 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program used hiking as part of their weight loss training. These folks would rather head outside than jump on a treadmill, and our coaches designed a program so they could do just that!
Here’s how it works: your NF Coach will build a custom workout plan based on your experience level and goals. Training to climb up a literal mountain? Maybe you need to get rid of an old ring? We’ll create a plan to get you to the top!
Alright, let’s get you hiking!
How Do I Find Hiking Trails Near Me? (How to Start Hiking)
When you think of hiking, you might imagine a bunch of road-tested perma-travelers with oversized backpacks, hiking through epic mountains for weeks upon weeks at a time.
Or maybe, a pair of hobbits setting out on a worldwide adventure to destroy a ring of awe-inspiring power.
If you’re just beginning your journey to a better lifestyle, just thinking about serious hiking can be enough to keep you inside your comfy hobbit hole.
Although hiking can be an epic undertaking, it doesn’t need to be!
A hike also can be super simple and fun:
- A quick jaunt (such a great word, right?) around your local park after work.
- Exploring the woods behind your house with your kids on a Saturday morning.
- A half-day hike with your friends on a fun nature trail.
- A full day or overnight hike that also includes camping.
Here’s my definition for hiking: A person (or halfing, or self-aware robot) exploring their surroundings and their feet are on the actual ground. Like, dirt. And grass.
Some might say it needs to be difficult, have a certain elevation change, require a blah blah blah. It literally doesn’t matter.
What matters is that you go outside and do something you wouldn’t have done otherwise.
Here in the Nerd Fitness Rebellion, hikers would fall into the Adventurer class.
If you’re looking for a fun “cardio” activity and want to exercise in a way that’s exciting, hiking is a great way to get your legs, feet, and body used to some strenuous activity.
You get to pick your speed and difficulty, and you can always find the right amount of challenge for you.
HIKING 101: 5 STEPS TO PLAN OUT YOUR ADVENTURE
1) Decide how long you have to hike
This is a beginner’s guide to hiking, we’re not looking to hike the Appalachian Trail.
Instead, we want to start with trails that can be done in less than a day, that won’t require you to pack a tent, or bring an extra change of clothes. Pick a hike based on how much time you have – do you have the entire Sunday? Or do you just have a few hours on a Tuesday afternoon? It took Frodo and Sam 6 months to get to Mordor, but you probably don’t have that much time.
However, if you DID want to “walk to Mordor,” I got you covered there too. You’re welcome!
2) Decide if you’ll be hiking solo or with a friend/group
I love hiking solo – it’s mobile meditation for me. However, it’s also more dangerous should anything happen while you’re out on the trail! If you’re heading into the wilderness, I’d recommend buddying up with a friend or your significant other for your hike. It’s the perfect bonding opportunity. This is especially true if they have more hiking experience or they know the area that you’re hiking in.
3) Determine your level
If you are a hiking newbie and out of shape, sending yourself out on an eight-hour hike through the unmapped wilderness isn’t a great idea.
Start slow, and pick places around your town that will allow you to stop when necessary and get back to your car or home quickly. No need to be a hero; it’s always better to come back excited and say “wow that was easier than I expected!” than to realize you’re six hours from home and out of steam. Well, being a hero is cool. But not THAT kind of hero.
4) Pick your hiking location
Keep it simple! Go to AllTrails.com, put in your zip code, find your hiking trail!
Or pull up Google Maps and look for big green plots of land. We call those “parks.” Google the park name, learn about it, and decide if that’s where you want to go. Do not overcomplicate this step. Just get started.
Ask your active, adventurous friends or coworkers if they know any good spots.
The world is FULL of hiking trails and awesomeness – you just need to know where to look.
5) Regardless of where you are going, let somebody else know where and when
If you are out hiking alone, take the time to email or call somebody and let him know that you’ll be hiking and when you expect to be back.
We don’t want to hear about any 127 Hours stories on NF…that would make playing video games way more difficult.
You don’t need to tell them the brand of your underwear (please tell me you’re wearing underwear) or how many almonds you’re bringing, but let them know the important details so if they don’t hear back from you by a certain time they know to alert the proper authorities.
So right now, you should have answers to the following questions:
- How much time you can dedicate to hiking.
- Who you will be hiking with.
- Your level of experience
- Using AllTrails.com or GoogleMaps to pick your hiking location.
- Who you will tell about your hiking experience.
- How much XP will I earn by doing this?
That last point is about our fun new habit-building app, which allows you to level up (literally) by going on walks or hikes.
You can try it for free right here:
What Shoes Do I Wear Hiking? (Proper Footwear)
This is simple: stilettos, your favorite mini skirt, a fishnet halter top, and a vest made out of raw meat. You’re welcome!
Wait, don’t do that.
I’m a big fan of being comfortable without breaking the bank. Like, you probably already have most of the clothing you need to go hiking.
WHAT SHOES SHOULD I WEAR TO HIKE IN?
We cover footwear extensively in our healthy feet article, but I’ll cover shoes specifically in the case of hiking here.
We at Nerd Fitness are huge fan of Merrell products – Merrell shoes of various types have treated me well for the past decade.
Just don’t let a lack of quality hiking boots keep you from a hike. If you’re concerned, pick an easy-paced hike with your current shoes to be safe and ramp up when you can ramp up your gear!
Some people hike the Appalachian Trail in their bare feet (must be part-Hobbit), so whatever you do: don’t let your footwear options keep you from getting started. Just make sure you break your shoes in and take them on test drives! Don’t take the tags off a new pair of shoes and then go on a multi-day hike – that’s a recipe for blisters and a miserable time.
Okay, let’s look at our feet.
Now that we’ve done that, let’s look at some shoe options:
LEVEL ONE: Hiking shoes – “hiking shoes” are great if you’re going to be doing simple day hikes or hiking occasionally: they have a good grip on the bottom, give you enough support, but aren’t too heavy that they are a hindrance.
Here are my favorite options if you are in the market for some new basic walking/hiking shoes:
- Merrell Vent Hiking Shoe
- Merrell Trail Glove 4 (Men) – I have the blue ones. They rock.
- Merrell Trail Glove 4 (women)
Oh, what’s that? “”
Well, do you have any sort of athletic shoe? Depending on the grip on the bottom, they could be decently okay for you to get started with when it comes to a basic hike. If sneakers are your only option, lace em up, pick a beginner hike, and see how they do. Just be careful on slippery surfaces – your kicks might not give you the grip you need to get over them.
LEVEL TWO – Hiking boots – I don’t hike enough or do enough multi-day hikes to justify the cost of hiking boots, but again I would point to Merrell boots if you’re in the market.
“Why boots over shoes, Steve?”
Although many prefer trail shoes (like yours truly), I can absolutely see the value in a great pair of hiking boots if you’re going on a serious hike, traveling for multiple days, or more. They have more ankle support, thicker tread, thicker shoes, and provide your feet with significantly more protection.
REI has a great article helping you pick between Trail shoes and Trail boots. My advice? Start with what you currently have before deciding whether or not to invest in big boots. Once you build up the habit of hiking and decide you want to make it a bigger part of your life, you can make the investment.
My advice? If you are going to buy boots, go to a professional store, get fitted properly, and then break them in over many weeks before going out on a trail.
WEIRD BUT FUN FOR SIMPLE HIKES: Vibram FiveFingers – I hiked all around the globe, in various situations, wearing my Vibrams for close to 4 years. They made me feel like a ninja monkey and a hobbit. I got weird looks, but something just felt right about being able to feel the contours of the ground beneath me. I will say, when hiking in Vibrams it can be easier to twist an ankle when stepping on a root or rock, stepping on sharp rocks can hurt, so I found myself watching my feet much more than expected.
These days, I’m much more of a trail shoe kind of guy, but some still swear by Vibrams!
If you’re in the market for buying new boots, this quick video is a good primer:
WHAT SOCKS SHOULD YOU WEAR?
If you’re wearing boots or sneakers, you want to wear socks that aren’t going to give you blisters or make your feet all sweaty and gross.
Depending on how long the hike is, how serious you are about hiking, and your budget, you can look into merino-wool socks.
Like the rest of your outfit, what you wear on your feet will largely be dependent on a few things:
- Weather! Are you hiking in the forest and it’s 72 degrees out? Or are you hiking up the side of the mountain in cold conditions?
- Shoes! Are you in lightweight hiking shoes, lightweight hiking socks for the win. Hiking in big boots in cold months? Big thick warm socks are almost a requirement.
- Budget! Are you shopping for specific socks? Tall or short? Great. If you are brand new to hiking, just wear whatever athletic socks you wear while exercising.
- What’s the environment? If you’re hiking through grass, tall plants, etc. I’d go with tall socks (with your pants possibly tucked into them too). You’re not out there to win a fashion show!
Here’s Switchback Travel’s best hiking socks of 2018, and here’s a great article from Art of Manliness on proper feet care after a hike or ruck!
What Do I Wear While Hiking? (Clothing)
SHOULD I WEAR PANTS OR SHORTS?
Pro tip: Don’t go pantless through the wilderness. I cannot stress this enough.
The real advice when it comes to pants/shorts is heavily dependent upon your environment. If it’s going to be cold, shorts might keep you shivering. If it’s going to be hot, pants might get too uncomfortable.
Jeans? Ehhhhh. Sure. ONLY if it’s going to be a comfortable temperature and you have no other option. Being sweaty and hot while wearing jeans isn’t very fun.
I’m a big fan of my nerd pants – the Columbia Silver Ridge pants. Although they look kind of goofy, they’re incredibly lightweight, dry quickly, and can transform from pants to shorts in mere seconds!
Traveling through woods, not sure what you’ll encounter? Wear lightweight pants. I am horribly allergic to poison ivy and who knows what else, so I like to keep as much of my body covered while hiking to make sure I don’t make contact with anything I’m allergic to. 
WHAT TYPE OF SHIRT SHOULD I WEAR?
My favorite options are merino wool long shirts and t-shirts: they’re light, wick away moisture, hide odors, and breathe well – though you will be paying top dollar for them.
If you’re just starting out, pick an old t-shirt and rock that – you can work on optimizing performance once you’ve got a few hikes under your belt.
If you’re on a multi-day hike in various conditions then having lightweight merino wool shirts you can layer and not need to wash would be great. But just going for a hike in the woods in your backyard? Whatever you would wear while running, training, etc. Aka whatever won’t chafe!
SHOULD I BRING A JACKET?
I’ve been wearing this Mountain Hardware jacket on most of my hikes and it has been awesome (10 years and counting) – very lightweight so packing it isn’t a hassle, waterproof so it keeps me dry when it rains, and heavy enough to block the wind to keep me warm when it’s chilly.
Don’t go out of your way to buy a new jacket if you have a decent windbreaker, but if you’re going to be doing a lot of hiking or you’re in the market for a new coat, here’s my advice: go to a local store and try out all of the jackets until you find one you like.
Once you find the perfect jacket, go home and check online (you can sometimes find the same jacket for up to 60% less) – then, ask the local store if they’ll price match or just buy it online.
SHOULD I WEAR A HAT?
You should definitely bring a hat. I’m usually rocking my Nerd Fitness hat or my Red Sox hat (booo Yankees), but while hiking in Australia I wore a hat with a giant floppy brim to keep my ears and face protected from the sun.
The tops of your ears and back of your neck are highly susceptible to getting burned while on the trail, so either get some sunscreen or wear a hat that keeps them covered.
The same is true for keeping pesky things out of your hair, the sun from burning your ears and face, and keep you a bit cooler.
WHAT KIND OF BACKPACK SHOULD I BRING?
Digging into the ins and outs of backpacks is far beyond the scope of this article. I’d recommend you check out my friend Chase’s Bag Review Youtube channel – guaranteed to be the most fun you’ll ever have learning about bags.
So what would I recommend for a beginner on a hike? The bag you currently have! If you’re going on a short hike, you can start with simply whatever bag you have. The lighter and comfier it is, the better.
Multi-day hikes where you’re living out of your bag, packing up, and building a tent each day – this is beyond the scope of this article. I have rocked a Kelty Coyote bag that I’ve lived out of for months at a time, and have also used on multi-day hikes.
If you have the means and the time, and you’re planning to go on certain hikes, go to an outdoor specialty store, speak with a professional, and get fitted for your body type and the type of hike you’re doing!
THE MORAL OF THE STORY: VERSATILITY
If your weather forecast is “75 and sunny,” and you’re hiking for the afternoon through a gradually sloping wooded forest, you can severely limit what you’re bringing with you.
If it’s questionable or looks like things might change during the day, versatility is your best bet – a jacket, pants that can become shorts, a long sleeve shirt that you can take off or roll the sleeves up, etc.
Don’t go out and buy all new stuff until you’re sure hiking is an activity you want to invest in. Borrow from friends, make do with what you have
Just get started.
BY NOW YOU SHOULD HAVE A ROUGH IDEA OF WHAT YOU WILL BE WEARING!
In your head you should be saying, “Steve how can you read my mind?!
I just decided:
- I’d hike in my current gym sneakers.
- I have a pair of gardening pants and tall socks I can wear.
- I have a floppy hat.
I feel like I’m good to go!”
How Much Water Should I Bring On My Hike?
If there’s ONE thing you should not leave home without, it’s a water container so you can stay hydrated.
“How much water should I be drinking on my hike, Steve?”
Great question. I knew you were smart from the moment you started reading this article.
You should be drinking 1 liter of water every two hours as a rough guideline. Increase this amount if you are hiking in very warm/desert climates.
FAVORITE WATER CONTAINERS:
I’m partial to stainless steel bottles or aluminum bottles over Nalgene or reused plastic bottles, but make do with what you have. Just make sure you bring enough water with you to keep you hydrated through your adventure.
Going on longer hikes?
Get yourself a hydration backpack (which can double as your hiking pack!) to transplant water more conveniently.
Not only that but make sure you have been consuming water before you go hiking so that you’re not starting at a hydration deficit.
Hangovers + early morning hikes – water = bad news bears.
What Gear Should I Bring on My Hike? (Sunscreen, Knives, and First Aid Kits)
If you’re just getting started, I’m going to guess you won’t be climbing to the top of a mountain in Alaska, but rather going on an introductory hike that will help build your confidence and get you rolling.
Here’s what I’d recommend you bring with you on your adventure:
- Sunscreen – If it’s sunny outside and you’re hiking through the woods or up a mountain with a cool breeze in your face, you probably won’t be able to tell that your ears and face are getting absolutely torched. Get yourself some waterproof sweatproof sunscreen (SPF 30 minimum) to cover up those ears, cheeks, and back of your neck.
- Bug spray – especially if it’s “that time of the year” in your area where bugs are out in full force. Nothing worse than coming home to arms and legs covered in bug bites.
- First aid kit – Having some first aid stuff with you is a good idea: band-aids and moleskin for blisters and cuts, Neosporin or some type of disinfectant for cuts/scrapes, and maybe a bandage or two just in case. Outdoor stores sell travel first aid kits (as does Amazon), but I’d advise you to make your own (you should have these things in your medicine cabinet anyway – and then you’ll know exactly where everything is!).
- Pocket knife – Not essential if you’re in a park, but a good thing to have with you out in the woods so you’re prepared for anything. Like McGyver.
- Sunglasses – No need to go blind while out on the trail. You probably already have sunglasses floating around your house: I’d recommend bringing the $5 ones rather than $250 Ray-Bans.
- Cellphone – a phone can help bail you out in case of an emergency, and if you have a smartphone it can multitask as your compass, distance tracker, mapper, and so on. Even if you have a cellphone, bringing a compass or GPS system isn’t a bad idea (unless it’s bright and sunny and you’re good at orienting yourself).
If you’re going on a longer hike, bringing a lightweight phone charger that you can use to charge your phone up quickly is usually pretty easy.
What Food Should I Bring Hiking? What Should I Eat on a Day Hike?
You know, the stuff that keeps us alive.
The answer to this will vary greatly depending on how long you plan on hiking for, the time of day, your love of snacking, so the advice here is going to largely mirror the advice we give in our nutritional posts!
Although by no means a complete list of snacks, this is usually what I like to pack in my bag before a hike:
- Nuts – Almonds or walnuts. Great for snacking on, loaded w/ healthy fat and protein. Nut butters are a good healthy fat option too – my favorite is Trader Joe’s raw unsalted almond butter. Ingredient: almonds! They are high in calorie content however, so if you are trying to lose weight, don’t do a 10-minute walk and eat 4000 calories worth of nuts. We in the business like to call that “counterproductive.”
- Fruit – I throw two or three apples in my bag; apples and nuts mean I’ve pretty much got all of the fat, protein, and carbs I need for my day. Things like bananas, raisins, and other fruit are good options as well – pick based on your personal preference and tastes. Just be careful with dried fruit, because it can have lots of sugar and calories, so don’t kid yourself into eating 5000 calories worth of dried fruit and call it healthy! It’s something we explore in-depth in our guide “Is Fruit Healthy?“
- Beef jerky! Make your own or go with some high-quality store-bought stuff. Lots of protein, easy to pack, and keeps well. Mmmmmm.
What about trail mix or granola bars? You’d probably think granola bars and trail mix are synonymous with hiking, but I’m actually not a fan of either unless they’re homemade – these products are usually loaded with salt/sugar and processed grains and are pretty damn unhealthy.
If you’re gonna go with trail mix, make your own with dried fruit and raw unsalted nuts. If you DON’T have other options, tossing a few granola bars in the bag isn’t the end of the world.
More food advice here:
A book (optional) – I LOVE READING (more than I love lowercase letters), so I always travel with my Kindle. Although hiking with friends can be fun, I also get a huge thrill out of hiking out to a remote location overlooking a valley or sitting on the edge of a river with a book so that I can spend a few hours getting lost in a story.
If it’s a multi-day hike and you’re avoiding technology, then bringing a dead tree book is worth the extra weight in your bag!
A camera (optional) – Although I have a camera that I travel with, most of the pictures I’ve been taking recently have been done with my iPhone using apps like Camera+ or ProHDR (which I freaking love). Both apps are worth the price.
You don’t need to be a great photographer, just need to capture the moment to look back on fondly as a crotchety old grandpa. Obviously, if you’re a serious photographer, you’ve already planned to pack your DSLR so I won’t get into that.
Seven Hiking Tips for Beginners
- KNOW THE LOCAL WILDLIFE! Do a quick search of your hike to know what sorts of critters you’ll encounter on the trail. If you are hiking in bear country or snake country, these are things it’s very important to know. Whether it’s carrying a can of bear mace or knowing what to look for, this can help you prevent serious problems. Also, watch out for wild ostriches.
- CLEAN UP, CHECK FOR TICKS – if you’re in a heavily wooded area and carving through the wilderness, check yourself for ticks and make sure you take a shower with hot water and soap immediately when you get home in case you came in contact with any poisonous plants or things like that. I can’t tell you how many times I woke up with a swollen face as a kid because of my hike through poison ivy the day before.
- AIM FOR THE HIGH GROUND – I love hiking to tall things: the top of a mountain, the high point in a town, the roof of a building. It gives you a great halfway point to stop, eat some lunch or dinner, and enjoy the view; plus, you already know exactly how far you need to go on your way down. One piece of advice on going DOWN a steep mountain or a lot of steps: Shorten your stride, and take care to land on the balls of your feet with a bent knee if possible – if you’re landing on your heels for thousands of steps, it can wreak havoc on your knees and joints as there’s no shock absorption. I remember how sore my knees were the day after hiking down Colca Canyon in Peru with my buddy Cash because I didn’t make an effort to soften my steps and take care of my body.
- URBAN HIKING – “But Steve I live in a city, I can’t go hiking!” Why the hell not? Load up your backpack, map out a route on Google Maps, maybe even find a tall building – avoid the elevator, climb the steps. Or walk until you find a park, sit on a bench, and read a book. Sure, it’s not the same as hiking the Rockies, but it will still get your heart pumping and feet moving! Like The Goonies teaches us, adventure can be found in your own backyard with the right attitude!
- KEEP TRACK OF IT – If you have an iPhone or Android, download a hiking or running app to keep track of how far you go and how much hiking you do. Although I haven’t been tracking my hikes abroad (I leave my phone in Airplane mode while traveling), I’ve heard great things about RunKeeper and EasyTrails. If you have more apps or suggestions on how to keep track of your hikes, let me know in the comments and I’ll add them here. I personally use a cheap Fitbit Flex 2, which tracks my steps and elevation. Good enough!
- GEOCACHING – Great fun can be had while geocaching. Simply go to the website, track your location, and then decide on which cache you’re going to track down. Think of it as a real-life version of Indiana Jones or Uncharted, minus the Nazis and undead warriors. We geocached around Sydney for a Nerd Fitness meetup, and it was delightful!
- GIVE A HOOT, DON’T POLLUTE – Pack it in, pack it out. If you bring anything with you, it better be coming back with you. Don’t leave trash in the woods, and pick up any extra trash you see out there. The wilderness thanks you for your service, citizen!
Not all those who wander are lost (sTART hIKING tODAY)
This article is just a primer, meant to whet your appetite and make you excited to go hiking and exploring the wonderful world around us.
Here are a few other resources on hiking if you want more information. Feel free to let me know more in the comments:
I challenge you to plan a hike for this upcoming weekend. YES, even if you’re in the opposite hemisphere and it’s really cold out!
Get some great snacks, strap on your shoes, grab a friend, and go explore.
I’d love to hear from you about the place you’re going hiking this weekend.
Leave a comment below and let me know:
- Where you’re going.
- When you’re going.
- And what you’re most excited about!
- Promise that you won’t hike pants-less.
- Any tips you have for your fellow hikers.
PS: Still unsure if you’ll be ready for your big hike? I’ll again remind you of our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program. We have clients who successfully used the program to train for hiking up large mountains, and we’d love to see if we can help you too!
PPS: If Coaching ain’t your bag, you can always use our new app to jumpstart your new adventures!
photo credit: 77krc Mixed Nuts
All other photos from my Photostream
Read more 21 Best Hikes in Washington State