As a beginner hiker, you’re about to embark on a journey that promises both excitement and uncertainty, but some of the most valuable advice reveals itself only after miles of exploration.
That’s why we reached out to seasoned hiking and outdoor bloggers, each with their own tales of trails conquered and lessons learned.
These insights are not just from our own experiences, but also from the collective wisdom of those who’ve roamed mountains, crossed streams, and navigated forests.
In this guide, you’ll discover a handpicked selection of essential hiking tips for beginners, each coming from different outdoor enthusiasts.
Bring Your Hiking Gear
When it comes to hiking, having the right gear can enhance your experience and ensure your safety on the trail.
While hiking boots and a backpack are essential, there are other items that you should consider bringing along.
- Footwear: Proper hiking boots are your foundation on the trail. Invest in sturdy, supportive hiking boots, shoes, or trail runners to protect your feet and ankles. Check out our Best Hiking Boots for Beginners article for detailed recommendations.
- Backpack: Your hiking backpack is your best companion, carrying all your essentials. Look for one that’s comfortable to wear, with padded straps and adjustable features, so you can explore the hiking trails with ease and carry your gear comfortably.
- Safety Kit: First and foremost, prioritize safety. Pack a basic safety kit that includes essentials like a map, compass, whistle, first aid supplies, and a multi-tool. These items can be a lifesaver in unexpected situations.
- Clothing: Dress appropriately for the weather and terrain. Layers are key for regulating your body temperature. Don’t forget a rain jacket or poncho if there’s a chance of rain.
- Water and Snacks: Staying hydrated is crucial. Carry a reusable water bottle or a hydration reservoir. Pack energy-boosting snacks like trail mix, granola bars, or fruits.
- Sun Protection: Protect yourself from the sun with sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunscreen. Sunburn can quickly turn a great hike into an uncomfortable experience.
- Bug Repellent: In areas with insects, consider carrying bug repellent to avoid itchy bites.
Remember, while these items are important, hiking boots and a proper backpack should be your top priorities. Hiking is about enjoying nature, so focus on the experience rather than purchasing expensive gear.
It is tempting to head directly for that high mountain with beautiful views. But, first, take a step back to honestly assess your physical abilities and select an appropriate trail.
If you’re a beginner to the outdoors, start hiking small and build your confidence with easy trails that are shorter with smaller elevation gains before moving to moderate and hard ones.
Avoid water crossings as a beginner. Those who engage in outdoor sports like kayaking and biking can start with longer, easy-to-moderate hiking trails.
This advice comes from personal experience from my early hiking days when my husband and I went camping with a hiking group in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. He slipped and fractured his elbow while crossing a powerful creek due to rain the previous night.
Picking a trail with the right balance of comfort and challenge is a skill that you’ll need to hone as a hiker.
Stretch Before Each Hike
When it comes to hiking as a beginner, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to make sure you have properly stretched.
From personal experience and minor injury, a pre-stretch warmup will do wonders.
It does not matter if you are younger in the prime of your life or slightly older, doing this will help you no matter what and is a good routine to do every time to improve your hiking experience.
Regardless of the season or type of terrain you are hiking, it is best to loosen your muscles from top to bottom.
The benefits are circulating the blood flow, improving your flexibility, and being able to notice which areas may need improvement.
This includes neck stretches, shoulder rolls, leg swings, hamstring, and calf stretches. Working out all these muscles and joints for anywhere to 30-45 seconds will help.
Do these gently as a beginner because you may not be used to the positions you will put your body in if it has been a long time since physical exercise. It’s also smart to do these same stretches post-hiking to keep your muscles limber instead of tightened.
By doing these you may want to continue hiking from beginner to more advanced levels depending on your appreciation for it.
One of the most important hiking tips for beginners is to not overpack.
It’s so easy to overpack and it’s one of the most common mistakes, but I can’t stress the importance of packing lightly enough.
Whether you’re hiking for 5 kilometers or going on a multi-day hike, this advice applies.
The difference between a 5kg bag and a 6kg bag might not sound like much, but after a few kilometers, that one extra kilogram makes a difference.
Carrying extra weight wastes so much energy unnecessarily.
To avoid overpacking, you need to be a bit more cut-throat. We’re all guilty of it, I know I certainly am, but when you find yourself bringing something “just in case”, leave it at home.
As long as you have the necessary safety equipment and your other essentials, that’s all you need. For example, if you’re only hiking for a few hours, you don’t need deodorant. If you’ve brought pasta, then choose between having a bowl and a plate- you don’t need both.
When the end of a strenuous hike is in sight and you need that one last push, trust me, you’ll be grateful you packed lightly.
Research Trail Conditions Ahead of Time
A habit I’ve formed and recommend for all beginner hikers is to take five minutes and research recent trail conditions!
There are two main places that I look and see if the trail is definitely open for hiking and up-to-date user reviews – the trail’s governing body and Alltrails.
Googling the trail name will usually pull up who manages it, whether it is a National Forest property, a state park, etc…
The governing agency will usually have a website that lists trail closings or maintenance issues.
Using Alltrails will show you recent reviews, where visitors can share if it was super muddy, recent bear or rattlesnake sightings, or warn about yellowjacket nests.
We recently skipped a waterfall trail in our home of Western Northern Carolina because multiple AllTrails reviews had recently stated they were attacked by yellowjackets near the base of the falls.
We’ll go back and visit after the first hard freeze and avoid painful stings! Taking this short step can help you pack special gear or the right clothes to stay warm and dry, avoid injury, and increase your enjoyment of the outing!
Taking this short step can help you pack special gear or the right clothes to stay warm and dry, avoid injury, and increase your enjoyment of the outing!
Inform Someone About Your Location and When You Plan to Return
I’ve been hiking for several years in places like the Canadian Rockies, Patagonia, and the Alps.
Over the years I’ve learned that one of the most important things to do when preparing for a hike is to let someone know where you’re going and when you’re expected to return.
This is especially important if you’ll be hiking solo.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s an epic multi-day hiking trip in the mountains or an easy day hike close to home. I always let someone know my plans just in case the worst does happen, so they know to look for me.
Plus, this provides peace of mind that if something does go wrong, I will be found.
Sending a message to someone with the details of your hike is one of the quickest and easiest things to do when preparing for a hike and could end up being lifesaving!
Stay on the Trail
Our family began a winter hiking adventure with the sound of scuffling snow pants and crunching snow as we started walking along the trail at East Inlet in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Not too long after starting, we noticed lots of footprints leading from the trail to the river that was frozen over.
Intrigued, and thinking it was cool, we ventured off-trail and began walking on the frozen river.
Our “hike” took us over and under fallen trees and further and further away from the trail. It was after an hour when not one, but two of our daughters broke through the ice into water that was about 8” deep. Ahhhh, parent fail!
At this point, we were actively trying to find the trail but had wandered quite a distance from it.
My advice? Stay on the trail on your hikes. If you are using a trail map app, it may alert you as you begin to go off course.
We thought it was fun to walk on the water, but following the path of the river took us further away from the actual trail.
How to Safely Handle Wildlife Encounters
When I see any wild animal on a hike, I remain calm and follow some simple guidelines for safe and respectful interaction.
I prefer to hike in groups for increased size, noise, and safety. If I were to encounter a bear, I’d stand my ground and avoid sudden movements.
Most bears prefer to avoid confrontation.
Then, I’d wave my arms over my head to appear larger while assertively instructing the bear to back off. If the bear is stationary, I can move away slowly sideways while keeping an eye on it.
To avoid snakes, I stick to established trails and avoid stepping into tall grass or underbrush. If I see a snake, I stop moving and give it the necessary space (> 6 feet). Then I back away slowly and carefully.
When encountering non-threatening animals, I maintain a respectful distance and observe quietly without feeding or approaching them.
By Robert Newell from Travel Breakdown
Establish a Breathing Rhythm
Are you in good shape but still find yourself breathless with steep hikes? The reason might be how you breathe.
Breathing, though often overlooked, is crucial for every hike, especially on steep terrain or longer trails.
Establishing a breathing rhythm helps your body receive more oxygen, boosts endurance, and maintains focus.
For example, take two steps while inhaling and two steps while exhaling. Adjust the rhythm to match your pace and engage your diaphragm. It’s meditation in motion!
I remember the first time I hiked in Europe. I found it more challenging because of the steeper trails and longer trek. Rhythmic breathing helped me complete a 5-hour hike!
Remember, the goal is not to obsess over your breath but to make it a natural part of your hike with practice. You’ll find yourself hiking longer, enjoying the journey more, and connecting with nature at a deeper level.
Peeing In the Woods
I’m a full-time nomad and avid walker who grew up in Alaska. Hopefully, you won’t have to face Alaskan bears on your first hike.
A less frightening but more likely problem is this: how are you supposed to pee if you are a woman?
Unless you stand or use a peeing funnel, it’s tricky the first time. Here’s what to do:
1. Find a secluded spot off the trail.
2. Find leaves that can double as toilet paper, preferably neither too slippery nor too fuzzy.
3. If you can’t find any, use the drip-dry method. Shake a bit while squatting for a minute.
4. Watch out for nettles when you squat. I recently got a nasty sting when I didn’t look before squatting.
Ah, sweet relief: now you can pee anywhere. Best of all, it’s much better for the environment than leaving toilet paper behind.
By Rose Ernst from The Autistic Traveler
Never Get Lost Using the Shadow Stick Method
Nobody thinks they will get lost when hiking before they do. But say you do get lost and have no idea where to go.
You have no compass, your smartphone is out of battery (if you even have one) and there are trails around. What do you do?
All you need is a stick and sunlight.
Put the stick upright on a patch of flat ground. Mark the end of the shadow with a stone or a leaf. This is your ‘west’. Wait 20-30 minutes, check the shadow again, and mark the end of the shadow with another stone. This is your ‘east’.
The line between the two markers is your West-East axis. If you are in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is south of you and the shadows protrude north (flipped in the Southern Hemisphere).
Voila, you now have a compass on the ground! It’s now time to find your way back!
Improve Your Walking Efficiency
Did you know that most of us walk wrong?
I found this out the hard way when I started going on long hikes. After a few miles, I’d experience excruciating hip pain. And don’t even ask about my knees.
Fortunately, Katy Bowman’s book “Move Your DNA” came to my rescue. Bowman shares how crucial it is to ensure your body is aligned when you’re walking.
I realized that I was stepping inward with my left leg when I walked. After I corrected my alignment, the pain gradually went away.
Bowman also had wisdom to share about knee pain. It turns out that most of us don’t walk—we fall. Rather than balancing as we step forward, we fall, catch ourselves with our lead foot, and then fall again. All of this puts a lot of pressure on our knees.
To correct this, stand tall and centered and keep your weight on your back foot as you step forward. Focus on using your leg, hip, and glute muscles to propel yourself rather than gravity.
Try this out, and you’ll soon be charging up and down mountains like a lean mean hiking machine—pain-free to boot.
Leave No Trace
Part of being a responsible hiker is helping to protect the places you visit.
The best way to protect these places is to follow trail etiquette and practice the 7 principles of Leave no Trace when hiking.
While most people know to pack out their trash, Leave No Trace also means that you stay on the trail to avoid erosion, don’t approach wildlife, minimize the impact of fires, be prepared on the trail, and always respect others.
We’ve all come across hikers who are cutting through switchbacks, playing loud music as they hike, or feeding wildlife.
Not only does this detract from other hikers’ experiences, but it can also have significant impacts on the environment.
Practicing the 7 principles of Leave No Trace means you are helping to reduce environmental impacts and keeping the hiking trail enjoyable for everyone.
Don’t Wear New Hiking Shoes or Boots
I’m sure you know that good hiking shoes are important for going hiking. But, as a beginner hiker, did you know that wearing new hiking shoes even on a day hike is a bad idea?
New hiking boots might feel like a perfect fit in the store but only once you walk a while in them you know if they hurt somewhere.
And a hike is not the best place to find out if your shoes chafe. So it’s best to wear hiking shoes on shorter walks before you wear them on longer hikes for the first time.
I learned that the hard way, I wore new hiking boots for a day hike and afterward my feet were killing me.
So, in case you need new hiking shoes buy them way before your hiking trip and break them in on smaller walks. Trust me your feet will thank you!
Your Dog Makes the Perfect Hiking Buddy
You’ve likely heard the advice to never hike alone. My favorite hiking companion is often my dog.
Sharing the trail with my terriers isn’t just exercise, it’s a real bonding experience. Their enthusiasm keeps me motivated, even when the hike gets tough.
They’ll stop to sniff a leaf or investigate a rustle in the bushes, forcing me to pause and soak in the beauty I might’ve otherwise missed.
You’ll need to prep with some leash training, but it’s a small investment for an even better hiking experience.
If dogs are allowed on your next hiking trail, bring yours. Your hike will be better for it.
Properly Acclimatize Before High-Altitude Hikes
Hiking at high elevations poses dangers from altitude sickness. Proper acclimation is necessary when setting off high in the mountains.
Altitude sickness occurs when your body doesn’t properly adjust to low oxygen levels at high elevations.
If you’re planning a high-altitude hike – this can be described as anything above 8000 ft (2440m) – it’s best to spend at least one night at high elevation beforehand, two if you can.
You don’t want to fly to Colorado then try to hike up Pikes Peak on the same day. If you plan on camping at around 12,000 for or higher, spend at least two nights camping over 8,000 feet, ideally doing some shorter hikes first to build your tolerance.
I’ve hiked up to over 18,000 feet (5485m) in Nepal without major effects of altitude. But I’ve never felt worse than I felt camping up at around 12,000 feet at Ice Lake in Colorado when I failed to properly acclimatize.
Everyone reacts differently to altitude. Maybe you’ll be fine, or maybe you’ll struggle just walking around a mountain town.
So long as you follow this advice on proper acclimation you’ll be addicted to alpine peaks in no time!
Listening to Music While Hiking
Greetings, fellow adventurers! While hiking, I discovered the magical synergy of music and nature.
Listening to music, specifically soothing tunes or favorite tracks, can elevate your hiking experience.
It’s a tip perfect for long, serene hiking trails, offering a soundtrack to your journey, enhancing your mood, and keeping you motivated.
On a recent forest hike, I synced my playlist with the rhythm of rustling leaves and chirping birds. It created an enchanting ambiance.
However, remember to keep the volume low to stay aware of your surroundings and respect fellow hikers. For beginners, always prioritize safety. Keep one earbud out to hear approaching wildlife or fellow hikers’ warnings.
This hiking tip enhances your enjoyment by connecting you with nature on a deeper level.
Try it on your next hike and harmonize with the wilderness!
Check the Weather
For your safety and also for the enjoyment of your hike, always remember to check the weather in advance!
Novice hikers sometimes do not realize that it can be extremely dangerous to hike in certain weather conditions.
For example, getting caught in a snowstorm in winter can be very dangerous as you can no longer see the trail in front of you and can end up off the beaten path in freezing conditions.
Take it from experience! While we set off with clear skies last January in the Rocky Mountains National Park, a few hours later we found ourselves in a heavy snowstorm. It was really scary, to say the least as we could no longer see the path in front of us.
Rain and wind can also make the hike very dangerous. For example, if you are hiking on narrow paths, like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, getting caught at the top of Angel’s Landing on a small ledge in heavy wind and rain can be very dangerous.
People have died in these conditions, so it is never worth the risk!
Even if it is not a safety issue, hiking in less-than-optimal weather conditions can be pretty miserable. The day may look clear and fine when you set off but the weather can change faster than you think.
Returning home a very cold drowned rat after a hike is never fun so in order to enjoy your hike and stay safe check the weather in advance ;).
Keeping Safe When Lightning Strikes
If you’re like me (and many other hikers that have come before me), you probably thought that you would never find yourself hiking in a lightning storm.
Well, sometimes even the best-laid plans go astray, especially when you’re in the mountains where the weather can change FAST.
While your first instinct may be to find higher ground to try and get cell service, this is fact the opposite of what you should do to survive.
Lighting is most likely to strike the highest point in the area, so immediately get low.
Walk down from the summit and try to find a valley or low spot in the terrain away from any dangers such as very tall or isolated trees and cliffs.
Leave all metal items at least 30m away and make sure you are more than 100m from any significant water. If hiking in a group, spread out and crouch (don’t lie) on the ground in a ball shape.
Reduce contact with the ground by squatting on the balls of your feet with heels touching, tucking your head between your knees, and putting your hands over your ears.
To know how much immediate danger you face, count the seconds between when you hear a clap of thunder to the lightning strike. You’re at risk of being struck if it’s less than 30 seconds apart.
And if your hair stands up on its ends, don’t stop to take a funny picture, there’s no time for that if you want to survive!
Be Prepared for Summit Weather
Mountain hiking is unique in nature and requires a specific type of preparation in order to navigate higher altitudes safely and responsibly.
Mountain summits in particular often exhibit vastly different kinds of weather than at their bases. What may be a dry, sunny day at the base of a mountain, might be a storm with hail or snow at its peak!
It’s an easy mistake to think you’re prepared for a mountain hike, say a mountain in Colorado like Mt. Elbert, by checking the weather for “Leadville”, the town at its base.
If the forecast says sunny and clear, you may depart for your hike up this 14,000 foot peak without the proper gear and knowledge of summit weather. This could lead to potentially hazardous situations.
Avoid this by following some simple rules for preparing for mountain hiking. First, always be off the summit by noon, to avoid thunderstorms common at higher altitudes.
Second, always carry a waterproof outer layer. Lastly, know how to check forecasts for mountain summits specifically. My favorite tool is mountain-forecast.com.
Always Protect from the Sun
One of the most essential products to bring to a hiking excursion is sunscreen.
Once you have arrived at your destination, make sure you have your sunscreen applied before you start hiking.
Using sunscreen helps to prevent severe sunburn, and premature aging and even decreases the risk of skin cancer.
If you are planning on getting into an open body of water like a lake, river or ocean, consider using sunscreen that is “reef safe” or “ocean-friendly” in their product description.
This type of sunscreen typically uses zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as active ingredients and there are also biodegradable products you can use.
Remember, applying sunscreen regularly helps to maintain even skin tone and preserves healthy skin tone and should be a part of your regular routine outdoors.
Decant, Decant, Decant!
When hiking, there’s one thing you learn very quickly: space, and more importantly, weight, is crucial.
Every inch in your backpack matters and every extra gram you carry adds up – fast. Minimization is key.
How to achieve this? Always decant your supplies into smaller containers. And do this for almost everything in your pack.
We’re talking sunscreen, deodorant, dish soap, and especially, your food.
This means repackaging the exact amount of food you need into ziplock bags. For other supplies like sunscreen, use little leak-proof containers.
By decanting as much as possible, you can easily shave off a few hundred grams, or even a kilo. It might not sound like a lot when you’re reading this from the comfort of your own home, but out on the trail, trust us, you’ll feel it.
Need convincing? When I hiked the Larapinta Trail, I got my pack down 5 kg – which feels like 100 over the course of 231 km!
Bring High-Energy Snacks
Having the right snacks can make all the difference on a hike. Many people assume one of the best snack options for hiking is a mix of nuts and dried fruit (it is called trail mix after all).
Personally, I recommend granola bars or energy bars. They offer a compact and filling snack that’s easier to pack and eat on the go than a bag full of nuts (less likely to spill out and make a mess).
And you’ll get the same nutrition as trail mix. Bring a few with you per person – better to have a couple extra left over than to be hungry and low energy while you make your way back.
I’ve been on a couple of hikes and forgotten to bring a snack. And let me tell you, getting back to the car at the end was exhausting! You can really tell the difference when you’ve got the right amount of energy.
Wear High-Performance Moisture Wicking Underwear
My name is Janice, and as a lifelong lover of the outdoors, I have an intimate hiking tip to share learned from hard-won experience.
When hiking, in addition to bringing suitable external layers, you want to start your day right by wearing the correct internal layer.
That—is your underwear I am talking about.
The constant movement and exertion from hiking in any conditions and temperature can create sweat and damp environments.
Wearing high-performance moisture-wicking underwear, like my favorite brand, which I never go without—Ex Officio, helps avoid this by keeping you dry.
Since extreme chafing can lead to skin breakdown allowing bacteria in, and warm moist environments can cause the growth of fungus, which could lead to Tinea Cruris (jock itch) or yeast infections, wearing high-performance underwear will not only keep you dry and healthy, but more comfortable too.
So, do yourself a favor—splurge for the fancy high-performance underwear and keep your skin and your health intact for a lifetime of issue-free and memorable hiking.
Record Your Trail
I love hiking and exploring new trails, and the Wikiloc app is essential for me.
I use it to look up trails in a specific area, compare different wikilocs others have uploaded, read their notes, look at photos, decide if the difficulty level, hike distance, and time suit me, if I want to do it, and finally, which trail to follow.
A trail-mapping app like Wikiloc is vital when venturing into more challenging territory, especially if it’s unmapped. Not all hiking trails are physically marked, and markers can disappear.
Straying from a trail can have disastrous consequences. Recording a new trail isn’t only useful for others to follow but can also help you if you get lost. I’ve had the odd time when I had to follow my own trail back into difficult territory.
Dress in Layers
When hiking, it is essential to layer your clothing.
Instead of wearing a heavy jacket and pants on a cold day, opt for several thin layers: perhaps a tank or T-shirt as a base layer, then a long-sleeved shirt, topped with a thin sweater and windbreaker.
Dressing this way for a hike takes more planning than a bulkier single piece, but it allows you to better regulate your temperature. As you exert yourself, you can remove layers for a consistent comfort level.
Doing so keeps you from overheating or becoming chilled depending on the weather during your hike.
While wool layers are the standard, any thin, comfortable pieces will work for hiking beginners.
Navigating a Steep Ascent/Descent
When you first get started hiking, remember this: think (and walk) like a goat!
My Dad, an expert hiker, taught me this trick as a kid, and it will help you on steep descents down rocky or loose gravel-type mountains.
When navigating a steep descent, make sure to “goat walk” – turn a little sideways and take careful side steps down a steep embankment.
This change in orientation helps distribute your weight more evenly and provides better balance, reducing the risk of slipping and pitching dangerously forward.
By adopting the “goat walk” technique, you’ll find that navigating steep descents becomes more manageable! Try it the next time you’re out and remember: you’re the GOAT!
Go With an Open Mind
If you’re new to hiking, you may have high expectations about your experience, but I encourage you to be ready to soak in the hike itself.
Being out in nature is calming, and if you aim to go at a certain speed, snap lots of photos, or not take breaks, you may miss out on communing with nature.
Make time to notice your surroundings, such as singing birds or seeing a uniquely shaped tree limb, and immerse yourself in nature.
If I set out only intending to get out in the fresh air, I discover new things and come back refreshed and energized with a new appreciation for the world around me. It also gives me permission to stop and rest or take a different route that interests me more.
These essential hiking for beginner tips provide a solid foundation for an enjoyable and safe hiking experience. We encourage our readers to share their additional hiking tips for beginners in the comments or via email.