Hiking is an excellent way to find adventure and connect with nature, while delivering multiple physical and mental benefits beyond scenery and fun. Just being outdoors in nature brings a sense of wanderlust and ambition for adventure, and there’s no better way to enjoy the great outdoors than hitting the trails. While hiking might seem straightforward, there are many unpredictable variables. Below are nine hiking tips for new hikers to help you prepare and avoid mistakes on your first trek in the back country while discovering your inner adventurer.
1. Become familiar with the trail you’re hiking.
Do your research and select a trail that’s a good fit for your first trek. Be sure to obtain a map of the area and review trip reports and data. There are some excellent online resources available. Things to look for: 1) Is the trail a loop, or an out-and-back where you’ll have to backtrack or spot a second car? 2) Study all intersecting trails where you could potentially make a wrong turn. 3) Read trip reports about a good lunch spot, such as a lake or summit with a view.
2. Choose the right hiking partner.
Hikers hike for many different reasons – some hiking faster, some slower or further, while some are training to summit large peaks. It’s really up to you. The beauty of hiking is that you get to do what you want to do. Plan a hike that is suitable for everyone in your party, and let the slower person set the pace.
3. Listen to your body – know your own physical condition.
Pace yourself and pick a pace you can maintain all day, remembering to take breaks when needed – breaks are a great time to take in the views and clean air. Some other tips include: removing layers before overheating, adding layers before getting chills, drinking often and eating regularly.
4. Packing 101
Carry gear that you feel will maintain your highest level of security. The goal is to pack the smallest, lightest, highest-quality versions of that gear (i.e., travel-size tubes vs. full-size).
A pocketknife, compass and whistle are at the top of the list. Don’t forget a first-aid kit, matches or a lighter and plenty of food and water. If you’re hiking in a cold climate, bring warm clothes. If you’re staying overnight, bring what you need for camping.
5. Dress for purpose and comfort.
Synthetics work best over cotton, as they help regulate your body temperature and dry quickly. Wear layers that you can add or shed when needed. Pack an insulting layer beyond what you think you’ll need, preferably something that will block wind, too.
6. Be kind to your feet.
Painful feet can ruin a hike. Invest in quality hiking shoes and socks. This doesn’t always mean 3- or 4-season hiking boots, as there are a lot of light hikers and trail sneakers available that provide plenty of stability and traction, depending on where you’re hiking. Invest in the right socks, and stay away from cotton. It’s smart to also pack blister dressings, just in case.
7. Tell someone where you’re going.
Leave your hiking plan with someone back home, and call when you get off the trail. It’s important that someone not on the hike knows the itinerary and what time to start worrying and call for help. Also a good idea is to carry an emergency device such as the SPOT tracker, which allows you to call for emergency assistance by satellite.
8. Embrace “Leave No Trace” Ethics.
The fascinating trails we love will only stay this way if we care for them. Take time to read the Leave No Trace Seven Principles and follow them. It’s up to every outdoor enthusiast to take care of our natural spaces. Using these open spaces is a privilege we need to keep available to others for many years.
9. The 10 Essentials
The 10 Essentials packing list was created to make sure that hikers were prepared and could respond with certainty to an accident or emergency, as well as remain safe if forced to spend one or more nights outdoors. It has shifted from a list of items to a list of systems. Get to know these systems, as you should pack them to insure safety in the back country, including facing a potential overnight. Depending on the details of your hike, expand or minimize each system.
- Navigation (map, compass, whistle)
- Sun protection (sunglasses & sunscreen)
- Insulation (extra clothing)
- Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
- First-aid supplies
- Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candle)
- Repair kit and tools
- Nutrition (extra food)
- Hydration (extra water)
- Emergency shelter (tent/plastic tube tent/garbage bag)