Even on day hikes, you’ll need a little something to help you refuel. Try to stay away from simple carbohydrates (like white bread) or high-sugar items—they digest too quickly, and the boost that they provide is fleeting. Instead, pack some combination of the following:
- Dried fruit
- Granola bars made from all-natural ingredients
- Beef jerky
The key is to select foods that are lightweight, nutritious, and ready to eat. With that rule in mind, feel free to get creative, especially on day hikes when you don’t have to worry that the food will spoil.
Before every hike, look for an up-to-date map of the area. Some might even point out useful highlights along the way, in addition to helping you stay on course.
A compass is a map’s invaluable companion. Make sure you know how to use it before you take to the woods.
Even if you don’t end up using it, you should carry a knife or multi-use tool with you just in case. Keep it in an outside compartment on your backpack, where you’ll have easy access to it.
The kit should fit easily inside your pack, and be stocked with the following items:
- Adhesive bandages
- Antiseptic wipes
- Antibiotic ointment
- Gauze pads
- Blister treatment
- Anti-itch cream
- Ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen
Be sure to charge your battery before leaving home. Bear in mind that you might not always have reception when you’re walking in the woods.
How Do I Start Hiking?
Once you’ve invested in the proper gear, do an Internet search to find the best hiking routes in your area. You might also want to invest in a hiking guide, especially if you live in a region that offers many outdoor recreational opportunities. Friends and neighbors can also help out in this department. Make sure you let them know that you’re a beginner—you don’t want to get caught in a situation you’re not ready for.
For your first few hikes, try to find a trail that can be completed in just a few hours. Once you’re more comfortable, you can experiment with half- or full-day adventures.
Finding A Hiking Partner
If you have friends who enjoy hiking, enlist one or more of them to join you on the trail. A good hiking partner provides more than just conversation—it’s best to have someone else around in case you run into trouble. You might also be able to save on gear, since experienced hikers are usually happy to let you borrow from their pool of extras or cast-offs.
Choosing The Right Hiking Boots
Essentially, hiking boots can be broken down into the following categories:
- Hiking Shoes—Low-cut and flexible, these are a great choice for short, easy treks
- Day Hikers—Either low- or high-cut, with moderate flexibility
- Backpackers—Extra durable, providing the support needed for multi-day journeys with heavy gear
We would recommend starting with a pair of day hikers. They’re the most versatile choice, typically easy to find, and break in easily.
A hiking boot should have a snug yet comfortable fit, with a bit of extra room in the toe box. If you’re trying on several pairs, do so late in the day, wearing socks that are approximately as thick as the ones you plan to wear on your hikes.
Give yourself at least a week to break in your new boots. This will help you avoid blisters and early burnout when you’re finally ready for your inaugural trek. For in-depth advice on how to break in your hiking boots, check out this YouTube tutorial.
What To Wear When Hiking
When choosing hiking gear, consider the following factors:
If you’re reading a hiking guide for beginners, there’s a chance you’re not familiar with the term “cotton is rotten.” What does it mean? Essentially, it refers to the fact that cotton retains moisture, which will weigh you down and leave you feeling chilly and miserable on the trail. It doesn’t have to be raining for this to happen—perspiration will have the same effect. To avoid falling into this trap, look for moisture-wicking fabrics such as merino wool, fleece, nylon, and polyester.
When it comes to hiking, always choose function over style. You want your gear to be roomy enough to allow for a decent range of motion, but not so loose that it can become snagged on rocks and branches.
Since conditions can change swiftly on a hike, consider investing in gear that can be worn across a variety of weather patterns. Some companies offer hiking pants that convert easily into shorts, for example. Even if you can’t find this type of gear, always be sure to dress in layers, and keep a close eye on the weather forecast before setting out.
It’s better to err on the side of caution than to be caught in a dangerous situation with no idea what to do. Here are some tips on how to stay safe during your outdoor excursions.
Earlier, we described the benefits of having one or more people join you on your hiking adventures. Still, there’s a case to be made for solitude as well, particularly if your schedule forces you to hike at non-peak times. If you aren’t able to find a partner, or if you just prefer to hike alone, make sure to let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back. Alert this backup person (preferably via text message) as soon as you’ve returned, so that they’ll know not to worry.
As we mentioned before, you should always check the weather when planning a hike. Assuming that you have the proper gear, there’s no reason why you can’t hike on rainy days, but use your judgment. If there’s a lightning storm in the forecast, it’s best to postpone your trip for another day. Likewise if a heavy snowfall is on the way—the trail conditions might be slippery, not to mention the commute to the trailhead itself.
Think about the natural hazards that are most prevalent in your region. Have there been many outbreaks of tick-borne illnesses recently? If so, you should wear long sleeves and keep your pants cuffs tucked into your socks. Be extra cautious if there are venomous snakes in the area—you might even want to check with a local ranger or biologist to help you determine what species you might encounter.
Think about what steps you’ll need to take if you or a member of your group becomes lost or injured. For example, you should always have a rough idea of what everyone is wearing, in case you need to notify the authorities. Commit your plan to memory, or jot it down and make it an essential item in your first-aid kit.
This hiking guide might seem slightly daunting, but we feel that all of the information we’ve included is essential to ensuring a positive experience. With the right preparation, you can turn the abstract idea of hiking into a wonderful hobby that will bring you many years of enjoyment.
Best of luck, and happy trails!