The Beginner’s Guide to Hiking
Hiking is hands-down one of the most beginner-friendly ways to get outdoors, regardless of your fitness level or preferred level of adventurousness. It also happens to be extremely affordable, as there’s no fancy schmancy gear required. Just a few basics, plus a little window of time to get outside.
Trail time is incredibly healthy for your brain and body, as you burn away your stress and calories and commune with something bigger. If you follow a few common-sense guidelines, you’ll have a wonderful time and feel better and fitter with every outing!
Finding where to go
You can ask around, purchase a local hiking guidebook, and run a few Google searches to drum up great ideas for beginner-friendly hikes in your area. If you’re new to all this, aim for something that’s just a few miles or less, and doesn’t have a lot of “vert” or vertical gain. Aim for well-marked trails and well-marked parking lots with good signage so you’re not wandering the wilderness.
It’s fun to browse guidebooks and online “best trails” lists and hatch plans for the beautiful places you’d like to go! A hiking workout beats a gym workout in the scenery department, time after time.
What to wear
Unless you’re doing something incredibly rigorous, you can probably just wear the kinds of clothes you already enjoy working out in. Think breathable clothing you’d wear for a brisk walk outside. Of course, there are “hiking-specific” clothes out there, and sure, they’re great—and available UnNew here on Geartrade. These clothes are typically made to withstand a bit of abrasion, wear and tear, and sometimes, the sun, rain, or wind.
Think about the expected temps outside, then add a few layers to your bag, backpack, or fanny pack just in case the weather turns chilly or wet.
In most climates, you’ll want to wear breathable socks purpose-made for hiking or working out. (Sweaty feet are not only uncomfortable but make you more blister-prone.) Pair these with good, sturdy hiking shoes or boots. Boots are a great call if you’d like a little ankle support or will be walking on uneven or gravelly terrain.
In hot climates, you may want to roll with hiking sandals like Chacos or Tevas. They boast excellent grip and supreme breathability—they just won’t do much to protect you in chilly weather.
A brimmed hat is an excellent idea to keep the sun out of your eyes … all the better for enjoying those views.
What to bring
Have a gander at our Hiking Ten Essentials article for a quick rundown of everything you ought to carry on the trail. It sounds like a lot, but it should all fit very easily in a small comfy day-pack. You may choose a hydration pack (like a CamelBak, with a water hose built in so you can drink as you go) or just tuck a water bottle or two into a normal hiking pack.
Depending on safety factors, you may enjoy listening to music or audiobooks on your headphones … but first, make sure you’re aware of what kind of wildlife might be trying to get your ears’ attention. Whatever you do, don’t bring a bluetooth speaker to blast your choice of music for everyone else on the trail to enjoy. This befuddling trend is souring trail-goers’ experiences everywhere.
How to stay safe
If you’re new to hiking, safety can feel like a big concern—and even more so for women. But there’s tons you can do to help stack the deck in your favor. (These are our ideas, and we’re always eager to hear yours too!)
- Choose a well frequented trail: There’s safety in numbers, and if anything happens, it’s great to know someone is likely to be able to help.
- Get to know local wildlife and plants: Learn if there are any plants or animals to avoid, how to avoid them, and what to do if you come across one. (Poison ivy, we’re lookin’ at you.)
- Check the weather: Heat stroke and hypothermia are both no joke, so make sure you aim for comfortable temperatures and avoid storms. In the heat of summer, 6am may be a wonderful time to hit the trail.
- Go with a friend: This is a biggie. If anything unexpected happens, such as an injury or medical emergency, you’ll be glad you had a pal who could lend a hand or summon help.
- Know how to read your map: Don’t be embarrassed—many people these days aren’t too familiar with topographic maps. Take the chance to learn, either through YouTube or a class. And maybe back your paper map up with a neat-o app like AllTrails or Gaia GPS, which can show you right where you are.
- Let someone know when you’ll be back: Tell someone where you’re going and what time to expect a call or text that you’re back safe and sound.
Finding hiking companions
While we love a little solo quiet time on the trail, many people deeply enjoy hiking as a social outing—and it adds bonus safety, too. Grab a friend, a date, or partner, or even your dog.
You can also meet amazing hiking partners on local Facebook groups and outdoor clubs. Group club outings are an easy way to go with someone more experienced—typically someone is at the helm leading the group for the day—and meet people you could go with one-on-one in the future. Here in Utah, we’ve got the Wasatch Mountain Club, as well as a number of Facebook groups (including female-specific ones!) and platforms like Meetup.com.
As always, let us know what you find out there, and have a blast logging trail time. You can find just about everything you need here on Geartrade, from hiking shoes to sun hats, hydration packs, and first aid kits.
Beth Lopez is a seasoned writer and creative director who loves to tell tales of adventure and discovery—and finds writing a powerful way to give a voice to people, causes, and places. Beth runs amok in the Wasatch mountains when untethered from her computer. She believes there’s no such thing as a bad ski day and considers animals her favorite people. Don’t tell her mother about her Instagram mountaineering photos.
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