This hiking for beginners guide gives you an overview of what you need to hit the trails with confidence. It covers preparation for your hike, what snacks to bring, essential hiking gear, how to find fellow hikers to go with, how to stay safe and so much more.
I love hiking and am passionate about getting more people out hitting the trails. But I also know how confusing it is when you’re starting out.
- How do you find beginner hiking trail? Or shorter hikes that still offer incredible views?
- What hiking gear do you really need that’s not going to cost a fortune?
- None of my friends are interested in going. How do I find hiking buddies to go with?
- How do I find a hike suitable for my fitness level if I’m out of shape?
- I’m afraid of encountering a bear or other wild animal on the trail? How do I avoid this?
- What do I do when I get tired and can’t keep going?
That’s why I created this beginner hiking guide. I answer your most commonly asked questions because I want you to start hiking and get YOU out on the trail. Hiking has changed my life. Allow me to introduce myself and then let’s get started.
About the Author of this Hiking for Beginners Guide
Recommended Reading: Trekking: How to Choose a Trek That You´ll Love
Hi, I’m Laurel, I’ve compiled my 25+ years of expert hiking experience into the ultimate guide for you which covers what to do before your hike, during your hike and after your hike.
Growing up in the foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains I’ve always had hiking at my doorstep and have done hundreds of trails there. I currently live in Munich, Germany and am in the Alps almost every weekend where I’ve also hiked hundreds of times.
I also do at least one long-distance hiking trip each year which has lead me to hike in Italy, France, Switzerland, Spain, Ireland, Scotland, Nepal and Jordan.
Through my love of adventure travel, I’ve also done day hikes in the U.S. Kyrgyzstan, Kazakstan, South Africa, Rwanda, Madagascar and many other destinations. I don’t say this to brag, but to point out that I’ve hiked in many different types of places and done many different types of hikes and know what I’m talking about.
I’ve also been trained on bear safety by Parks Canada as part of a volunteer project collecting grizzly bear hair DNA for research purposes.
This Hiking for Beginners Guide will get you started on your own journey.
If you want more in-depth information check out out my Hiking for Beginners: Hit the Trails with Confidence Online Course.
In this course, I share my exact process for finding easy hikes, no matter what your skill level, and my fool-proof method for not getting lost and so much more. Check it out.
Related Reading: Best Lightweight Sleeping Bags, Pads and Liners for Every Hiker
Ready to get started? Let’s hit the trails!
What Are the Benefits of Hiking?
Hiking is great physical exercise that improves your cardio fitness, strengthens your heart and builds strong muscles and bones. However, I think one of the often-overlooked benefits of hiking is what it does for your mental health. See: How Hiking Can Help You Realize What You’re Thinking.
Hiking improves your mood. Just 90 minutes of walking in nature can lead to a lower risk of depression according to a Stanford-led study.
In Scotland, doctors are prescribing nature – literally. The prescription is expected to improve the patient’s happiness, blood pressure, and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
The combination of physical activity and nature is a powerful concoction that will make you feel oh SOOOO good. How’s that for motivation to start hiking?
HIKING FOR BEGINNERS: WHAT TO DO BEFORE YOU START HIKING
Time of Year and Weather
You can hike any time of the year, even in winter but you’ll need to take more precautions.
As most beginner hikers are interested in heading out when the weather warms up, we’ll focus on that.
- Check the weather in advance. Note: it may be different than your current city. Many mountain ranges have micro-climates. That means the weather can vary dramatically from location to location.
- If you’re hiking spring or fall in an area that gets snow, be aware that there could still be lingering snow, especially at higher elevations.
- Even if the weather forecast looks great, it can change quickly in the mountains. Always bring extra layers. That way you’ll be OK if you run into bad weather or the temperature drops dramatically.
I personally hike year-round and love doing the same mountains in summer and winter to see how different they look.
Related Reading: Day Hiking Packing List: The Essentials to Bring on Every Hike
How to Find the Best Places to Hike
One of the best ways to find hiking trails is to crowdsource. Ask your friends and family if they can recommend an easy trail. There are also Facebook groups, like our Hiking In Europe Facebook Group, alpine associations, local hiking groups and apps.
Check out our post How to Find the Best Places to Hike for specific recommendations.
Related Reading: 7 Fun Facts About the Balkan Mountains
How to Find Hikes for Beginners
The main things you’ll want to consider are:
- Trail Popularity: When you’re just starting out, I recommend choosing a popular hiking trail. That way if you run into any trouble, there will likely be someone there who can assist.
Note: this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be prepared, you should be, but being on a popular trail can offer peace of mind until you’re more experienced.
- Trail Length: Choose a trail that’s ~10km (~6 miles) or less for your first hike. You can always build up but start with a shorter distance.
- Trail Markings: Choose a hiking trail that’s well signed where it’s easy to find the path. Look for trail descriptions that specifically mention that it’s easy to find your way.
If the description says it’s unmarked or to “look for a pile of rocks, then turn left,” you’ll want to save these trails until you’re more experienced in route-finding.
- Elevation Difference: This is the difference in elevation from the start of your hike to the highest point, usually a peak if you’re hiking a mountain.
If you have a reasonable fitness level, look for a trail with an elevation of ~ 300 m (~984 ft). It’s enough to get your heart rate up without being too much.
If your fitness level is quite low, then low for a trail with less elevation difference. Depending on how easy or difficult you find it, you can gradually build up.
You want to enjoy it so that you’ll want to do it again. Therefore I recommend erring on the safe side by choosing a trail that was too easy instead of too difficult where you’ll be miserable.
- Elevation Profile: As a beginner hiker, you’ll want to choose a trail that has a gradual incline, versus one with a steep incline.
For example, the two hikes below are similar in terms of total elevation but I’d recommend the first one marked in red for beginners since the elevation is more gradual.
If you were going to do the second one in blue, I’d recommend doing it in reverse so that the elevation is more gradual. That way you avoid the steep incline. I’ve done it the first way and it’s steep even for an experienced hiker.
Note: these are elevation profiles from two hikes that I’ve done. I’ve taken many first-time hikers on the first one (Chester Lake in Kananaskis Country in the Canadian Rockies) and they’ve all done fine with it.
Knowing how to choose the right trail for you is one of the biggest challenges people who are new to hiking face.
I cover this much more extensively in the Hiking for Beginners: Hit the Trails with Confidence Online Course that I created.
I also show you how actual examples of how I actually find and evaluate hikes and the criteria I use to determine if they’re appropriate for new hikers.
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Hiking with a Partner versus Hiking Alone
I always recommend that beginner hikers go with at least one other person and not hike alone. The exception to this is if it’s a really easy popular hike where you know there will be a lot of other hikers.
I love hiking alone – I think it can be great for clearing your mind and seeing what you’re really thinking – see How Changing Your Thoughts Will Make You Happier + a Technique to Try While Hiking. However, I think it’s a good idea to have some experience before heading out by yourself.
If you don’t have anyone to hike with, then join a hiking group or an alpine club. Once you’ve been a few times and start to form relationships, you can break off and organize your own hikes with a few of your new hiking buddies.
Some people prefer going with just one other person or going in a smaller group. Others enjoy hiking in larger groups for the social aspect. It depends on your personal preferences. There’s no right or wrong.
If you have a friend or partner who’s not interested in hiking check out 6 Creative Ways to Convince Your Partner to Take a Hiking Holiday. It’s intended for multi-day trips but many of the tips also apply to day hikes.
Recommended Reading: Average Hiking Speed: Why it’s Important and How to Calculate it
How to Not Get Lost When Hiking
Once you’ve chosen your hike, I recommend bringing the following:
- GPS route of your trail. Pre-download it into an app like Gaia (which I personally use) on your mobile phone. Always do this at home since mobile phone reception may/may not be ideal at the trailhead. See this article for various hiking apps that you may find useful.
- A written description of your hike. This can be either a hiking guidebook or a printout from a route you found online. This can contain valuable information about the trail that you can’t get from GPS or a paper map.
- Printed map. Ideally a topographical trail map, but if you don’t have this, then at least a printed map from the trail description. This might seem like overkill but it’s a backup in case your GPS map doesn’t work, your mobile phone battery dies, or something happens to your phone, or you need to find an alternative route for some reason – like you run into a bear.
It’s always good to have a backup. You may not need it but you’ll be thankful the times that you do need it.
Recommended Reading: 18 Best Hiking Leggings to Keep you Comfortable on Your Hike
Average Pace: How Long Will My Hike Take?
In trail descriptions, you’ll see the estimated time a hike will take. However, when you’re new to hiking, allow for extra time. Also, note that the indicated time doesn’t include breaks. You’ll want to allow time for these as well since all those 5-minute rest stops add up.
Naismith’s rule is a good one to follow. It states that on a flat surface, you can hike 5 km (3 miles) per hour. Add an additional hour for every 600 m(2000 ft) of ascent.
So a 10 km flat hike would take you around 2 hours (not including breaks), while a 10 km one with 600 m of ascent would take you 3 hours. You may find that it will take you longer when you’re starting out until you become used to the ascents.
Hiking Gear: What Do I Need to Bring?
Check out our post on hiking gear for a day hike and for specific gear recommendations see our Best Hiking Backpacks for Every Budget and check out our Hiking Gear page for further recommendations including socks!
When you enroll in our Hiking for Beginners Online Class, you also get the Hiking Gear Course absolutely free. It shows you specific examples of what features to look for when it comes to different gear, as well as what items you should invest in and what items you can skimp on.
Safety When Hiking
I mentioned the importance of checking the weather but in addition:
- Bring an Emergency Thermal Blanket, even if you’re hiking in summer. If you get stuck on the mountain overnight for some reason, this can prevent you from getting hypothermia – mountains get cold at night.
- Bring bear spray if you’re hiking in an area that has bears.
- Check with the state/provincial/national park site where you’re hiking for the types of wildlife you may encounter and their safety tips for 1) preventing encounters and 2) what to do if you do encounter a wild animal.
- Let someone know the name of the trail, who you’re hiking with and when you expect to be back. Then, check in with them and let them know you’ve arrived safely back at home.
How Much Water Should I Bring?
Everyone is different but generally speaking, you should aim to drink ~ 1 litre (~1 quart) for every two hours of hiking. Plan to bring a bit extra in case your hike takes longer than expected or you get lost.
For example, for a 3-hour hike, you should bring 1.5 litres of water. However, I’d recommend bringing at least 2 litres, and even 2.5 litres if it’s hot out to be on the safe side. Check out Everything You Need to Know About Water When Hiking for further info. It’s always a good idea to have plenty of water as you can see from the above guidelines.
Hiking for Beginners Online Course:
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Getting in Shape When You Start Hiking
There are lots of ways to get in shape for hiking but I’ve found High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to be one of the most effective and fastest. You get a great cardio workout while strengthening your muscles at the same time. Depending on your fitness level, you can choose either low or high impact. Both provide a fantastic workout in as little as 10-minutes. You can either go to a class or search for videos on YouTube for a home workout.
HIKING FOR BEGINNERS: DURING YOUR HIKE
What to Eat When Hiking
Look for nutrient-dense foods that provide lasting energy and are rich in complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats. These types of food will be digested more slowly and provide you with a steady supply of energy.
For a day hike, you can bring fresh fruit, trail mix, a sandwich on whole-wheat bread and some cheese. My personal favourite hiking lunch/snacks are olives for their healthy fat, fresh blueberries, cheese, trail mix and a pepperoni stick.
If you choose an energy or protein bar, look for one that has as few ingredients as possible to ensure you’re not getting added sugar or other ingredients that will be hard for your body to process.
What Happens When Your Hike Becomes Too Hard?
First of all, take a deep breath. You’re stronger than you think. Turning around is always an option, but stop, take a break. If you feel up to it, continue, but hike slowly. It’s much easier to hike at a slow and steady pace than it is to go fast, and then need to take a break every few minutes.
I frequently get passed by beginner hikers at the start of a trail, only to pass them an hour or so later feeling great while they’re exhausted having used up all their energy. Slow and steady wins the race – or in this case, gets you to the peak.
Staying Safe During Your Hike
Keep an eye on the weather: It can change quickly in the mountains. You don’t want to find yourself on a peak in a thunder and lightning storm. If the clouds are starting to roll in and you haven’t reached the peak yet, consider turning around.
Address Blisters Right Away: If you feel like you’re getting a blister, look at it right away, don’t wait until it becomes unbearable. Cover it with a Compeed Blister Cushionwhich will help take the friction off. You want to do this at the first sign of a blister.
You can avoid blisters in the first place by wearing the right hiking socks. That’s one thing I don’t cheap out on. Moisture-wicking socks go a long way in preventing blisters.
Avoiding Ticks: If you’re hiking in an area where you know there will be ticks wear long clothing, including hiking pants instead of shorts. If you’re hiking in grass tuck your pants into your socks to further avoid ticks, or wear gaiters.
You can also wear light colour clothing which will make these critters easier to spot. Finally, do a tick check after your hike and get someone to check your hair. See Tick Checking 101 for further information.
Avoiding Bears: The best way to avoid bears is to make noise so that you don’t surprise them. Simply talking, singing, yelling “Hey Bear” every once in a while will do the trick. Wearing bear bells isn’t necessary. Stay calm and avoid direct eye contact while not taking your eye off the bear. You can find more tips here.
I’ve seen bears, both black and grizzly while hiking at least 30 times and have never encountered an aggressive bear. I also used to collect grizzly bear hair as a volunteer for a research project tracking grizzly bears’ habitat usage in Banff National Park in Canada.
Hiking for Beginners Online Course:
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Hiking Trail Etiquette
Follow the Leave No Trace Principles, which help minimize your impact on the environment when spending time in nature. Further info here.
Of utmost importance is don’t do your business on the trail. Do it at least 70 m (200ft) from the trail. If you use toilet paper you should carry it out with you so be sure to bring a ziplock bag with you.
If there’s solid waste, dig a small hole and cover it up. Yes, it’s a pain, so try to do your business beforehand.
Peeing is much less of a problem. If you don’t want to carry your toilet paper out, then consider drip-drying – yes ladies, that applies to you too :).
Right of Way
If you come across another hiker(s), the person who’s going up has the right away.
If you come across horses, they have the right away. Be sure to give them enough space.
Hikers have the right away over mountain bikers but for your own safety, I recommend giving them a lot of space since they may be coming down fast.
HIKING FOR BEGINNERS: AFTER YOUR HIKE
Do these five things after your hike:
- Let the person you told before you left know that you’ve arrived back safely.
- Record your hike in your hiking logbook. This is a great way to remember the trails you’ve done, and track your progress. In the beginning, it’s especially rewarding to see how quickly you progress. That’s why I highly recommend keeping a hiking logbook. I’ve created three that you can find on Amazon – see below.
- Follow our suggestions to reduce muscle soreness after your hike. It even includes a few suggested 5-minute stretching and yoga videos on YouTube.
- Consider buying either a foam roller or leg massager. They feel SO good after a long hike and really help your recovery.
Note: if your muscles are sore you’ll have a love/hate relationship with your foam roller, but the pain is worth it afterwards. I use my foam roller several times a week and my ExoGun massager once a week.
- Start planning your next hike and put it in your calendar. Despite working long hours, I get out every week. I make time for it and protect that time since it’s in my calendar. It’s highly addictive – in the best way possible.
This comprehensive Hiking for Beginners Guide is an overview of what you need to know to start hitting the trails. But there’s so much more to learn.
Want to find out more? Check out my Hiking for Beginners: Hit the Trails with Confidence, which is much more comprehensive.
I’ll go into more detail and provide specific examples of how to find the right hike for you and handy checklists. You’ll also get my Hiking Gear Course, absolutely free as a bonus in which you’ll learn specific features to look for in backpacks and my #1 tip when it comes to buying hiking boots.
I love hiking and encouraging more people to hit the trails. But I also know it’s confusing and sometimes you don’t know where to start. That’s why I created this hiking for beginners guide. If you found it useful, please share it so that we can more people out on the trails.
Hiking for Beginners Online Course:
EARLY BIRD PRICE
Hit the Trails with Confidence