Destinations Magazine

Hiking for Beginners: What You Need to Know To Start Hiking

By Monkeys And Mountains Adventure @Laurel_Robbins

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This hiking for beginners guide gives you an overview of what you need to know to start hiking. It covers hiking prep, what hiking snacks to bring, essential hiking gear, how to stay safe when hiking 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 the right hike?
  • What hiking gear do you really need that's not going to cost a fortune?
  • None of my friends are hikers. How do I find people to hike with?
  • What if I'm out of shape?
  • How do I safe when hiking and not get eaten by a bear?
  • What do I do when I get tired and can't keep going?

That's why I created this hiking guide for beginners, to answer all your 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

Hi, I'm Laurel, I've compiled my 25+ years of 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 hikes there. I currently live in Munich, Germany and hike in the Alps almost every weekend where I've also hiked hundreds of times.
I also do at least one long-distance trek 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 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 hiking journey. If you want more in-depth information check out out my Hiking for Beginners Online Course.

Ready to get started? Let's hit the trails!

What Are the Benefits of Hiking?

Besides being a great physical exercise that improves your cardio fitness, strengthens your heart and builds strong muscles and bones, I think one of the often-overlooked benefits of hiking is what it does for your mental health.
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?


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 hiking 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 so 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, so always bring extra layers - just in case.

I personally hike year-round and love doing the same mountains in summer and winter to see how different they look.

How to Find the Best Places to Hike

If you're just starting to hike, one of the best ways to find hikes is to crowdsource. Ask your friends and family if they can recommend an easy hike. 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.

How to Choose the Right Hike For You

The main things you'll want to consider are:

  • Trail Popularity: When you're starting to hike, I recommend choosing a popular 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 hiking 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 descriptions say 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.
  • Elevation Difference: This is the difference in elevation from the start of your hike to the highest point, or the peak if you're hiking a mountain. If you're reasonably fit, look for a hike with an elevation of ~ 300 m (~984 ft). It's enough to get your heart rate up without being too much. Again, depending on how easy or difficult you find it, you can gradually build up.
  • Elevation Profile: As a beginner hiker, you'll want to choose a hike that has a gradual incline, versus one that's mainly flat and that all uphill. For example, the two hikes below are similar in terms of elevation but I'd recommend the first one marked in red for beginners since the elevation is more gradual. If you're going to do the second one in blue, I'd recommend doing it in reverse so that the elevation is more gradual. I've done it the first way and it's steep even for a regular 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 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.

Hiking with a Partner versus Hiking Solo

I always recommend that beginner hikers go with at least one other person and not hike solo. 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 solo hiking, but think it's a good idea to have some experience before doing it.
If you don't have anyone to hike with, then join a hiking group or an alpine club. Then, 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 hiking with just one other person or hiking in a smaller group. Others enjoy hiking in larger groups for the social aspect. It depends on your personal preferences.
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 hikes but many of the tips also apply to day hikes.

How to Plan Your First Hikes

Once you've chosen your hike, I recommend bringing the following:

  • GPS route of your hike. Pre-download it into an app like Gaia (which I personally use) on your 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.
  • A written description of your hike. This can be either a hiking guidebook or 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 map for hiking, but if you don't have this, then at least a printed map from the trail description. This is in case your GPS map doesn't work, your phone battery dies, or something happens to your phone. It's good to have a backup.

Average Pace: How Long Will My Hike Take?

In hiking 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 so you'll want to allow time for these as well.
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 and 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 hike 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?

For a day hike check out our post on hiking gear for a day hike and for specific gear recommendations see the Best Hiking Backpacks for Every Budget and .
When you enroll in my Hiking for Beginners Online Class, you also get the Hiking Gear Course absolutely free which will show specific examples of what to look for when it comes to different hiking gear.

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.
  • Let someone know the name of the trail that you'll be hiking, 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 Do I Need?

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.

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. You can either go to a class or search for videos on YouTube for a home workout.


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 hike fast, and then need to take a break every few minutes.
I frequently get passed by beginner hikers at the beginning of a hike, 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 when hiking 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 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 hiker 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.


Do these five things after your hike:

  1. Let the person you told about your hike know that you've arrived back safely.
  2. Record the hike in your hiking logbook. This is a great way to remember your hikes, track your progress, especially when you're starting hiking and is fun to look back on. You'll be amazed at how quickly you progress. I highly recommend keeping a hiking logbook. I've created three that you can find on Amazon - see below.
  3. Follow our suggestions to reduce muscle soreness after your hike. It even includes a few suggested 5-minute stretching and yoga videos on YouTube.
  4. 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.
  5. Start planning your next hike and put it in your calendar. Despite working long hours, I hike 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: Everything You Need to Start Hiking Online Course, 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 more people will start hiking.

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