Being a new hiker is like most new experiences. You're going to fumble and make mistakes. It's okay. It happens. You might want to overthink hiking and look for all of the best hiking tips for new hikers—don't worry, you only need a few to start. For those who want to avoid making the same hiking beginner mistakes I did, pay close attention to the hiking tips in this article.
To summarize, here are 10 hiking tips for beginners:
- Check the weather
- Tell people where you will be
- Pack your hiking essentials
- Wear the right gear
- Practice good hiking etiquette
- Take it slow
- Be mindful of wildlife
- Pick an easy trail
- Don't depend on your phone
These might sound simple, but they're essential for improving your hiking experience.
There are a lot of reasons why these tips are on this list, continue reading below to find out why.
Check The Weather
As I've mentioned in a prior article, checking the weather seems as simple as glancing out your window. The only downside is you're not a meteorologist, and nature doesn't make accommodations based on your plans.
A clear blue sky can quickly fill up with monstrous clouds. Just because you don't think it's going to rain doesn't mean you won't get soaked later on in your hike. Clear skies can quickly populate, especially in the winter, with hordes of clouds and turn your dry, cool hike into a soaked and chilling experience.
Likewise, a decent temperate of 70 degrees can quickly shoot up during a heatwave. This is an unwelcome surprise, especially if you only brought enough water for a day hike at regular temperatures.
Tell People Where You Will Be
This new hiker tip is almost always overlooked, and it's because of routine.
We live busy lives. It's easy to overlook a good ol' "check-in" with a friend or relative. We're usually always where they expect us to be.
Because cell phones don't operate very well on hiking trails, you should always alert friends or family where you will be during your hike, and how long you plan on staying.
If people are expecting you to be at a certain place, every day, and you're suddenly not, it can cause terrible anxiety for them. Even worse, in an emergency situation, like an injury, you are at a huge risk if people don't know where you are.
Pack Your Hiking Essentials
It's important to pack your hiking essentials.
If you're a new hiker, it's easy to overprepare and over-pack your things, causing added and unneeded weight.
Always pack essentials like enough hydration, the best hiking snacks for your trail, extra clothing, and extra bags for trash, if needed.
Don't worry about packing things you won't need: it's like going on a three-day vacation with two weeks worth of things. It's weighty and unnecessary.
Wear The Right Gear
This goes hand-in-hand with being properly prepared and checking the weather.
Don't trust that stereotypical image you have of hikers. We're not all out lugging around camping gear atop stacked layers of clothing.
Always dress appropriately for your hike. Don't over-layer or under-layer if you don't have to.
Wearing too many layers of clothing on a hot day will get you exhausted fast. And wearing too little clothing will have your teeth clattering in no time on a cold day.
If you're expecting rain, go with proper hiking boots to avoid getting your feet wet. During a hot day, you can do fine with regular hiking shoes or trail running shoes.
Although gear is important, don't let the price-tags overwhelm you — there are tons of good gear for hiking beginners you can find that doesn't cost a fortune.
Practice Good Hiking Etiquette
This is one of the must-know hiking tips for beginners: demonstrate proper beginner hiking etiquette.
You wouldn't think that pacing through a trail requires etiquette, but it does. In fact, most hikers abide by a set of unwritten rules for hiking.
Proper hiking etiquette not only keeps you safe, but it also improves the experience of fellow hikers too. Heck, it can even help you make friends.
Be sure to familiarize yourself with hiking etiquette for beginners:
- Give uphill hikers the right of way
- Keep your dog(s) leashed
- Don’t play music loudly or at all
- Be friendly and greet other hikers
- Stay on the trail
- Don’t litter
- Yield to cyclists
- Yield and respect horses
- Stay to the right of wide trails
- Don’t disturb wildlife
- Pass on the left of other hikers
- When approaching a hiker from behind, announce overtaking
- If you’re hiking in a group, hike in a single-file line
- Keep conversation volume low
- Respect the rules of the trail
Take It Slow
It's a hike. Not a marathon.
A lot of new hikers get in the mindset that they need to complete a hike as fast as possible. While this does help with fitness, it's not needed if you're just getting started.
Take your hike slow and get used to the terrain. This helps you stay on course and it also helps you memorize the trail for future hikes.
This doesn't just help with improving your memory of a trail, it helps you practice proper form, too. Using proper form when hiking is essential in how you perform. Busted feet and pulled muscles are no fun, trust me.
After you get used to the trail and adopt the proper form, it's perfectly fine to step up the intensity if you want to complete the trail faster, especially if you like a challenge.
Be Mindful Of Wildlife
This is an important subject. Don't overlook it.
When you step foot onto a hiking trail you're stepping into someone's home. As with anyone's home, it's best to be respectful and not disturb the residents.
When you're new to hiking, it's easy to get distracted by the beauty of everything. You might even want to explore a bit and start interacting with animals or touching plants you shouldn't be touching. Don't do this. It's like someone walking into your house to physically and emotionally antagonize you.
State parks and trails are full of different types of wildlife like plants, snakes (we get a lot of these here in California), wild cats, birds, insects, and even cattle and horses. Disturbing wildlife on a hike can cause injury to you, an animal, or a natural ecosystem.
It's also wise to watch your footing on a trail. Rattlesnakes and other low-lying animals aren't too fond of strangers and they're not too shy to let you know.
Pick An Easy Trail
So many new hikers will start and give up after a couple of hikes. Why? It's likely because they're not paying attention to this hiking tip.
Picking a grueling or difficult trail for your first hike is setting yourself up for failure.
Although it's good to push yourself, it's not always the best choice for your first few outings. Taking on a hard or advanced trail will leave you exhausted if you're new to hiking, which will instill a bad mindset. It's going to make you feel like you're "not good enough" or that hiking just isn't for you.
Always start with easy to conquer trails. Don't feel obligated to complete a 5-mile hike if you've never taken on a 2-mile hike. Start small and improve from there.
Don't Depend On Your Phone — Get A Map
The point of hiking is to disconnect yourself from all the noise of everyday life and enjoy natural environments for what they are. However, we still need to bring our phones.
If you plan on pulling up your geo-location, you may be in for a rude awakening.
Unfortunately, most cell phones will either get a poor signal or not work at all out in the wilderness. This can be risky and cause you to get lost, especially on more intricate trails.
Almost every state park or hiking trail will have a paper map or a sign with a posted map. If the park only has a posted billboard map, use that phone to snap a picture of it to help you keep track of where you are.
Most state parks will even have maps available online, which is a great resource if you plan your journey ahead of time. Simply print them out or download the map to your phone for later use.
You did it! You completed your first hike, or first few, with no problem. But remember the hiking tip that says to let people know where you are? Don't forget to tell them you made it back okay, too.
You definitely don't want your family or friends blowing a gasket because you forgot to let them know you're safe.
Hiking Tips For Beginners: Don't Skip The Basics
We're simple creatures who like to make things complicated. Hiking doesn't have to be complicated, just remember to stick to the basics.
If you're ever unsure of a situation when hiking, always stick to the basics. The basics of hiking will help you structure a solid foundation for years to come.
Hopefully, these hiking tips for beginners will help shape some new hikers up and turn them onto the sport. Here's to wishing you the best hiking experience possible!