There are many benefits that come with hiking regularly, but it can be a little overwhelming to know how to start and begin experiencing these mental and physical improvements. This is a complete guide to hiking, including recommended equipment, how to begin, and other essential tips.
Whether you want to connect with your spiritual side, push your body a little further, or spend more time outdoors, hiking is a great way to explore nature and disconnect from the busy world for a while. Something that makes hiking unique is that it can be as strenuous or easy as you like. This means that you can bring your dog, children of all ages, and relatives if they want to.
In many cultures and religions, nature is considered sacred and even a source of new life. It’s no wonder that more and more people are enjoying hiking, because of the mental clarity which comes from being immersed in the wilderness. This is unlike anything else, and provides a great opportunity for enlightenment.
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Making a conscious effort to spend more time outdoors surrounded by nature is one of the fundamental characteristics of hiking. It can be an incredibly mindful process of self-reflection which allows you to deal with the busy world easier.
For others, hiking is a physical challenge which encourages them to push their bodies a little further and reach extreme heights or distances.
While hiking is originally defined as a long and vigorous walk through nature, it has adapted since the activity first came to light. This means that your hike can be as easy or challenging as you like without having to strain yourself when you do not want to.
Nowadays, hiking is a mental exercise as much as it is a physical one. It encourages people to slow down and turn off their overactive minds. Switching off phones and disconnecting from the busy modern world offers a great opportunity to enter a meditative state, or even enjoy chatting with friends or loved ones.
Hiking is an extremely rewarding activity which encourages you to appreciate the natural world while exercising. Many consider it to be the perfect exercise, and it isn’t hard to see why.
Apart from parking charges and donations to nature reserves, hiking is completely free. This means that it is one of the most accessible forms of exercise out there.
So many people of all ages can go at their own pace and appreciate the many benefits that hiking provides. You can bring toddlers, friends, family members, and dogs on a hike, or head out on your own if you need something that is a little more meditative.
While some see hiking as an athletic challenge to push themselves to extremes and cover larger distances, it can improve your mental health by offering a chance to switch off. Focusing on what you are doing, and where you are going allows your mind to settle from overthinking, worrying, and what-ifs.
Because of this, hiking is widely credited for improving mental health and allowing people to be more conscious of their choices in life. Not only that, but it can help people to become more mindful about the natural world in which they live.
Hiking provides some much-needed perspective to many, and encourages people to think about the bigger picture rather than our own lives.
If you are wondering how you can start your hiking journey, and where to begin planning, these are some essential tips that will help. Remember to be considerate of your environment and don’t cause excessive damage to the area.
1. Start With A Hike For Beginners
Firstly, it is worth recognizing that hiking isn’t something that you can jump straight into the deep end. Choose a route that is recommended for beginners in order to work your way up. Tough terrains up very steep hills or mountains can be too much of a shock to your body if you are not used to that kind of physical activity.
Beginner trails are usually on more level ground which is easier to start on. They also normally take less time to cover the route. This means that you can do these types of trails more frequently if you choose until you want to try a tougher trail.
It is recommended that you choose a route that is less than five miles in length if you are new to hiking, and stick to something with minimal climbing. It is easy to train yourself and work your way up to more challenging routes and longer hikes, but five miles is a respectable distance for a leisurely hike.
2. Pick Beginner Hiking Gear
It’s not only the route which can be recommended for beginner hikers, but the gear that you use as well. Beginner hiking gear allows you to understand some of the basics before using expert level equipment that is a little more complicated and advanced.
Any kind of athletic pants are ideal for hiking because they will protect your legs from bushes and bug bites. It can also prevent rubbing and sweat absorption which is common in jeans that become very heavy and difficult to move in.
A reliable pair of sneakers or hiking boots are also essential, but it’s important that they are comfortable and do not rub on your feet or ankles in any way. Use a backpack, water bottle, extra layers for the weather to get warmer or colder, snacks, and rain protection.
Other types of hiking gear which can be useful for beginners are a compass, emergency whistle, a folding knife, and a lighter or container of waterproof matches.
3. Timing Is Key
Depending on whether you want to be surrounded by more people or head out alone, it is worth timing your hike correctly. Those who want to be lone hikers should aim to start their route first thing in the morning, whereas those who prefer the company of others or feel more confident when there are more groups nearby should go closer to midday.
This can make it a little more social and encourage you to catch up with friends or family members.
Of course, you should also check the weather forecast in relation to the intended time of day. Remember that conditions at the top of a mountain are usually a little different than the surrounding towns and villages.
4. Prep Sessions
This is basically a little research prior to the hike, which involves checking if you need to purchase a permit and following the steps to do so if it is necessary. Additionally, it is worth checking the weather forecast before heading out so that you are not walking straight into a severe storm.
It is also worth checking with the local park if a particular route is open to the public on the intended day of hiking, as there is little point heading to your chosen hiking spot if you cannot use the route that you wanted to.
5. Tell Someone
Even if you are going on a very short route, it’s crucial that you tell a neighbor, close friend, or family member exactly where you are headed before leaving the house. This is because most people turn off their phones on a hike to save battery, and they will be harder to reach in an emergency.
The person who you have spoken to beforehand will know where to look for you if you do not return within the expected time period, or if they are concerned about your safety. Something as simple as a text message with the zip code or address of the parking lot and estimated time for your hiking route works great.
6. It Is Not A Race
Remember that the goal of hiking isn’t to reach the vantage point the fastest, so you shouldn’t treat it as a race. Trying to get all the way around your chosen route in record time won’t get you anything, apart from a little hot and sweaty.
Make sure that you go at a pace that feels comfortable for you and all members of your group if you plan on hiking with multiple people. Consider everybody’s needs and athletic ability.
There are different types of hikes, but it is generally recommended that you treat it more like a marathon than a sprint race for the athletic minded individuals. This means pacing yourself and preserving your energy rather than rushing off on your hike because you do not know what could be around the next corner.
7. Watch Your Feet
Snakes, thick tree roots and even large stones are some of the most common culprits of trusted ankles. It is easy to forget when you are listening to music with headphones, talking to other members of your group, or lost in thought.
Try to get into the habit of watching where you are placing your feet on a hike so that you don’t fall victim to an injured ankle.
8. Don’t Be Scared To Get Lost
For some, their goal is to travel from a starting point to an end point, or in a long loop, and that’s it. However, you could find a hike more enjoyable if you allow yourself to get lost in the wilderness, and enjoy breathing in the fresh air. This is a great way to become immersed in the natural world and reconnect with mother earth.
If you are trying to figure out where you are, then you can backtrack to find your way and hopefully get you on the route that you were following.
9. Learn The Right Hiking Etiquette
Understand how to interact with other people on the hiking track correctly. Be mindful of other people and remember to treat everybody you meet with respect. Let someone who is going uphill to pass before you so that they do not have to lose momentum.
Other ways to be courteous of other hikers are to keep dogs under control at all times because some people are wary of them, and to keep music and conversations at a low volume if you are part of a larger group.
When you are getting ready for your hike, it’s important that you are ready for anything. This includes setting up emergency shelter, getting lost, severe weather, and injuries. That is why we have listed ten essentials that can help you survive any hiking trip. Try to pack these into your hiking backpack so that they are always with you on every route.
Don’t rely too heavily on GPS and phone signals when you are hiking because many routes will not have as much connection. Try to trace your route using paper maps ahead of time and keep a copy with you during the hike.
If you don’t already know, make sure you can use and understand a compass before heading out on a hike because this can help you follow a map more accurately.
For those who are less experienced with navigating their way through the wilderness, it could be useful to find a hiking track that is more popular to start with. This way, you can ask other hikers which way to go, and even follow the signs if there are any.
Making sure you have some knowledge and practice navigating your way through the wilderness during a hike can prevent you from getting lost for longer amounts of time. This is likely to get you stranded and having to set up an emergency shelter for the night.
If you are planning a more extreme hiking trip, you could also pack a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) which makes it much easier for emergency services to find you if you need to be rescued.
2. Protection From The Sun
Even if the weather is cloudy, the UV exposure can be damaging to your skin. Excessive UV rays and sun exposure can contribute to an increased appearance of wrinkles, uneven skin tones, and increase the risk of developing skin cancer.
It is therefore essential that you use sun protective measures such as applying SPF and bringing sunblock with you on your hike to reapply. Other methods to reduce the impact from the sun include wearing a hat, sunglasses, and light colored clothing.
Low visibility can happen at any time of the day, and it’s important that you are prepared for these conditions on a hike. Pack a high quality headlamp to make finding your way back from the trail easier.
It is also useful to have a headlamp or flashlight in case you lose track of time and notice that it is getting dark out. Those who want to camp in the wilderness overnight during a hike would also benefit from a reliable headlamp.
Try to pack extra batteries for this headlamp in case you need to use it regularly. It could also be worth finding a high quality LED headlamp or flashlight that lasts a little longer than regular flashlights.
4. First Aid Essentials
Safety should be prioritized by packing a simple first aid kit that you can bring on any hike. While injuries and sickness are unlikely, you will not want to be caught short when someone falls over and needs a bandaid, sling, or even hayfever medication.
Consider the needs of everyone that you plan on hiking with, and whether you need to include emergency medication such as an EpiPen, inhaler, a spare dose of insulin, or anything else that applies to you or your group.
Of course, most first aid kits are recommended to contain pain medicine such as aspirin, bandaids and some bandages, a temporary sling or material to make one out of, sanitary products, and anything else that you think is necessary on a hike.
Pocket knives are ideal additions to any hiking or outdoor set-up because they have so many uses. Make sure you have a cover that is easy to store safely when the blade is not in use.
You can use a knife to carve sticks, remove clothing from a wound, open cans of food, and for self-defensive reasons. It can also be used to make kindling when you need to build a fire, and during food preparation.
Waterproof matches or butane lighters are essential for starting a fire in an emergency. They will need to be reliable and easy to use when needed. You can also pack a small camping stove for a source of heat, or small amounts of kindling kept dry in a zip-loc bag.
7. Enough Food
Protein bars are an ideal source of energy when you are hiking because they can give you a boost that will help you get to where you need to be. It is recommended that you pack one day’s extra worth of food when you are preparing for a long hike.
Things with long shelf lives are generally better because you will not have to worry about keeping them cool. This includes jerky, nuts, and dried fruits, because they don’t need to be cooked or prepared at all.
If you are planning to spend several days in the wilderness or take on a much longer hiking route, it could be worth packing materials that can be used to create a shelter. This could be an old tarp to hang between trees, a hammock, or a small tent.
For people who don’t know how long a particular trail will take them, it could also be worth bringing some supplies to create a shelter in case the sun starts to go down and you don’t know where you are. It can also be used for shelter if you want to wait out a storm, rainfall, or take a break for lunch.
Emergency shelters are essential for any hiking pack, and they are considerably more lightweight than other forms of shelter. For that reason, it could be worth purchasing small emergency shelters for everyone in your hiking group.
9. Extra Clothes
Even if the weather forecast looks mild and consistent, it’s essential to bring another layer of clothes in case you find yourself stranded in the wilderness at night. This is when it can get a little chilly, and you won’t want to be stuck in a basic tank top.
Most hiking routes will usually take you onto higher ground up a mountain or hill, and you should have an additional layer to put on once you feel the chill that can come from this. Try to pack a lightweight sweater, long sleeved T-shirt, or even some socks in case your feet get wet.
Additionally, it could also be worth packing a lightweight waterproof jacket if it looks like it will rain. This can prevent you from returning from a hike and needing to get into your car when you are soggy. Spare sets of underwear are always a useful thing to pack for any hike.
10. Enough Water
Try to think realistically about how much water you need to take, and where you can refill water bottles if necessary. It is generally recommended that you drink around 32 fl oz for every two hours that you are hiking.
You could try to bring more in case other members of your group need water, but your pack can easily become pretty heavy. Many people invest in a reusable water bottle that has a high capacity and carry it separately from their hiking packs in their hands. This can encourage them to take more regular sips when they are exploring the wilderness.
It could also be useful to find ways of purifying water when you are hiking so that you don’t have to carry as much emergency water supply. These are normally in the form of chemical treatment tablets, small filters, or using portable stovetops.
It is easy to forget that hikes can be a little perilous when the weather is less than perfect. This is because of poor visibility, extreme temperatures, excessive rain, or windy conditions. Make sure you are staying as safe as you can be on a hike so that you do not become injured, lost, or dehydrated.
This is one of the best things that you can do. Planning ahead of time allows you to research more details about where you are going, local amenities, parking, and estimated time of each different trail.
Researching your route makes it easier to estimate how long you will be out of the house for, and whether a particular route will allow you to be finished with your hike before the sun goes down.
It is also recommended that you research as much as you can about the area that you will be hiking in so that you do not end up on a very steep track that is a little too physically challenging for your preference.
Make sure you know what route to take, and how to stick to it all of the time on your hike. This allows you to bring people who are less athletic and show them the wonders of the natural world without pushing them too far.
It can be easy to fill your pack with a lot of things that aren’t necessary out of the need for comfort or familiarity, but you should try and be strict about how essential everything is when you are packing for a hike.
This ensures that you know exactly what is in your pack, and where to reach for it when needed. Having a lightweight pack allows you to move easier on long hikes without feeling weighed down unnecessarily.
This is a highly useful thing to do, so that you know how close you will be to these ahead of time. Avoid bringing excessive amounts of food and water, because they can weigh your pack down and make the load more difficult to carry.
It could also be worth taking a note of these locations or writing them onto your paper map so that you can reach them in an emergency. It could also be useful to know where the nearest diner or restaurant is if you are hiking in a large group and all want to eat a big meal afterwards, or even just to use the bathroom.
While it may seem obvious, many people skip this step and end up with painful rubbing on a hike. This is normally caused by new footwear that hasn’t been worn-in yet. A hike can become very unpleasant if you have ill-fitting or uncomfortable boots or sneakers.
Because of this, it’s important to wear shoes that you know are comfortable and fit your feet well on a hike. If you decide to purchase new footwear for hiking, it could be worth wearing them ahead of time so that they have time to be adjusted and made as comfortable as possible without rubbing into your ankles or feet.
This can keep your heart pumping and allow your body to benefit from regular exercise. Listen to your body and go at a pace that feels comfortable so that you can enjoy your hike without over-exerting yourself.
Like we mentioned previously, a hike is not a race and there is nothing to prove. You may as well take your time and enjoy the scenery while you can.
It may feel a little unnecessary, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. You can easily get lost or lose track of time on a hike, so you should tell somebody close to you where you are planning to go and when they should expect to hear from you to say that you’ve arrived home safely.
Having somebody to be on stand-by waiting for your return is a highly effective way for them to find you in an emergency while allowing you to enjoy being disconnected for a little while.
This should become a part of your routine when you are preparing for a hike, and it’s crucial to remember that the weather in the towns nearby a particular route does not always correlate with the conditions on top of a mountain.
However, you can prepare appropriately by bringing spare layers and waterproof clothing. With that said, it could be dangerous to hike while a severe storm is passing over. For that reason you should always check local weather forecasts and find one that is pretty accurate.
Remember to keep your body fueled and avoid losing too much energy or fluids on a hike. This is so that you can stay focused on the track and find the right way around while taking in the environment and appreciating the nature around you.
Energy bars are ideal for short boosts that will keep you going. However, they are less effective for a long-term solution. If you are planning a long hike that is expected to last an entire day, it could be worth packing a small picnic to keep your body sufficiently fueled.
One of the great things about hiking is that it can be as physically challenging as you like. This means that you can choose to push yourself a little further and work on improving your timing, or enjoy the scenery and use the time to reflect.
Some people bring their toddlers and use this as an opportunity to teach them about the natural world, and others use it as a chance to bond with elderly family members. There are so many different hiking trails around the country that it is easy to choose one that matches your preferences, physical fitness, and desired length.
Make sure you are packing some of the hiking essentials, and that you have done plenty of research before heading out. It can be easy to lose track of time and need rescuing if you get lost, so it’s important that you come prepared with the knowledge and appropriate precautions for your chosen route.