Hiking for Beginners: Hiking Benefits, Getting Started, Finding the Right Gear and More
Hiking may be the best exercise ever.
It hits on many levels.
Hiking is great physical exercise. The beauty of nature soothes your spirit. Longer hikes give you time to be creative and think through difficult problems. Hiking can be a great social experience. Hiking helps to reduce stress, get you physically fit and even increases brain power.
In short, hiking is awesome.
It would seem that with all the advantages of hiking, everyone would be doing it, every chance they get.
But this is not so.
Many people fear hiking. They fear:
- Not knowing how to prepare
- Wild animals
- Bugs and other small critters
- Being away from their connection to the *gasp* internet
- How to handle emergencies
More importantly than this they do not know how enjoyable hiking can be. They don’t understand hiking, so they fear it. Because we fear what we don’t understand.
Hiking is more than a walk in the woods. It improves your #health and #confidence and gets your #creative juices flowing. It is exercise with many extra benefits.
This article will dispel all hiking myths.
In this post I will address: The benefits of hiking. The fears of hiking. And I will share with you many hiking tips for beginners.
These tips will give you some hiking knowledge passed down hiker-to-hiker. It will also will prepare you for any hiking emergency, regardless of how unlikely. And then finally I will prepare you with a short list of items that might be useful on your hikes.
Hiking is awesome. There is no reason to fear hiking.
Hopefully this post will give you the encouragement and the tools to get out and try a few hikes on your own.
20 Health (and Psychological) Benefits of Hiking
1. Hiking is a powerful cardio workout.
Hiking around for hours is a great aerobic cardio workout. It will keep your legs moving and your lungs burning.
Since hiking often involves inclines or declines it is akin to some great treadmill workouts. Except you actually get to enjoy nature and fresh air.
2. Hiking is also a powerful anaerobic workout.
Hiking is a weight bearing activity. By walking around for hours with even a small backpack on your back, you are burning and building muscles in some of the largest muscles in your body.
Hiking builds: glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps. It works on all the muscles in your back, lower legs and hips. Add in hiking poles and it becomes a full body exercise.
Hiking gives you better exercise than hours on leg machines. in a much nicer and more comfortable setting than sitting in gym inhaling other people's gym sweat.
3. Hiking strengthens your core.
Hiking is great core exercise. (Your core are those muscles in your lower chest, abdomen and upper pelvis.) These are the muscles you often exercise (some of) when trying to do sit ups.
These muscles are some of the most important ones for health. They drive both upper and lower body. Hiking works out all the core muscles, even more so if you use poles while walking.
4. Hiking helps keep the weight off.
Daily walking is one of the single best methods to keep weight off.
Hiking is just walking that is a little bit more strenuous and more scenic.
If you add in some poles, hiking also becomes a full body workout. Poles help you include your back and arms to help decrease the workload on your tired legs. This can make hiking more of a "full body" workout.
5. Hiking is energizing.
While on your first few hikes, you may not see this.
If you are not used to hiking, you may be too tired to be energized.
But, once you become used to hiking you will find simply thinking about a hike will energize you. The thought of the fun alone will release endorphins and energize you. Giving you the boost you need for a great hike.
6. Hiking improves your mood.
Hiking can help you relieve stress and recharge. It provides an opportunity to take a break from worries. It gives you an escape from pressure at work, relationships, friendships, and finances.
It is just you and the wild trails you walk upon.
According to a Standford study, the simple act of going out into nature on a hike has a significant and measurable impact on many mental functions. One of the most notable being general anxiety.
Hiking has an positive impact on relieving anxiety. It helps decrease stress and stop depression. Your brain, like your body, loves to be out in the fresh air and out of the confines of your daily work environment.
7. Hiking gets the creative juices flowing.
Chances are you are not going on a hike looking for an answer to a thorny work problems.
But when you hike your mind has free time. You may think about things going on in your life. You may spend time thinking over those thorny work problems. You may mull over goals or plan for future projects.
Since you are at a partial remove from these problems you may come up with solutions that would have escaped you if you were stuck in your cubicle.
8. Hiking leads to increases in productivity.
Any productivity expert will tell you that one of the best productivity tips, can be to get away from work. To be productive at work you sometimes need to let your "batteries" recharge.
But all “battery charges” are not made equal. For instance watching TV or taking a nap can be a decent “recharge”. But are not as effective as a good physical activity like a hike.
Also the creative thinking brought on by gorgeous surroundings will stimulate you mentally. This will take your mind off stressful work related problems.
Combine the physical activity of a hike with the mental stimulation and you will find it is is the best "battery recharge" available.
9. Hiking helps lower your risk for cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Regular hiking helps elevate your high-density lipoprotein levels. It also lowers your triglyceride levels. Together these two things keep your cardiovascular system in top notch condition.
Hiking is also one of the best sources for cardiorespiratory fitness. This means you exercise lungs, heart and blood vessels all at once.
Getting your daily exercise from a short hike does wonders for cardiovascular health. Making a habit of daily hiking has proven to lead to longer life.
10. Hiking is great exercise regardless of your level of fitness.
One of the wonderful things about hiking is that there are hikes for many different activity levels.
If you are out of shape and getting starting, there are easy hikes. There are moderate hikes for those of intermediate fitness. And, of course, there are challenging hikes for those with experience.
11. Hiking is good for your blood sugar levels.
As stated above, hiking can be for any fitness level. Even if you are diabetic and a bit out of shape, a short hike might be the perfect way to lose a few unwanted pounds.
But hiking helps you in more ways than weight control. After a good hike insulin sensitivity and carbohydrate metabolism increase for up to 24 hours.
12. Hiking is good for your bones.
Hiking helps increase your bone density. Making your bones strong and decreasing down bone degeneration.
The direct sunshine you receive on your hike also increases your vitamin D levels. This is also a great boon for your bone health..
13. Hiking may help ease insomnia.
Hiking is a good way to tire yourself out, helping you sleep better and wake up refreshed.
14. Hiking fosters relationships.
Hiking with others gives you a chance to have some real conversations. All the free time walking allows you to share memorable experiences.
Hiking is a community. It is also a wonderful way to meet new people and even forge long lasting friendships.
15. Hiking helps you stay present.
Incorporate your walking meditation habit with hiking to help you practice mindfulness. This will help you stay in the present moment and truly enjoy all the nature that surrounds you.
16. Hiking increases your self-awareness.
A good hike helps engage all your senses. Nature helps you focus while also giving your mind room to expand creatively. Walking meditation is one of the best natural ways to meditate.
17. Hiking will save you money.
Hiking is definitely one of the healthiest and least expensive hobbies you can have. The only cost for simple hikes is an investment in a good pair of hiking boots.
For more strenuous hikes the only costs are a backpack and a few items of safety gear. Compare this to the costs involved in another “walking” “outdoors” sport, like golf and you will see a staggering difference in cost.
Even compared to other forms of exercise, hiking is a budget solution. Buying hiking gear, that will last you for years, is far less expensive than a gym membership.
18. Hiking lets you visit more places.
Having hiking as a hobby is a good excuse to visit new places and hiking trails. Even if you visit the same place twice, you'll find that there's always something new to see.
Hiking also lets you reach places you could never see from a car. Many of the most beautiful places in nature are a remote. It may take a few mile hike to reach these scenic beauties, but they are always worth the effort.
19. Hiking makes you appreciate nature more.
Hiking is a great opportunity to get in touch with nature and a reminder on why we should treasure and help protect it.
20. Hiking increases brain power.
The Standford study of hiking also brought up the fact that hiking increases brain power. Not only does hiking have a direct impact on stress and anxiety, but it also has a direct impact on general cognitive function. Specifically working memory.
So yes, hiking makes you a bit smarter and more able to process ideas. This is part of the reason why people come up with some great creative thinking while on a nice pleasant hike.
Of course, all the hiking benefits above are completely pointless if you do not actually go out and hike. In the next section I will give you some practical hiking tips that will help you get started hiking.
Hiking Tips for Beginners
1. The importance of finding a hiking partner.
Hiking alone is a dumb thing to do. Accidents happen. You don’t want to be alone on some abandoned trail and sprain your ankle.
As a new hiker it is even more important to have a hiking partner. A hiking partner can lend you their experience and knowledge until you have a few hikes under your belt.
Ask your friends and family to find if any of them hike and then ask them to go with you on an appropriate level hike.
2. How to find a hiking partner.
Perhaps none in your friends and family hikes. How can you find cool strangers to go hiking with?
Below are a few ideas for beginning hikers to help find a hiking club or hiking partner.
- Ask around the office to see if anyone might be a hiker. (Or have a husband/friend who hikes)
- Join hiking clubs at your local college or university
- Check Craigslist to find hiking partners or groups
- Use social media. Facebook in particular can be a great place to find hiking enthusiasts who live in your area.
- Ask at the office.
- Check for flyers and/or ask behind the desk at your local outfitters store.
- Meet people on the trail. After a few hikes you may meet people who you will want to hike with in the future.
- If you are physically able for tougher trails, you might think about hiring a trail guide to escort you.
- Find a regional outdoor hiking association. Such as the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) or the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC)
On SLACK there is a great growing community of hikers. Join this group and see what’s going on in your local area.
MEETUP.com may be one of your best bets to find other hikers. This is a group of outdoor enthusiasts you can find broken down by local areas.
3. Finding a hiking route
Hiking for beginners is easiest if you let somebody else take the reins. If your hiking partner is experienced they will be able to show you a lot of great hikes they have experienced over the years.
But having a an experienced hiker show you a trail may not always be possible. Therefore it is important to be able to find your own hiking routes in your area.
- Word of mouth
- Talk to locals
- Check out one of the many websites designed to help you find hiking routes. These sites have different search parameters, but will show you trails based on state, area, difficulty, and hiking “type”.
4. What to look for in a hiking trail
Finding the right trail requires a few variables. Time, distance, fitness level, weather, time of the year and logistics. See below for more details for finding the perfect hiking trail.
Time: How much time do you have to hike? An hour. Three hours. Eight hours. Time will make a big difference in the hike you choose.
Fitness Level: You need to do an honest assessment of your fitness. If you are a bit out of shape a tough hike may cause far too much pain and suffering. Better to air on the side of caution. Take an easier and more enjoyable hike. There are hikes for every level of fitness.
Elevation Gain. This is a factor of fitness level, but it can sometimes be a hidden factor. The more elevation gain, the more time and effort level a hike will take. A hike may seem like a short straight shot, but really be an intense uphill climb.
Distance: An average person walks about 3mph. Walking uphill or over rough terrain, may make this number go down. Keep this in mind when planning a hike so that you finish on time.
Weather: Trail walking is very different depending on the time of the year. A winter hike may mean closed trails. It may mean a far more difficult hike with snow and inclement weather.
On the other hand, hiking in the heat of the summer has its own issues. Unrelenting heat means it may be essential to hike with a water bladder to ensure you stay hydrated.
Logistics: Some hikes will take a certain bit of logistics and planning. For example, hiking with the intention of also camping will take a lot or preparation. Additionally, not all hikes end up at the same place they start. You may have to work out how you will be get home in advance.
5. Keep your body in top hiking shape.
While there are always easier trails for those who are a bit fitness “challenged”, some super fun and exciting hikes may take a bit of physical effort.
This is why it can be important to train and exercise with regularity. Staying fit will ensure that you are able to hike as many trails as you desire.
6. Follow the 21 hiking “rules”.
Below are a few rules that beginning hikers should take very seriously. Call them tips, rules, guidance or just plain hiking wisdom. It is important as a new hiker that you follow this advice. It is based on thousands of hikes spending a great amount of time hiking.
- Eat and drink methodically while you hike.
- Plan any big hiking adventures well in advance.
- Check the weather forecast before setting out.
- If the weather turns bad, turn around immediately unless you are past the half-way point.
- Stay dry while hiking.
- Bring a spare pair of socks
- Don’t litter. Nature is beautiful and pristine. Keep it that way.
- Listen to the advice of more experienced hikers.
- Break in your boots before you hike with them for the first time.
- Pack the night before. Bring right gear, clothing and enough food and water.
- Never hike alone.
- Tell someone else where and when you are hiking.
- Dress like an onion. Layer for the elements.
- Spend extra time preparing for weekend hikes. Prepare for every possible emergency.
- Take care of your feet and your feet will take care of you for your hike.
- Bring first aid equipment.
- Bring duct tape. Yes, duct tape. It is incredibly useful emergency hiking item. See 8 uses of duct tape when hiking.
- Bring a camera. Nature. Beauty. All that good stuff. Why not take a few pictures to capture the memories.
- Pack completely but pack lightly.
- Set a steady pace, not a fast one.
- Learn how to navigate.
16 Essential Hiking Gear for Beginners (and Experts)
Hiking is an inexpensive hobby. Once you have a few pieces of gear, you can hike just about any trail in the world for practically nothing. However, there are a few items you will want to have before you go on any hike more difficult than a walk down the seashore.
The items you need for hiking are simple. A great pair of boots. Comfortable clothing right for the environment you are hiking in. A backpack for longer hikes. A water bladder for hikes in hot and humid climates. And an assortment of safety items “just in case” something goes wrong on longer and more challenging hikes.
This hiking gear list will share with you the 16 most important items for beginners hiking. You may notice that I spend as much time covering hiking shoes as I do all other pieces of hiking gear combined. That is because that is exactly how important hiking shoes are.
1. Hiking boots
Your feet will walk you up and down trails. It is not hyperbole to say that your feet are the single most important asset for hiking. Treat them well, or your pleasant hike may quickly turn to misery.
Keep your feet comfortable and blister free. You’ll enjoy the hike more if you’re wearing comfortable hiking boots.
Five Steps to Find the Perfect Hiking Boots
#1. Choose the right “type” of hiking boots.
Light hiking boots are basically tough sneakers. They can be fine for a simple day hike but nothing you would want to take over rough terrain.
Mountaineering boots are made for rough terrain. They are super sturdy and made for hiking the toughest terrain.
Backpacking boots are a midway point between the ultra rugged boots and the light “daytrip” hiking boots. These are often the best choices for most hiking trails. They are sufficiently sturdy for all but the most rugged terrain and light enough to still be useful on a day trip.
#2. Choose the material your boot is made from carefully.
Keeping your feet dry while hiking is important. This is why material can make a big difference. You need to find hiking boots that are sturdy while still allowing a free flow of air to your feet to keep them dry.
Conversely if you “know” you will be hiking in extremely wet terrain it is important to have boots that keep your feet isolated from the wet exterior. In those cases water-proofing will be the most important aspect (next to comfort) of any hiking shoe.
Types of Hiking Boot Materials:
Full grain leather: this material is the strongest and most protective material for boots. You will often find full grain leather in many mountaineering boots, since this material is the most rugged you can get. Full grain leather is often water proofed or at least highly water resistant. It can be great for keeping water out. The problem with full grain leather is that it is not the best for letting your feet, “breathe”. So your feet may sweat on long hikes and therefore still get wet.
Split grain leather: This is the “compromise” solution between sturdy protection and water-proofing vs comfort and letting your feet breathe. This boots are often made of a combination of leather and synthetic materials so that they give great protection, some water resistance and more breathability and comfort than the sturdy full grain leather boots.
Synthetic Hiking Boots: These are often referred to as hiking shoes rather than hiking boots. Think of these boots are a reinforced and strengthened version of walking shoes. They have great breathability, more protection than typical shoes, but little waterproofing and not nearly as sturdy as man other hiking boots. The lightweight nature of these shoes still make them a popular favorite with many hikers who prefer them for all but the most rugged hikes.
#3. Deciding on the “cut” of your new hiking boots
The third, and final, major factor differentiating the different boots is the, “cut”. Boot “cut” is basically a decision that varies the amount of ankle support provided on each boot.
Ankle support is an important consideration. Rolling your ankle is one of the most common hiking accidents.
Full ankle support greatly decreases the chances of this injury. On the other hand full ankle support means the boot must cover your ankles completely. This means a lot more boot, which can add a couple of pounds to your feet. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you are hiking for long distances over rough terrain, it will seem like a lot.
Low cut hiking boots are just like walking shoes. No ankle support, but hiking boots/shoes will often be light. This is the best for well maintained popular local hikes.
Mid-cut is the compromise cut. It offers higher support, often covering part of the ankle, with minimal added weight to the boot.
High cut has the traditional “boot” profile. The boot should fully cover the ankle and provide great support of rocky and rugged terrain.
#4. Try your hiking boots on for size.
It is important to find a hiking boot that fits your feet the best. Poor fitting hiking boots will make you hike a misery, as they cause you feet as much pain as they do support.
WHen you try on your boots there are a few things you will want to look for. Hiking boots should be:
- Snug in the heel.
- Slightly loose in the toe box
- Tried while wearing same socks you hike with.
- Match any arch your foot may have.
Poorly fit shoes may cause:
- Hammer toes
- Ingrown toenails
- Floating heel
- Walkers heel
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Knee injuries
- Ankle injuries
- Shin splints
- Achilles injuries
This list is not meant to scare you, just to remind you of the importance of finding the “right” set of hiking boots, and how this is the single most important decision for hiking gear.
#5. Break your shoe in before your first hike.
Wear your boots to work on day (if you can get away with it. Wear it around the house doing housework. Wear your hiking boots while walking the dog. Breaking in your shoes like this is important.
First off breaking your shoes in allows the leather to “reconfigure” to your foot, making them more comfortable.
Secondly if your hiking boots are not comfortable, this gives you ample time to find out. You can return boots that don’t fit properly and trade them in for ones that do fit properly.
Want to find the boots that are right for you. Check out the one of the links below for the best hiking boots for men and women.
2. Hiking Socks
Next to your shoes, the socks you wear can also affect how your hike goes. Prevent blisters by using socks specifically made for hikers.
These socks can act as comfortable liners and are often made with the purpose of keeping your feet dry because they are very breathable. Every hiker should have 2 pairs of these wonderful socks (or a similar sock).
3. Water and food
Bring enough food and water to keep your energy up. For a short 2 hour trip a granola bar and an 12 ounce bottle of water is sufficient. For longer trips you will need to plan to eat and drink a bit more.
If your hiking trip is long, or through an area that is particularly hot or humid, you may want to seriously consider using a camelbak backpack/ water reservoir. A CamelBak backback like this one gives you a place to store small items for your hike while also being a large reservoir of water to keep you hydrated during hike.
It is important to remember that by the time your body feels “thirsty” you are already slightly dehydrated. On a hike you will want to steadily sip water every 15 minutes or so, since your body may absorb as much as a liter an hour during a hike.
If you become seriously lost, you will certainly be found before you starve to death, but the same cannot be said for dehydration. It acts fast. If you are lost and run out of water these purification tablets can be a life saver.
This is one of those purchases you will probably never use. But the fact that it could save your life if you need it cannot be overlooked.
5. Wear appropriate clothing.
Research your destination to know what kind of hiking wear to use. Particularly if climbing to heights. Weather at higher elevations may be worse than at lower elevation.
Dress like an onion with multiple removable layers. This helps you to stay warm regardless of changeable weather.
Do not wear cotton unless hiking on a hot, dry desert.
Hiking backpacks are designed to evenly distribute weight along your back to minimize the impact of carrying a few pounds of gear and clothes over long distance.
For short distances or short trips the Camelbak backpack linked above may be more than sufficient to carry a few items and keep you hydrated. But for very long trips or multi-day treks, you will want something a bit more in terms of backpacking.
The backpack linked here is more than enough for a long 4-5 day hike. It is lightweight, distributes weight well, is waterproof, comfortable, affordable and has a lot of space that spreads out well around your back.
7. Hiking GPS, map and compass
Don’t get lost. Know how to navigate confidently and always bring a GPS with you. It is fine to rely on GPS. It is everywhere, even in your phones these days. But don’t assume you will always have a GPS connection. Learn at least the rudiments of using a compass if you are hiking in out of the way places.
If you have no idea how to use a compass. Check out this post:
8. Headlamp - Don’t walk at night without one!
Hiking into the evening is generally a bad idea. It makes it easy to get injured. But things happen, and you should plan for emergencies.
A day long trip may take you longer than you plan and push you past sunset. In such a situation a headlamp could be the difference between making it back to your car and hurting yourself trying to navigate a trail in the dark
Even if you do not expect to be hiking at night, bring a headlamp (with some extra batteries) with you in case of emergencies.
Bring a lightweight first aid supplies placed in a water-resistant kit. It does not need to be large or fancy, just something to use, “in case”. Add a roll of duct tape to your emergency kit. It can be incredibly useful.
10. Knife or multi-purpose tool
A Swiss Army knife or Gerber multi-function tool have all sorts of potential uses for emergencies on a hike.
It can remove splinters. It can cut cloth into impromptu bandages. You can use it (with duct tape) to repair broken glasses and make on the spot fixes on a lot of other gear.
To keep backpack items separate and dry. Using these it is easy to to fill up three waterproof backs within your backpack. 1 bag for food. 1 bag for dirty clothes. 1 bag for safety equipment and important stuff like wallet and keys.
These bags can be a useful extra layer of water protection on longer hikes.
12. Hat, sunglasses and sunscreen
If you’re hiking during the day, protect yourself from the harsh rays of the sun. Even if it seems overcast, a hike that goes to higher elevation will give you a lot more sun than you might realize. If you cover up like you are going to the beach and want to avoid burning, you will do well.
13. Bug repellent
Nature is awesome. Hiking will let you see beautiful, and majestic scenery. It is an incredible experience. But it is an experience that may come with critters.
Having a can of bug repellent on hand may help you keep these bloodsucking nasties from draining you dry.
If things go really wrong and you are off the beaten trail, you will want some simple way of getting the attention of others. A simple low tech whistle is one of the single best forms calling for help.
Three short blasts of your whistle has a far greater chance of bringing help than yelling when you are alone in the wilderness.
15. A fire starter
If you plan to camp overnight, this is a “must have” item. Fire brings warmth that might save you from hypothermia and keeps away the small predators, you probably would like to avoid camping in the wild.
But a fire starter is important even if you don’t plan on staying the night, because stuff happens. If you are severely lost, for example, and night falls, it is far better to make a camp than to try to forge on in the darkness.
Of everything on this list. This is the most “optional” item.
Trekking poles can help make hiking easier. They help with balance, reduce the strain on your knees, and can help you establish a good walking rhythm. But they are not something you “must have”. Many experienced hikers prefer to hike without them.
Hiking for Beginners Conclusion: Have fun. Be Safe.
Hopefully this hiking guide has taught you a few things.
Above all I hope you take away the idea that hiking is not something to fear. In spite of all the time I spent mentioning this-and-that about ways to prepare for emergencies, most popular hikes are well traveled enough that you may rarely be out of sight of other hikers.
Most hikers safely hike without ever using most of their safety equipment.
Beginning hiking does not mean you need to jump right into difficult trails. Start easy with simple trails until you have the confidence to tackle more difficult camping expeditions.
There is no need to fear the wilderness, but you should respect it. The wilderness is a wild place (by definition). There is always a risk and you should respect that risk, regardless of how slim.
Get the safety gear we outlined in this post. Follow the hiking beginners tips/rules we outlined here. Use the ideas for finding fellow hikers/trails to make sure you never hike alone.
Be safe and learn to enjoy nature. A hiking habit has a ton of benefits. Once you get started you may find yourself infected by the hiking bug… It makes you want to hike more-and-more. Be warned.
What do you think about this “hiking for beginners” guide?
Am I missing anything important?
Do you have any further tips to share with beginning hikers?
Are there more hiking benefits I have not mentioned?
Do you have any stories about needing hiking “safety” gear on a hike?
Please share any thoughts about hiking that might be helpful to a newbie hiker in the comment section below.