Some people hike because they want to get out into the great outdoors. They enjoy fresh air, being in nature and impressive views. Others get moving forthe health benefits such as lower risk of heart disease, better blood pressure, and blood sugar levels, weight loss and strength gains. Whatever your reasons for wanting to give hiking a try, there are some things you need to know before you get started.
In this article, we’re going to look at the basics of hiking, what you need to know to get started and what to bring on a hike. We’ll look at some examples of hiking gear that you’ll want to consider and run through how to make sure that your hike is a big success. If you’re planning to take kids with you, you might enjoy our Guide to Hiking with Kids.
Planning Your First Hike
If you’ve never been hiking before, it’s important to set a realistic goal for your first trip out. Hiking is more strenuous than walking on flat surfaces as you would in a town or city, so keep that in mind when you’re thinking about distance. A good starting point is a distance you can walk normally, reduced by about 1/3 to allow for the terrain. If you’ve been out before, you will have an idea of what you’re capable of. Keep in mind the difference terrain can make; flat hikes are less challenging than more rugged paths.
If you are looking at a day hike, then you will want to be able to complete the trail before it gets dark. To work out if you can do this, assume a pace of 2 miles per hour. Look at the elevations and add another hour for every 1,000 feet you will have to climb. For a first hike, it’s best to choose a, ‘there and back’ route. That way, if you get tired before you’ve made it to the end, you can just turn around and walk back. Don’t push yourself too hard; you’re not competing against anyone but yourself.
It’s always advisable to take a friend with you when you hike. Not only does a conversation help pass the miles, but it’s also useful to have another person who can go for help in case of accident or injury. If you do choose to go alone, let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back so they can raise an alarm if you don’t check in.
Understanding the Weather
Always check the weather report before you go on a hike. This will give you an idea of the conditions you will be facing, but it’s worth remembering that the weather can change quite quickly. Temperatures drop quickly when the sun sets, and different altitudes can vary tremendously.
Most weather changes can be spotted in advance if you learn how to read the signs. UFO-shaped clouds up ahead can warn of wind on the way, and thunderstorms have the classic thunderhead to herald their arrival.
Consider whether you will need sunscreen, or a wind barrier to protect your skin from the elements. Insect repellent will keep you walk free from critter bites.
Know the Trail
Grab a map of the trail you will be walking ahead of time. Some trails need permits, so make sure that you have that sorted out before you leave. If possible, speak to a ranger or experienced walker to identify any potential hazards. As well as steep drops and deep water, this could include meeting wildlife up close and personal. If you know what the hazards are you can be prepared to avoid them.
Take the Right Equipment
One thing that will help you have a safe and comfortable hike is to have all the essential equipment with you. Here’s our list of day hiking essentials.
Hiking boots are a must-have when walking any distance. They offer support to your ankles, cushioning to keep you comfortable over long distances and protection from trip hazards along the way. Your feet will swell up as you walk, so try your boots on at the end of the day when your feet are at their biggest to ensure a good fit. The boots should be snug, but not tight.
These Timberland Boots (Also available in women’s) provides a durable leather boot that is waterproof and will mold to the shape of your feet over time. Once these boots are broken-in, they are super comfortable and hikers from all over have praised them for their durability and wiggle room for their toes.
When choosing hiking socks, you want a pair that will help regulate the temperature of your feet. Merino wool is a popular choice because it is a fine material and will help wick moisture away from your skin. In summer, a single pair of socks should be enough. If you are walking in colder weather, then a second pair of liner socks will help keep you warm.
The Darn Tough socks are seamless and have a performance fit. That means no slipping, bunching or blisters. Designed to come to just above the boot, the merino wool is durable and breathable, and its natural antibacterial action will help with odor, too.
Fleece layers are a versatile addition to your hiking gear. They’re light enough to carry when you don’t need to wear them and will quickly warm you up should the temperature fall. They can also be rolled up to double as a pillow if you need to rest or if you’re staying out overnight.
Made from 100% polyester micro-fleece, these jackets will keep you warm and comfortable. Both styles come with side pockets to store small objects or to keep your hands warm in cold or windy conditions. They’re lightweight and easily foldable for when you warm up, and the classic cut is stylish and timeless.
Even the most careful hiker occasionally has a trip or fall, or some other small incident that leaves you in need of some first aid. Rather than let a relatively small injury spoil your hike, make space for a small first aid kit so you can deal promptly with any injury.
This kit has been put together with hikers in mind. It contains a good range of bandages and dressings, antiseptic wipes and other first aid essentials. It also comes with a compass, whistle and glow stick in case of a more serious development. All this, and a mini first aid package that you could take for shorter hikes.
A backpack is a vital part of your backpacking gear, even if you’re only walking for an hour or so. A good backpack fits well and has enough space to pack everything you need, and with easily accessible pockets for items that you want to keep in reach like your water bottle or fleece.
The Mubasel Backpack holds up to 2 liters of liquid stored in a bladder inside the backpack. It’s insulated to keep your drink cool for up to 3 hours. Inside the bag, there are three storage compartments, and mesh pockets to maximize what you can carry. Padded shoulders make this a comfortable backpack, even if you are walking for a long time.
The Tefton Backpack is suitable for longer camps, including overnight stays. Its fully adjustable straps mean that you can get a comfortable fit, no matter your size or body shape. As well as a sleeping bag compartment there is an integral rainfly to keep the contents dry in a downpour.
Even if you’re only planning on a day hike, it’s sensible to pack a flashlight. Night can fall suddenly when you are away from streetlights, and being able to find your way in the dark is invaluable, A flashlight will also help you perform camp tasks like setting up your tent in the dark. In emergency situations, a flashlight can be used to signal for help.
The Outlite flashlight is perfect for outdoor conditions as it is waterproof and has an anti-slip handle, so you won’t lose light in even wet conditions. It has an adjustable beam, letting you spread light over a campsite or narrow it down for particular tasks. A high lumen flashlight, it will give more than 5 hours of light on just 3 AAA batteries.
Whistles are much more effective at being heard than a cry for help, making them an essential piece of gear for every hiker. The shrill sound covers a much wider distance and will save you a sore throat or the risk of losing your voice if you find yourself in need of help.
Every member of your party should have their own whistle, which makes the NOOPEL two-pack whistle a great value for outfitting a hiking team. This is a small unit, but its double tube design means it can reach up to 120 decibels of sound. It’s water resistant and can be easily clipped to the outside of your backpack.
You should always wear sunscreen when hiking. Even on a cloudy day, up to half of the UVA and UVB rays from the sun can penetrate the clouds and have a negative impact on your skin. If you’re climbing to altitude, then the strength of the sun’s rays will increase as you get higher. Remember that you might be sweating as you walk, so reapply sunscreen every 90 minutes to ensure you’re protected.
Recommended by dermatologists, this brand of sunscreen is beneficial for even sensitive skin or where acne, rosacea, and discoloration are a concern. It’s a mineral based formula that leaves no residue.
If you don’t choose a backpack with a bladder, then you will need to take a water bottle with you so that you can stay hydrated while you’re on the move. It’s important to find a good balance with the amount of water you carry, too little and you will be thirsty but too much means carrying unnecessary weight.
Made from BPA-free plastic, Embrava sports water bottle has a leak-proof and dust proof lid. It carries 32oz of water and has a simple one-push system to open the lid. Unlike glass or other plastic water bottles, Embrava’s design is shatterproof, so even if you drop it you shouldn’t lose your valuable water store.
Now you’ve read our guide, you should be all set to go on your first hike. While you might find your first trip out difficult, the more you walk the better shape you will be in. You might be surprised at how soon you find yourself looking for longer trails or considering an overnight hike.
In the meantime, plan a rest stop about halfway. You could even take an outdoor game like bocce ball with you, and while away an hour or so eating lunch and spending time with friends and family!
Sarah Dixon is a freelance writer and author who lives in York, England. A Couch to 10K veteran, she takes full advantage of the beautiful Yorkshire countryside to get outside, hiking, geocaching or just playing games with her two children