10 Hiking Essentials for Beginners

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Admiring your friends’ Instagram pictures of having a good time in the outback? Wish you there? What are you waiting for? Check out this hiking for beginners guide. 

Hiking is a good way to boost your mood and it’s good for your soul. That is why my husband and I love to take short hikes on the weekends and sometimes right after work. The more time we spend with nature, the more it helps combat negative emotions. It is also nice being with friends and loved ones when you hike. If you are looking for hiking trails, check out hikers’ recommended hiking trails around the world.

How to start hiking? What to bring hiking? It can be overwhelming when you are taking your first steps. At Outdoor Magnet, our mission is to arm you with this hiking guide on how to hike well.

We’ve put together 10 hiking essentials for beginners you should know before you head out.

  • Find a hiking partner
  • Choosing the right timing
  • Determine your fitness level
  • Choosing a hiking route
  • Preparation
  • What to wear
  • Hiking gear for beginners
  • First aid supplies
  • Nutrition and Hydration
  • Safety and personal health

Table of Contents

Find a hiking partner

Hiking alone or with a group

hiking essentials

Decide if you will be hiking solo, with a friend or a group. The quickest way on how to get into hiking is to hike with other people. It is motivating, enjoyable and forms stronger bonds. You can find other experienced hikers through hiking groups for beginners or online forums.

Choosing the right timing

Timing

Choose the right time of the year, like summer, where smooth, dry trails, makes hikes easier to walk.

If you are living in the equator, choosing a non-rainy season would make better sense. You want to avoid fallen trees or branches due to thunderstorms. 

Remember not to start too late in the day, as you do not want to get lost when dark falls. For day hiking for beginners, mornings are always the best time to hike out.

Estimate how long a hike will take

Choose a trail distance based on how much time you have, so that you don’t have the thought of rushing back. 

The length of your hike is also dependent on the elevation gain. On flat ground, hiking speed for an average person is 4–6 km per hour. Add an extra half hour to your hike, for every 300m of elevation gain.

Check the type of terrain you will encounter. A trail with many ups and downs will tire  and slow you down. 

If you are going in a  group, consider the fitness level and the size of your group. Allot in the time for snacks, bathroom breaks, speed of your slowest member.

For first timers, try to make your trip short. Choose a beginner hike.

Determine your fitness level

fitness preparation

One thing about beginning hiking, is to start small and choosing the right trail based on your fitness level. If you are solo hiking, you need to know your limits and trust your instincts.

Familiarise yourself with the trail. Hike at a pace that you are comfortable. Don’t huff and puff or overdo it, as your endurance level matters. Conserve your energy. Take a 10 minute break every hour of your hike, else you will run out of juice midway. 

Choosing a hiking route

Ways to find a hiking trail

How to go hiking ? Guide books, like hiking for dummies, websites are great sources to find hiking trails. Check with your local community. Look for beginner hiking trails. They may lead you to some amazing routes. Throw away your reservations and be more open to their suggestions and advice.

Know your directions

crossroads

Once you have selected your route, get yourself a proper hiking trail map, and study the map. You can print or download the map on your phone for offline use. Put your phone in flight mode, to save your battery. Make sure everyone in the hiking group knows the plan. Always stay within the group. You want to get yourself there and back in one piece.

Preparation

One of the 10 essentials for hiking is to prepare.

Do your homework before you leave

 

Remember the times preparing for school in the mornings? Similar to hiking, you need enough preparation when starting hiking. Give the park a call to find out if trails are open, and if there are any issues on the trail conditions. Make it a habit to check the weather forecasts before you leave your house. This may give you a chance to change your plans instead of getting a surprise.

Physically Prepare for Hiking

If you have never exercised since high school, it is about time for it! Do simple stretches to release the tightness in your shoulders, chests and side body. These warm ups can prevent unnecessary muscle cramps. 

It is common to get out of breath during a hike, as your muscles need oxygen to function well. At a resting state, your body breathes 15 times a minute. But when you are hiking, your breath increases 40 to 60 times a minute to keep the muscles working. Improving your stamina will help  build more endurance and greater lung capacity.

This video shows some hiking workouts you can do at home in the lead up to your treks and climbs. There is no special equipment required for it. Apply these practices in real life situations when you are out of the trail.  

Be consistent in building your endurance, the more you hike, the fitter you get! 

Before you go, know the trail

Try to anticipate conditions you may encounter. In early spring, trails tend to be muddy or snow covered. By late summer, small river creaks may have dried up. 

What to wear

Use things you already have

hiking top

Many of us love shopping, but stop! Before you rush out to buy your perfect set of hiking gear, take a good look around your shed. It is possible, your dad’s old trekking pole is still there and you don’t have to buy a new one. 

As a beginner, if you don’t have the appropriate gear, you can always borrow or rent. You can get a good feel, if that gear is right for you.

Tops

What to bring on a hike? Wear weather appropriate clothing. 

Pack an extra warm layer if you are expecting it to be cold. Develop a layering system. This is an important skill for a hiker to master. Dressing in layers keeps you warm by entrapping the air between layers. Every person has a different metabolism. Experiment with various base layers, insulation layers, mid layers, and shells. Develop a structure that works for you in 3 seasons conditions. It is easier to regulate temperature by wearing many thin layers than wearing only an integrated layer.

Select shirts made of materials which will save you from chaffing. Long sleeves are a good choice, as it can protect you from the elements, and you can roll up the sleeves when it is hot.

Color selection is also important. Avoid wearing dark colors. Mosquitoes rely on their vision to find hosts, and are more attracted to people in dark clothings. Light colors store less heat, giving you more relief during summers. 

Select shirts which are moisture-wicking. This means they dry fast and move sweat away from your body. These materials are usually made of wool, polyester or nylon. 

 

In hot weather, bringing a bandana a must in your hiking checklist. One hiking basic tip is, you can dip in water and wrap around your neck or head, for some instant cooling. 

Shoes

Hiking Boots vs Shoes vs Trail Runners

When hiking, you need sturdy footwear. If you have bought new footwear, wear them to work or to the groceries to break them in. If you encounter blisters, wear a bandage or try on with different types of socks and keep at it. Feet swell half a size more in the afternoons, thus, try them on at the end of the day, with socks on. It should feel tight nowhere, afford room to wiggle your toes.

 

Trail runners or hiking shoes are perfect for moderate hikes. They are lightweight and easy to conform to your feet. Boots provide more stability and ankle support on rocky, rugged trails. But, they need more break in time. Water resistant shoes are also an option, if you are hiking through muddy trails. 

Socks

Painful feet can make your hike an unpleasant experience. Invest in high quality socks as part of your hiking necessities. Skip cotton and go for wool or synthetic socks. Prepare a spare, if your socks get wet. If you are hiking in cold weather, big thick warm socks are necessary. For hikes through bushes, or tall grass, wear tall socks. In tropical climates, leeches are common. Wear anti leech socks and tuck the end of your pants in your socks.

Hat

Always bring a hat.  Choose a wide brim hat, as the back of your neck and the top of your ears are susceptible to the elements of the sun. A hat with over a 30+ UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) level can block out harmful UV rays. A good quality hat should be protective, comfortable and also pleasant to look at.

Rainwear

Stay dry in the rain. A waterproof jacket, are one of the things to bring when hiking, regardless of the weather forecasts.  Look for one that is durable, breathable and lightweight. If it is going to be very wet, bring along rain pants. Imagine the difficulty in hiking when you are wet!

Pants

Cotton and other heavy fabrics like jeans are a no no, as they are heavy and slow drying. Imagine wearing jeans while being hot and sweaty. It is not fun. In hiking 101, go with pants or tights instead of shorts. Long pants keep your legs covered. It prevents getting any contact with anything you are allergic to. It avoids scrapes by sharp thorns along the walk.

Hiking gear for beginners

Backpack

essentials

A heavy backpack will slow you and cause you shoulder strain as you climb. One of the tips for hiking is to know how to pack well and turn your backpack into a lightweight backpack. The first rule is to leave behind things you may not need. Try to reduce half of what you think you need. If your backpack is still overloaded, try removing luxuries until everything fits. 

What to keep in a hiking backpack? Bulky and items not needed should be at the bottom of the bag. Arrange your heaviest items, like your water or climbing gear next to your back or centered in the pack. Keep your gear in place by padding loose puffy items like your clothes. Medium weight gear should be at the top or outside section of your bag. Keep frequently used items near the top of the bag for easy access.

For short hikes, a 11 to 20 liters bag should fit everything you need. These compact packs are multi purpose. You can use it for travelling, running, mountain biking and hiking.  Its capacity allows you to carry food for the day, an extra layer, 2 litres of water and gear for the day trips. Check out our recommended bug out backpacks for your hiking adventures.

A rain cover for your backpack is ideal for keeping your backpack dry in case of a sudden outpour. Otherwise you can bring a waterproof bagpack. Feel free to check out our recommended selection of waterproof bagpacks.

Sun Protection

It is not fun walking under the glaring sun or constantly adjusting your slipping sunglasses. Getting a good pair of sunglasses will help you to protect your eyes from the blinding sun or snow. It is one of the day hiking essentials. You want to consider glasses with UV protection. If you are wearing prescription glasses, then opt for “fit over” hiking glasses. 

 

One of the tips for hikers is to make it a habit to always wear sunscreen all the time, whether the sky is bright blue or on cloudy days. 80 percent of the sun rays pass through the clouds. Snow reflects up to 80 percent of UV rays. For hiking, it is crucial to wear a sun cream with high protection (at least SPF30). Regardless of the SPF, reapply sunscreen every 2 hours. To make it convenient to carry around, squeeze some into a small jar and throw it in a mini zip lock bag.

Navigation

navigation

When you are in the countryside, sometimes there is no certainty of network access. It makes sense to have one cell phone and one satellite communication device as your hiking accessories in your group.

While phones can act as a compass, you never know when it will run out of juice or be unreliable in the wilderness.  Always bring a compass and learn how to use them.  It needs no batteries, works with a map, and even works without any map!

A whistle is useful if you encounter trouble during your hike. Screaming at the top of your lungs may be fruitless if the weather is turbulent with wind and rain. Use it when you need to attract people to your location.

Tools

You have no idea why you need it in your hiking packing list, but when a situation arises, multi tools always come in handy. It should be able to perform simple tasks like a knife, scissors, pliers or screwdriver.

Trekking poles

If your trail has steep slopes, you can use poles to dig in and pull yourself up. This hiking equipment can also act as a good anchor point to stabilize yourself as you travel down steep slopes. Pick poles that fold, so that you can store it in your backpack. It is one of the best hiking gear to bring.

First aid supplies

first aid

Learn basic first aid and carry a kit with you. It is a must have to pack in your beginner hiking gear list. It is ideal to pack your own medical kit, so that you are familiar with each item. Bring medications such as painkillers, altitude tablets and antihistamine. Calculate the dosage for your prescription medication based on the length of your hike. Check out our recommended Must Have Survival Gear if you are lost in the woods.

 

Top 10 essentials First Aid Kit Items

  • First Aid manual
  • Tweezers
  • Foot care
  • Insect repellent
  • Adhesive bandages
  • Medical or duct tape
  • Sterile gauze
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Medications

Nutrition and hydration

Nutrition

energy bar

It is tempting to bring a hearty meal when you reach the top. But heavy meals will leave your tummy unsettled. Instead in your hiking supplies, bring calorie dense snacks, such as jerky, energy bars, nuts, chocolates, fruits. We burn an estimated 200 to 300 calories per hour. To save space in your bag, remember to remove excess packaging from food.
If you are planning on a long hike, then probably you may need more solid food. Check out our recommended easy to prepare camping meals.

Hydration

water bottle

Before hitting the trail, drink one or two cups of water. You will in the fittest condition before you start the hike. Use a water bottle with a lid that doesn’t leak. You should drink one and half quart of water for every hour of your hike. For longer hikes, water bladders lets you drink on the move and it is easy to access. Electrolyte tablets are good replacements for electrolytes lost in a strenuous hike.

Safety and Personal Health

Inform someone

Always share your plans with a trusted friend or relative. Leave them the name of the trail, when to expect you back and who you are going with.

Going to the bathroom

If you have to urinate while hiking, get at least 200 feet from any water source. For ladies, you can try to face yourself downhill. Secure a jacket around your waist as a shield and cover with another jacket around your knees. Keep your feet flat on the ground to keep your balance. 

Know the local wildlife

wildlife

Watch out for animal droppings or animal tracks on the trail. If you bump into wildlife, remain calm. Always walk and do not run. Let your local ranger know about your sighting.  Most wildlife avoid humans.

Practice Hiking Etiquettes

Leave no trace. Carry a garbage bag to store your litter, and bring back the trash with you. Don’t even throw biodegradable items, as it is not safe for wildlife to eat unfamiliar food. Wherever you go, leave areas as you found them. It is tempting to bring some souvenirs home, when you are on a holiday. But when in nature, leave natural objects as they are and do not remove or bring them home.

In this beginners guide to hiking, there are a few unwritten rules to make hiking a pleasant experience for all. Be considerate. Hikers going downhill will have to yield to hikers going uphill. Let bikes and horses have their way first. Move aside for others to walk if you are taking a short break. Never push someone when they want to rest.

 

Say a simple hello and speak in low voices. Turn down your cell phone. Avoid unnecessary noises while you are out there. Let others enjoy the sound of nature. Music is okay if you use headphones.

Final Thoughts

Everything doesn’t always have to be perfect, to have a wonderful hike. It is okay to miss a few items on the checklist. Learn to be flexible and use creative ways to make adjustments if you face any hiccups along the way. What is hiking without an adventure.

 

Condition your mind to think positive thoughts before you start. Keep going with one step at a time until you reach the top. Remember to enjoy the journey as much as the destination!

What's next

If you plan to do hike camping, then check out our recommendations for a 4 person tent or an inflatable tent.

If you have a favorite hiking gear, do share in the comments below. I would love to hear from you!

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