Have you decided to start hiking? Congratulations! But where to start? Here is a complete guide for beginner hikers.
From the equipment to the itinerary, here is everything you need to know to start hiking on the right foot!
There is nothing better than hiking to combine useful with pleasure.
In fact, walking is one of the best ways to lose weight, equally effective, and accessible to everyone and everywhere.
Hiking is a great way to keep fit and active, and according to some seventy-year-old hikers who you can cross paths with in the mountains, it’s a real rejuvenation!
To make your first hikes fun and enjoyable, I will cover everything you need.
Table of Contents
- How to find hiking routes near your home?
- What hiking footwear?
- What about socks?
- What t-shirt?
- A jacket?
- The backpack, the ultimate ally of the hiker
- In a nutshell, bet on versatility!
- Never forget hydration!
- What food should I bring on a hike?
- What gear and items do you need to hit the trail?
How to find hiking routes near your home?
Here is the first step: “I want to start hiking but I don’t know where“.
That makes sense!
Whether you are at home or on vacation, you can already drop by the local tourist office which will give you the right directions on the local trails.
At any level of fitness, there is a hiking trail that is right for you.
In order to best choose your trail and plan your adventure, you will need to decide on a few things beforehand:
- choose the duration of your hike (not the distance). This is a hiking beginner guide, so we will try to make trails that can be ideally looped in less than a day and that does not require unfolding a hiking tent. Do you have all your Sunday or only a few hours to kill?
- decide whether you will hike alone or with a friend(s). If this is your first time hiking, you may not want to go alone (although walking alone is a very enjoyable form of meditation). If you choose this option, don’t forget to tell someone close for safety reasons and only go with a well-charged phone in case of a problem.
- determine your level: if you are a perfect beginner in hiking and/or you are not in shape, it is not recommended to go on an eight-hour hike in the wilderness. Go gradually.
- choose your hiking location: either on the recommendation of a friend or after doing some research on the internet. Local hike groups on Facebook are a great place to start, they will allow you to find out about trails close to your place and maybe even connect with the community!
Good hiking applications to know about:
- AllTrails: it’s THE BASE! A free and superbly crafted application that lets you choose from over 100,000 trails by filtering by difficulty level, duration, and “rating”. Easily find the access points to the best hiking/trek/trail/bike trails and sit spellbound with the beautiful photos hikers publish!
- Komoot: in the same genre as AllTrails, Komoot is also excellent. Enter your zip code and quickly find your hiking or cycling trails close to your home.
No matter where you are going, tell someone where you are going and for how long (especially if you are going alone).
Some of the best hiking destinations in the United States and Europe (and so many vacation ideas):
- Upper Yosemite Fall
- Coyote Buttes North, Arizona
- Yosemite National Park
- Zion National Park
- Havasupai Indian Reserve, south of the Grand Canyon National Park
- Mount Blueberry (Vermont)
- Jay Mountain, New York State
- Mount Bierstadt Trail, Colorado
- Snow Lake Trail, Washington State
- Angels Landing Trails, Zion National Park
- Samaria Gorge, Crete, Greece
- Lac Blanc, France
- Zillertal, Austria
- Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland
- Pico de Arieiro Trail, Madeira
- Plitvice, Croatia
- Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye
- Lake Bled, Slovenia
- Mount Rebi Gorge, Catalonia
- Pulpit Rock, Norway
Now let’s talk gear!
What hiking footwear?
Having a good pair of hiking boots ensures that you don’t ruin your first hiking experience and that you have the right support for your feet.
Now, I can’t blame you for not wanting to invest if you’re not sure you’re “serious” about hiking.
To get started in eco mode, your current pair of running shoes will probably do the trick, just let yourself wandering on very easy trails.
You’ll still need to make sure that the grip of the sole is adequate, so you won’t be sprawling on slippery surfaces.
The fact is that you shouldn’t have to wait until you have the perfect shoes to start hiking on beginner trails, there are many who travel miles and miles in the mountains with simple sandals (even barefoot)!
And never, never, should you test your newly acquired pair “live” on a hike of several hours/days. Instead, try them on shorter portions, otherwise, you may well expose yourself to blisters and other foot problems.
When it comes to choosing hiking boots, you have several brands and options.
All outdoor specialists such as Salomon, Scarpa, Asolo, Merrell, Garmont, Lowa, Salewa, Dolomite, Columbia, etc. generally offer hiking boots with different cut (high, mid, low) and also trail shoes.
So what to choose?
Trail shoes are ideal if you need to do simple day hikes: they have good traction, offer support, protection, and above all lightness.
- breathability to keep feet dry
- little or no break-in time
- light for a fast pace
- ideal for warm weather hiking
They are more suitable for trekking or long hikes, but they will also do very well on short outings.
They generally offer better ankle support, a thicker sole, and significantly more protection for your feet.
- stability and durability (you will keep them for a long time)
- foot and ankle protection
- good clearing of mud, snow, and water
- warm for cold weather hiking
So, are you looking for hiking shoes or trail shoes?
Well, it all depends!
Hiking boots have the advantages of their wide, thick soles, which provide unparalleled stability. They will be perfect for narrow trails filled with rocks and roots.
If it’s a beautiful winding forest trail that awaits you, lighter shoes will do the trick.
The type of terrain you will face will decide for you, as will the weather. In cold and wet conditions, you may prefer the warmth and protection of a sturdy shoe with a waterproof membrane (some trail shoes are also waterproof).
The pace you want to have also comes into play, as trail shoes often allow you to go faster.
The load you will have to carry will end up deciding, with a heavy bag, you will prefer more support and stability, a point therefore for hiking shoes.
Finally, if you plan to buy shoes, go to a store to ask for advice and try them on. It will help you find your shoe size in case you want to buy them online.
Go there at the end of the afternoon when your feet are swollen and with your hiking socks on (to replicate the terrain conditions as well as possible).
After that, break in your new shoes for a few walks before you go hiking.
What about socks?
You should never go hiking with the first socks you find in your drawer! You should carefully select a pair according to the material, size, and thickness.
You can have the best hiking boots in the world, if your socks don’t fit, you won’t be comfortable.
Your socks should be one with your feet, they should be an extension of your skin, protecting you from heat or cold, perspiration, friction, and pain.
So your socks should:
- be breathable with a moisture-wicking material (Coolmax polyester, polypropylene) to keep feet dry and away from unpleasant odors (100% cotton should be avoided).
- not slip (to limit friction), have a good fit and fit well (I prefer socks with a right foot/left foot)
- reinforced at key points to avoid friction with “Friction Free” materials
- that fit “to size” rather than a sock that covers 3 or 4 sizes.
- which may provide compression to promote venous return.
The top of the line in socks is merino wool, but it comes at a cost!
You should also make sure you have one or two extra pairs of socks with you during your hike.
Change them whenever you feel hot spots or blisters appearing, some even recommend changing them every 6 km as a preventive measure.
Also, change your socks if the ones you wear are wet. When changing socks, tie dirty and/or sweaty ones to your backpack to dry.
The choice of the socks you will wear will depend on a number of factors including :
- shoes: you wear light trail shoes? Opt for light hiking socks. Do you hike with big hiking boots in cold weather? Thick and warm socks are almost indispensable.
- the environment: if you are hiking in the high grass, select high socks (with your pants tucked in for an incomparable look).
What to wear for hiking?
Forget the look, focus on comfort and efficiency!
Let it be said, any t-shirt would do the job, but still, there are materials more favorable to the effort.
Personally, I’m quite a fan of merino wool t-shirts: they have the advantage of being light, wick moisture away, mask odors, and breathe well.
The problem is, they are expensive! Plan B, technical sports T-shirts will do the job.
In short, choose anything that breathes and doesn’t irritate you.
Yes, it can be a good idea depending on the weather forecast!
What you want from a good hiking jacket is that it’s waterproof, light, protects from wind, keeps you warm, and is easy to store.
If you already have a good windbreaker, that’s fine, but if you have nothing and plan to do a lot of hiking, go to a store and try on all the jackets until you find one you like, even if you have to compare prices on the internet later.
Depending on the season in which you will be hiking and, more generally, the weather conditions you will have to face during your outings, you will have to choose a more or less warm hiking jacket.
The distance you will cover and the difficulty of the climb will also allow you to decide between a classic waterproof jacket and a softshell model.
You can also use a rain cape or a hiking poncho, both dry quickly.
However, be prepared for the water to slide down the cape towards your boots…so wear gaiters to keep the water out and your feet from getting wet.
Pants or shorts?
It all depends on the hike, but as a general rule, it’s best not to venture too far into the wilderness without pants.
The weather is another criterion to take into account, you will obviously be more comfortable in shorts in hot weather.
Jeans are tolerated if the temperature is comfortable and you have no other choice. But choose your jeans with some elastane, a stretchy and synthetic fiber, it will give you more freedom of movement.
Many brands design very good light trekking pants, which dry quickly and can be transformed into shorts in a few seconds offering an excellent quality/price ratio.
In addition to adding a nice touch to souvenir photos, hats protect you.
So no, he won’t be able to do anything for you against a bear attack, but it will cover your ears, neck, and face from the sun which are very sensitive areas!
Don’t joke about it: sunscreen + hat!
As a bonus, a hat will prevent small bugs from mistaking your hair for a cozy nest.
The backpack, the ultimate ally of the hiker
I could write a whole guide about backpacks, and there are tons of them on the web.
But to make it simple, if you are looking for a daypack to start hiking, the one you currently have will be perfect for small outings of a few hours.
I will not discuss here the case of treks of several days which implies to have a “real backpack” and to put your tent in it.
In a nutshell, bet on versatility!
If the weather forecast indicates cloudless skies and comfortable temperatures, you can greatly limit what you bring with you.
If the weather is uncertain and likely to change during the day, versatility will be your best asset: a spare jacket, transformable pants, a shirt you can take off or tie up, etc.
There’s no point in buying a whole bunch of gear if you’re not sure that hiking is something you’re ready to commit yourself to.
At worst, take what you lack and do with what you have, if you stay on easy trails, that will do the trick.
Now you need to have a good idea of your look and here’s what it can look like:
- your good old running shoes (not the ones with holes and slick soles)
- your safe gardening pants
- an “I Love NY” cap
- this T-shirt in the name of your company received during a team-building (that you never wear)
- a belt bag raincoat
What a look, don’t change anything you are perfect!
Never forget hydration!
If there’s one thing you shouldn’t forget, it’s water.
You should try to drink 1 liter of water every two hours. Increase this amount if you are hiking in very hot or desert climates.
When it comes to the container, you can choose between stainless steel bottles (to keep it fresh), plastic bottles, and hydration packs (the practical choice par excellence).
If carrying all your water is not an option and you know you will find water sources along your trail, you can have a backpacking water filter with you and use it as you go.
It doesn’t matter, as long as you have enough water!
I really like the solution of the hydration bag, which can also be used in trail running.
These bags are light, practical, comfortable, and can be used to store your snacks and other small items.
What food should I bring on a hike?
It all depends on the length of the hike, but in general, nuts are an excellent snack for hikers.
Moreover, you can find in bulk the “hiker’s mixture” made up of nuts and dried fruits. Don’t buy it in ready-made packs at the supermarket, they are often filled with extra salt and sugar.
Make your hiker mix yourself by combining a few dry raisins/apricot with a few nuts of any kind (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, etc.) (unsalted).
Beware of dried fruits and oilseeds, they are excellent and healthy but beware not to eat too much of them, they remain calorie bombs!
As an indication, 100g of almonds = approximately 640Kcal = more than one hour of hiking for a person of 90kg!
It is not a question of consuming more calories than you will burn during hiking.
You can also opt for fruit, having 2/3 apples in your backpack or a banana.
And while we’re at it, even if the fruit peelings are biodegradable and seem like good compost, don’t throw them away in the wild.
This small abandoned apple core could have harmful consequences on the environment.
What about cereal bars such as the famous CLIF that seem to be all right for hiking?
Don’t be fooled, just because there’s a climber on the package doesn’t mean it’s good for you!
These kinds of bars are usually loaded with salt/sugar and processed cereals, so make your own energy bars instead.
If you want to know more about what to eat when hiking, here is an in-depth guide on hiking food.
You can also discover some original hiking food ideas from experienced hikers HERE.
What gear and items do you need to hit the trail?
Here is what you should take with you in your initiation rite:
- sunscreen: if the sun is out, it is mandatory! Your sunscreen will have to be sweat-proof.
- protection against insects (depending on the period and the region, it seems that some regions are currently under attack by new tick species!).
- First aid kit: always useful, even if only for blisters and cuts: load it with bandages and antiseptic.
- sunglasses (not your latest RayBan, but a pair with good protection that you don’t care about anymore)
- cell phone with a full battery, in case of an emergency. Your smartphone can also be used as a compass, map (especially if you don’t have a network where you are going as often when hiking abroad), etc.
- a backup battery or a power bank to recharge your phone quickly.
In the event that you plan a longer outing, or alone, you can hike with a paperback book or your eBook reader. The pleasure is also to sit down and enjoy the scenery, to take your time.
If you have an artistic flair, you’ll also appreciate taking your camera with you to capture what nature has to offer.
My last tips for you, future hikers:
- Know where you are going, and more importantly, what to expect when it comes to local wildlife. If you’re hiking in an area that is swarming with snakes and/or where bear encounters are possible, it’s best to be informed in advance!
- In the same way, beware of ticks if you go hiking in a wooded area in the middle of nature. In particular, make sure to shower with hot water and soap yourself up as soon as you get home, in case you come into contact with poisonous plants.
- As you progress in hiking, aim for the peaks and highlights of a region. They are always a nice stop to have a bite to eat and enjoy the view, as well as making you burn more calories.
- In the descents, shorten your stride as much as possible and take care to land on the soles of your feet with a bent knee if possible. Landing on your heel could cause strain on your knees and joints.
- Always keep a record of your achievements! You can, for example, record your outings on Strava, and keep a record of the distance you’ve traveled, the height you’ve climbed, the time you’ve taken, and the number of hikes you’ve completed during the year.
- Have fun and amuse your children with geocaching. Via the site https://www.geocaching.com/play participate in real treasure hunts close to your location. There are real adventures right next door to you!
- Don’t pollute where you go. If you bring something with you, it is better to leave with it: no waste in the woods, of course. You can also pick up any other waste you come across, the wilderness will thank you for it. Learn The Leave No Trace Seven Principles.
All that’s left for me to do is to wish you all the best of what nature has to offer, while there are still some unspoiled places left!