10 Essential Beginners Hiking Tips

When setting out into the wild for the first time, it’s vital to have a solid mental checklist of beginners hiking tips to guide you.

The problem is that the amount of hiking advice out there can sometimes feel overwhelming. Every website and backpacking store seems to promote a different product or technique.

Most of them are just trying to get you to buy overpriced gadgets that you don’t really need! 

That’s why we put together this simple list of 10 essential, back-to-basics hiking tips beginners can easily learn and use in the wild. They contain crucial knowledge for anyone setting out on a hiking trip. 

Follow each beginners hiking tip carefully and you’ll be comfortable and sure of yourself, no matter how deep you venture into the wild.

When setting out into the wild, like this man, it's essential to have a mental checklist of simple beginners hiking tips.

1. Buy Boots With Room In The Toes

Shoes are the number 1 piece of kit for any hike, regardless of the terrain. A bad pair of boots will ruin your trip faster than a rainy day or a torn tent tarp.

When you’re buying boots, it’s essential to choose ones that have about an inch of space between the tip of your big toe and the end of the boot. This is important because, when you’re descending on steep terrain, your feet will naturally slide forward into the boot.

If your boots are too short, your toes will gradually bunch up at the end of each shoe. Even an hour of walking like this can cause serious health issues. So make sure that your shoes have enough space in the toes. Remember this even if they feel comfortable in the store!

For more detail on how to choose the best hiking boots, explore REI’s guide to boots, which provides an excellent resource for when you’re shopping.

But once you’ve invested, you’ll need to break them in before they’re comfortable. Don’t expect them to fit right away; you need to learn how to break in hiking boots.

How To Break In Hiking Boots

  1. Wear them around the house
  2. Walk up and down stairs repeatedly
  3. Soften the leather with shoe wax and gentle massaging
  4. Protect sore points on your feet with bandaids
  5. Wear thick hiking socks when breaking in boots

People often ask “How many miles to break in hiking boots?” In general, the answer is about 10 to 20 miles. But note that this is the wrong question to ask: it’s not about miles but terrain. If you stretch your boots by walking up steep hills you can break in hiking boots in about 7 miles.

Person in boots standing on a rock.

2. Check The Weather Forecast And Be Prepared

While bad shoes can cause long-term health issues, bad clothes can cause immediate health issues. If you get caught in a freezing downpour in only a light summer jacket, for example, hypothermia is a very serious risk.

That’s why you should always check the upcoming weather for your trip and plan your equipment accordingly. If there’s a downpour, take a rain poncho. If it’s swelteringly hot, make sure you’re taking more water than you’d drink on a normal day.

For more essential hiking tips beginners can use when choosing and packing clothes, check out our handy article on how to pack minimally.

3. Don’t Take Anything Made Of Cotton

This is an absolutely critical beginners hiking tip. Never take anything made of cotton under any circumstances! Cotton is very poor at wicking, which is when fabric allows moisture to pass to the surface and evaporate. 

Because it’s poor at wicking, cotton rapidly soaks up rain and sweat. It does not allow the moisture to pass through it and away from your skin. As a result, it quickly loses its insulative properties and will not keep you warm in cold conditions. 

Choose wool, nylon or polyester to stay safe in potential survival situations. These materials will keep you warm even when they’re wet. So if you’re drenched by the rain, you’re much less likely to get dangerously cold.

Comfortable, breathable and insulative fabrics, like those worn in the woman in this picture, are one of the essential beginners hiking tips that you should remember!

For more essential tips on how to stay warm while camping, check out our must-read article on how to stay cosy and insulated while out in the wild.

4. Plan Your Route Meticulously

Once you have the right clothes, you can turn your attention to your route. Trails can often look very different in reality than they do on a map. For this reason, it’s vital to spend an hour familiarizing yourself with all the twists and turns of your route.

This is an absolutely key piece of advice among our trekking tips for beginners.

If you’re not experienced in reading contour lines and other details on hiking maps, sticking to pre-planned routes is a good idea. Wherever you are in the world, including the US, Alltrails is a great resource to draw from. If you’re in the UK, another good option is WalkingBritain.

Websites like these provide detailed explanations to help you avoid potential pitfalls and wrong turns. They’ll usually have accompanying pictures, which you can print or save to your phone to steer yourself onto the right path.

Planning your route can also be fun, and is a key step if you want to learn how to get into hiking. Check out our mini-list for other suggestions on how to become a better hiker and to appreciate hiking.

How to Get into Hiking

  1. Enjoy The Preparation Process. (Take time planning your route; research details about the local history and the flora and fauna that you will encounter).
  2. Appreciate Contrasts. (Hiking is full of contrasts, between cold weather and warm fires or tiring treks and relaxing camps. These contrasts help you appreciate the good times even more!).
  3. Go With People You Like. (There’s nothing worse than arguing during a long and tiring hike. Go with people you get on with and the hours will fly by).
A trail leading through a sunlit forest.

Another bonus is that these curated walks will take you past more beautiful scenery than you might otherwise find. For this reason, this is the best of our beginners hiking tips for improving the quality, as well as the comfort and safety, of your trip.

It’s also important to know whether you’ll be entering bear territory. If you will be, do you know what precautions to take and how plan ahead for a potential encounter? Our guide on how to avoid bears while camping and hiking provides essential advice to keep you safe.

5. Take Food That’s High In Nutrients And Calories

If you’re not sure what food to take out hiking with you, we recommend buying ready-made outdoor snacks and meal pouches. These specially designed products contain the proteins and nutrients that you need to keep you going. 

They also have a high calorie content for their weight, which means that you’ll get more energy while carrying less.

You can pick up some great-value camping meals online. We recommend Peak Refuel, which produces lightweight food pouches that are ready to be heated up over a campfire. They’re freeze dried, so they’ll last for months at a time without any need for refrigeration. Perfect for a long hike.

For more top hiking tips beginners can use when cooking on campfires, check out our other essential campsite know-how here.

When you’re done with your meal, respect the environment by following the 7 Leave No Trace principles:

The 7 Leave No Trace Principles

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare. (Bring a map, check local by-laws and bring the right gear).
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Ground. (Keep away from riverbanks and avoid camping on fresh vegetation).
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly. (Carry it in, carry it out).
  4. Leave It as You Find It. (Don’t build shelters or dig trenches; don’t damage your surroundings).
  5. Minimise the Effects of Fire. (Use a lightweight stove whenever possible).
  6. Respect Farm Animals and Wildlife. (Don’t approach animals, and keep pets under control).
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors. (Be polite, camp away from paths and don’t make loud noises or play music).

For more information on the all-important 7 Leave No Trace principles, explore the Leave No Trace organisation’s guide on their website.

Pot boiling over a log fire.

6. Pace Your Food Consumption

On a freezing rainy night, it can be tempting to warm yourself up with hot food. Be careful, though. In these situations, it’s easy to eat more than you really need to. 

This is because, if you’re out camping for several days, it can be hard to gauge how much you should leave aside for tomorrow. It’s not difficult to mistake three days’ food for four days’ food. But you’ll definitely notice your error in three days’ time!

That’s why it’s vital to carefully pace your food consumption. One simple way to do this is to plan out what you’ll eat and when. Take a handful of plastic bags and pack one day’s worth (or even one meal’s worth) of food into each of them.

This way, you’ll raise a mental barrier between today’s food and tomorrow’s food. You’ll be more aware of the consequences of dipping into tomorrow’s snacks than you would be if they were just loose in your bag.

7. Take An Emergency Water Filter

Running out of food is one thing, but running out of water is much, much worse. If you’re out hiking for more than a day, it’s not possible to carry all the water you need in your pack. It’d be much too heavy. 

Even if you’re only hiking for a day or less, it’s still a good idea to have a back-up water supply. You might get lost, or mistakenly take less than you need. It’s crucial to have an alternative in such cases.

Drinking water straight from streams and rivers is not safe. However close to their source you are, they can have dangerous bacteria in them. Micro-organisms like protozoa and archaea, commonly found in river water, can have serious health consequences. And you don’t want to have painful stomach cramps and nausea when you’re half-way up a mountain.

Bringing a water filter, like the one the woman in this picture is using, is one of our top beginners hiking tips to stay hydrated and safe.

This is why it’s essential to take portable hiking water filters with you. These come in all shapes and sizes, but we recommend investing in a more efficient model like this Katadyn filter. By placing its tube directly into a stream, you can pump and filter water safely and with less hassle than other options. Weighing in at less than a pound, it’s also much lighter than carrying liters and liters of water around with you!

Clean water is critical to staying hygienic and healthy while you’re camping. For more camping hygiene hacks, check out our must-read article.

8. Learn Basic First Aid

No matter how careful you are, accidents can happen on hiking trips. Usually, these are fairly minor, but if something serious happens it’s important to be prepared. 

One of your fellow hikers might fall over and sprain their ankle or even break a leg. It’s also not unheard of to have allergic reactions or other health problems.

We recommend attending a first aid course at a local community center or university before your trip. You’ll feel much more prepared to take the lead in these emergency situations. 

If you don’t have the money for a course like this, you can learn the basics online. Informative videos like this one provide practical advice on what to do in emergency situations. 

Of course, you’ll need to take certain tools with you to be ready to help your friends out. You can pick up a simple first aid kit online. They’re not excessively expensive, and you’ll certainly thank yourself if you ever come to need one out in the wild.

9. Keep Essential Items In A Waterproof Ziplock Bag

Rain gets everywhere. After trudging through a downpour all day, few of your possessions will have been spared a dousing. This is just one of the realities of hiking. 

It’s more than balanced out by the sheer joy of a sunny morning on a mountain or a moonlit campfire sing-a-long. But it’s good to be prepared all the same!

You can pick up ziplock bags for almost nothing online or in supermarkets. Keep your (fully charged) phone, wallet and any other essential but easily damaged items inside one of these. Bury it in your bag, and you can rest assured that you’ll be able to rely on them in an emergency.

Man walking on path in hills.

10. Tell Someone Where You’re Going, Especially When Solo Hiking

This is the most important of our 10 beginners hiking tips. Even the best-prepared hikers get into trouble sometimes. That’s why it’s essential to let a friend or someone at your basecamp know what your plans are before you set out. 

In particular, tell them when to expect you to return. You may get lost up a mountain and run out of supplies (and phone signal). But, if someone knows you’re missing, they’ll be able to raise the alarm and bring help before the situation gets worse. 

If no one notices that you haven’t made it back, a potentially serious problem like getting lost can quickly turn into a major crisis.

Ideally, if you are a beginner you should always travel with a friend. That way, if you get into the trouble, the friend can lend a hand or go and get help. Solo hiking is dangerous even for experienced hikers. But, if you are certain that you must go solo hiking, or if you have no other choice, follow these three steps:

Key Solo Hiking Tips

  1. Inform friends and national park authorities of your planned trip.
  2. Bring a reliable means of contact; e.g. a cellphone with a fully charged battery and a reliable service provider.
  3. Bring more food and equipment than you will need. You won’t have anyone else to rely on, so over-preparing is essential.

As solo hiking brings so many dangers with it, it’s essential to read up and prepare a strategy. Check out this extensive guide before setting out on a solo trek into the wild alone.

Conclusion

Hiking is sometimes a stressful experience. Planning for the first time that you head out into the wild can be overwhelming. Following these 10 simple beginners hiking tips will make your preparations dramatically easier. Stick to the letter of our advice and you’ll be able to focus on what really matters: having a good time.


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