Want to get your boots on and head into the outdoors but don’t know where to start? This guide to hiking for beginners has all the info you’ll need!
You’ve got your hiking boots on, your worries left at home and a trail in front of you. You’re surrounded by dense nature, no sounds of buses or chatter, just the calming sounds of birds singing and a breeze whistling through the trees. You can feel the sun on your skin, you fill your lungs with perfectly fresh air and can smell the environment around you. All the while you feel warm and alive from this therapeutic, whole-body workout whilst you move through the natural world. Welcome to the world of hiking.
Hiking really is an incredible thing: medicine for the mind, body and soul. An activity you can do in almost any place around the world, for no cost and for pretty much any length of time.
Besides the personal benefits, the time spent in the wilderness can also help people value and appreciate their surroundings, ultimately leading to more sustainable lifestyles. It’s something so good scientists, politicians, magazines and newspapers are constantly singing its praise.
Basically, no matter who you are, where you live or what you do, hiking will be an incredible addition to your life. Still, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start.
Over the years we’ve learnt all the hiking tips and tricks and have put them together in this guide to hiking for beginners. It will give you all the info you need to hit the trail: no matter your level of fitness or experience you’ll find everything you need right here.
In this hiking guide you’ll find:
- What is hiking?
- The benefits of hiking
- How to plan and prepare for a hike (incl. different types of hiking, picking the right hike for YOU and how to find the best trails)
- What to pack for hiking trips
- What clothes to wear hiking
- Hiking foods and water
- Hiking safety tips
- What to do post-hike
- How to stay green and respectful on the trail & trail etiquette
1. What is hiking?
Ask any hiker ‘what is hiking?’ and everyone will have their own personal answer.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it’s “the activity of going for long walks in the countryside” but we think it’s more than that.
Hiking is when you deliberately spend time walking in a natural setting, often done on hiking trails, though it doesn’t have to be. These trails can go through different settings: mountains, lakesides, forests, deserts etc, can take hours to months to complete and should be at the least light exercise.
At the same time, it also doesn’t have to be done at a high intensity, or a long period of time, and it doesn’t need to be about getting from A to B. Our advice is to plan your first hiking trail and find out exactly what it means to you!
2. Why is hiking so great? The benefits of hiking!
There are literally a hundred reasons why hiking is awesome but these are just some of the most important ones…
It’s the perfect exercise – You can make hiking as easy or as hard as you like: from a gentle trail around a lake to an intense multi-day hike across mountain ranges. It’s a great cardio workout that uses all of the muscles in your body without being overly strenuous and with little risk of injury.
It helps you appreciate and respect the outdoors – We think ethical adventures are the answer to a whole lot of problems – there’s no better way of learning to value the natural world than by immersing yourself in it hiking. It teaches you about the environment and will likely inspire you to help protect it.
Hiking is free to everyone and very accessible – You don’t need to find a team, buy a membership, go at a certain time or buy loads of fancy equipment. All you need is to find a natural setting and a desire to spend some time outdoors. Available to the young, old, men, women, families, individuals, healthy, unhealthy, dogs… you get the picture. Oh, and it’s completely free!
A time to switch off – Put your phones away, forget about social media and leave the emails at home. When you’re hiking you just need to think about your surroundings and the people you might be hiking with.
Hiking is scientifically proven to be good for mental health – According to the University of British Columbia:
“any form of immersion in the natural world, outside of your internal world, heightens your overall well-being and improves your positive engagement with the larger human community”
It’s also used as a tool to treat depression and other mental health illnesses – definitely a winner!
If you’re new to hiking you should also check out our Tips for Beginner Hikers
3. How to plan and prepare for a hike
Almost everyone can agree the idea of hiking is pretty awesome, but, for many, it’s the planning that puts them off. We’ll admit, to enjoy a hike, especially if it’s something new to you, requires a little bit of planning. But, unless you’re embarking on an expedition or a particularly difficult hike the preparation is surprisingly easy, starting with these steps below.
3.1 Different types of hiking
There are quite a few different types of hiking, some more suited to beginners than others. This way if your friend asks you to go on an ‘x’ hike, you’ll know what you’re getting in to.
- Day hike – as the name suggests, this is a hike which is started and finished in a day. Though the difficulty and technicality can change, this is normally the best starting point for beginners to build up experience.
- Walks – typically refers to a short or easy hike – a very good option for beginners wanting to start simple.
- Multi-day hike – a hike which is done over a number days, normally camping overnight however some may choose to stay in accommodation. More to think about and physically harder so less suitable for new hikers.
- Trekking – normally describes long, tough, multi-day hiking and better left for the more experienced.
- Thru-hike – an American term used for hiking very long routes like the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail. Requires lots of planning and physical strength so better to build up to.
- Section hiking – another American term for hiking individual sections of longer thru-hiking trails. Good preparation to build up for thru-hikes.
- Backpacking – this means multi-day hiking trips with your gear and camping equipment carried in your backpack. Again, has many aspects to think about and a day hike would probably be best to start with.
- Loop – a hike that starts and finishes in the same place going in a loop. Quite enjoyable as you’re constantly seeing new scenery.
- One way hike – hiking from point A to B. The hike may finish at the ending point or you could come back on yourself to return to the starting point.
- Summit hike – when the main objective of your hike is to reach the summit or a peak or area. This is not necessarily a bad choice for beginners as you can find many smaller peaks which are safe and easily achievable in a day.
- Ridge walk – to describe hiking trails that go along the ridge or edge of mountain areas. Often there is more risk involved and should be attempted by confident hikers.
- Technical – for hikes which require technical ability and could have more risk of danger – definitely not advised for beginners.
- Scramble – hikes which involve aspects of climbing and using both your hands and feet. Typically not suited to beginners as they can be more technical and dangerous
- Mountaineering – very technical climbing of mountains – don’t even think about it!
3.2 Picking the right hike for you
If you’re just starting out we’d suggest opting for a day hike or walk. To find the perfect thing, there are a few things you need to think about:
- Hiking distance
- Elevation Gain (how much altitude you will gain)
- Time needed
Pick the right hike for you and the time you have. It’s probably not a good idea to go with something which requires training – pick something close to home which is easily within your fitness level and not too technical. Pay particular attention to elevation gain! Even if a hiking trail is short it could be made much harder if it’s all uphill or on difficult terrain.
3.3 Where to find the right hike
Now you know the kind of hike you want to go on it’s time to look for the trail.
Make sure to think about the details listed above and whether you’ll find close by amenities for food, water, shelter etc. These are just some of the places you can find great hiking inspiration:
‘Hikes near me’ platforms – Use interactive maps to find hikes close to you – All Trails, MapMyWalk, Outdoor Active (also shows other outdoor activities) and Hiking Project (good for America) are all great sources to use for inspiration.
Local hiking information or national park websites – If you know a certain area, national park or even country you want to find hiking trails in then try a Google search for the area name + hiking e.g ‘Peak District National Park hiking’ or ‘Pyrenees hiking’. You could also search for ‘hiking near me’ or ‘beginner hiking trails near me’ if you’re looking for something easier.
You’ll likely find hiking trails from national websites (like National Trails in the UK), specific websites for certain regions (like this one for hikes in the Mont Blanc region) or even from national park websites like this from the Bavarian Forest National Park in Germany.
Online communities – You’ll find a wealth of information on different social platforms and forums. Facebook has some excellent hiking groups – this one is really useful for the UK but you’ll find plenty more by searching for different locations + hiking in the Facebook groups section.
Hiking and outdoors blogs (like this one!) – These can be great places to find different hiking routes and tips, some of our favourites are Bald Hiker (perfect for the UK) and Modern Hiker (top choice for North America).
GPS – You can use GPS apps like Maps.Me or Komoot to find local hiking trails. This is a top way to navigate whilst hiking but I wouldn’t advise using this method to find your first hike. It can be very hard to estimate route details (distance, elevation gain, difficulty, etc.) and you can end up on a trail much harder than anticipated.
Topographic maps and walking guidebooks – Topographic maps will show larger hiking trails and walking guidebooks generally have lots of useful hiking information for specific areas or routes. It can also be difficult to estimate route details just from a topographic map so approach with caution if it’s your first time using them.
3.4 Think about a hiking partner or local hiking groups
For beginner hikers, it can be nicest to go for your first hike with a partner or group. It’s enjoyable to share the experience as well as being safer, plus, it’s someone you can split the planning and preparations with!
Friends, family, partners, children are all great options but you can also think about joining local hiking groups.
Many larger towns will have hiking groups who organise trips into the outdoors, or you can look for local groups on things like Facebook or MeetUp. This can be a great way of experiencing a hike for the first time whilst not having too much pressure to plan everything yourself.
If you want to go hiking on your own then make sure the trail is well within your capability, you’re completely prepared with a working phone (will you have signal?) and make sure you tell someone where you’re going. Keep reading below for some extra safety tips in the following sections!
Do you take part in or run a hiking group? Tell us in the comments below so others can hopefully join you!
3.5 Check the conditions
You’ve got the hike sorted now check the conditions with local weather forecasts. Don’t rely on big national forecasts, try and find smaller regional ones which are more accurate. If you’re hiking a popular mountain or region, you might be able to find forecasts specifically for the trail or peak.
Try to pick a day which will be enjoyable as there’s no point going for your first hike in a storm. Once you’ve picked a day, then you can decide what you need to take with you hiking – you’ll find advice in the next section.
If you’re planning on going in hot temperatures then check out these top tips for hiking in the heat
4. Hiking gear for beginners
For your first hike, even if you’re not planning anything too daring, it’s still good to know what to pack.
These are hiking essentials which are important to consider no matter where the trail is taking you, you can then decide if you think it’s right for your specific adventure. Where possible we’ve given links to the products we actually use and can recommend.
- Navigation – A compass, map or GPS device
- Water – A water bladder is an easy way of comfortably carrying and drinking water whilst hiking. Ours is a simple 3 litre one from Decathlon at only £9.99 but you can also find them on REI here.
- Food – Taking the right food and snacks is very important, we like to make vegan energy balls to take with us. More food info below
- Warm clothing – More information below
- Headlight or torch – We use a Black Diamond Storm and think it’s pretty awesome
- Sun protection – A hat, sunglasses and sun cream (I use this hat from Decathlon and for the price it’s perfect in hot weather)
- First-aid kit – We use a simple First aid kit bought from Amazon and then add extra items bought locally
- Fire – A lighter, matches or flint stick
- Multi-tool or penknife – The ultimate outdoors tool, our choice is a Leatherman multitool which has a lifetime warranty
- Mobile phone – Good for communication and for navigating, the Motorola g6 has a good battery life and also a surprisingly great camera for £150
- Waterproof stuff sack – Even if you have a waterproof rucksack this can be used for extra protection with phones, cameras and valuables.
With all of these essentials, you need something to put them in. Finding a good hiking rucksack is really crucial and it’s definitely worth finding the right thing for you. The best options will be waterproof, have appropriate strapping so it doesn’t chaff and be lightweight – in the UK we personally loved our Deuter backpacks!
5. What to wear hiking
This will greatly depend on where you’ll be hiking and at what time of year. Below you’ll find some general recommendations for year-round conditions, if you’ll be somewhere hotter, colder, wetter etc you can add or take off more items. These are some of the essentials you should focus on:
- Hiking shoes or boots – Get ones that fit comfortably, have good grip and don’t rub. I highly recommend the Merrell Agility Peak Flex 2 trail running shoes – they’re vegan, affordable and great all-rounders – particularly good hiking shoes for beginners as they’re easy to break in and versatile. You can read more about them in our review here. If you more after warmth and support then take a read of our guide to vegan-friendly hiking boots.
- Waterproof jacket – This can be used to keep you warm, as a windbreaker and also as protection from the rain.
- Insulated Jacket – A light thermal layer is really useful for warmth and is normally small enough to keep in your bag in case the weather drops. We love the North Face Thermoball, you can find our full review here or find our full guide to vegan insulated jackets.
- Good socks – Pick well-sized, hard-wearing socks which have enough insulation for your hiking destination.
- Hard-wearing and weatherproof trousers – Go for something which is comfortable and hard-wearing but doesn’t restrict movement.
- Wicking base layer – Choose something which wicks moisture away and is warm/cool enough for your environment. You can pick these up very cheap!
- Warm, lightweight fleece – You’ll find many different options for fleeces but go for something which drys quickly and provides the right amount of warmth for your hike.
- Hat – Whether it’s a sun hat in hot conditions or a warm beanie in colder conditions, the right hat is a must.
For a complete guide to hiking gear and clothing, for both summer and winter, our day hiking packing list has a much more detailed breakdown.
Obviously what YOU need for YOUR trip may vary greatly, but above are the foundations you should focus on. If you’re looking to buy new hiking clothes then Cotswolds is our go-to choice for UK hikers whilst REI is great if you’re in North America.
6. Hiking food and water
If you’re like us half the fun of hiking is taking some tasty vegan grub to eat in a stunning location. Fun aside it’s super important to take the right amount of food and water with you because a hungry hiker is not a happy hiker!
for hiking food you want to look for items which are lightweight, easily stored and have a good amount of calories and carbohydrates. We put together a guide to the best vegan hiking foods here which you can use for ideas.
Taking the right of water is crucial and it’s an aspect you need to consider when planning your route: will there be water available along the way? Taking too much water will weigh you down whilst not enough can be extremely dangerous.
It’s generally advised to drink 1 litre of water for every 2 hours of hiking but this will change depending on temperatures. To be extra safe carry more than you need, just in case you decide to hike for longer or get lost.
If you’re going on a shorter hike then perhaps your average water bottle will do. If you need to carry more water then pack a water bladder and also consider buying water purification tablets to drink from natural water sources.
7. Hiking safety tips
For hiking beginners and pros alike, if you’re in the outdoors, away from populated areas, it’s especially important to stay safe: what might seem like a small problem can escalate quickly in the wilderness. Stick to these tips and you’ll stay safe on the trail!
- Research your route properly and make sure you know the details of the route
- Check to see if there are water sources or nearby amenities for food
- Pack the essentials you need (check the list above!)
- Wear the right clothing for the weather
- Break your hiking footwear in before the trail – blisters can be seriously painful!
- Make sure you tell someone where you’re going and always carry a phone
- Look at local weather forecasts and if a storm approaches then turn back
- Make sure you stay hydrated and keep energy levels high with the right foods
- Go at a consistent pace and be sure not to over-exert yourself – listen to your body!
8. What to do post-hike
Once you get back from your time hiking there are a few tips you’re going to appreciate!
Make sure you stretch – If you’re not used to hiking you can get mighty stiff the next day, do some whole-body stretches when you finish to help soothe your recovery.
Hydrate and have a good meal – Your body is likely to be craving water, electrolytes and a good meal!
Dry out your clothes – Particularly hiking boots to keep them from going stinky
Get planning your next hike – Hooked? Get planning your next trail!
9. How to stay green and trail etiquette
This is a super important section – we’re very lucky to have beautiful parts of the world to hike through – let’s make sure we protect it. Here are three things every hiker should be aware of on the trail…
Firstly, and most importantly, leave no trace! This also counts for biodegradable products, take a bag to carry your rubbish which you can tie on to your rucksack. Make sure to leave no trace!
Secondly, stick to the hiking trail! Coming away from the path causes unnecessarily trampling of wildlife and vegetation which really adds up in more popular areas.
Thirdly, don’t approach or disrupt animals! This tip is for your safety as well as theirs, wild animals however small can be dangerous when threatened.
An extra tip! If you need a poop in the wild (it will happen eventually) do it away from water sources, trails or camping areas and dig a whole – make sure to cover it when you’re done!
We put together a complete guide to sustainable hiking, if you’re looking for extra tips!
In terms of trail etiquette, there are a few simple considerations you can have to keep friendly with your fellow hikers:
- For priority on the trail, the general rule is horses, hikers then bikers
- Give way to people going uphill
- Stick to the right of the trail, pass people on the left
- If you want music, do it with headphones
- A hello and a smile go a long way!
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Hiking 101: The Complete Guide to Hiking for Beginners
Hopefully, this hiking guide for beginners answers all the questions you might have. You really can’t beat spending a day on the trail and it’s something we think EVERYONE should try at least once. Make some time to get on the trail and we’re sure you won’t regret it. Already a hiker? Make even more time for the trail – nothing bad ever came from hiking too much!
Anything we didn’t cover? Give us a shout in the comments and we can share some more tips!