Hiking for Beginners: All You Need To Know About Hiking

By Sigita B •  Updated: 03/29/22 •  26 min read

Hiking is a rewarding activity, but getting started can feel intimidating if you’ve never done it before. Hiking is all about preparation, so doing some research is the perfect starting point. 

In all likelihood, you’ve been on a hike in your life, even if you haven’t realized it. A long walk through the natural areas in your neighborhood is considered a hike to some, so getting in the habit of walking in more remote locations won’t be a stretch for most. The key is to have fun and ease your way into more challenging situations; taking it easy is more than okay for your first hike.

This article will be the ultimate guide to hiking for beginners, giving you a comprehensive understanding of what you’ll need to be ready to go on your very first hike. It will cover everything from gaining a better understanding of what hiking entails and what you’ll need to wear and bring to understanding trail etiquette. 

Hikers walking on the path

Understanding What Hiking Is

Hiking is simply taking long walks in natural areas. When we hear people talking about hikes they’ve gone on, they often discuss altitude changes, extreme weather conditions, and other factors that make hiking sound like an intense activity, meant only for those with ample experience. 

But in reality, hiking is a simple leisure activity that you can make as relaxed or intense as you want it to be. Even the most experienced hikers usually enjoy a casual walk in the woods now and again. 

When discussing the activity, there are three primary forms of hiking that people typically refer to: 

Day hiking is the best choice for beginners, who can then expand upon their skills and get into backpacking and thru-hiking if they choose to. Backpacking takes a considerable amount more planning and effort to achieve, so getting comfortable with hiking before you attempt a backpacking trip is recommended.

How To Train for Hiking

In training for your first hike, start walking around your neighborhood! While the scenery may change, the activity won’t. Walking is the best method of training for beginner hikers. Don’t shy away from those hills either; preparing for incline is integral to hiking. 

The best way to get into hiking is to start simple and build upon your skills and experiences. You shouldn’t need much training to prepare for your first hike, but as you hike more and attempt more challenging trips, it’s essential to make sure you’re physically prepared. 

The most important thing to keep in mind when planning your first hike is that there will be some amount of physical exertion. Even if you choose an easy hike for your first trip, you should plan on getting your heart rate up and potentially breaking a sweat.

If you have a medical condition that could provide potential complications, make sure you talk to your doctor before going on a hike. Many more remote areas require helicopters to rescue injured hikers, so adequate preparation is important.

How To Choose a Hike

Once you’ve decided you want to give hiking a go and you’ve determined you can safely do so, it’s time to choose your first hike. Remember that hiking is supposed to be fun, so choosing a hike for beginners is an essential first step.

Going for your first hike gives you a baseline understanding of what hiking is all about and how to work out the kinks. When choosing your first hike, consider looking for hikes that are low in both mileage and elevation gain.

​​How To Find the Right First Hike

If you’ve never hiked before, knowing how to find hiking routes can feel like an impossible task. 

Here are some helpful resources that can simplify your search: 

There are endless resources at your disposal to help you choose your first hike. It’s recommended to cross-reference whatever hike you choose with multiple resources to ensure you’re getting the most up-to-date and accurate information regarding that hike. Don’t forget to check the comments section as people regularly add updates.

Tips for Deciding on Your First Hike

Now that you know where to look to find your first hike, you’ll need to consider several factors to determine which hike is the right fit for you. 

Below are some essential things to consider when looking at different hikes: 

These are just some fundamental factors to consider when choosing your first hike, but they’re important to keep in mind. The key to choosing the proper first hike is to keep it easy.

Look at trail reports for an idea of how people rated the hike’s difficulty. Additionally, guidebooks and online platforms will typically rate the difficulty of hikes, and you should only consider hikes that are rated “beginner” or “easy.”

What To Wear When Hiking

Now that you know what hike you’re going to go on, it’s time to prepare. Preparation is one of the most critical parts of hiking, as you’re often in remote places with limited cell phone reception and a lack of access to food or fresh water. 

While you may not think that what you wear will affect your ability to hike, there’s nothing worse than a pair of wet jeans. When planning your outfit before going on your first hike, you should consider both the activity level of the hike and the weather. 

Below is a list of items that you should either wear or bring with you:

These are good basics to make sure you have on your first hike. While you may not opt for every item on the list your first time around, make sure you have good hiking boots, weather-appropriate clothing, and a backpack, at the very least.

What Supplies To Bring On Hikes

Preparedness is a core tenet of hiking, and you should always be prepared for the worst any time you enter the woods. While the likelihood that you’ll encounter any dangerous situation on a beginner-level hike is low, as you get more and more into hiking, you might eventually get into riskier situations. 

It’s best to practice being prepared from the beginning, so you’re never in a situation where you don’t have something you need. 

Below are the “ten essentials” that you should bring on every hike: 

Keep in mind that while some of these items might feel like overkill for your first hike, this essential list is designed with getting stranded in mind. If you know you’re going to be hiking somewhere with cellphone reception and many people around, you probably don’t need to pack a shelter. 

However, if you’re hiking in a more remote area by yourself, without cellphone reception, and something happens, a shelter could make life a lot more comfortable for you; consider your needs and practice your best judgment. 

Hiking Etiquette

Almost as important as finding the proper hike to fit your needs and bringing all the right gear is respecting trail etiquette. Most hiking is in remote wilderness areas where it is essential to respect other hikers as well as the wildlife and wilderness itself.

If you have more experienced hikers in your life, they’ll be a great resource to field questions you have regarding hiking etiquette and might be helpful to invite on your first hike.

However, if you don’t have any hiking experts in your circle, don’t fret! Follow these simple basics for hiking etiquette, and you’ll look like a pro.

Respect the Right of Way

Just like there is a right of way on the road, there is a right of way on the trail. Most people you encounter on the trail will be hikers, whether they’re day hiking or backpacking. However, if you keep hiking, then over time, you’re likely to see people on horseback and dirtbikes, as well. Right of way on the trail goes in this order: horses, hikers, then bikers. So if you’re hiking, you’re expected to step aside and let people on horseback pass you, but you have the right of way over bicyclists. That said, if there’s a biker trying to pass you on the trail, the polite thing to do is to pull over and let them go.

Don’t Contribute to Noise Pollution

People spend time in the wilderness to detach from the real world and immerse themselves in the nature surrounding them. It’s expected that everyone respects each other’s experiences, so don’t play loud music or yell at others in your party. Speak at respectful volumes, and opt for headphones if you want to listen to your favorite podcast.

Let Others Pass 

It’s not a race, and there will likely be hikers of varying skill levels on the trail, so if faster hikers are stuck behind you, pull over, give a quick hello, and let them pass! They’re likely to be very grateful, and it can even give you the chance to stop and catch your breath for a moment. If you’re stopped for a snack or a potty break, don’t worry about people passing you, there’s usually a natural ebb and flow on the trail. Remember to clear the trail for people actively hiking if you’re taking a break.

People Going Uphill Have the Right of Way

This is a big one, and you’ll look like a seasoned pro if you respect this rule. Hiking uphill can take a lot out of you, and there’s nothing worse than having your momentum ruined. If you come to a hill, you’re descending while other hikers come up, pull over and let them make their way uphill.

Pass On the Left

If all this information seems overwhelming, think of hiking on a trail similar to driving on the road. There’s a traffic flow, and slower cars get out of the fast lane for quicker ones. Regardless of which direction you or other hikers are coming, always pass on the left. If you’re stuck behind a slower hiker, and they pull over for you, they will step to the right and allow you to pass them on the left. Similarly, if you come to a hill and another hiker is hiking up toward you, clear the trail by sticking to the right side and letting them pass you on your left side. Remember to clear the trail as much as possible without stomping on the vegetation that surrounds the trail.

Leave No Trace 

Leave No Trace is a set of principles designed to help hikers understand what is expected of them to be the best stewards of the public land. It consists of seven guiding principles, which may be difficult to memorize at first but are mostly common sense when you consider respecting nature. 

The more you hike, the more you’ll come to understand the concepts of Leave No Trace intrinsically, but the seven principles are outlined below: 

Hiking Safety Guide

The last thing to consider when preparing for your first hike is your safety and the safety of others in your party. Hiking is meant to be fun, but you’re still challenging yourself physically in a remote area.

Keep in mind the following basic safety precautions when hiking:

Beginner trails help get your bearings, and there will likely be many other hikers, so don’t stress! Let others know if you find yourself in a concerning situation; practice basic safety and know your limits.

Final Thoughts

If you’re preparing for your very first hiking trip, this guide to hiking for beginners should give you an exhaustive overview of what to expect and how to enjoy your first hike safely.

Remember that hiking is supposed to be fun, and when you’re just getting started, focus more on getting the fundamentals down than challenging yourself.

Planning and preparation are essential to enjoy your hike safely. Always plan your route ahead of time, bring adequate gear, and respect the wildlife, wilderness, and other hikers whenever you’re outside!

Sigita B