A few months ago, I asked my Instagram followers on @thewildindiangirl what has held them back from getting outside. I had over 1000 replies, and they all consisted of mostly the same reasons that held me back from hiking. In this blog post, I want to focus on some hiking tips for beginners, some general hiking safety tips, and give you a few recommendations for products that have helped me in my journey.
**please keep in mind everything here is from personal experience. The stuff I talk about in this blog may not apply to your situation. Before heading out on a trail, I encourage you to research and be well educated.
Hiking is so much more than just miles under your feet. It is the best possible way to disconnect from technology and the busy world around you while connecting with yourself in a new way. While it is an exciting activity, hiking has numerous health benefits, like improving blood sugar and balance, strengthening your core, and many more.
My family didn’t grow up the outdoors. The closest thing we did to a hike was walk in an outdoor mall. So the first time I spent any real-time in the outdoors was at 24 years old, and I felt very out of place. Here are my beginner hiking tips to inspire a few novice hikes to get outside.
Though there are many amazing solo adventurers, I am not ashamed that I haven’t done a single hike alone. In all honesty, I don’t like being alone, and I don’t think that will change anytime soon. I have always hiked with friends, as hiking with a friend or group helps me stay calm while out in nature. So don’t hesitate to reach out to friends to find someone to get out there with. If your friends dislike hiking, join a Facebook or Meetup group. There are plenty of people out there that would love to get out with you.
Whether you are going out by yourself or with friends, always tell someone where you are going and be very specific about it. Be sure to give them the trail name and your exact plan. I would also suggest telling them how long you plan on being out and who you are going with. For example, day hikes end when the day ends. So be sure to say hey, keep an eye out for my text later tonight. And DON’T forget to check back in when you get home.
With literally thousands of resources for inspiration, finding a hike isn’t hard. Alltrails is one of the most popular websites to help pick a hike that’s right for you. Choose from over 100,000+ hikes and get information like difficulty, length, elevation, and pictures to aid your search.
When looking for a hike, keep these three questions in mind.
How much time you have might determine what hike you can do. Remember that time includes how long it took to get to the trailhead and the actual hike time. Longer drives and longer hikes require more planning, so keep that in mind when looking.
The easiest way to set yourself up for failure is to overestimate your fitness level. To ensure success, take an honest look at your fitness level and then ask yourself the two following questions:
Elevation plays a massive role in the difficulty of a hike. For the first few hikes, keep it flatter if you can. Flat hikes allow you to have a higher chance of succeeding. No one likes to start up a hill and turn around halfway through. So set yourself up for success and pick a relatively flat hike to start with. You can always work your way up from there, but having at least one completed mission will add to your confidence from the beginning.
Don’t be ashamed to go for short hikes, either. Hiking doesn’t have to mean long strenuous days over rough terrain. It can also mean half a mile or even just a mile at a time. Again all you are trying to do in the beginning is set yourself up for success. Keep it flat and keep it short. An excellent first hike can be anywhere from 1-2 miles roundtrip.
Weather is another critical factor to consider when choosing the first hike. Elevation also plays a vital role in weather. The weather in the valley might be drastically different from what it is on a mountaintop. So be sure to use the proper weather tools to be prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws at you. I use the weather apps Windy and Summit forecast.
I’m not saying you need to hit the gym four times a week to get fit before hiking, but there are exercises that you can do at home that will help you out on trails. Here are a few that you can start doing now to prepare:
Please note that I am not a personal trainer. Do what fits your lifestyle best. And consult your doctor/trainer to get a better idea of what you need to do to achieve your specific goals.
The type of hike that you are doing will drastically change the items that you will want to bring with you. For instance, day hikes are very different from backpacking trips, so be sure to research the right gear for your trip. I know new equipment can be a bit expensive, so perhaps try getting used things from garage sales or consignment stores to start with, and then once you’ve gotten into your hiking rhythm, you can begin to invest in more expensive things.
What you need to wear will depend on the hike you are going on. For example, if you are hiking during winter, you are more likely to pack more layers, whereas, in summer, your pack will be much lighter. When picking clothing for your hike, ask yourself a few essential questions:
I had two big fears that kept me from exploring: The fear of getting lost and the fear of having to do it alone.
Personally, this was my biggest fear! This fear kept me from getting out into nature for far too long. Here are three tips to avoid getting lost in the backcountry or, if you ever end up lost, ways to help you find your way back home.
Study the trail well in advance
There are plenty of apps and websites to help gather information regarding the trail you want to explore. My preference is All trails. With over 200,000 trails on there. I’m sure you will find the trail you want to do there.
Some good questions to keep in mind:
For a first-time hiker, if you are not going with someone, or even if you are, I would strongly suggest picking a fairly busy hike. It can get scary if you are in the middle of nowhere for the first time, so pick one that has a bit of foot traffic. Seeing other hikers out there always helped me find security. Hopefully, it will help you too.
Download offline maps.
Offline or physical maps are fantastic to have on hand if the trail gets tricky. An excellent offline map will show you easy-to-follow directions, the distance the trail has left, and the estimated elevation. You can use apps that are free to use, like: AllTrails, Cairn, MapOut, Gaia GPS, or maps.me. Just be sure to make sure the region you intend to explore is downloaded before you leave home.
Get a satellite phone
There are many brands of satellite phones out there that are amazing and provide such peace of mind on trails. I have an In-Reach mini by Garmin. Thankfully, I haven’t had to use it in a survival situation. But I have used it for chatting with loved ones when I’ve reached camp. I remember texting my parents from a river in Mexico, and it provided them with some comfort, knowing I was safe.
Want more information about satellite phones? Check out the linked sites below for details about subscriptions and help in finding the right one.
You will encounter bugs. That is the reality of the situation. But you don’t have to be scared of them. For the most part, bugs don’t want anything to do with you either. If you are hiking in areas with lots of bugs though, you can carry bug spray to help keep them away.
Tips on using bug spray
Also, here are a few things to keep in mind and check before bed to avoid encountering bugs:
When out in nature, be sure to respect wildlife and maintain your distance.
Something I wish I would have done early in my hiking journey was to take some courses to help me understand what it is like. This is a personal preference, mostly because I am a nerd, and love learning. Learning more information also helps me become more confident in my decisions. A few courses I would highly suggest you look into are:
Again, you don’t have to take these courses to get out into nature, but if you are experiencing some cold feet, these might help silence some irrational fears.
Learn about the best way to share the trail with others.
Please practice these good leave no trace principles to help preserve trails for years to come.
If you want to read more about leave no trace and how you can play your part, then read this article by REI here.
Something that I get asked a lot is “how do you pee/poo in the backcountry?” The short answer is, just like a caveman. I pop a squat and let it rip. But there is a little bit more to it than that.
If you have a furry best friend, there is nothing better than sharing the trail with them. But there are a few things to remember when taking them on hikes, specifically earlier in their life stages. Read my “Everything You Need to Know About Hitting the Trails with Your Dog” blog post to get you and your fur bud ready for the trails.
Use my “nature” presets to help you edit your photos.
In 2017, I quit my job and dropped out of school to set out on a path less traveled. Since then, I have ventured across the world, built a van and created a life that both scares me and fulfills me at the same time. And I’ve never looked back.