Hiking Tips for Beginners to empower and Boost Confidence on Trails

June 7, 2022

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.

Disclaimer: This blog post uses affiliate links, meaning that if you purchase via the links in this article, I make a small commission on it at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links are a minor source of my income and how I can do what I do. If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to me at support@thewildidnaingirl.com, or you can read about my affiliate policy here. Thank you so much for your support.

FIND A HIKING BUDDY

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.

PICK A HIKE THAT’S RIGHT FOR YOU

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. 

  1. How much time do you want to invest? 
  2. What is your fitness level? 
  3. What time of year is it?

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:

  1. How steep can I hike? 
  2. How long can I go? 

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.

TRAIN AND SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS

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: 

  • Walking / Running – Cardio is crucial when talking about going up mountains. Go for a few runs and start to increase that speed gradually. Even better, if you can find a hilly neighborhood or section of your run to add in, that will help you prepare for the mountains even more. 
  • Strength training – Hit the gym a few days of the week. Backpacks are heavy, and you want to be able to carry them for a few hours or even a few days. You may want to get a gym membership as there are tons of body weight exercises you can do to get you started. 
  • Yoga/stretching – You will want to stretch before and after a hike, so your muscles aren’t as sore and speed up the recovery process. But you can stretch even before hiking to improve your overall fitness and movement ability.

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. 

SUGGESTED PRODUCTS FOR TRAINING

KNOW WHAT TO BRING

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. 

PACK THE TEN ESSENTIALS

  1. Navigation
    1. Map – Even though this is a bit old school, maps are some of the best resources to have, plus you don’t have to worry about batteries dying. 
    2. Compass – You probably have one on your phone, but having a physical one can also be a good idea.
    3. GPS device – Get a satellite GPS device, so you know where you are at all times. 
  2. Snacks/meals (+ somewhere to store your trash)
    1. Snacks – I am a colossal snack monster. And I am obsessed with these waffles! 
    2. Trash bags – I use dog poop bags to throw away the unwanted litter. 
  3. Hydration essentials: It’s easy to forget to drink water when hiking, but it is essential to remember to stay hydrated. I don’t sweat a ton when I hike, but I am almost always dehydrated when I get to the top because I usually forget to drink water. If this happens, you can add some liquid iv to your water bottle to help you get electrolytes into your body. 
    1. Water bottle / bladder
    2. Hydration tablets 
  1. First aid kit – I have gotten my fair share of injuries on mountain tops to know that this is something I never leave home without. Because of this, I suggest you always carry a first aid kit to keep yourself and your hiking buddies safe. I like this one because you can customize the kit based on the type of adventure you are going on. Whether that is hiking, backpacking, or if you are doing something more intense, it provides you with plenty of options.
  2. Headlamp – A headlamp is a must. A headlamp has many uses, from lighting up your camp scene to illuminating the trail. It can also be used to shine light in the face of threats potentially. I prefer headlamps over flashlights for the handsfree feature. 
  3. Knife 
  4. Lighter/fire starter – Good to have in case you need to make a fire to keep warm
  5. Shelter/emergency blanket
  6. Sunscreen/insect repellent – Keep your skin safe and protected from the sun and bugs by applying enough sunscreen and spraying on bug repellent. 
  7. Emergency toilet kit (trowel, tissue/wipes) – If you plan on pooping in the woods, you must either pack it out or dig a hole and bury it. Please do not leave toilet paper and poop just lying around.

KNOW WHAT TO WEAR 

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: 

  • Is it moisture wicking? Try and look for clothes that don’t retain water and can dry quickly. 
  • How insulating is it? Depending on what time of year you are heading out, this will change, but it’s good to have a piece of clothing that keeps you warm.
  • Is it waterproof/windproof? And then, a step further, is it also breathable? Look for pieces with plenty of air pockets to zip open. 
  • Can my skin breathe? Your skin can feel a bit stuffy when you put on a bunch of layers and keep piling things on. Make sure that your skin can breathe. 
  • How protected am I from the sun? Sunburns are not fun. So even if it’s hot outside, try picking something with long sleeves and lightweight long pants, so it’s not adding to the heat but keeping the sun off your skin. 

LAYER UP

  • Baselayer/ Next to Your Skin – This is your underwear layer. It should be the first piece of clothing you put on and should wick sweat off your skin.
  • Underwear– Stay away from cotton and try to stick with something that has a low profile. 
    • Bra – Pick a supportive bra! Yoga support is not the same as running or hiking support. 
    • Long underwear – You can choose between lightweight, midweight or heavy weights. These are worn underneath your leggings, shorts, or pants. 

SUGGESTED BASELAYERS FOR WOMEN/MEN

  • Mid-layer/ Insulating Layer – This layer is to help keep you from getting too cold during the adventure.
    • Fleece jacket – A lightweight fleece is perfect for keeping you warm during hiking.
    • Puffy insulated jacket – This is for when things get a bit chillier. This is generally a great addition when you stop to camp at night or when you plan to be moving less. 

RECOMMENDED MID-LAYERS FOR WOMEN/MEN

  • Outer layer – This shelters you from the wind and rain. 
    • Rain jacket – As a Pacific Northwest hiker, this is a must-pack item for me for any hike. 

ADVISED OUTER LAYERS FOR WOMEN/MEN

  • Hat – I recommend a hat, even if you aren’t a hat person. This is a great way to keep the sun out of your face and avoid sunburns. 
  • Sunglasses – Avoid sunburn in your eyes and have a much more pleasant outdoor experience with a quality pair of sunglasses. If you have a prescription, inquire if you can get the auto transition version. Sunglasses are essential if you are hiking in the snow, and the danger of snow blindness is genuine.
  • Gloves/beanie – I get cold much quicker than my husband, even in the summer. These are must-pack items for me. 
  • Trekking poles – I have a hard time hiking downhill, and I found that poles are the best way to get down a mountain without hurting my knees. There is a stigma about poles making you look weaker, but honestly, getting hurt and not being able to enjoy the outdoors is a lot worse than having to use trekking poles. 
  • Water bottle/hydration pack: Staying hydrated on a hike is crucial. I’m not a huge fan of hydration packs. They tend to get dirty quickly but pick what works best for you. If drinking plain water is not your thing, then add Nuun tablets which will add some flavoring and help keep you hydrated. 
  • Shirts/shorts- Great for summer/springtime hikes. I generally try to get long sleeves and pants, but I don’t like the sun on me as much. 
  • I also like yoga pants because they are more flexible than regular hiking pants. But this is a personal preference. 
  • Footwear
    • Hiking shoes – Finding the correct shoe might be a bit hit and miss, but this is the most crucial tool for hikers. I suggest going into the store to try these on and walking around a bit to see what you like best. Ideally, it should fit snug everywhere but still have enough space for your toes to wiggle. When trying on shoes, wear the socks you plan on hiking with. This gives you a better idea of what the shoe will fit like.
    • Socks – This will depend on the weather as thicker socks are recommended for cooler climates and thinner ones for warmer temperatures. But this is also personal preference.

FOOTWEAR FOR WOMEN/MEN IDEAS

  • Backpack – There are different backpacks for different types of hiking. If you are going out for a day hike, I suggest something lighter, with just enough space to hold what you need for the day.

SUGGESTED BACKPACKS FOR WOMEN/MEN

SOME COMMON FEARS ASSOCIATED WITH HIKING

I had two big fears that kept me from exploring: The fear of getting lost and the fear of having to do it alone

FEAR OF GETTING LOST

Personally, this was my biggest fear! This fear kept me from getting out into nature for way 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 on there.

Some good questions to keep in mind:  

  • How long is the trail? 
  • What is the total elevation of the trail? 
  • How busy is the trail? 

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. 

SUGGESTED SATELLITE PHONES

BUGS AND CREEPY CRAWLERS

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

  • Read all the instructions carefully.
  • Do not apply on cuts or wounds; trust me, it hurts
  • Keep it out of your eyes and mouth – if you are hiking with friends, it helps to ask them to spray it on you while you keep your eyes and mouth closed. 
  • Be aware that when you sweat, you may need to apply it again. This is good to keep in mind when using it on your face. 
  • Keep in mind bugs are most active during dawn and dusk. 

SUGGESTED PRODUCTS FOR BUGS

Also, here are a few things to keep in mind and check before bed to avoid encountering bugs:

  • Did you pack away all smelly food?
  • Did you check your sleeping bag and tent?
  • Did you put your shoes inside the tent to keep bugs from claiming your shoes as home?

ENCOUNTERING WILDLIFE

When out in nature, be sure to respect wildlife and maintain your distance.

COURSES TO TAKE

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: 

Wilderness basics course

How to read a map

First aid course

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. 

HIKING ETIQUETTE

Learn about the best way to share the trail with others.

  • Hiker vs. Hiker – If you are going uphill, you have the right of way.
  • Hiker vs. Biker – Generally, mountain bikers yield to hikers.
  • Hiker vs. Horses: Horses have the right of way. Be sure to respect the horse’s space and always ask permission before petting or coming too close to the horse.

LEAVE NO TRACE AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT 

Please practice these good leave no trace principles to help preserve trails for years to come.

  • Plan and prepare for what’s to come
  • Stick to the path and don’t stray off trail
  • Don’t bring anything home. Leave everything as you found it
  • Keep fires small and put them out completely
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Be courteous of other visitors
  • NEVER feed animals.

If you want to read more about leave no trace and how you can play your part, then read this article by REI here.

POOING AND PEEING IN THE BACKCOUNTRY

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.

Peeing

  • Stay away from bodies of water.
  • Find a spot that will absorb the pee quickly, like pine needles.
  • If you are uncomfortable squatting down, try a pee funnel
  • Take toilet paper with you. Once used, be sure to pack it out though. 

Pooping

  • Find a spot at least 200 feet away from the trail, campsite, and water.
  • Make sure you have all the supplies in hand before you begin your process
  • Then its five easy steps: 
    • Dig a hole first
    • Aim
    • Shoot
    • Cover it back up
    • Wash your hands

SUGGESTED HYGIENE PRODUCTS 

HIKING WITH DOGS

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.

GOT SOME COOL IPHONE PHOTOS FROM YOUR HIKE?

Use my “nature” presets to help you edit your photos.

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Meet Priya

here to break societal norms.

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.

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