Last week on Facebook, I posted a Huffington Post article that discussed the mental and physical health benefits of hiking. The article talked about how hiking not only helps you get into better shape, but it also reduces stress and improves brain power. As an avid hiker, these are things I’ve experienced first-hand, and it’s why I’m so enthusiastic about encouraging you to get outside.
If you interested in hiking but don’t have a lot of experience, it can be a little overwhelming when you are first starting out. So I wanted to share a Hiking 101 post to talk about hiking tips for beginners. In this guest post written by Arizona hiking blogger and Bearfoot reader Jason Cleghorn, he breaks it all down – from hydration to the gear you do and don’t need to how to pick a trail.
Back to the Basics: Hiking 101 Tips for Beginners
by Jason Cleghorn
There are a handful of common fears that people have when it comes to hiking for the first time. “I’m afraid of animals…I’m afraid I will get lost…I am too out of shape.” These thoughts are completely normal when you are starting out, but I’m here to tell you that there is nothing to be afraid of. This post is intended to provide some basic beginner hiking tips to help you overcome your concerns so you can get out there and have fun and reap the benefits of the trail.
— How to prepare for your first hike —
The first thing that you should do is to get on a water intake regimen. Being hydrated is paramount to a successful first hike. If you get tired or begin to feel bad while hiking, it is often attributed to dehydration, rather than muscular or cardiovascular issues. For days leading up to the hike begin to up your water intake, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Drinking water ON the hike, but not hydrating before, is too late. For an extra hydration boost before or during your hike, you can also add an electrolyte supplement to your water such as an Emergen-C packet or a Nuun Tablet.
Good news – for a day hike not much is needed. Backpacking and overnights are a completely different pursuit, and Kristen has shared some detailed gear lists for those endeavors. But for this post, we’re focusing on a simple day hike, and there are just few items you will want to bring along on your hike.
- Something super simple and inexpensive like the Cotopaxi Luzon daypack
- A CamelBak hydration pack with pockets to keep stuff organized
- Or if you live in an especially wet climate, the waterproof Mountain Hardwear Scrambler Outdry pack
— How to Choose a Hiking Trail —
A little on how to choose a trail… If you have never hiked before, you will want to choose something somewhat short, relatively flat, and easy to navigate. This is so that you will be within your abilities, likely enjoy yourself, and want to go again! These days, finding a trail is as easy as heading to the net, and some great free trail websites include AllTrails and The Outbound. Bearfoot Theory also has many trail write-ups, so do a little digging on her destinations page! Also make sure you bring a map either saved to your phone (that has plenty of battery life) or print out a hard copy.
As you progress, you’ll also want to learn the basics of reading a topographic map. There are numerous resources on the web to teach you how to tell a mountain from a valley, a saddle from a summit, etc, and here is a helpful video that really breaks it down.
— Overcoming Hiking Fears —
Here is a list of all of the animals which should keep you from hiking: …..
That’s right, there are none… If you see a snake, don’t panic. Simply slow down and cut them a wide berth on trail, and that slithery creature will likely be uninterested in you. If you are interested in learning more about snake first aid, here is a helpful site.
Bears: I have hiked thousands of miles in my life and have seen one bear in the wild. Unless you are in grizzly country (Montana/Wyoming) or in polar bear country, the vast majority of our American bears are black bears and are typically not aggressive. As long as you keep food out of their reach they shouldn’t bother you at all. If you simply are too afraid of them, you can wear a bell to make noise and/or carry bear spray (where it is legal). Here are some useful tips in the rare case that you encounter a bear.
“I’m too out of shape.” “I will get tired.” “I’m afraid I can’t do it…” These are all things that everyone that has ever wanted to be a hiker have told themselves. It just isn’t true! Don’t put any limits on yourself, especially mentally. No matter how out of shape you are, you can day hike. In the beginning, it’s just a matter of how far. But never forget that early on, HOW FAR, DOES. NOT. MATTER. Because you have accomplished mission #1 which is to get outside, it’s totally fine to adjust your first hikes to your relative fitness level. Even one mile is good for you. So grab a friend and get out there, and over time you’ll be able to push yourself to meet new challenges.
If you are serious about becoming a better hiker, I also think it helps is to log your hikes. Write down how far you went, how long it took (minus any breaks), and how you felt. This way you can track your progress, be encouraged by all of the progress you are making, and develop realistic goals.
I hope that these basic tips will encourage you to get outside and explore our beautiful world!
About the author: Jason Cleghorn is an Auburn University graduate and United States Army veteran. He recently completed the 52 Hike Challenge and has hiked over 500 miles this year. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona and enjoys hiking, backpacking, camping, kayaking and stand up paddleboarding. Be sure to give him a follow on Instagram and check out his blog for more hiking tips and Arizona-based adventures.