Back to the Basics: Hiking 101 Tips for Beginners

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.

Beginner Hiking 101 Tips

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.

Hiking Gear

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.

Backpack: You will need a small day pack to carry your gear, and pretty much any pack you have lying around the house will do. If you are in the market for a new daypack, consider one that has a water bottle side pocket or a water bladder compartment for easy drinking access. Waist and chest straps are also helpful features on a daypack that help distribute the weight and keep the pack from shifting as you walk. Some options include:

Water bottle / Hydration Reservoir: Water is the one TRUE essential for ANY hike, so make sure you bring plenty of water. Two to three liters is generally a good rule of thumb, but if you are hiking in a hot, dry climate with a lot of elevation gain, you may need more. If you can afford it, hydration bladders make it easy and convenient to drink water, and they can also help build endurance because you can drink without stopping and taking off your pack. CamelBak, Platypus, and Osprey all make popular hydration bladders that should last years if properly taken care of.

Communication DeviceIf you are going to be out of cell phone service, its a good idea to bring some sort of device that you can use to communicate. The SPOT Gen3 also you to send pre-determined check-in messages to your contacts or an SOS signal to emergency responders. Kristen wrote a detailed post on the SPOT Gen3 here.

Socks & Shoes: You don’t need to go out and invest in a $150 pair of boots for your first hike. For most non-technical trails, your favorite pair of sneakers will do.  Then once you’re hooked and want to start hiking more advanced trails, you can progress to a trail shoe or lightweight hiking boot with decent tread. What’s more important is your choice of sock. Avoid cotton socks, which often lead to blisters and can ruin what could have been a good hike. Instead choose a good wool sock. Kristen recommends Darn Tough socks, which she wore on her John Muir Trail hike. They are a bit pricey, but they breathe well, don’t shift around on your feet while hiking, and are made to last.

Clothing: For your first hike, the main thing to consider is the weather. The last thing you want is to be too cold, too hot, or to get caught in rain unprepared. Check the weather and bring appropriate layers so you can adjust as needed.   As you are choosing what to wear, if you can it’s best to avoid cotton since it retains sweat and moisture.

Snacks: Depending on how far you are hiking, you may need to refuel. Bring some healthy snacks, whether it be some trail mix, a piece of fruit, or your favorite bar. For more ideas for hiking snacks, see this post.

Other items you might want: sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, bug spray, a map, & a few bandaids.

Hiking 101: Hiking Tips for Beginners

— 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.

Hiking 101: Beginner Hiking Tips

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.

Hiking 101: Hiking Tips for Beginners

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 authorJason 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.