Beginner’s Guide to Hiking – Everything You Need to Know


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Beginner’s Guide to Hiking – Everything You Need to Know

Whether you have responded to a social media charity hike challenge or fancy exploring far off mountains on foot…you need to start somewhere.

In this article we will look at everything from socks to backpacks and cover everything you need to know for a good 2021 and beyond of day hiking.

Broadly these are:

  • Things to do Before Every Hike
  • Set a Target
  • Midweek Fitness is Important
  • Kit – Basics to Intermediate
  • Navigation
  • Packing list

Things to do Before Every Hike

You have the right gear.

The weather is within your limits.

You know where you will park your car.

Ready to go? No!

Have a strong idea where exactly you will be going

It may be a loop route such as the Brecon Horseshoe in the Brecon Beacons.

Any idea how long it will take?

In 1882 William Naismith came up with a formula of 1 hour per 3 miles + 1 hour for 2000ft (600 metres).

A 9 mile walk with 3000ft (1050m) of ascent would be:

3 hours + 1.5 hours = 4.5 hours.

You are not in a car and want to take in the scenery – there may be views or queues at stiles and cafes.

Factor in time to enjoy the sights and stop for a break

You may simply want coffee or lunch!

Add in an hour for that.

You may be carrying more gear or be less fit.

Add another hour.

6.5 hours on a nine mile hike is a fair deal.

That means in January you shouldn’t aim to leave the car at midday as it’ll be over an hour after sunset!

Check the weather

Check the weather for where you’re going the evening before you go.

The local TV news is good but a large number of popular walking areas will be listed on the Met Office forecast website – here is Cairn Gorm Summit’s weather for example.

Remember the weather will be different at different altitudes.

Look at our blog on the way that mountain weather can change here.

As a beginner, be cautious.

It may sound wonderful to be in a metre of snow on a glorious sunny day but are you capable of trekking through it?

What about a coast path walking in a Force 9 gale?

Not a good idea!

What if it has been raining all week?

Rain is not often a hiker’s friend

The first sunny day you’ll be navigating around bog and muddy puddles.

And by this we mean the sort of muddy puddles that Peppa Pig would drown in!

Rivers will be high too.

If there is a ford on the route, bear in mind you may not make it across.

Tell a friend

You may be going solo or in a small group.

Tell a friend who isn’t going where you will be going, what time and where you will be starting from.

Give them an idea what time it will take, and that you will call them on your return.

Make a joke of it but make sure they take it seriously enough.

Set a Target

Do you want to do a stretch of the West Highland Way or the South West Coast Path?

Either way you will need to prepare physically.

From a couch potato start you may be in pain from a five mile walk.

That’s why you should start with a benchmarking walk.

This should be a reasonably challenging walk that is known locally.

In Dorset a good one might be a circuit of Portland’s coast path – 9 miles with a fair bit of ascent.

If you’re seriously unfit you’ll soon learn after that walk!

After you have recovered, aim at a walk that will stretch you every two weeks and one that won’t every other week.

That might be nine miles every other week and five on the weeks between.

Build the distances.

Build your distances on varied terrain

Don’t be embarrassed to start in January for an August/September hike.

Unless you have bigger motives like losing weight and quitting smoking as part of it, it is all about having fun at the end of the day.

Your training regime could be a chance to explore all of your local countryside.

If you are preparing for a hike in nine months’ time that could mean 36 walks from January – a great way to get to know your area!

If you are doing something involving camping, then make sure you have some weight in your pack.

By mid-summer you will be carrying a lot of water with you on longer hikes.

That weight will build through the year as your distances increase.

The water will be a simple way of building the amount of weight in your pack.

As a final tip?

Be determined and disciplined.

The more excuses and weekends off you take the less likely you’ll achieve your goal for the summer!

Midweek Fitness

It may surprise you but hiking demands a lot from much of your body.

Your legs are the obvious parts that will benefit (yes, you will end up with a nice arse) but did you know that core strength is important?

The core – back and abdomen – is important for your hips and legs.

By strengthening your core you can carry more weight but you are less likely to run into trouble with joint problems.

Your upper body will benefit with some work too.

If you sign up at the gym, tell them that you are planning to do a big hike this year and ask for advice.

However, broadly speaking you should try to do the following for strength:

Legs

  • Lunges
  • Squats
  • Knee bends
  • Step exercises (running or walking)
  • Cross trainer/cycling

Core

  • Leg raises – lower abs
  • Crunches/Sit-ups – upper abs
  • Planking – all abs
  • Sideways planking – the abs on the side

Upper Body

  • Press-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • With weights, bench press

As a general rule, do 2-3 more repetitions than your muscles want, and 3-4 circuits of repetitions.

Don’t be embarrassed out of doing the exercises if you’re a sweaty blob on the floor after 10 press-ups – everyone has to start somewhere.

You’d be surprised how quick you build up your strength and stamina too.

Other ways to sneak in some fitness

Some offices and work teams may challenge each other to 10,000 steps a day. That’s about five miles.

Could you walk to work or jump off the bus a stop early?

What about going for a walk before work, perhaps when other people are walking their dog just before dawn?

If you can get on with some garden work in the week, that is upper body fitness without the gym!

These ideas soon build your fitness and activity levels and will benefit your heart if nothing else.

Eat Right

Whether vegan, veggie, fish eater or carnivore, a good diet will improve your body’s fitness.

Make your diet rich and varied in fruit and vegetables.

Diet is fundamental to your performance.

Consume protein rich foods that are as lean as possible.

Fats are essential but try taking in fats that are liquid at room temperature such as olive oil and fish oils.

As a general rule, only take in starch or sugar on the day of exercise.

If you’re following this guide to the letter, that could still mean four days a week or more!

With a good diet and physical routine you’ll soon find you’re carrying less lard around and that means you can go farther faster on the hill!

Kit You Will Need

A lot of people get into hiking as the cost of entry into it can be a lot lower than cycling or a range of other adventure sports.

If you have a few quid then don’t skimp on things like boots, pack and waterproofs.

Read on to see a basic list of things you should buy before the hiking season begins.

Walking Boots

Boots are likely the most expensive element of your kit list.

If you have £150 to spend you won’t go wrong.

Shop around and see what feels right on your feet.

You will find that the right boot chooses you!

A good pair of hiking boots are crucial to your enjoyment

Don’t worry about how they look on a catwalk – do worry whether they will still feel comfortable after a 15 mile slog.

The best ones won’t blister your feet ever!

Do go for a pair that protect your ankles – almost every walk you will take a silly step and be thankful for your boots!

With the UK weather being what it is, make sure they are waterproof.

Soggy feet are miserable feet!

Wet skin is prone to injury – trench foot is no joke.

Socks

You’ll need a couple of pairs for winter and a couple of thinner pairs for summer hiking.

Hot feet not only stink, but the skin can soften and that means skin comes off!

How do they feel in your boots?

£10-£15 a pair is a sensible price.

Waterproof Jacket

You can spend obscene amounts of cash on waterproofs but a good set doesn’t have to make the bank manager laugh at you.

There are a number of good budget brands out there that will last you a season or two.

The waterproof jacket and trousers need to do two things – keep the rain out and keep the wind out.

Waterproof jackets keep you warm and dry

Make sure it has a good hood as your head needs to be dry even if your face isn’t.

Many stores ‘throw in a free fleece’ but that just increases their income from you.

Unless you’re planning a glacier walk, don’t go for any waterproofs with insulation as you’ll soon sweat inside.

Clothing

Whatever your sartorial preferences, consider these points:

  • Thin layers that you can add or remove easily are best.
  • Quick drying outer layers are good.
  • Bring a fleece on every walk with your waterproofs.

Hiking Backpack

For most of the season you will be doing day walks.

A 30 litre capacity pack is good.

Some will have hydration systems built in but do look closely at the capacity.

On a hot day you’ll be drinking a litre every two miles or so.

Your backpack needs to be the right size for your hike

Not many packs have a 5 litre water bladder, let alone 10!

It should have a good waist strap so you are carrying the weight on your hips and ideally have a frame that keeps an air space between your back and the main pack.

Your back will get sweaty enough without excess insulation!

If it has a rain cover this is a bonus.

Without getting something that is OTT for Everest the more you spend the better it will serve you.

Walking Poles

See our blog on walking poles for detailed advice.

They are an essential item if you’re getting serious about hiking and will set you back £25 for a decent pair.

They are generally telescopic and lightweight.

Buy a pair and use them as they will save your knees on descents.

Fluids

Anyone who has run out of water five miles before the end will tell you how scary that is.

Always better to be carrying a half litre at the end than to be staring at muddy puddles thirstily!

As a general rule you’ll get through a half litre a mile.

The best sign of hydration is to slightly need a pee all the time.

If you get thirsty your body is saying you’re in big trouble.

Water bottles are so last Century aren’t they?

They’re still a better idea than a bladder as the bladder can only carry so much.

Easier to clean too!

Caffeine

Bring something caffeinated.

That could be a tin of soda or a flask of coffee.

A hot coffee is a good way to keep alert in the trail

When you’re in a physical or psychological dip you’d be amazed how a caffeine hit lifts you.

Olympic cyclists are amped up on espresso before their races for a reason!

Do remember it makes you pee so don’t go nuts.

Portable Phone Chargers

This should be an essential item for every walk.

They cost as little as £30 but have the capacity for 2-3 days’ phone use.

A dead phone could mean a bad ending to a hike.

Packing list

There are other things you need in your pack for the day so read on to get an idea of what you should have for the day on the hill.

Food

It’s better to have too much than too little food but again don’t go bonkers.

A full pack of cereal bars each is sensible to have for a 7-10 mile hike.

You will sweat them off – no worries there!

Sandwiches are good, as is soup (though a soup flask can be a weight you might not wish for).

Fruit which won’t damage too easily is also popular.

Fluids

500ml of water a mile is a good measure.

Sweeten it with squash if you like, though the milder the better.

Bring something caffeinated for a kick halfway around (and possibly for the last mile!)

Navigation equipment

This could be your map and compass or phone, spare battery & cable

Little things that are no less important

  • A packet of paracetamol / ibuprofen
  • Suncream as necessary
  • A pocket knife
  • Space blanket for eventualities
  • An emergency whistle is always good too.

Navigation

Navigation could be a 3,000 word article in its own right.

If you are a complete novice, get an OS Landranger or Explorer map for the area you are walking.

Only follow the easier routes and assess where you are on the hike as you go, comparing where you think you are to the map.

Electronic Aids

Your car’s TomTom won’t show footpaths. Nor does Apple or Google Maps.

At the free end of the spectrum you want a phone app that uses Open Street Map.

Many phone apps that have this will be able to give your GPS position on it.

If you have some money, many of those apps will offer an Ordnance Survey map for a specific area.

That isn’t Rolls Royce money but it will be worth the cash.

The best apps will work with your main computer at home where you can plan a route and save a .gpx file for transfer to your phone app.

The .gpx file will overlay the paths and you will both know where you are going on the route and where you are.

Consider a handheld GPS unit as a useful backup.

What3words

What3words divides the entire planet into three square metre squares.

Every square has a three word name. Check it out!

What’s your home’s three word name?

If you get in trouble, tell the emergency services your What3words square and they will know exactly where you are.

What3words is a helpful tool for emergency services

All UK emergency services use it now.

Get the app for your phone. It is free.

Compass

It’s good to have one and to practice using it on the hill.

They cost £30 or more.

Expert hillwalkers will give you a funny look if you don’t have one/can’t use it but phone technology is excellent these days.

With a backup phone battery in case of delays or problems for most day hikes in reasonable weather a decent navigation app should serve you well.

Know where you are!

Whether using a phone app or a paper map and compass, you should always have an idea where you are.

Phones and even paper maps aren’t perfect.

The map will say there’s a path sometimes where there just isn’t!

This is why you should have the spatial awareness to know where you are and where you are trying to go.

In the incidents where the map is telling you to cross a bog that shouldn’t be there, knowing where you are helps you investigate the area and assess best your way across.

In these moments, your walking poles have another purpose – assessing how deep the bog is!!!

It might not be a bog – it could be a wall or a stile that is not where you think it should be.

That’s part of the adventure of hiking!

Final thoughts

A day on the hill can be one very well spent.

If you have the kit and are sensible then it can be a hobby with all sorts of side effects like weight loss, a new passion for landscape photography and a means of bonding with your significant other!

Not everyone will summit Everest but millions challenge themselves every weekend without leaving their home countries on the hill.

By taking our advice above you should be able to maximise your enjoyment and minimise your risk of injury as you do it.

Isn’t that why you’re planning on hiking this year?!

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